Just when it appeared The Mentalist was putting the old band back together, new episode Black Helicopters took a turn distinctly in the opposite direction tonight. The middle of season six saw a two year jump in the timeline after title character Patrick Jane finished off his longtime nemesis Red John, with the resulting fallout taking down the entire CBI and landing Jane and Agents Lisbon and Cho working for the FBI. That left fellow agents Van Pelt and Rigsby written out of the show, at least temporarily, leaving them back in California to raise a child and run their own security firm. The last several episodes have focused on the FBI gang solving federal murders around the country, but the previous two episodes introduced the revelation that every former CBI member was being spied on, and one had been murdered. That prompted what an inevitable team reunion in order to determine who was hunting them down and why. And for a moment that reunion looked like it might be enjoyable – particularly when creepy yet ultimately moralistic longtime recurring character J.J. LaRoche showed up – but the fun only lasted for an episode before suddenly shifting back to the shock value which dominated the first half of the season.
After the murder of the week on a separatist ranch was solved using a trick which literally involved black helicopters, Rigsby and LaRoche went off to investigate an old warehouse which may have contained clues as to who has been hunting them. But a booby trap resulted in LaRoche getting shot, and apparently dying in Rigsby’s arms. What did his death reveal about the mystery at hand? Nothing. Perhaps it was an attempt on the part of the series to make the audience keenly aware that the main cast members are in fact in real danger from this new villain in the shadows. But the response from fans on online was overwhelmingly negative.
“Ugh. This show,” complained Jill T via Twitter. “Why LaRoche? He was cool,” reasoned Sarah Haney. “Sad,” tweeted another fan. “LaRoche was my favorite of the fringe characters.” If the initial reaction stands, the writers of The Mentalist may have miscalculated by killing him off. In the first half of the season, the show killed off seven longtime recurring characters within a span of a dozen episodes. Granted, all of them turned out to be corrupt and/or murderers themselves, but most of them weren’t known to be villains until after they’d already been on the show for several years. That’s left the show with almost no recurring support characters to bring back. LaRoche was one of the few fringe characters who survived the Red John witch hunt, and his creepiness suggested there was plenty more left to do with him in the show’s new timeline.
But by bringing him back just to arbitrarily dispose of him, The Mentalist now suddenly has the recurring character body count of a show like 24, after having mostly not been that kind of show for its first five years. The producers asked the audience to take a big leap of faith by killing off nearly everyone who wasn’t a core team member, hand-waving away two years, splitting up the original team, introducing new team members, and changing the location all within half a season. But rather than giving that tidal wave of changes time to gel, the show now appears intent on forcing this new mystery villain who has come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. With Red John himself having turned out to be a pedestrian dud after five years of hype, the last thing the audience is keen to bite on is the introduction of some new faux-Red John type shadow villain – especially if that storyline has already cost the show one of the few longtime recurring characters it had left.
But as always, ratings dictate whether gambles like this are a success of failure. Thus far ratings for The Mentalist are still about ninety percent as high as they were for the episode in which Red John was revealed. Which way will the ratings go now that the show appears to be heading into Hunt For Red John 2.0 territory?