How To Read “The Mentalist”

Student of modern TV show writing?

Ex-professional charlatan?

Lover of highly-talented incidental-music creators?

Occasional sporter of vests?

You bet I’m interested in it, Bloggers, and I’ll tell you this much for nothing: it’s a goddamn mess. They build up this villain to the point where he can be no one and nothing, in the Grant Morrison Batman mode where the key can only be in Batman himself, where Batman himself is the biggest clue…(this is how you can tell when you’re in an alternate universe, by the way, if you’re the puzzle-piece that doesn’t fit)…and for all the world it looks like it’s doing that thing I despise, that corrupt movement of my generation where failure of will dominates the production of serial-thriller-entertainment, where the showmaker just loses interest in all the teases he’s put out there, abandons pattern, or plain paints himself into a corner through overambition, if in fact he doesn’t succumb to the temptation of the easy way out…I mean, I’ve noticed it for years, you know? And felt for a long time like it was my special secret! But we live in a post-Lost world, and I can’t tell if that’s a relief or an irritant…because all your big showmakers these days are kinda playing it rather weak, aren’t they? Like they can think of nothing more advanced than “then the most trusted character has his heel turn!” or “then the most beloved character dies!” or “then we earthquake the board…!” Eventually all the choices are sufficiently narrowed that Sherlock must be Moriarty, or the goddamn thing just can’t hold together. Eventually the Doctor must actually be the Master, only amnesiac. Or you could take the (relatively) honest way out, and have Dale Cooper disappear forever into the Black Lodge…

…Though most of my generation isn’t up to that level of commitment to it not making sense, so they shy away from that particular set of artistic demands. Never mind, though: because even if the writer abandons his post, the reader still has some options, even when things look most hopeless of all. And perhaps even especially then. Because…

Deconstruction was made to fix broken texts. No, really, it’s true! That’s the purpose of the stuff. You remove the intention of the author, and by so doing you commit to the idea that every text has its own author-independent logic; which is as much, if you follow me, as saying that every text has its own perfect logic, that the author can’t sully. At the deepest of all levels, God Himself writes each and every text, with perfect foreknowledge of the reader’s reactions, an action which in itself is the only verifiable hallmark of the presence of the almighty Monotheistic Dude…the source of sources, the intention that exists even in absolute Void, alone before the Word is spoken. Love? Cosmic forgiveness? Heat? Lust? Curiosity? Whatever it is, it’s no accident that it sets you on collision courses with the texts it’s put there in your path…no accident that it makes the remedy to every broken text its own magnificent disappearing act.

And so: “The Mentalist”. Let me just give you a quick overview of this thing, in case you’re not familiar with it. A young boy, Patrick Jane (some significant allusion there?) works the carny circuit with his now-estranged father, as a mentalist who pretends to be a medium. He grows rich, flees the circuit with his sweetheart. They have a child, and he has many wealthy private clients…then one day in California a new serial killer appears (as you would fully expect if you ever watched the show Hunter: Jesus, I sometimes expect California Tourism Board commercials to say things like “come see our great serial killers!”), named “Red John”, and when he goes on TV and attempts to cold-read Red John for the amusement of the studio audience, that worthy responds by slaughtering his wife and child. Then Jane regrets the life of lies he’s lived, and signs on with the “CBI” (“California Bureau of Investigation”) as a “consultant” (please do take note of all the scare quotes here; because I assure you I am not acting as an absent authorial deity, to this blog post!) and devotes his empty-husk life to the obsession of catching Red John. Which is of course a problem, given the predilections of my fellow countrymen of Time, because in very short order they throw every person it could possibly be at Patrick Jane, and he unmakes them all, leaving no reflections whatsoever left over to “really” be Red John…no psychiatrists, no doctors, no con artists, no growth-stunted millionaires, no detectives, no psychics (and the show is really strict about there not being any such thing as psychics, yet Jane even meets one, inexplicably)…

…Not even any outwardly-normal people, and no carnies either, and it’s there we come to an end. No one’s left.

Oh, well…maybe just two people, though, as dedicated readers of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol will surely have seen. And didn’t you know half the problem with my generation of showrunners is that they were all comics fans first? “Red John”, it’s a rather interesting name if you really look at it closely. Cliff and Jane and Larry have met him. He’s the androgynous deity also known as Nemesis, the Tenth Planet, Rumplestiltskin the Brown Dwarf…well, nowadays we live in a cheerier and more possibilistic universe, so we call her Tyche, but back then…

He was a force much more to be reckoned with. God and the Devil in conflict with the ex-charlatan who’s admitted he doesn’t believe, well who else would Red John be? The secret perfect author of every text, who seeks to predetermine you the reader. Some call him (looks upwards), some call him (looks downwards)…

“And you? What do you call him?”

But because that’s really the only answer left, for this show…there are problems.

Happily for us!

Since you can’t solve a problem that doesn’t exist. So the problem with The Mentalist is that Red John is everywhere in it, and does incredibly impossible things all the time, that we are told would all make sense if only we knew the whole truth about him…but as time goes by, what that “whole truth” must contain gets bigger and bigger, ’til right at the moment the volume of that mystery is actually quite as big as the entire remainder of the show. One more step in the direction of bafflement, and the slender thread holding the suspension bridge of disbelief up may snap…and the show will come crashing down, all the questions rendered eternally unanswerable, all the hidden meanings hidden forever, and all the viewers dispersed to the four corners of the Earth by the winds of betrayal and disgust. If you look at this thing in 2012, you can see the writers and producers know this very well; you can see they are probably wondering if there remains time and space enough to wrap things up without the intervention of Flex Mentallo or Danny The Street. And, although it would be premature to absolutely rule out the possibility that they do, in fact, still have a functioning Master Plan for it all…

Still, it seems as though “deconstruction” may be the surest answer, at this point. What is it, about the things that don’t make sense in The Mentalist, that can be scrutinized for evidence of a higher orderliness? As a time-wasting exercise, and because a friend and I both like that show for slightly-but-not-entirely different reasons, I rolled the thing around in the empty cavern of my head a little bit over these last two months. But I didn’t see what was staring me in the face until I proposed to Harvey Jerkwater that he and I could probably combine to write wicked comic-book adaptations of both The Mentalist, and Criminal Minds

…Which naturally would culminate in a crossover between the two titles (because: comics), and it was then — oh it was then, Bloggers! — that I finally did see the pattern, and saw it all. How does one reconcile the world of the FBI procedural, with the world of the CBI killer-chase? To put them in the same room with one another requires participation in the way they would see one another, in the same oddly delightful way that the crew of the Enterprise-D were put together with the DS-9 staff in a crossover of two shows I actually didn’t like all that much…but to see them meet, and become aware of their own reflections, even I had to call that a revelatory moment. That the cosmically-significant crew of the Enterprise was suddenly shown to be joyless and lugubrious and strange, going crazy out between the stars in their little bubble-world! That the Deep Spacers enjoyed freedom simply because they also enjoyed no significance whatsoever (as far as they knew), and that each formed a perfect little bubble suitable for going crazy in, that each of them had fallen between the stools of starlight! In that moment I realized I really did have some sort of weird affection for the Niners, and an even weirder pity for the Trekkers, that was probably exactly the reverse of the feelings I was supposed to have for them…and that reversal, to be honest, was kind of beautiful.

Uh…you know, except the episode kind of sucked, and then afterwards everything just went back to the same old dumb paint-by-numbers thing it had been before? I’ve said it before, so I won’t go on and on about it here, but I still think the New Trek Generation only wanted better and more consistent nuts-and-bolts writing (and perhaps, though let’s not wish for the moon, a hint of genuine humour? I mean the funny kind) to be something actually rather special: watching TNG, after a while it’s hard not to wish that the Star-Trekkiness of it had either been committed to more sincerely, or done away with altogether, in either case to create a bit more of a freaky horror vibe; watching DS9, as the show’s initial shoutiness about ACTION! turns into shoutiness about ACTING! one senses that wonderful opportunities for the onscreen performers are being thoughtlessly squandered; and of course with Voyager one regrets the curtailment of the sheer lunacy that it seems is always trying to break through — a war in the Q continuum that to Janeway’s “limited perceptions” must appear as the American Civil War, these rifles aren’t really “rifles” it’s just how your mind interprets them! The mantelpiece isn’t a mantelpiece! The uniforms aren’t really uniforms! The paintings on the wall aren’t paintings, and the walls aren’t walls!

It’s war! War among the colours! Red can never be Blue, and Blue can never be Red!

To say nothing of the horribly shortsighted use of Ed Begley, Jr., who I think should not have played the part of “some guy” in the mid-70s who’d gone hiking in the Sierra Nevada and found a downed time-ship whose technology he exploited to rule the world like a Super-Bill-Gates, but who clearly should’ve played ED BEGLEY, JR. who’d gone hiking and found a downed time-ship and become a Super-Bill-Gates…

Because…

I mean say what you want about Ed Begley, Jr. but he’s NO DUMMY, right? So I like to think if he’d found a downed time-ship he would TOTALLY have become a Super-Bill-Gates? Acting is a fine profession, but when a downed time-ship lands in one’s lap one should probably stop and, uh…

Re-evaluate one’s career-path?

And we can probably assume Ed is a big hiking enthusiast, but never mind all that now, because…yes, for just a moment the true long-sublimed nature of the New Trek Franchises poked its head up, when TNG met DS9, and it did have something of beauty to it…

…As did The Mentalist when I hypothetically collided it with Criminal Minds. My God, I mean can you imagine? The very first thing the CM team would do in the CBI environment is say “okay, for starters what in the hell is this ‘CBI’ thing you all keep going on about, secondly what’s the deal with the textbook psychopath you apparently employ as a ‘consultant’ to your massively understaffed and underfunded offices, and who solves all your crimes for you, and thirdly WHO THE FUCK IS IN CHARGE HERE AND WHY ARE THEY NOT DOING THEIR JOB PROPERLY, my God you people have NO training, your so-called Bureau is INSANELY politically-compromised, honestly is this a set-up? Is it April Fool’s? Is it my birthday, or something, are people gonna jump out and yell ‘SURPRISE’…?”

It’s funny because it’s true; in The Mentalist the CBI operatives are constantly announcing themselves as CBI agents, and people are constantly saying “CB…? Is that like a B.J. And The Bear thing, are you Sheriff Lobo, or…?”

So here’s the secret: The Mentalist is set in the near future.

It’s a science fiction show.

…Okay, well it doesn’t have to be set in the future, but for all intents and purposes it might as well be. Heck, the best way to do this show would’ve been as Buck Rogers or even Batman Beyond…or, perhaps, Grendel…a con-man from the early 21st century is resurrected, thawed-out, into a mid-21st-century world that’s forgotten all those skills because digital automation has done away with their usefulness: do we really expect a classic mentalist act to survive into a world where heads-up retinal displays can trivially supply a list of the contents of some old lady’s handbag, with a certainty of 93% give or take 3%? Do we even expect circuses to continue their existence into 2040 or something, when it seems likely even zoos may not?

Okay, and so maybe that’s how The Mentalist really should have been made…as Demolition Man played straight, instead of for laughs. But surely it is time to have another near-future SF TV show that’s actually based on our “current present”? I mean, what was the last one, was it Wild Palms? Tekwar? Total Recall: 2070? ReGenesis?

Okay, it was probably ReGenesis. But anyway, The Mentalist is not that show…however to consider it as a near-future show is not entirely crazy, since maybe it happens next year…and more importantly, whether it’s next year or not, to hold together it still pretty much has to partake of SF.

Because it’s already exhibiting that sort of flavour. Red John kills someone in Mexico, and Jane says “this means Red John is even more powerful than I’d imagined”…an awful line, I’m sure you’ll agree, but let’s make it right: by saying that it doesn’t fit. “The serial killer killed this guy in Mexico instead of California, what power he must have“, no…no, you see, that doesn’t add up. You don’t talk about people that way. Red John may secretly be an androgynous Nemesis masquerading as a Deity, in thematic terms, but this is a cop show so those terms are only thematic…and so the only “power” he can have is magic power, if we’re going to talk about him this way. Because that whole thought depends on the idea of Red John killing at a distance

Unless, that is: Red John isn’t a person.

The possibility was always there; well, no consumer of serial thriller entertainment could ever have watched this show and not considered that Red John was a corporate entity, could they? Red John isn’t a person, he’s a network; Patrick Jane even uncovers serial-killer people who are part of the network, who’ve been “recruited by” Red John, and who say so in so many words. Red John gets into strange places and does impossible things because he’s not acting alone; he has followers, disciples, friends, allies. I’m not saying he’s the Harlequinade! But the show itself says: there are “Red Johns” everywhere. They’re in the CBI itself, as a matter of fact! So they can get to anybody. Go anywhere. Appear and then disappear. The show itself has not actually said so: no character has floated the idea that Red John’s followers aren’t just his followers, but his constituents…

But Patrick Jane knows it already. Or why else would he call Red John “more powerful than I imagined”?

What, he can lift very heavy objects? Fly? He has X-ray vision, or can travel in time?

No: he can kill long-distance. Because his network is powerful.

And, he isn’t really “Red John”. Because that isn’t the name of a person.

Though a person may be behind it, but then if a person is behind it, then what do they want? More specifically, what do they want with Patrick Jane? You don’t need a network to be a serial killer, obviously. However you don’t need a network for nothing, either. And do networks get mad when fake psychics attempt to cold-read them on TV talk shows?

The whole key is what people say all the time. “CBI, freeze!” “CB what?” “It’s the California Bureau of Investigation, it’s a new thing, look let’s just say we’re cops, all right?” Right now, there’s no such thing as a “CBI”, and the Criminal Minds team would probably tell you there’s no need for one, that having a half-assed one would be worse than not having one at all, that it would actually make their jobs harder to do if there was one…

And there, O Bloggers, you have the answer to it all. War among the colours! “Red John” is a ruse. There is no “Red John”. What there is, is a California-grown serial-killer task force with the jurisdictional powers of a mini-FBI, with very good people and very little funding. And the “little funding” is kind of a given, you know? State governments don’t have federal-scale money, and can’t get it, so if ever there were a “CBI” it would perforce be underfunded and understaffed. About all you could do is troll Californian police forces for the best possible gold-plated people. When the Criminal Minds team gets there, they look at the Agent Lisbon character and say “hey, weren’t you at Quantico, getting effusive praise from all your instructors, but then you bailed out?” Yes, she says…as a matter of fact I did, because an old respected cop I owe the world to called me and said he needed me for this new Californian thing. That would be the CBI boss of the first couple of seasons, who leaves the job…as a matter of fact, if you watch this show (only now am I considering the frightening thought that I may be the only one here who watches this show!) you can’t fail to notice that not only is the CBI underfunded and understaffed (and underhoused, for that matter, in a way no FBI agent ever is), but that there is constant turmoil in the upper echelons, since the original Long-Suffering Guy At Desk retired. The CBI itself is under intense scrutiny from higher Californian political powers. The CBI is in constant danger of radical upset and reorganization.

And it’s no accident.

There is a crime network in California, that’s been operating for years. It’s planted a lot of people in a lot of key positions: it’s suborned many organizations that could harm its growth, and turned their power to interfere into a positive for their own subversive intent.

But it’s vulnerable to the FBI. The FBI is big; the FBI is modular; the FBI is extraordinarily well-trained and well-equipped. A California-based crime network can’t suborn the entire FBI no matter what it does: its reach just isn’t long enough. And the FBI is a resource for local law-enforcement, so even if you suborn every sheriff you can find, you’re still only one receptionist’s phone call away from having your operation blown to smithereens. Doesn’t even matter if you have state legislators in your pocket — once the Feds come in, you’re gonna be on the run.

But what if there happened to be a sort of…FBI cockblocker? You know?

So what you do is you “create” an uncatchable but firmly California-based serial killer. Then you get your pet legislators to sponsor the creation of such a bizarre thing as a “CBI”, to better coordinate the efforts to catch him. Then it’s the CBI that’s the organization that decides whether or not to call in the more powerful Federal agency…and so it’s the CBI that’s the prize, because it’s the gate. But you can’t claim it for your own, until you flush all the smart people out of it. At first it will be loaded with the best and the brightest…okay, so you’ve made it, now you’ve got to destabilize it, without actually destroying it. What you have to do is leave it intact as an organization, but complicate things so much for the cream-of-the-crop agents in it that they either leave voluntarily, or get fired.

Hmm…

Well…

You might do worse than arranging for them to be saddled with an outside “consultant”? Who — as the show itself tells us, just as soon as the original Guy At Desk gets gotten rid of — can’t be fired. “Red John” has to kill people anyway; so why not make hay from that?

Someone rich enough to throw his weight around — but not part of the banking/finance system you have plants in. Someone arrogant, smart, dishonest, flawed…unbearable.

Hey, why not this guy?

Maybe try it out? If not him, then somebody else? But he’ll go in there and be all “ooooh, the spirits tell me, ooooh she’s got a bad aura”…putting up with that shit would drive anybody into another line of work…!

And it’s here that “Red John” makes his first mistake, through believing “psychics” don’t actually themselves know they’re full of shit. Believing they’ll stick to the lie after a trauma. But Patrick Jane doesn’t do that at all, turns out to be rather talented and intelligent, oh wait, OOOOHHH what an ASSET he would make! Could it maybe be done? Having him in the CBI has screwed up part of the plan for sure, he keeps solving cases so some of the good people stay, and can’t really be fired…okay, but rather than treat this as a disaster, treat it as a handle: since Patrick Jane doesn’t know there really is no such singular person as “Red John”, his chain could be yanked this way and that with great ease…this isn’t like putting a destabilizing person into the CBI to piss the good cops off, this is like putting a destabilizing person in the CBI to drive crap investigations, why with just a bit of judicious yanking of this guy we could get all the good cops laid off at once…and then feed him something, feed him a clue, turn him loose on whatever, turn him into a manipulable tool…after all he doesn’t know Red John isn’t a person…!

Aha.

Except he does. He’s just not saying.

If the Criminal Minds crowd walked into the CBI they’d make a profile of Red John, and quickly discover it’s inconsistent. No serial killer can fail to be caught, so long as they continue their activity and the profilers are good enough — that’s the foundational philosophy of that show. The serial killer can escape being caught by ceasing activity and disappearing, but they can’t not be caught by keeping up the killing, and if they leave clues then it means they want to be caught, and that’s what Criminal Minds is about, that this kind of killing is the major symptom of a pathology. In two seconds, Scott Summers would say “Wolverine, Nightcrawler…I’ve been thinking: if there’s anything this doesn’t look like, it’s a pathology.” And the jig would be up. The killings are meticulously planned by someone who doesn’t really care about killing. So the Unsub must care about something, but killing isn’t it. So therefore…

It’s a fake-out.

That’s what they’d decide, in about two seconds. But they aren’t there. And so that can’t be an accident either. And the interesting thing about all that — and I’m going to be watching for it! — is that Patrick Jane, knowing there isn’t really a person named “Red John” but knowing there is a person who’s to blame for his wife and child getting murdered who goes by the name “Red John”…would try to keep the FBI out of it as well. Because as soon as they come in, he goes out, and maybe indeed the whole CBI goes out, and he has no standing with the Feds. He’s got a window, and he needs to try to keep it from closing.

At least…that’s what the writers will do if they realize they’ve got a window, that they need to keep from closing!

So it’s all rather interesting, actually. If I was a writer on this show, I would have the idea firmly in mind that “Red John” is not a person but is the creation of a person, who probably is not a full-time resident of California but who has an impenetrable alternate Californian identity, and who slips into California with perfect unnoticed ease…a wealthy person who launders their money in Silicon Valley, and a person who has a certain amount of recognized legal protection from inquiry: a doctor, or a lawyer. If I were the writer, the boss of the “Red John” network would be the one reflection of Patrick Jane (now come on, that must be a literary allusion of some kind, mustn’t it?) that we haven’t seen: the obsessive. The addict.

The owner of an exclusive rehab clinic in Nevada?

(Though to be honest, they have kind of gone there already…PAINTING INTO CORNERS!)

And his second mistake would be using the non-Californian network he’s established, to kill the guy in Mexico. Because this tells Patrick Jane that “Red John is more powerful than I imagined”...

Translation: it tells him that he also operates outside the state of California.

We could easily guess that RJ is a significant, though well-concealed, investor in the Malcolm McDowell cult. Which he uses to recruit second-order operatives. Or that he set up Washburn (again, in a well-concealed way) in his initial high-tech company…well, does anyone think Our Pal never had a Steve Wozniak?

The way he could operate in California and (let’s say) Nevada with equal ease is if he was an adopted child: to have two seperate birth certificates and legal footprints is not impossible, although it is practically easier to actually BE Rumplestiltskin the Brown Dwarf than to be a person who maintains seperate documentation from the time they’re two…

…Which means that the Criminal Minds crowd would have something to contribute to the Red John investigation: i.e. whoever is in charge of the “Red John” identity, the owner of the network…

…Is a person who inherited that position from an older psychopath.

By the way…Jane’s not a psychopath. He’s a basket case.

There’s a difference.

Oh, and also…by the way…

GRACE IS THE RED JOHN PLANT IN LISBON’S UNIT.

Because my generation of storytellers is simply too weak-minded a bunch not to have a significant heel-turn in every tale. Oh, people complain about the goddamn HERO’S JOURNEY!! Let me tell you, the Hero’s Journey is not our biggest problem right now. Our biggest problem is the Sixth Sense Twist…

…Though to be fair, it’s the Crying Game Twist, I think that’s when “twistness” entered the popular dialogue as the thing you have to have in order to produce compelling drama. If it ain’t twisty it’s schisty! OLD MAN STUFF. So okay, as long as I’ve been writing this while drinking (you knew that, right?), I might as well plug in the comment I tried to leave on Colin Smith’s excellent blog, but couldn’t because: you know, COMPUTERS…

<ahem>

<we’re talking about Bendis>

<cough cough>

“For myself, I think Bendis’ flaws were always there, and the Good Bendis and the Bad Bendis are really just…well, Bendis.  I can only make guesses at his work process, but it seems to me that he doesn’t really do research, but instead basically just watches movies and TV shows?  He’s enthusiastic the Mamettish non-naturalistic voice that privileges dramatic effect over character depth, and I think he gets excited about pushing boundaries and bending expectations…but satire’s a matter of context, too, and it seems to me that context is what Bendis can’t quite grasp, which is why (I think) he seems to lack originality.  Because he isn’t really about originality:  Alias was wonderful, but it was all about tone, as the Captain America secret ID shtick was pilfered from somewhere else, the Purple Man as metatextual commenter (not very well executed) was lifted from elsewhere as well…and Bendis doesn’t really hide this weakness, when he’s being Good, but makes it apparent that a plot’s just a plot’s just a plot.  If you think of “What If Jessica Jones Had Become An Avenger”, that’s a deliberate play with the essential “made-up-ness” of the milieu, to the toybox nature of being a writer at Marvel Comics and the arbitrary stock Marvellish turns of story one can find in that toybox — so to my mind, Bendis isn’t concealing that there’s a great deal of the traditional Marvel interest with pseudo-realism that he’s just not very interested in.  He’s interested in tone, but he isn’t interested in colouring inside the lines, isn’t really that interested in neat ideas (though he has had a couple — the variation on the Ult. FF’s origin was elegant, e.g.) and not particularly interested in character either.  Mind you, there’s no law saying you have to be interested in character, if you’re basically a Tone Guy!  And this at least has much to do with Mamet’s typical coolness, almost “anti-Pinteresque” emotional distance — in which the words characters say are always more important than the thoughts they think or the feelings they have, so that as a matter of dramatic philosophy (I take it) in his work “character” is much more a matter for the actor than for the writer.  And I think Bendis is a bit like this as well:  his characters don’t have relationships so much as they have positional arrangements, upon which lines of dialogue can be hung.  And this in itself is not really a bad thing, it’s just another way of approaching story-making…

…But Bendis can’t use it to equal effect in all contexts, and in many ways he isn’t a master of the technique in any case, and he also can’t seem to (or doesn’t seem inclined to) do much else when he goes to work…and so there are many cases in which I expect to seem him flounder, you know?  Whenever he has something he really wants to say, he seems to flounder — the “stand-up” issues of Powers don’t seem very advanced in terms of craft from what Bendis was doing in…I think it was his college newspaper?  Did anyone else see that?  And also when the context demands more from him than mere application of his technique can provide, he seems lost as hell.  I think he likes Norman Osborn so much because he can make Osborn say just about anything without it sounding like “something Norman wouldn’t say” — in this way the Green Goblin’s like his Purple Man v. 2, a better place to lodge authorial commentary of the type that is practically by definition “something a character wouldn’t say”…without actually trying to break the fourth wall.  In fact I think he’s done this since USM, finding Norman a wonderful receptacle for a flight of fancy in voice, and it seems to me it isn’t too much of a stretch to say Bendis’ Green Goblin is his most satisfying protagonistic voice within the Marvel Universe, slightly edging out Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Ultimate Peter Parker.  So when he’s good at getting their voices right, and bad at everything else, I don’t see it as evidence of degeneration as just more proof that he’s got the same weaknesses he started out with — “everything else” is exactly what he was never any good at, and to be absolutely fair it was never what I read him for anyway.”

Hell, and it’s still not what I read him for! Although I confess once he situated superhuman concentration camps in Canada, I stopped fucking reading that asshole. Sure, it was innocent and he just thought it was funny…of course he doesn’t know about how Canada isn’t a vassal state of the U.S.? Doesn’t know every Canadian has a plan for hiding in the woods with a rifle if it ever does become one. Concentration camps. In Canada. Jesus. Because the U.S. citizenry would rise up if there were ever any in the States, I suppose.

Sorry, that just still bugs me. Bendis, you should go to Poland and tell them all they’re really Germans. Just kidding guys! It’s just comics! Kid stuff! What, is that still a thing?

Gnarr.

But anyway, back to The Mentalist, and how to read it. Yes, if I was writing it, then on the day Patrick Jane (really, it’s gotta mean something? They make such a big deal out of it!) finally puts Red John away, or down, or whatever…then he’d go to a newspaper box and read a front-page story about the collapse of the Red John network, and the date on it would be 2015.

BOOM!

But anyway, a word about Cho and Rigsby. Cho is Canadian, I think? And the guy who plays Rigsby is some kinda good actor, because he’s playing a brawny rough tough guy, yet if you really look he’s a tall skinny contemplative guy. Nice job, actor dude! But why in heck do they bother to have people doing such nuanced and convincing portrayals? Including the chick who plays Lisbon, who I’ve seen in many things and she’s a terrific actor, you know? Really good. So…

Why? All they do is sit around and watch Jane be smarter than them, right? He’s the one who solves every case brilliantly, right?

I think they’re waiting for the TNG crossover. What’s so excellent about Cho? You’ll know when he meets Data. Rigsby? He’ll keep Worf from killing a guy who actually turns out to be innocent. Grace?

“Phasers, full p…”

“CAPTAIN, STOP!”

“What?”

“Attention Ferenghi War Fleet: Law Of Acquisition #11352 “the time to make a deal is when the other guy wants to” has a commentary by the Grand Nagus from last week saying “seriously, I’m only faking the coma; tell the human Captain we’ll let him walk away from this useless battle to go meet the Romulans in Sector 23 in exchange for the improved replicator! And if he refuses, then…uh…”

“Go on, Grace…”

“…Uh, then…open fire. Sir.”

And then Lisbon debriefs Troi. Who sometime in the last week talked to the mind-shielded traitor…?

Oh, but sorry, I fucked that up: the crossover’s supposed to be with CRIMINAL MINDS, right.

My mistake.

But anyway that’s how to read “The Mentalist”.

You read it as a cautionary tale.

Just like all science fiction stories.

6 responses to “How To Read “The Mentalist”

  1. Never having a single moment of either The Mentalist or Criminal Minds, I can still recognize the broader truth in what you’re saying about modern series writing. I always had this bad feeling about the incestuous nature of today’s television writers all being comics fans and today’s comics writers all wanting to turn the medium into the police procedural — the highest form of writing ever invented, apparently — but I couldn’t point to any specific thing about this that bothered me, and now I can. It’s that today’s series writers haven’t got a clue how to end a story; for them, the reveal is the point of the story, and everything else is boring wrap up so we can get on with the interesting business of teasing the next big reveal. I wish superhero writers would read more books and spend less time in front of cable tv, telling everyone that all comic books should be The Wire.

    (Can I just say, fuck police procedurals? People shouldn’t be making heroes of those guys anyway. Give me Jim Rockford any day.)

    More importantly, that is absolutely the most thoroughly on target and concise explanation of Brian Bendis ever. I can’t even begin to tell you how impressed I am by that, both as a piece of writing and because it lets me sign with relief and say “thank god, it’s not just me, someone else sees it too!”

  2. It goes back to the “Mary Sue” thing, I think…in these days, the writer does his speaking mostly through his villains…

    Somebody, back when I was complaining about how long it was taking Bendis to tie up all his Scarlet Witch loose ends, put it all pretty tidily into a nutshell for me: something like, “you don’t get it, to him that is tieing up loose ends!” So that was my first best indication that there was a point out there where my storytelling values and Bendis’ diverged in a really serious way — because his storytelling aims are difficult to achieve within the system I subscribe to, he doesn’t bother with the difficulty. Secret Invasion, a terrible title, was an even worse story — but the mindblowing thing was the “70s versions” of the Marvel heroes, surely? Not that I think there’s any use left in the sliding scale of Marvel Time myself, but you can’t tell me Luke Cage was wearing that yellow shirt in 1999…!

    So…yeah, that was a bit weird. And yet perfectly coherent, if we merely lower the bar for coherence to where Bendis himself thinks it is.

    Oh, and by the way! I think I saw the Rockford pilot today on TV, a truly strange experience! And worth a million SVUs…

    • The one with Lindsay Wagner as the girl in distress, and his dad was played by a different actor? That was a weird one. They hadn’t worked out his character yet, and thought maybe he’d work as a really abrasive sexist prick. Good job they went in a different direction!

  3. Oh, whoops! No, not that one…that’s right, that was the pilot, wasn’t it? No, this one was maybe the episode after that? I should really look it up, Hector Elizondo’s his old buddy from Korea, his Dad’s mentioned but not by name…

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