There’s a moment in Season 3’s first episode when Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) ruins a man’s jacket simply by making him forever associate wearing it with the smell of a dead mouse.
Since its first season, The Mentalist has been pulling the reverse of that trick: entertaining us with Jane’s remarkable skills so thoroughly it prevents us from associating the show with a hundred other similar detective shows. This is a century-old format after all.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Monk and many more, Patrick Jane is just a man who’s very good at noticing things. What sets him apart is that he does it with a showmanship that we can’t help but be drawn to. But is the showmanship wearing off?
There’s the dead-mouse smell of the formulaic in places, and even die-hard fans have to concede that Season 3 is not The Mentalist at it’s best.
Many episodes, such as Red Hot and Jolly Red Elf, retain the novelty of the first year, while others such as Bloodsport lack vibrancy and feel like they’ve been photocopied from The Big Book of Police Procedurals. One even brazenly ‘borrows’ a method of body-disposal outright from Sherlock Holmes.
When the season’s pace slackens it’s only Simon Baker’s accomplished performance as the enigmatic and mercurial Jane that keeps things fizzing along. His relationship with Agent Lisbon is still as feisty and fun to watch as ever, but the other principal characters – Agents Cho, Rigsby and Van Pelt – lack a unique character signature and are under-served by the writers despite the odd effort at development. They’re ‘cut-out-and-keep’ cops, and could just as easily appear in any another US detective show, which is surprising as Jane and Lisbon are characters of great depth.
The Red John arc hangs, shadow-like and malevolent, over each episode. With the aftermath of events in Season 2’s finale still reverberating through Jane’s mind, he’s more determined than ever to catch his family’s killer. It’s an arc that smoulders (literally, at one point) up to a superb two-part finale, Strawberries and Cream, in which we come face-to-face with the real Red John.
After such a sinister build-up he’s an impressive villain simply because he’s so disconcertingly normal, and played with an oleaginous edge by Bradley Whitford (West Wing fans prepare for a shock). Much like Sherlock’s interpretation of Moriarty, he’s not the fiend we’d expect, but he makes perfect sense as Jane’s antagonist.
In demonstrating how good The Mentalist can be, the finale shows up the weaknesses and shortcomings of the season as a whole, much in the same way that Patrick Jane’s extraordinary abilities show up the flaws of those around him.
When it’s good, it’s very good. But when it’s mediocre, no amount of mental tricks can distract us from the flaws.
Extras: Bonus content here is as sparse as clues at Red John’s crime scenes. There’s a feature on Simon Baker’s directorial work on the episode Red Moon, which manages to be even less interesting than it sounds. If you’ve ever fancied becoming an amateur serial killer catcher whip out your notepad and pen as Portrait of a Serial Killer: Red John features discussions with real-life forensic scientists analysing the science and methodology of the show’s killer.
Released on DVD on Monday 10th October 2011 by Warner Home Video.
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