'The Mentalist' creator breaks his silence on last week's Red John finale shocker

Mentalist-Strawberries

Image Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS

So was it really Red John?

That’s one of our burning questions as we match wits with Bruno Heller, the wickedly savvy showrunner behind CBS’ The Mentalist (and, lest we forget, HBO’s Rome). Here’s Heller talking for the first time about last week’s shocker finale, where Patrick Jane gunned down in cold blood his longtime serial killer nemesis in a shopping mall (clip below). What’s the story behind that pivotal scene, could there be a Mentalist spin-off and what’s the latest on the Rome movie? Read on.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we last spoke shortly after you launched The Mentalist, you said Patrick Jane confronting Red John would be a series-ending moment, not a season-ending moment. What changed that?
BRUNO HELLER: Good question. Hoisted by my own petard. [Pause]. The answer will be revealed at the beginning of next season. Jane wanted to know if this was Red John or not. And the guy gave him proof that he was. The question remains: Was that Red John? The larger question is: How does Jane get away with murder? Whoever the man was, you’re not allowed to do that.

When I re-watched the scene, I realized the entire conversation is Jane trying to get to a point where he’s convinced of Red John’s identity so he could take action. Though readers debated whether it was really him, it felt pretty clear that as a viewer you’re supposed to be convinced it was. You’re saying it’s still up in the air?
Heller: What you get from that scene is what you should get. The viewer is supposed to be convinced. Patrick Jane is certain it’s Red John. Some people are not so certain. Thing is, Red John is a master of the mind game. If Red John wanted to die, maybe this is how he wanted to die. Or maybe he just wants Jane to think he’s dead.

Either way, it sounds like this is not the end of the Red John storyline. The show is not just going to re-set.
Heller: Well, look at it this way. If you, James, killed your worst enemy, would that be the end of the story? No. It would be the beginning of a whole different story. Sorry to play mind games with you.

I’d be disappointed if you didn’t! Is this scene how you always conceived of Jane confronting Red John?
Heller: No matter how I conceived it, it wasn’t the way Patrick Jane conceived it. And that’s the thing about revenge and what the scene is about. It’s a dish that’s best eaten cold, but even eaten cold you’re still hungry after you’ve finished it. I thought it was a nice, powerful scene. It was precisely the banal surroundings and mundanity of it that makes it powerful. It’s also what makes it a little unreal for Jane — Did I just do that? And how does he feel now? It’s a little like post-coital depression — one of those things that everybody feels and nobody talks about.

He sort of looked rattled and disturbed yet at peace at the same time, is that accurate for how he is now?
Heller: That’s very accurate. How do you feel when you’ve just done something so simple that changes your life.

There’s a moment when you think he’s going to let Red John walk away. And you think: If that happens, it’s a total violation of Jane’s character as we’ve gotten to know him — even if, as we think in that scene, Red John has a gun and Jane doesn’t — you just want Jane to tackle him.
Heller: Absolutely. The evil of storytelling is you’re trying to make the audience complicit in murder — Kill the guy! Jump him! And then once you’ve done it, it’s like, I’ve killed this guy, now what? If you do that kind of violence in a show like this, you have to bring the audience along with you and then question their judgement.

At the start of the series you said something I thought was really interesting. You suggested the show was only half as good as it could be. Is the show now where you want it to be?
Heller: Oh, I was being very honest, wasn’t I? We’re getting there. It can be like cooking the same dish over and over. But the more you do it, the more you find the essence of what makes the show work. We’re always trying to make it better.

Any update on the Rome movie?
Heller: I wish. There’s a script. There’s been some talk of it at Cannes. But I’m not holding my breath.

Finally, any chance of a Mentalist spin-off?
Heller: That would be tempting. One of the nice things about a show going on as long it has is the secondary characters take on a life of their own. We absolutely could do a spin-off. I’m not developing one, but you never know.

Comments (199 total) Add your comment
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  • Krystal

    Having been a fan of Profiler, I was skeptical from the minute they announced that Patrick would meet Red John. I’ve been down the “fake Jack” road before. If you watched Profiler, you know what I’m talking about.

    • pr

      you are so right about the Profiler. I was totally with the show until they had the fake Jack. Oh Bruno please don’t do that to the Mentalist.

  • Matt

    If Heller takes us down the same road as ‘Profiler,’ his next project will not be so well received.

  • deedeedragons

    Oh, I loved Profiler, Robert Davi was badass.

  • Zoe

    Sorry to hear Rome is stuck–I read it was a “go” not too long ago.

  • Miranda

    What if it really was Red John but Red John was actually under the control and influence of someone else, even more manipulative and evil (the lady psychic) so that he has in fact killed Red John but not his ultimate enemy?

    • Bwana

      I recall in ” Alias” a scene where Sydney thinks she has brought down the bad guy org that killed her fiancé, only to discover things are much larger than we thought. I suspect a similar moment awaits Patrick Jane…

    • Sarah

      no, Malcolm McDowell’s evil cult leader. He’s always known too much about Jane.

    • Greg Andrew

      That’s kind of what I think will happen. Red John could turn out to be only the tip of the iceberg, a small part of a much larger conspiracy, playing an important role of distracting Jane and others from the real conspiracy. Under this scenario, that was Red John who Patrick killed and it was Red John who killed Patrick’s family. But he did it under orders from someone far more powerful.

      That’s just slightly different from Red John being controlled by someone else. I wouldn’t like for them to reveal that he was being controlled, because that would be an excuse for him.

      This sounds a lot better than a revelation that the man shot wasn’t Red John.

      • Chris

        What if the guy Jane shot was trained to know certain valuable information to convince Jane he was Red John, so Jane would think Red John was dead. Afterall, Red John is a mastermind at this type of game.

      • Loes

        I don’t believe it matters much whether or not there’s a larger conspiracy going for to Jane. He pissed of RJ, RJ killed his family, he killed of ‘RJ’. No need for him to go after anyone else in my opinion. It’s this personal grudge that keeps this show interesting for me, I don’t need country endangering conspiracies.

    • pam

      There is something with that lady Psychic isn’t there? I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again.

    • Prachi

      What a thinking Miranda!
      Seems u too trying hard to be the Mentalist

  • Gill

    I think it will be interesting just exploring “who” he was. How did he get people to do the things they did. Was he from a government agency? Jane shouldn’t do time as red John had a gun- but a cover up by some agency seems likely- loved that red John was one of tv best known red heads and great actors, made me miss west wing

    • soonerwife

      me too! (West Wing)

    • tena

      You can see him (Red John) on LAW & ORDER-LA on NBC. He plays a defense attorney.

      • Darrell

        I thought L&O LA got cancelled?

  • Erin

    I hope and think it was Red John. This answer sums it up nicely for those naysayers who are convinced the show can’t work without him therefore it wasn’t him.
    “Well, look at it this way. If you, James, killed your worst enemy, would that be the end of the story? No. It would be the beginning of a whole different story. Sorry to play mind games with you.”
    Even dead or possibly injured he’ll still play a part for a long time. His death doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the storyline, it’s just the beginning of a new one!

    Great finale, interesting interview.

  • elle

    Jane never asked about Kristina Frye. There’s that whole story line about what happened to her. Has no one asked Heller about that?

    • ty

      I agree, I think this would have been something Jane asked about.

    • Gail

      I kept waiting for the question and answer as to “why” he killed the wife and daughter. Did I miss that some time earlier?

      • Jan

        It was because Jane had gone on to a talk show, when he was masquerading as a psychic, and talked about how he knew Red John and tried to analyse him

  • Orac

    I think it was Red John. Jane gets off on self defense. But clearly Red John has a lot of disciples… like “V” one of them will put on the bloody smiley and take his place.

    • Sarah

      I think Red John has a bullet proof vest on & is not dead.

      • Ruth

        I hope you´re right, because I don´t want to see Jane going to jail.

      • blooood

        Yes that perfectly explains all the blood

  • Javadude54

    Red John lives. I think the fact that Heller beats around the bush and doesn’t really answer the question about RJ being dead or not is pretty good evidence that he’s alive and Jane shot a minion.

  • Bek

    I say good riddence to Red John. I lived through “The Fugitive” and that was enough of not finding your man.

  • Kim

    I think Leslie Hope’s character is the real Red John.

  • Alan

    No one is picking up on the extremely long con that Patrick played during the whole series. How many times did he say he hated guns, he never wanted to use one, etc… He was making it known that he supposedly would never have one, thus allowing red john to think he had the upper hand. The fact that Jane had the gun with him at that point, not knowing he would see red john means that he always had it on him, and was hoping word would get back to red john that he wouldnt have one. Great play, I love this show!

    • Orac

      Remember the episode when he was given the gun by the rich guy who conspired to have the man who killed his wife released from jail? So that he could take his revenge by killing him? It wasn’t a long con at all. But that episode set the stage for this one.

      • Jeff

        Not really – he thought he was meeting with Red John, it just turned out to be a different person than he thought. So he had the fore knowledge to get a gun.

      • Brandon

        actually this would still fit with the long con. Unless this guy(who gave him the gun) was a Red John minion, which is unlikely, no one would know about the gun except the him and Jane. Remember the con the Alan proposed was to fool the Red John. Also even if he wasn’t sure who Red John would be when he set up the meeting, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t the plan/con all along.

    • kris

      Jane is quick at hand. I think the last time he was next to RJ he took his gun. When RJ lands there is no gun by him.

      • Jason

        I’m not sure I remember entirely correctly, but RJ kept the gun in the newspaper, and the newspaper was between his left arm. If I recall correctly, at the time Jane shot RJ I do believe I saw the gun in the newspaper.

    • Gail

      The “gun” thing was one of the first things I thought of with the shooting. Jane always preached against guns.

  • Will E.

    I think he was Red John, but I think Red John is more of a com

  • Will E.

    More of a company, with vast resources, and this Red John was the one that killed Janes’s family, but there is a committee of other Red Johns. So, next Jane will go after Bret Stiles because I think he is one of them too.

    • Jake

      You mean like red John is just one member of a cult or something?

      • blooood

        I think he means more like Red John IS the cult… And this was just one “soldier” of that cult.

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