CBI Consultant Patrick Jane (Baker) and Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon (Tunney) catch the case at a mansion where the remains of a well-known elderly heiress have been found, burnt to ashes. Once inside, Jane meets up with Cho (Kang) who is impassively listening to forensic investigator Brett Partridge’s (Jack Plotnick) disturbing theories of spontaneous combustion.
After ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’, writer Eoghan Mahony provided us with another breather: a classic episode, centered on the investigation, with a nice twist in the end, and not to forget some very subtle hints that things might be about to speed up on the RJ front. Not the most remarkable step in Jane’s path, but a rather nice one nonetheless. 8.5/10
Detailed AKA Humungous Review (spoilers galore)
VIS#1: Jane and Lisbon arrive to the Vogelsong Mansion
While writers seem to make a habit not to show the most important conversations between our leading duo on screen, we sometimes get an unexpected but meaningful tidbit, like in the very beginning of this episode when Lisbon and Jane share impressions about the impressive but creepy Vogelsong Mansion:
Lisbon: “How can one person live in a house this big?”
Jane: “Let me see, maybe being very rich.”
L.: “That’s not what I mean.”
J.: “Ah, you mean morally. Well, we’ve been called in, so it’s likely that whoever lived here had to pay the price at the end.”
L.: “There’s something off here. That place gives me the creeps.”
J.: “Normally I intend to mock your superstition, but in this case I’m inclined to agree. ”
There are some very intriguing things in such a short dialog; first, It’s interesting that Lisbon is spooked by the mansion, since making comments about crime scenes is usually Jane’s forte… But more on this later.
Then, the moral aspect of wealth: Jane implies that prosperity is linked to gaining money over other people and that there is a price to pay. That reminds us of Jane’s former life, affording a beautiful house in Malibu by preying on his marks’ grief and being punished by losing his family.
Second point, since Lisbon’s “superstition” has never been particularly insistent in the show, this word may be referring to her faith which Jane usually mocks. That theme was prominent in the previous seasons, with frequent allusions to redemption, and particularly in ‘The Crimson Hat’ (Lorelei claiming her faith in RJ and asking Jane about right or wrong, Jane meeting Lisbon in a church), so that single word maintains a link with the Lorelei arc.
VIS#2: Bret Partridge and his spooky theory
Leaving Lisbon with the guard who found the body, Jane enters the living room. Continuing the themes of superstition and of the frightening atmosphere of the mansion, he finds Brett Partridge exposing his take on the victim’s death to Cho: for him, it’s obvious that the woman has spontaneously combusted. Partridge apparently still resents Jane for his past hostility, since he’s ignoring him and keeps talking with Cho, exposing his theory in gory detail. Jane listens but he’s fed up when Bret gleefully explore more and more disgusting aspects. He reveals that it is a murder: he’s been observing the place instead of sprouting ghastly small talk… And, to Brett’s dismay, he utters as a parting shot that the guy is a ghoul, like he did in the pilot.
Partridge is a fan favourite suspect and his presence in this episode has two motives: 1) to give viewers another opportunity to suspect him and examine his possible involvement, like they did with Bertram in ‘Red in Tooth And Claw’, and 2) to remind that RJ is still looming in the background, since previously the character showed up for two RJ copycats’ crimes, respectively in the pilot and in season 3 finale.
Indeed, his name was written in Jane’s list in ‘Black Cherry’: he met the consultant after his family’s murder and Jane has considered the possibility that he was RJ. He matches RJ’s description by Rosalind and is the right age. He is attention-seeking, in needs of a public to tell his theories; he likes to think he’s the smartest of the room, like Bertram (sadly, he isn’t) and is distressed and angry when he’s proven wrong…
Still, the guy isn’t charismatic enough, doesn’t admire Jane (he seems to feel belittled by him) and hasn’t showed any hint to be particularly manipulative. Thus, it looks like the main purpose here is to prove how unlikely a suspect Partridge is: he gives the impression to be more a gore geek than a serious scientist and he only attracts Jane’s scorn; he’s more interested in admiring passively another person’s creep show than to create his own. Like Bertram, he doesn’t seem to be brilliant enough to compare with Jane, and they’re both pretty childish, if we are to believe his lack of respect, his outburst and his crestfallen expression when the consultant told him off. Unless it’s all an act of course…
VIS#3: Grace’s postcard and Wayne’s feelings
Upon reading the postcard Van Pelt has addressed “to the bullpen” from L.A., Rigsby is saddened to realise that the redhead hasn’t sent any personal message to him. Continuing the conversation they had in the previous episode, Cho simply states that she has moved on and that he should do so too: « you’re losing your mind. How long has it been since you had a relationship with a woman?” Intent on proving to his friend that he’s ready to forget about his ex-girlfriend and to “find a woman”, Rigbsy then starts consulting an online dating site.
But, in spite of expressing his enthusiasm for this opportunity to find a new love interest, he seems rather unsure of himself. Later, when Cho keeps chastening him for his hesitation, the poor lovesick agent realises that he was so preoccupied that he missed a warrant on his desk. And, at the end, he finds himself with half a dozen women showing up at the office because he has stood them up. Therefore, it seems that his half-heartfelt attempt at moving on has backfired on more ways than one: first, he can’t get himself to show up at a date; then every woman he contacted via the dating online site was a redhead. He still is smitten with his co-worker and is unable to bring himself to give up on her. Those two always get in a repetitive situation: since they broke up, every time one of them is trying to reignite the flame, the other has begun to move on, hence Grace getting jealous when Wayne started dating again; him telling her his love when she was engaged; her trying to get closer when things were getting serious with Sarah… there is definitely a pattern here. Still, it may be a little simplistic to say that we are just getting another serving of drama: there is some progress. Rigsby’s reluctance here to go on with his dating project is somewhat new, since before he had no qualms in going out with women when Grace wasn’t interested in him ( in ‘Bloodsport’, then with Dr. Montague or even with Sarah). Those times, he seemed to simply sweep his feelings under the carpet and forget about them with a nice woman… He never really mourned his love for Grace, whereas now there are bits of introspection from him, as showed by his remark about his Mom reading about the “tragic heiress”’ story when he was a kid as a way to feel better while living with his Dad. Rigsby appears to be at a point when he begins reflecting about his life, he is able to evoke his childhood and his parents’ relation with some perspective and without anger. That’s probably why he seems more ready to come to terms with his feelings… even though he’s longing for someone who isn’t here for him, neither physically nor emotionally if we are to believe the postcard.
VIS #4 and 5: Elise Vogelsong is alive – the ending
When they arrest Mrs Vogelsong’s nephew, in whose gallery they found incriminating evidence, Jane thinks something is off. Following his instinct, he finally discovers that their “victim” is alive and has actually murdered someone else to fake her death. The episode ends up with Jane gloating in front of Lisbon before going to study the RJ case in his attic.
The idea that the victim faked their death because they feel threatened by their family was used in ‘Ruby Slippers’ with a pretty different perspective. At the time, Archie Bloom burned a corpse like Elise did, but it was because he aspired to a liberating new life. There was a symbolic in the act to pretend to kill himself that lacked in here: in this episode, Elise committed a genuine murder which she called an “unfortunate necessity” and probably planned to kill her accomplice afterwards too. Also, while Archie let every one of his tormentor be considered responsible, he refused to incriminate a particular suspect, what Mrs Vogelsong coldly did. She is “a liar and a cheat”, who planned to vanish with her fortune, whereas Archie was a victim who decided to change his life. Moreover, ‘Ruby Slippers’ took place before ‘The Crimson Hat’ where Rigsby and Lisbon faked their death too: are we to understand that a similar situation or at least another crazy scheme concerning Jane’s obsession is to be expected soon?
Another interesting point is the reference to the mystery novels in Elise’s home that tipped Jane off about a possible machination. Jane mentions them first in front of Partridge: “this is murder, which is ironic considering Mrs Vogelsong’s appreciation of murder mysteries”. Among the novels he noticed, there are some of Rex Stout’s books, notably “Full House”, a compilation of three novels: in one of them, “To Be A Villain”, Arnold Zeck makes his first appearance as Nero Wolfe’s very own nemesis. The man is the head of a criminal organization, like Sherlock Holmes’ Moriarty and like Jane’s RJ.
Elise Vogelsong’s maneuvers are thus inspired by the circumvallated story lines of detective stories indeed, but they seem to allude to Jane’s usual methods too: manipulation, blackmail, faking deaths have been part of his cunning schemes; Elise is also a “cruel, vindictive woman, she would do anything just to get her way”, just like Jane at his very worse. She used her accomplice’s affection for her to get her to help her, like Jane is known to sometimes manipulate the people around him. Elise may come across then as a terrible impersonation of the darkest part in Jane. The one everyone but RJ hope would not surface again soon…
But let’s get a closer look at those mystery novels:
- there seems to be another reference within this reference, since the whole storyline used in ‘Red Lacquer Nail Polish’ is inspired by one of Sherlock Holmes’ short stories, ‘The Adventure of The Norwood Builder.” Both share a similar structure: a cold person who fakes their death to frame somebody; they do it by setting fire to the corpse (a bunch of clothes and a couple of rabbits back then, but the idea was modernized here with a corpse reduced to ashes with no identifiable DNA) before planting a very incriminating proof against their pretended murderer (a bloody thumb-mark or a medal); they did it for revenge, Elise because she despised her nephew who tried to control her (and also for the money, of course), while her male counterpart was planning to get at an ex-girlfriend’s son. Both had an accomplice, and planned to vanish after drawing their money. And, in both cases, the resolution is identical: Holmes/Jane makes good use of smoke to make them believe there is a fire, so the bad guy gets out of his hiding place.
- Additionally, ‘The Norwood Builder’ is part of the compilation ‘The Return Of Sherlock Holmes’, and is set just after the short story ‘The Adventure of The Empty House’ (cf. Rex Stout’s “Full House” on Elise’s table): in “The Empty House”, Conan Doyle put an end to his hiatus by resurrecting his character. It’s a rather clever way to emphasize Jane’s return to a kind of normalcy after his escapade at Vegas… and to refer once again to Lorelei. The woman is alluded to by Elise Vogelsong’s character, since both share an unusually tragic past and have decided to embrace a criminal career. More subtly, Elise’s German family name reminds of Lorelei’s name, and the latter origin as a Rhine mermaid (getting out of the water naked in ‘Red Sails in The Sunset’) is alluded to with the boat Elise was planning to use to escape. Also, the name of that boat, ‘Songbird’ is a kind of transposition of Vogelsong , “Vogel” meaning “bird” in German: Jane told his criminal lover at the end of the previous season that he’d make her sing like a bird. Is that song-bird a way to let us understand that Lorelei is about to tell Jane what he wants to hear?
- Still, there is an intriguing difference with the model provided by Sherlock Holmes: at the end of the short story, Holmes let to Lestrade the benefice of having uncovered the truth: “instead of being ruined, my good sir, you will find that your reputation has been enormously enhanced. Just make a few alterations in that report which you were writing and they will understand how hard it is to throw dust in the eyes of Inspector Lestrade”. The variation with Jane and Lisbon is pretty significant. While Jane made it clear that he wanted her to work with him (dragging her back to the mansion, honing her skills, trying to convince her to get on the suspicious boat twice), he seems to be resorting to a sort of friendly rivalry to get Lisbon to trust more her instincts, which is probably why he’s taunting Lisbon at the end. When he stares at her after the former suspects get in the elevator after telling that they forgive her at Jane’s insistence, she says: “What? We followed the evidence”; he corrects: “you. You followed the evidence”. And when Lisbon accuses him of guessing instead of doing real police work, he retorts: “you should try it sometime”, before retreating to his RJ files in the attic. That conversation could be his way to get at Lisbon for implying he was childish earlier, but, coupled with the fact that Lisbon introduced Jane as her “associate” to Cayce, it might indicate a new slight nuance in their work relation. We can indeed see the progression if we compare with an earlier episode featuring another creepy/ haunted house (‘Red Scare’). In that one, Jane shared his theory with the team and stole wine they drank together: he enjoyed being the one to discover the various secrets of the house and was not above gloating a bit about it with his colleagues, while now he asks her specifically to accompany him on the field and tries to train her. On the other hand, Lisbon wanting her consultant to be truthful with her is an old theme, since she did try to control him in the first seasons, but now it looks like there might be an emotional component too, as she defines him as her “associate”. So in her perspective they act like a more team, almost share the same mind: his victory should be their victory. It seems that they both treat the other as an equal they trust, but in a very distinct way: Lisbon assumes they are sharing, while Jane tries to make her make her very efficient without him.
Honorable Mentions: As always, Blake Neely’s work was remarkable, his eerie music set a good part of the creepy atmosphere at the mansion. Also, the Tunney-Baker dynamic was perfect and Owen Yeoman was delightfully awkward.
Icings on the Cake
- We almost got a smile from Cho, yeah! The guy really likes teasing his friend…
-Also, Elise Vogelsong’s character was very interesting: her story was told by Brett, then was in the newspapers Rigsby was holding (“wealthy couple killed in Marrakesh plane crash”, “a widow in six months” and the medal at the end), and, to add more depth, both men linked the “tragic heiress” with their own childhood memories. Besides, the possibility that she gave everything away to start a new life with the money she stole was made quite credible. She was a pretty fleshed out character.
- “You know, if you hadn’t mentioned the congealed human fat on the light bulbs, I may have considered to stick around to find out, but bah!… You’re a ghoul.” Jane to Partridge.
- “I was just about to learn how to drive her wild in five easy steps.” Jane after posing the magazine he’s been reading in Dr Reinhardt’s waiting room. LOL
- “Ok, fine, but not jumping out and yelling boo at me or anything.” Lisbon to Jane when he insists they have to go back to the creepy mansion.
- “Excuse me, but what do you take me for?” Jane to Lisbon, in response to the above.
- “I’m not going to answer that since I’m a nice person.” Lisbon, to the above. Jane’s expression at her words is priceless.
I understand that following Partridge’s logic, the body’s bad condition must have accelerated the combustion, but is it credible that nothing else has burned with the poor woman, not even a portion of the carpet? Besides, how long would it take to burn a human body to ashes with a single match with anything else to accelerate or to aliment the fire? Logically, the guard should have arrived when there was still some flesh, bones or whatever to help identifying the corpse…
Lisbon is creeped out. Again. The usually fearless agent has showed quite a bit of vulnerability recently, during the Volker case and the events in ‘The Red Barn’, then the fainting. All those details maintain an atmosphere of worry and the fact that it’s centered on Lisbon might suggest that she’s indeed concerned about something else, like Jane and his deductions on RJ. At least, that’s a plausible guess, since we still don’t have much insight on her thoughts…
This more openly admitted weakness may be a part of the more assumed feminine vibe they seem to try to cast upon her character, even though the fainting in the previous episode was more telling. And I don’t know if either thing was intended to be interpreted this way, but Jane’s remark about the article about sex he was reading may be also be a part of the more sexualized vibe they’re apparently trying to give him. Again, I don’t know if it was on purpose, but those two characters’ growing aspects seem to be synchronized, both in this episode and in the previous one.
Besides, in parallel to her reactions, there has been a string of horrible murders in those episodes: in ‘Little Red Corvette’ there was a rotting corpse and Volker planned to murder a child, thus adding emotional awfulness to visual horror; it announced the skeletons of RJ’s first victims in ‘The Red Barn’. In the previous episode, we had some bugs devouring a body. And in this one, Jane and Lisbon are about to investigate the murder of a victim reduced to ashes and whose death would be later labelled as an “unfortunate necessity”. Those instances show murder in its most abject and horrifying form, and are in dire contrast with some of Jane’s past decisions which deemed some killings such as Panzer’s and Carter’s as “justifiable”. There is definitely a shift in morality and that might indicate something for the future. We may expect some more violence and, hopefully, Jane questioning his choices concerning his obsession, since the final words of the episode are about Red John.
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