A bit late, this one, but a couple of weeks ago, one of the longest running mysteries on television came to an end – the identity of the serial killer Red John was revealed on The Mentalist. And given that I’ve posted on the series before, it would seem a little remiss not to comment on the revelation. Needless to say, this is spoiler free, but given the nature of the medium, I may inadvertently drop hints, so proceed at your own risk.
To recap, Patrick Jane was a pretend-spiritualist who, on national television, made comments about the serial killer Red John. Red John promptly murdered Jane’s wife and child, prompting Jane to join the California Bureau of Investigation in order to hunt for the killer. To pass the time between Red John’s semi-annual appearances, he solves all their cases for them – which is a good job, as the rest of team range from useless to slightly useless – even when they work something out for themselves, it tends to be irrelevant to finding the killer.
Anyway, at the end of the previous series, Jane narrowed the list of suspects down to seven characters – all of whom had appeared in the show before – and before the first episode of this series was over, one of them was dead. We’ve been counting off these suspects until we were left with only two still standing before the episode “Red John” kicked off, with everyone assuming that they knew who Red John was. So how did it all end up?
OK, first of all, this isn’t a play along mystery. It might just be the nature of television and actor availability, but you could swap in at least one other Red John suspect for the actual one when they reveal themselves in the church. Seriously – would it make any difference to the denouement, apart from a nice sense of symmetry which is lost but ultimately irrelevant? This is a thriller, rather than a mystery – while there may have been hints towards the character, there were as many hints towards the rest of them.
Over the course of the series – hindsight shows us that there was no chance of the viewer ever spotting Red John. His appearances before this series were minimal and not in a Red John episode, and his name never appears on any lists that Jane compiled about the killer. Even this series, he seemed less attached than some of the other suspects.
But as for this episode, the confrontation was very well done. The actor in question did an exceptional job as Red John, giving a distinctive performance from other nutters that he may have played in past, while not channelling Joker-esque villainy. The expectation here would have been that the villain explains everything, the hero almost kills the villain before refusing the Dark Side. As our hero turns away, the villain rises from the almost-grave for one last go and our hero has to kill to save his life. So well done for the writers refusing these clichés. Notably, Jane not caring about how Red John predicted the list – “it’s just a trick” – while the viewer would like to know, it would have derailed the scene.
Did I guess the identity? No, because I assumed that the writers were up to something a little cleverer with the list, namely that someone not on it was Red John. My money was on Robert Picardo, the second-in-command of the cult Visualise, as he’d shown up a couple of times this series when Malcolm McDowall wasn’t available.
So overall, a very good end to the story – where the series goes from here, no idea – let’s hope that the killer nun who got away doesn’t start it all up again. After all, she can’t really call herself Red Jane, can she?