WARNING: this is unedited aka highly grammatically toxic stuff. A nightmare for dictionary lovers. There is everything you might fear right ahead: atrocious spelling, structural nonsense and Violets shrinking in shame and shrieking in despair. Yes, that bad. Reader, close your eyes. Huh, wait, maybe not…
Also, this was written during summer, before the new season aired. I tried to make some changes but some theories are certainly a little outdated… Anyway, as the RJ storyline is obviously coming to an end, I though it would be better to post it as it is, as a global take on the situation before the big reveal sends many theories crashing down… Consider it a celebratory present then! ;)
Basically, this is an attempt at listing the major themes in the show as Rose UK suggested a long time ago (namely to summarise the “recurrent ideas and metaphors there were that paved the way for each finale”). As it is, I had to do many rather arbitrary choices in order to classify and explain the main symbols composing major arcs in each season:
1) I tried to follow each theme loosely season after season but many overleap from one season to another, which is why some of those arcs are developed under the season where they were more prominent, even though they might have started appearing a long while before.
2) I tried to enlighten the way each arc is structured, whatever the nature of the major clue: thus elements as different as objects or more abstract concepts (human behavior, similar situations, …) are analysed in the same fashion.
3) To identify the book(s) of reference for each season, I had to choose among the many cultural references used in the show. So, I only mentioned those that seemed to add something to the perspective of the whole season, and discarded the others that only referred to the plot line of one single episode –even though much of those chosen titles tend to focus on one episode in particular too, they enlighten a specific trait emphasised or deepened in the season as well, at least in my opinion.
Hopefully it won’t be too disconcerting… And a big thank you for the help I received from commentators in compiling those occurrences: even if I don’t always thank individually each person who provided some element, I’m well aware that I couldn’t have done it on my own! :)
Last, I don’t think this post is complete, therefore feel free to complete and/or correct anything! :)
Book of reference ‘MOBY DICK’ (mentioned in ‘Flame Red’): a man hell bent on chasing the responsible for his loss and grief, to the point of endangering his own life and those of the people helping him
The first season was literally packed with important and significant symbols, certainly much more than the later seasons. And, like this first season, the pilot itself was meant to give to new viewers a taste of the storyline and atmosphere. There should be no surprise then that many of those themes constituting the main directions the series would later elaborate on are already present in the pilot, developed as such or discernable under the form of germs to be grown into full arcs in later seasons.
It must be pretty telling therefore that one of the most effective points in the pilot is the insistence put on the importance of details. Jane said so himself: when Mrs Tolliver asked him if he was psychic, he told her that he just paid attention… Indeed, the very first moments when we’re introduced to his character are packed with details with a deeper meaning: there’s a red stripe on his shirt collar (which I don’t recall ever seeing afterwards); the ID he presents to the cops mentions that he’s a consultant; his wedding band is visible when he’s making himself a sandwich in the victim’s home… Every little thing was obviously meant to inform us of his identity and status while making him seem weird, cold and detached. As it is to be expected from a pilot, even before knowing the causes of his obsession, we can already detect from the very beginning that there’s something strangely collected and odd in his behavior, and that is almost only conveyed by those little things.
We can organize the themes introduced in S1 in four categories:
I/ the reasons behind Jane’s attitude;
II/ allusions to RJ’s threatening presence in his life;
III/ “treasure hunts”;
IV/ possible leads that ought to be developed in later seasons.
I Jane’s attitude : obsession and revenge
Firstly, the pilot has introduced one of the more important themes of the series: Jane’s obsession with RJ. Indeed, it’s the topic of his first altercation with Lisbon on screen, when he showed up at a potential RJ crime scene during his suspension with eloquent lines such as: « It’s Red John, you can’t keep me out of it » or “this is my case. Red John is mine”… Even later, it’s Dr Wagner who asks Jane “what is it that keeps you awake?” – the question leading to the terrible flashback and concluding it when the doctor repeats himself to get the consultant out of it.
Also, interestingly, every crime story in the pilot is explained backwards, but without the viewers understanding the meaning of the clues they’re seeing: the Tolliver daughter’s death was elucidated by Jane after seeing the pictures of her father sitting too close and clinging too much to her for the teen to feel comfortable; same with Dr Wagner, whose motive for killing his business partner was introduced by the African decoration in his office. Those two backwards structures echo Jane’s own storyline, since his job as a consultant and his general attitude are only explained with the two flashbacks where we’re told of his real connection with RJ, and especially the second. Admittedly, it’s a rather classic storytelling technique for crime mysteries and in this show. Nevertheless it also put even more emphasis on Jane’s past, not to mention that both killers in the pilot ended up murdering someone in an atrocious manner because of their own obsession: Tolliver was abusing his daughter and couldn’t refrain his incestuous instincts, while Dr Wagner’s own obsession was directed towards African children whom he wanted to help at all costs…
Later, the obsession theme will be further developed with episodes such as ‘Red Carpet Treatment’, where Jane meets another widower as obsessed with his wife’s death as Jane is. His fixation will ultimately lead to all sorts of controversial decisions regarding his methods for catching the killer, such as endangering his friendship with Lisbon (by lying to her, killing Carter, going to Vegas, pursuing Lorelei,…). And, this theme will also progressively bloom in another direction with Jane’s admission that he has an addiction. But more on this later.
Another major theme introduced by the pilot is the notion of revenge, fundamental in Jane’s life: after talking to Jane, Mrs Tolliver confronts her husband about their daughter’s death and shoots him. As revenge is Jane’s goal, it’s also the motive driving several murderers during the first season. ‘Flame Red’ is the better example, because it initiates a reflection about revenge, as the killer maintained a long con to gain his victim’s trust and approach them. In fact, his technique is rather close to what Jane was doing himself: to pose as an eccentric, but over all harmless person (a feeble-minded young man, whereas Jane usually assumes the role of the childish, entertaining, if sometimes cruel consultant), while being prepared to strike at the given opportunity… They’re both obsessed with getting their vengeance, as the reference to ‘Moby Dick’ indicates.
Still, in this episode, what’s particularly interesting is that revenge is portrayed as very ambivalent: on one hand, the killer was ruthless and rather proud of himself, yet he could mask his regrets for hurting the daughter of one of his victims, whom he asked Jane to apologise to in his name… Later, after convincing said girl not to pursue any idea of settling the score with the man who murdered her father, he admitted to Lisbon that he was lying to her, because, contrary to what he just said, he was convinced that revenge was worth it… and the whole situation might imply that he already knows that doing so would hurt Lisbon’s feelings too, that she might become collateral damage. A disregard for consequence which is further emphasized by his encounters with RJ, both in ‘Red John’s Friends’ and in ‘Red John’s Footsteps’.
Many more episodes illustrate other aspects of revenge, like ‘Bloodshot’ (when a man who was hurt by one of Jane’s old psychic readings decided to get to him), or ‘Red Herring’ in season 2, for instance. Yet the reflexion towards the worth of vengeance and its consequences is sometimes given contradictory conclusions, like in ‘Scarlet Fever’, when the woman who poisoned the woman responsible for her daughter’s death admitted that she wasn’t alleviated since the dead girl wouldn’t come back, in direct opposition to S2 ‘Red Carpet Treatment’ which ended with the vengeful widower glowing about getting what he wanted and offering Jane a gun to accomplish his similar goal.
All these examples also illustrate in their own way how Jane is fixated on revenge, yet the questions he keeps asking, particularly in the beginning of the show, might tend to indicate that, driven as he was, there was already a shadow of a doubt lurking in his mind.
3) Guilt: bad parents and bad spouses
A slightly different, but complementary theme is guilt, which is basically Jane’s motivation, probably even more than anger or grief.
Again, Jane’s state of mind is alluded to in the very first moments of the pilot; the victim’s name is “Mercy”, which is precisely what Jane is looking for: to be forgiven for provoking his family’s death because of his carelessness. Hence the insistence on the TV crews (reminding of his reading in a TV talk show), and on the skulls both on the t-shirt of the guy who was framed with the murder and on the tattoo on the morgue employee’s arm, two allusions to death visible as Jane calmly takes every detail in. His attitude is cool and detached, in a way it reminds a bit of the grieving Mrs Tolliver. She doesn’t show surprise or irritation at seeing a stranger making a sandwich in her kitchen, yet is soon revealed to feel guilty because she suspected her husband, even though she wasn’t ready to admit it even to herself… And, interestingly, there’s the fact that Jane doesn’t choose either the tea marked “serenity”, nor “tranquillity” in the Tollivers’ cupboard…
Still, the most obvious sign of Jane’s overwhelming guilt is the frequency of scenarios involving husbands (or sometimes wives) who failed their spouse, or parents who hurt or killed their child:
-in the pilot, for instance, we had the two brothers who used the victim; the husband cheated on her and his brother used her loneliness to seduce her
- ‘Red Tide’ (S1E3), a teenager’s father seduced a friend of his who was underage (creepy parent)
- ‘Ladies in Red’ (E4): the wife tortured her husband to death and was completely indifferent to her daughter, unlike the mistress.
- ‘Redwood’: the victim’s boyfriend was cheating on her with no other than her best friend, falling under the bad “spouse” category…
-E5 ‘Red Handed’: a gambler made his wife pay his debts by offering sexual favors, then killed her father who learnt the truth and got angry. Actually, that episode got an interesting conclusion because at the end, Jane told the woman that, even though her father wasn’t for her when she was growing up, he did care about her to the point of dying to protect her (like Jane himself cared for his little girl even though he couldn’t save her).
-in E7, ‘Seeing Red’, the mother was controlled by her psychic and her lover to the point of throwing her son out of her house… thus angering her daughter to the point that she killed her. – Same thing with ‘The Thin Red Line’ (E8), a cop’s son killed his half-sister because of his father’s secrecy around her: once again, the parent’s mistakes put the children in an intolerable situation from which they try to escape by committing a crime.
- ‘Flame Red’ (E9), the victim’s daughter was shocked that her mother cheated on her father… not to mention that him and his friends killed someone before.
- ‘Red Brick and Ivy’ (E10) presents an intriguing case: Sophie Miller’s ex-husband was very controlling with his women, cheating on them while trying to modify their appearance to match his tastes and resemble her… while in ‘Red John’s Friends’ (E11), Renfrew’s mother killed her son’s lover because she was in fact her husband’s daughter, and framed her son, meaning that both the bad parent and the bad husband parts were illustrated.
-The worse case scenario is maybe ‘Red Rum’ (E12): the father was violent and ended up killing his son who tried to defend himself.
-In ‘Pain It Red’ (E13), the painting owner didn’t really care for his daughter’s happiness;
-In ‘Crimson Casanova’ (E14), the widower’s indifference towards his wife’s murder made Jane angry, contrary to the following episode, where Jane helped the widower and his son to grieve and take a new start.
- Then again, in ‘Bloodshot’ (E16), we learned that Jane’s reading when he was a fake psychic helped a woman get a divorce from her cheating husband, leading their son to develop an obsession about his father’s downfall.
- ‘A Dozen Red Roses’ (E19): the wife seduced her step-daughter’s boyfriend and convinced her to kill her husband, also fulfilling both criteria. Bad spouses (or fiancée) are also found in ‘Red Sauce’ and ‘Miss Red’, respectively E20 and E21.
As we can see, this theme is very much used in the first season, but there are many occurrences of it during the second as well.
4) Duality: Jane and John
The guilt theme probably explains why Jane seems to resemble so much his nemesis: in the following season, Rebecca points out how much Jane and RJ are alike in personality, but part of the parallel frequently drawn between them may be based on the fact that in Jane’s mind, both the actual killer and himself who provoked his ire are responsible for his family’s death… And there’s also a more metaphorical interpretation: Jane is very much a character who is both attracted to the right and the wrong, and RJ might represent the worst instincts in him (greed, anger, the temptation to use everyone to cater to his own needs, only because he can because he’s smarter than them). In this situation, Lisbon would be the best qualities in him, of course, the part of him seeking redemption rather than revenge…
That notion is suggested in the pilot too, as in the bedroom serving as crime scene the very first smiley of the show was see through a mirror. And, as C Hill pointed out some time ago, in the terrible flashback of Jane finding his family, we can see a mirror too beside the door of his Malibu house, which reflects the cover of a magazine hung on the wall featuring Jane in his psychic persona, while Jane’s voice is detailing his “vision” of RJ. It hints that, while Jane was cold reading him, he has been reading Jane too, learning about his family life and thinking about how best to teach him a lesson… Indeed, as Jane comes nearer of his bedroom door, there are others pictures on the wall, and in one we can see him holding his wife and his child in his arms, like a perfect smiling family.
Even Grace’s words at the dinner table find a strange echo in the flashback: “you poor sad man. The kingdom of God is a real place” she says, while Jane calls RJ “an ugly, tormented little man, a lonely soul. Sad, very sad”… And later, Dr Wagner, RJ’s copycat, is called “poor sad man” when he shows no remorse for killing an innocent woman along his associate…
Same with Mr Tolliver, the homicidal father at the beginning, as Jane talks about him in those terms: “I see a warm, loving, generous man. A little vain, maybe, selfish, controlling, but a decent man “, ending with “so why do you suspect him of killing your daughter?” That description matches the old Jane too: he appeared to be a warm man on TV, during his readings on gullible women, still vanity has always been a trait of his ( telling Wagner « you want to be the smartest person in the room, when in fact it’s me, obviously »). And he feels responsible for the death of his family, like Tolliver is responsible for killing his daughter: hence Jane’s pause at reading the inscription “today is the first day of the rest of your life”, at the copycat crime scene, which takes a tragic meaning in retrospective. The flashback that begins just moments later starts with Jane’s words: “he says he’s sorry, deeply sorry”.
The attitude consecutive to this duality with a serial killer defines his relationship with his colleagues: the edge we find in him and showman disposition he reproaches to RJ both appear in his taunting of Wagner, in his cruelty and his “childish need for drama” as Cho put it. As a result, the team dynamic is affected, since they’re angry at him, while his behaviour is a bit ironic towards them: he knows he has lied to them, yet he comes prepared to manipulate them in forgiving him the morning after with a paper frog for Lisbon and closed case donuts –a mocking wink at the fact that they’re cops, obviously, since he brought donuts to Bosco too as a pretext to plant a bug in his office in season 2. The man still thinks he’s the smartest in the room and acts accordingly, like when he played with Lisbon over the phone, making her squirm while he was in the other room: “I ask you to come back… because… because you’re useful to the team. No, I won’t say please, screw you”. And of course, that shows how controlling he is, like RJ, since that little teasing was payback for when he argued with her over letting him investigate the case (“it’s not my call, rules are rules. Come back next week”). This disagreement will delineate their relationship, both professionally and personally, starting with Lisbon trying to reign his dangerous obsession in, then she’ll try to protect him from himself (‘Red John’s Footsteps’), while their antagonism about RJ’s demise will lead more and more to a deeper disagreement about justice vs. law/rules. And, with Jane running away to Vegas without not giving her news and the introduction of Lorelei, the opposition will take a more personal turn, which will at the same time soften with their collaboration on the Volker case, and become edgier when Jane will threaten to mess things up again with RJ’s girl. In ‘Red John’s Rules’, Barlow rightfully criticizes Jane as being “secretive and controlling”, which fits RJ to a T too: it seems that Jane’s path towards redemption and building a stronger bond with Lisbon involves getting the serial killer at least as much as letting go of those personality traits he shares with him.
II RJ’s shadow is looming over Jane
Some themes hint both at the threatening presence of RJ in the background and at Jane’s obsession with him.
1) The color red
The most visible of those is certainly the references to shades of red in episodes titles as well as in several details which form the scarlet thread of murder through the series. Among innumerable occurrences, there are many redheads in the show, beginning with Grace, and involving at least one more woman per episode. Plus, in ‘Red Hair and Silver Tape’, the killers attacked specifically women with red hair, hence Van Pelt playing bait in a red dress. Same in ‘Scarlett Fever’, where the victim was called precisely Scarlett…
The idea is continued through the show, as in S2, for instance, Minelli talks to the press after Bosco’s team has been slaughtered: there are red elements in almost every shot. The brick wall behind Lisbon, one of the reporters in front of Virgil is wearing a red and yellow scarf (two colors that have been characterizing RJ in the episode, see below the part about citrus for more detail), while behind him we can see two blurry red patches (one is a car light). There are hints of red and yellow on his tie too. All these indicate that RJ is on everyone’s mind at the moment, since the press conference is a direct consequence of his actions. In the same way, Rebecca had hidden her gun in a basket under a red and white chequered napkin. Also, the killer in ‘The Red Box’ is first seen wearing a red tie, and the victim was a fan of the soccer team Liverpool FC (nicknamed ‘The Reds’), just as later Judge Manchester’s name at the poker game in season five may allude to the team called ‘The Red Devils’. We can see a lot of red elements (brick wall, posters,…) in the radio studio in ‘Red Velvet Cupcakes’, just before the finale. A red car is the first thing visible at Jane’s first crime scene with the team in ‘Red Dawn’, and so on…
In the pilot too, when Jane is in his hotel room after getting the letter from the fake RJ, Van Pelt’s wearing a red top, Rigsby some red trousers, and there’s a red frame behind the younger man. After they left, Jane writes in a red diary and there’s a red light behind him.
Those continuous references are a way to hint that RJ is always the most important killer they’re investigating, even when they’re dealing with the case of the week, because he’s always in Jane’s mind. He even comments that red is a “lovely” color that symbolizes passion, lust and anger in ‘Redline’: meaning in terms of revenge obsession and bloodlust…
4) Citrus and other fruits
(Many thanks to Rose again, whose help in drawing out this list of occurrences has been very much appreciated… ;) )
As the show takes place in California, there’s no wonder some fruits have appeared in the course of the five seasons. Still, as there are so many of them, that there is no doubt that the writers have been playing with them and some of them have been loaded with a peculiar symbolism. Indeed, for instance two meaningful events, such as the trust fall in the S1 finale and Jane’s kidnapping in S3 ‘Ball of Fire’, which both played a part in bringing the main characters closer, took place in front of fruit stands.
But the most interesting examples of fruits used as a hint at something deeper involve citrus fruits. During season 1, we have:
-in a deleted scene from the pilot, the vision that Jane had of the serial killer was pretty longer and far more detailed. He said that RJ was living in a single story blue house with a citrus tree in the front yard: « Lemon I think ». No doubt the reading was full of errors (he also mentioned a speech impediment, a physical description out of nowhere and the fact that he’s living with his mother or his sister…), but the unnecessary detail of the lemon tree in a moment that was the cause of RJ’s wrath is meaningful. It almost gives the tree the valour of a fruit causing the original sin, as was the apple Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree in the Eden Garden, as, like the Biblical couple, Jane was chased from his lost paradise by his arrogance and his foolishness…
- In ‘Bloodshot’ too, Jane pretends that, even blind, he can spot a guilty conscience as it smells of ammoniac, whereas righteous anger has a “lemony smell.” And, in a flashback, he’s seen throwing away the glass water with lemon left by a client that he was tricking (and who ended up committing suicide).
- Then, in Red John’s Footsteps’, there are oranges and lemons on the table when Jane and Lisbon are interrogating Rosalind about Roy (alluding to his looming presence in the background) and Jane is seen talking and smelling an orange after killing Hardy, reminding again of the cause of his despair.
Later, in Season 2, the references keep having the same meaning defined in the first.
- In ‘Black Gold and Red Blood : Lisbon and Van Pelt drink what looks suspiciously like lemonade in the widow’s garden, while Jane is in jail (due to his reckless behavior to get close to the RJ case).
- In ‘Red Bulls’ Jane asks for lemon to put in his water to the kidnapped victim’s family… which may announce RJ taking action in the next episode, ‘His Red Right Hand’: in this episode, Jane is seen running past a pile of lemons when he finds Icks’ body (and the bloody smiley). Lemons are associated to yellow flowers, since there was a bunch of yellow roses between the murdered doctor’s legs at the beginning, then there were more of them placed on a chair in front of his office, where Icks had been killed; both times, the flowers were part of a settling. There was also a discreet reminder of those in the S5 finale, as some yellow orchid-like flowers were placed on the table during the discussion Jane and Lisbon had with his carnie friends… a meeting which will eventually lead them to Barlow and, at the end, to RJ’s last intervention with the DVD. Plus, at the beginning of the second season, there are also the red and yellow flowers Danny left on Angela and Charlotte’s graves.
Interestingly, red and yellow seem interlaced in the pilot too: in the first glimpse we got of Jane he was wearing a shirt with a red line on the collar, and there’s a red and yellow taxi shortly afterwards behind him. The red is obviously a reply to the smiley and the blood, while the yellow is used again as there are some yellow orchids at the crime scene created by the fake RJ as they’re visible when Partridge and Jane enter the room. That moment takes place before the first half of the flashback normally referring to the lemon tree, but in the part that remained in the episode, Jane says that “true evil burns with a cold dark flame”: red and yellow are also the colors commonly associated with fire. Also when watching the video featuring the victim, Cho is placed between two bunches of yellow flowers; and after the flashback, there’s a red and yellow poster behind him when he arrests one of the brothers. But the most intriguing is the dinner scene with the team: red and yellow elements keep appearing (the napkin around Cho’s and Rigsby’s neck, the lights behind Jane, the red straws, the waitress wearing a yellow scarf and a red skirt, the red lobster, the dark yellow beer… and those two colors are completed by a bright blue (the light behind Rigsby), coming mostly from a huge tank fish which is the first thing we can see at the beginning of the scene. Beside, after spending the night writing in the red diary, Jane is drinking from a big red carton cup with yellow letters.
- Then, in ‘The Red Box’, which is marked by the introduction of Hightower, a direct consequence of Bosco’s murder and Minelli’s retirement, we can find: the murder too place at “Citrus Heights” and the victim liked “lemon grass tea”. There are a lot of red elements at the crime scene; there’s also a snapshot of a vase with sunflowers (yellow) while Jane is taunting a woman about having an affair with the victim. Plus, there is an insistence on the state he’s left in by the killer: his brain is dead, yet he’s still breathing (he “resuscitated” due to a case of Lazarus syndrome); which reminds of Kristina’s state in the next season (she’s alive, but RJ messing with her mind left her in a state pretty close to Cotard syndrome, since she thinks she’s dead).
- In ‘Blood Money’, there might be another allusion with the judge’s assertion that the proof discovered by Jane are not receivable, since they’re “fruit of the poisonous tree”, a legal expression meaning that they’ve been corrupted and therefore might be suspected of having suffered from a manipulation. But it again reminds of his recklessness as well as it may or may not be a wink at that original sinful lemon coming from the imaginary tree in front of RJ’s house…
- Last, the season is closed with a file of lemons and oranges in Kristina’s kitchen, where she would be kidnapped.
The citruses later appear in a more sporadic fashion: in season 3, ‘The Red Ponies’, there are limes and lemons visible in two snapshots of the bar where Cho and Rigsby are asking questions, shortly after Jane makes Rigsby look bad with a magic card trick on the body (there was a definite edge to that joke). He also knowingly endangers Grace’s life in talking her into mounting a potentially dangerous horse. This episode directly follows ‘Red Carpet Treatment’ where he’s been given the gun which will be used to shoot Carter at the end of the season.
In ‘Red Moon’, the last person who saw the victim alive was driving a trunk with a smiling orange on it (and the murder was later revealed to be a trap to win Jane’s trust).
In S5 ‘The Red Barn’, Jane cuts a lemon in half to draw a RJ smiley in invisible ink.
Therefore, we can say that citrus appear mostly during RJ’s interventions or at least underline them. Their role is to remind of his original sin, hinting at Jane’s guilt, and to taunt him (hence the yellow flowers). But lemons are sour: their taste alludes to Jane’s suffering and to his “righteous anger”. Thus they represent at the same time RJ’s hand and, perhaps even more, Jane’s psyche, laced with guilt and anger. Those feelings lead him to become reckless (like when he unplugged Bosco’s morphine after finding Icks’ body). The meaning might be a bit sweetened with the oranges: in the S1 finale, he’s lost a major lead to the serial killer in shooting Hardy, yet he saved Lisbon, hence perhaps the orange instead of a lemon. Same with Kristina, who despite everything represented for him a personal step forward since he had allowed himself a very first date.
I also wonder if that thing for citrus couldn’t have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke to it, as Malcom McDowell who plays since S2 the creepily sugary charismatic Bret Stiles is famous for his impersonation of a ruthless murderer who undergoes a nightmarish rehabilitation before ending up too in the hands of a vengeful husband in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Since Bret is the only man who knows something about the killer and who’s still suspiciously alive –and who is now one of the seven suspects- it would be a nice wink, I guess…
It’s also entirely possible that I may be reading too much into this, but I wonder if that sneakily recurring notion of duality may not be lurking in the foliage of that infamous tree too. Indeed, winery seems to be very frequent too: in S1 ‘Red Hair and Silver Tape’, the crime scene was in a vineyard, where Jane played silly games to undermine sheriff McAllister. In ‘Red Scare’, Jane shared the wine he took from the cellar with the team; in ‘At First Blush’, he spontaneously offered his help to a woman who had been framed with a murder and possessed a vineyard. In ‘Days of Wine and Rose’, behind the addiction/rehabilitation notion, the fact remains that Jane gave his help to Lisbon to catch Volker. Even in ‘Cheap Burgundy’ (reminding that the wine the victim and her lover drank wine laced with sleeping pills), the confrontation between Darcy and him is pretty ambiguous, as she suspects he may be RJ, and while his intentions are good, the results are catastrophic… So I wonder if the vineyard may not show a better side of Jane, one expressing his goodwill, albeit the end results are not always that good… It matches with the grape on the fridge in the pilot at the Tolliver’s home: he’s about to do a “good action” in revealing a murderous and incestuous father (as he tells the wife “I’m here to help you”), yet it ends up in another murder. Also, it might be anecdotic, but in ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’, after escaping jail, Jane is sitting in the victim’s family’s kitchen, between some white and yellow chrysanthemums (it’s a reunion in memory of the dead man), and a pot affecting the form of a grape: there’s the same ambiguity in Jane’s actions as he acted recklessly with Bosco, yet he shows an almost obsessive determination in solving the case (to gain back his job and Lisbon’s trust). I’m really not sure about this symbolism, though, as wine also plays a part in the addiction theme (which will be analysed later); still as both aspects enlightens Jane’s ambiguity and the contradictory pull he feels both towards justice and pure revenge, I guess it may be an explanation…
Last, there are also some interesting occurrences to red fruits, but ironically, those are often associated with Lisbon: there are the strawberries he gave her in order to apologise for quitting his job in the beginning of season 2 -and later the ‘Strawberries and Cream’ reminding of the murder of his family. The Red Delicious apple Lisbon asked for in ‘Ball of Fire’; the red apples she fed to the elephant Daisy when Jane tried to distract her to try and find Danny by himself. She also brings a cranberry muffin to Jane in jail instead of the blueberry he asked for. I guess those fruits are meant to show that RJ’s presence is always a weight in their life and relation: he’s always in the background and his existence might affect their choices and actions towards each other, as Jane is all bent on revenge, while Lisbon wants to stay in the side of the law.
Another key theme present in season 1 and developed later is blindness. Indeed, in that fateful TV show at the origin of the tragedy, Jane had visions and, as a psychic, he pretended to see things the others couldn’t.
Therefore, there’s a dichotomy between blindness (in season 1 Rosalind Harker and Bach’s music in ‘Red John’s Footstep’, Jane losing his eyesight in ‘Bloodshot’ and still driving without seeing, then doing the same thing much more successfully while blindfolded in ‘Redline’) and the enlightenment born from knowledge. Indeed, Jane is in the dark concerning RJ: he knows almost nothing about him, while the other knows the “truth”, both about his identity and in terms of his philosophy as we’re told in the course of the series. Rebecca explained RJ’s influence in her life in terms of darkness and light: there was “darkness and shame” inside her before meeting RJ, due to a difficult childhood, and her mentor “made her feel proud of that dark”. She talked about “love and enlightenment”, explaining that “without death, there’s no life, without darkness, there’s no light”, a doctrine which will be later detailed by the reference to Blake and his tiger’s “fearful symmetry” and by the talk in the limo when Lorelei met up with him in the desert (“there is no right or wrong”).
Rebecca also remarked that Jane was quite similar to his nemesis, again using the idea of vision: “you’re very much like him, you know. The way you look at people and see right through them, that’s just spooky”. She also characterizes his relation with the serial killer with the same metaphor: “look at you: until your wife and daughter were killed, you were blind, weren’t you? You were living in an illusion, RJ opened you eyes”. The concept defended by Rebecca here that her faith in RJ opened her eyes ironically reminds of the well-know line “I was blind, but now I see” of ‘Amazing Grace’, which was sang by Rigsby after Bosco’s death.
The notion of illusion, of false appearances is constant: in ‘Ladies in Red’, the wife seemed sincere, yet she was a cold woman, while the aggressive mistress was the one who really cared about the victim and his little girl. In ‘Flame Red’, the killer feigned being deficient, while he was actually pretty smart, and in ‘Miss Red’ the caring girlfriend was a calculating con woman; in ‘Redwood’, the victim’s best friend didn’t recall what happened to the victim and was believed to have killed her, when in fact the girl died trying to protect her just when they were having a fight. The whole scientific experiment in ‘Red Brick and Ivy’ was a fraud, yet the head of the operation wasn’t aware of it. The idea is further played with Kristina Frye, who claimed to be a psychic, yet every tentative from Jane to reveal her tricks failed… And, as Lou Ann pointed out, in S2 ‘Red Badge’, Dr Carmen told Lisbon to “visualize” the alley where she was supposed to have murdered McTeer, when he knew perfectly well that she didn’t do it…
The concept of vision is also at the heart of Visualize, the sect claiming to help its followers achieve self-improvement, which logo is a New Age inspired all-seeing eye: again, knowledge and wisdom are associated with light, as the supporters of the cult-like organisation declare that it opened their eyes and are often devoted to the group as to kill for its sake (‘Red All Over’), like RJ’s minions are known to do.
It’s interesting that that old topos involving a blind man who sees things other don’t (like Rebecca told Jane he is), comes from mythology: Homer was traditionally represented as a blind man, whose deeper vision was expressed by art; in Sophocles’ tragedy, Tiresias, the man who guided Oedipes towards the awful truth in a way a bit reminiscent of Jane’s progressive realization of RJ’s plans in ‘Red John’s Rules’, was a blind man (he lost his eyesight after having offended Hera), yet he could see the future and understood messages from the gods. Not that those characters are necessarily referenced by the show, but the notion is so old and well-established that it seems to have filtered through the storyline. Either way, RJ enjoys to play with the apparent contradiction as his response to Kristina’s words on TV “you can step back into the light” (the sentence was emphasized as it was written underneath her image on the screen) was to whisper in a helpless Jane’s ear “Tyger, tyger burning bright,/ In the forests of the night”. The same playfully cruel irony was found in his message in the season 5 finale, when he pretends to be a real psychic himself, unlike Jane who he has taunted before with not knowing what he did to his family because he wasn’t really psychic. When Jane comes closer to finding the truth, he makes sure to let him know that he’s a step farther into the light…
Last, the notion of knowledge through vision is certainly linked to the nods at surveillance that we got: RJ communicated with Jane via videos (stalking Darcy, sending him a recording of Lorelei in a DVD), plus the camera angles, the bugs (‘The Scarlet Letter’) suggest that he might be keeping an eye on him like he was doing in Hardy’s cellar in ‘Red John’s Footsteps’. Beside, several of the seven suspects are known to get inside information by surveillance: we were told it is Haffner’s speciality in ‘Little Red Notebook’, Bret Stiles seems to know every secret, probably by his spies, and has admitted to keep and watch videos of his disciples in which they confess their faults, Kirkland sent his men to steal Jane’s information (and having been keeping tabs on him for years by Alexa Schultz’s connection with Minelli), while Bertram teams up with him to make him watch his meeting with Lisbon without being seen…
6) Keys, locks and doors
That “getting to the truth” idea is also backed up by an impressive number of allusions to keys, locks and doors.
The first meaning to give to these occurrences is that they reflect Jane’s eagerness to solve the puzzle that every case presents to him. Indeed, while he doesn’t seems very concerned by the legal aspect of the law-enforcement work, there’s no denying that he enjoys solving cases as an intellectual challenge. Hence his pleasure at opening the puzzle box which concealed the victim’s pass card to the lab he worked in (‘Panama Red’), meaning that Jane amused himself in finding a key inside a locked box. His cleverness also refers to murder mysteries: in ‘Red John’s Friends’, to prove Renfrew’s innocence he explained how the murderer could lock the door from the hallway while the key was left inside (classic trick in novels), while the idea is played with later when Renfrew’s body, killed by RJ, is found behind another locked door. Same in the finale for the first season: Jane is trying through the closed door of her bedroom to convince Rosalind to talk to them by telling her about his family, then he sees the smiley above the bed (like in the murder scene at Malibu presumably given Eileen’s murder scene in S5 finale). Indeed, that progression hints that RJ is the biggest mystery Jane is trying to solve…
But the recurring padlocks through the seasons also give a glimpse into Jane’s own mind, locked towards a single goal and shut in his obsession with the serial killer and his personal tragedy: Jane told Lisbon he was locked in a padded room in a mental facility in ‘Red Brick and Ivy’ and he’s taken to put a padlock on his attic door during season 5, only allowing Lisbon to enter after she calls herself her partner. He also found himself in jail twice (thrice with the investigation in ‘Like a Red-Headed Stepchild’) and managed to get free, either by escaping (after picking his handcuffs in ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’), or by playing poker to pay bail, then lying his way through his trial (‘Scarlet Ribbons’). He was also trapped with Lisbon in a container in the middle of nowhere in ‘Blood Money’, where they started having a meaningful talk when a boy opened the door and freed them.
Jane’s tricks with keys also involve finding them (the van keys in ‘Red Tide’; in ‘Red Scare’), finding how to open locked doors (the rhythmic pass code in ‘Ladies in Red’; in ‘Code Red’; picking locks in ‘Redemption’, in ‘Strawberry and Cream’), finding what door one key opens (‘Miss Red’, ‘Red Scare’ again)… and giving false keys in order to create a stir in the criminal mind (in ‘Miss Red’ and to Carter’s widow in ‘Strawberry and Cream’). Same with Jane stealing keys in the pilot (Dr Wagner’s card pass): leading to the following dialog when he suddenly barged in: “how did you get in?” – “The door was open. I think I left my phone in your office.” – “The door wasn’t open.” –“Must have been: here I am.” The whole scene obviously refers to the highly traumatic opening of the door in the flashback that took place only moments before: « if you were a real psychic instead of a dishonest little worm, you wouldn’t need to open the door to know what I’ve done to your lovely wife and child”… Opening a door is therefore linked to that terrible memory: hence “Paddy” telling Lisbon about his memory door that “some doors are better left closed”, which decided her to bring him back in front of his fateful bedroom door. The association of a closed door and death is also present in ‘His Red Right Hand’ with Icks’ corpse hidden behind a door while the smiley was visible through the stores, a bit like Renfrew’s body behind a locked door and like opening a secret door revealed the victim (‘Ladies in Red’). Moreover, RJ himself is hiding behind a locked door in ‘Red John’s Footsteps’, one Jane tried in vain to open before Hardy ushered him towards the cellar.
His voluntary confinement is again illustrated during his date with Kristina: he’s doing small talk about him being jail, precisely, then he excuses himself while she’s still laughing and he locks himself into the men’s washroom where his façade crumples down and his distress becomes apparent. It’s symbolical of him being voluntarily trapped inside of his grief and obsession. The same goes when Lisbon points out that he’s in jail, in ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’: he answers « only in your mind, Lisbon, only in your mind ». He’s precisely locked down in his own mind, in his obsession.
More recently, he’s locked a cat inside a safe, to force a woman to find the combination and open it (thus betraying her skills): in a metaphorical level, the red cat may allude to RJ the tiger, while Jane too is desperately trying to open the door and get to him by solving the mystery.
Still, prisons remain a bit ambiguous: Dr Wagner has given information to Jane’s kidnapper in ‘Ball of Fire’ then offered to help Lisbon save him afterwards. Renfrew was able to escape, even though he was guarded as a witness in the RJ case; the killer in ‘Like a Red-Headed Stepchild’ went outside of jail as he pleased; Erica had access to a cell phone and organised her escape from her cell, and last but certainly not least, Jane could investigate while being arrested and managed to get Lorelei out of jail. Even from behind bars, communication with the outside world seems to always be possible, suggesting that, albeit he’s still trapped inside his obsession, the latent temptation to break free exists for Jane.
Season 5 also seem to add a new layer of meaning to the theme along with a significant number of occurrences.
In ‘Red, White and Blue’, Jane gave a key to the memory-impaired Pete: it opened the locker (tricking the murderer), therefore was the key to the mystery, while prefiguring later Jane metaphorically giving Pete the keys to access his memory palace and compensate the trouble from his traumatism. That false key reminds of the one he gave to Carter’s wife to force her to open the secret basement: it was the one opening his own gym locker; that similarity ties that stand alone (and rather disconnected with the others) army episode into the RJ storyline.
In the previous episode, ‘There Will Be Blood’, special attention was given to doors, as both Jane, then Lisbon entered the house at Orchid Lane to find someone they wanted to have a serious talk with (respectively Lorelei and Jane himself). Indeed, symbolically, a door was closed with the Lorelei arc, as well as another opened: towards a greater trust, after the discussion he had with Lisbon, and towards truth, as Jane’s investigations were about to get some results. The episode was a pivotal moment in Jane’s quest, hence the fact that Jane had been stealing keys in that season (to get in the real estate agency ‘Black Cherry’ and Lisbon’s car keys in ‘Panama Red’), or at least sneaking them up like in this particular episode: it means that he’s getting closer to RJ too…
But, while Jane’s getting closer, Lisbon has been distancing herself from him, at least until her outburst at Orchid Lane. Hence her lingering irritation in ‘Red, White and Blue’ when Jane asked him if she had a padlock –reminding of the one he put on the door to his attic since he started his list of suspects, thus hinting again at the progress he’s making in his investigation. Same with her reluctance at following him in the real estate agency (ridiculing him by entering through the unlocked fence while he was leaping over it) and then muttering in her sleep when waiting with him. In ‘Panama Red’, her defiance went even further: after Jane hide her keys in the puzzle box to get her to play with him, she simply smashed it with a hammer kept inside her drawer, giving him her own brutal but effective solution to the problem. Indeed, whereas Jane is prone to mind tricks and picking locks, she has always preferred the direct and more legal manner of bursting the door like a real cop: I guess that reflects their divergence concerning RJ too, since while Jane wants to sneak a firearm in the confrontation to kill him (like he did twice, in ‘Strawberry and Cream’ and in ‘The Crimson Hat’), Lisbon wants to make a lawful arrest, at least until now. But her continued reluctance during a part of S5 also shows how much defiant she had gotten of his tricks and of his manner to use Lorelei to solve the mystery of RJ’s identity, which had lead him to open himself to her at the very end of the season finale
III Treasure hunts
More discreet and probably far less noteworthy, two minor themes seem to be woven with a lot of cases the team has been working on. This time, they involve simple objects that appear quite regularly in investigation, leading Jane’s way through the series in a most unassuming manner, a bit like a modern-day Hop-o’-My-Thumb.
1) The red diaries
There’s also a number of notebooks, letters and other written notes left by Jane; the most meaningful instance being in the pilot as Jane wrote a fake diary supposedly belonging to the victim to trick Dr Wagner. The doctor himself pointed out that that action was a direct answer to the fake RJ letter he slipped under Jane’s room door: he was angry about the letter, so he busied himself creating the diary in the same night since he couldn’t sleep. What’s interesting is that fake letter was meant as a reminder of the real letter from the serial killer left on Jane’s bedroom door in Malibu and warning him about what was behind the door. Is that then a stretch to assume that every other notebook afterwards that Jane uses for exactly the same reasons as in the pilot (catching the murderer) may have a similar deeper meaning too? Indeed, there’s the ‘Little Red Notebook’ Jane forged in order to outsmart Haffner, the second clue of the treasure hunt in ‘Red Scare’, that Jane wrote himself. We can also count the notebook genuinely written by the victim but which contained the main clue (“vultures”) in ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’; the accounting notebook hidden in the public library which lead them to the main proof against the killer in the first episode of the second; the red notebook belonging to the victim given to Lisbon by the private guard (and killer) while Jane found the red box which he took with a red handkerchief (‘The Red Box’).
There are also some letters he used to trick the culprits: in S2E2, he wrote “Ah ha!” on a paper sheet he hide in Lisbon’s office to catch the man who was spying on them; in ‘Red Alert’, he forged a false letter supposedly revealing the killer’s identity to catch the sheriff; in ‘Every Rose has Its Thorns’, he tried the same trick on Erica, but it failed at first, unlike in ‘Red Letter Day’… those letters obviously remind of RJ’s one (and of Wagner’s). Interestingly, three episodes titles play with the notion: ‘Red Letter Day’ in S5, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Red Letter’ (in S2) may refer to an alphabet letter (used in a classic book or a well-used expression), but they may also allude to the letter the criminal let to Jane to taunt him with his family’s massacre…
Same with the lists: we had first LaRoche’s, which Jane was obsessively searching, because he thought it would give him a serious lead on RJ (‘Redacted’, ‘Strawberry and Cream’), then the list Jane kept in a notebook of the guards who could have helped to hide Lorelei, at more recently the list he has been working on during the fifth season of the men he shook hands with, leading to the shorter version (the seven suspects).
But the most obvious allusion to RJ’s initial message is the number of occurrences of people writing something on the wall: Renfrew (‘Red John’s Friends’), Gupta (‘Strawberry and Cream’), the phone number leading to the woman guarding the DVD (the S5 finale)… even the clue board Kirkland stole from Jane qualifies to some extent. Each of those relates to information on RJ and the way they’re written alludes to his bloody smiley on the wall…
2) Diamonds and jewels
More shinny and pricey, Jane and his friends came across an inordinate number of gems in their cases. Three categories seem to emerge.
- The “murder mystery” type (again): they show Jane’s ingenuity at finding the missing treasure. The victim’s fortune in diamonds was hidden in the gleaming chandelier in ‘Ladies in Red’ in season 1 (a fake psychic finding diamonds in a ceiling light… Hitchcock’s ‘Family Plot’, someone?). To some extent, the ‘Blue Orchid’ too, with its specific name alludes to famous gems, which often appeared in class murder novels. Similarly, other jewels hint at Jane’s imagination, one of the traits that make him enjoy investigating: the diamond cutter workshop he marvels at with Charlotte in ‘Devil’s Cherry’, along with that diamond he lost in the bullpen then he playfully told Rigsby to keep in order to test him in an earlier episode.
- Jewels also indicate affection: he offered emeralds set on a necklace and earrings to Lisbon and a similar ensemble with rubies to Van Pelt along with some garish wristwatch decorated with brilliants to his male coworkers with his earnings at poker in ‘Red Handed’; he was quite disappointed when Lisbon told him she couldn’t keep them. In ‘A Price Above Rubies’, he amused himself by trying a tiara on her head from the jewellery store they were investigating in –which was referenced later in ‘Strawberry and Cream’ when he called her an “angry little princess”, adding “someone stole your tiara”. He also gave her a shinny stone found on the beach and encouraged her to make a necklace with it as a new hobby. Gems also symbolize damaged bonds: the engagement ring that the jockey bought to mend his relationship with his ex-girlfriend; the one Craig gave to Van Pelt to symbolize their love, even though he worked for RJ, then the diamond necklace that he took from her when dying and that she kept as a reminder of him when she started forgiving herself in ‘My Bloody Valentine’; the ruby Jane’s brother-in-law Danny left on the crime scene where he called Jane in order to frame him because he was still angry at him… In ‘Like a Red-Headed Stepchild’ too, the murder was committed behind a jewellery store and the investigation forced Rigsby to reconnect with his abusive criminal father.
- Jane also often uses jewels to trick murderers into confessing: in S3 ‘Red Sky at Night’, he spread the news that the victim had a diamond concealed in a tooth to force the killer to expose the corpse. In ‘Days of Wine and Roses’, he used the necklace the victim stole to make her murderer betray herself.
Therefore, there is a variety of treasures Jane has been hunting (the carpet in ‘Redacted’ in season 4, the wine in ‘Red Scare’, the golden sculpture set with rubies in ‘Cackle-Bladder Blood’ and the ring in ‘The Red Box’ in season 2, the gold mine and the golden figurine in respectively ‘Red Gold’ and ‘Red Queen’), and this specific kind of shining treasure enlightens the notion of quest, constitutive of his character as well as his childish personality, along with the helicopter toy at the beginning of ‘Cackle-Bladder Blood’ or the Indian headdress in ‘Aingavite Baa’. Those objects hint that everything is an exciting game for Jane, while subtly reminding that he’s still looking out for every bit of precious information in his obsessive pursuit.
IV Possible leads for later development
The first season also opens up the lid of two questions whose importance is only seen much later into the series. Those are not really themes per se, but their presence in the first season has proved significant since then.
1) The magician’s assistant:
In the pilot, Jane told Wagner that the magician’s assistant is the attractive woman who works as a distraction while the magician actually does the part of the trick the public should not see: that was what Wagner tried to do by killing the woman along with his business partner. He wanted to focus the police’s attention on her, making them believe the man was only collateral damage.
The magician persona is constant later, as Jane charms his way in the team with his magic tricks, using the skills he gained in his old career. He’s also trying to distract the team, by making them like him and see him as entertaining and childish, thus leading them to forget what he’s really after. He works alone for his tricks in pretty much the same way he conduct his quest and investigate his cases, calling for the others only when he dims it useful for his schemes, but not actually telling them anything beforehand. He only used said beautifully distracting assistants when he needed them, when going undercover, once for Grace, twice for Lisbon in the course of the two first seasons: mainly, he didn’t told them anything either, but counted on them to occupy someone while he worked his magic, preferably elsewhere…
But, very slowly, Lisbon has been helping him more on his schemes, becoming his usual accomplice on the field, making it weird when he ditched her to a new companion (Dr Montague in ‘Bloodhounts’, then Hightower in ‘Red Gold’). He literally called her his assistant in S3 ‘Like A Redheaded Stepchild’ in front of the victim’s class and she played along in the prison where he worked. It was again emphasised in S4 ‘Pretty Red Balloon’, where she was his accomplice during his fake psychic act. Then, again, she was the woman hidden in the box, who arrested the actual assistant who helped Jack on the scene. From here on, she takes part in almost every grand scheme he’s pulling in the season 5: the mad tea party in ‘Devil’s Cherry’, the session with the psychologists in ‘Days of Wine and Roses’, she introduced each animal he’s naming in his lesson on memory in ‘Red in Tooth And Claw’… and she gains the title of official “partner”.
Still, the really interesting part is that she already assumes this role in ‘Red Dawn’, which was meant to predate the pilot by some years. Jane asked her to shuffle the makeshift tarot cards as he was improvising a trick to catch the killer. She probably worked as a distraction too, since it led the people in the room to focus on the cards and not on his hands (he switched up two cards during the trick). That means that the seeds of their partnership were meant to be already planted when they met, way before the pilot and her distrust for him in here.
Beside, as it has already been commented many times, her role by her side is not only to distract the suspects, but she’s here to help him towards a common goal. The public they’re tricking is hers as well as his; plus, more and more, RJ himself is becoming this public: as he’s been progressively opening up to her about his parallel investigation, their collaboration got closer and more truthful; she became his partner in getting him too.
8) The bad cop(s):
Since the first season, there have been a oddly important amount of bad cops revealed by the investigation: in ‘Redwood’, the killer worked for the police in charge of searching the woods. In ‘The Thin Red Line’, the murderer was the young agent who pretended to have first arrived at the crime scene. In ‘Flame Red’, the victims were national guard veterans who committed a murder a while before–not cops, but close enough. And, of course, they paved the way for Sheriff Hardy in ‘Red John’s Footsteps’, but the S5 finale revealed that Sheriff McAllister from the second episode of the series was one of the seven suspects in Jane’s list of possible candidates for RJ. Besides, he was suspected of being the murderer in the case they had been investigating in ‘Red Hair and Silver Tape’.
In season two, that notion goes through the roof with Dr Carmen, Lisbon’s therapist at the CBI, trying to frame her in ‘Red Badge’ for a murder he committed for money. Bosco had probably killed someone, for what Teresa covered up for him (‘Black Gold and Red Blood’). Then Rebecca (‘His Red Right Hand’) and the ADA in ‘Blood Money’ completed the list. Then the scenario returns in S3, as Todd Johnson was a paramedic who worked close to the police, and his murderer O’Laughlin was a FBI agent. Hightower was framed for the crime. Outside of the RJ investigation, the sheriff in ‘Red Alert’ was the culprit and the cop in charge of the victim’s protection accepted money to kill him in ‘Blood for Blood’. Season 4 gives us ‘Pink Cops’ (an undercover cop killed by her coworker) and ‘His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts’ (a cop took evidence from the crime scene in order to protect Stiles)
In season 5, we learn that Jane’s very first case within the CBI involved a murderous police officer too (‘Red Dawn’), and among the series regular, many people working in the law enforcement area have been proved to be compromised in some way: LaRoche (mutilated a rapist), Brenda (was corrupted), Ardiles (may have been involved in a case in some way), while Haffner is a Visualize member and Kirkland committed a murder in cold blood. The two agents are part of the Jane’s list whose seven candidates all work for (or have ties into) law enforcement agency, which is obviously the idea that has been slowly seeping through since the very beginning of the show: RJ may be one of their own.
Book of reference ‘THE SCARLET LETTER’ (title of the second episode of the season): guilt and self-punishment. Plus the idea of sanction and banishment: the RJ case was given to Bosco and Jane was kept out of the loop.
A lot of elements in the second season follow the themes defined in the first: for instance, the « bad parents » theme is present since the opening of the season, as a woman is believed to have stolen money from her employer before leaving her family, which included a seriously ill child. Still, Jane discovers that the woman was in fact taking the blame for the real culprit in order to pay for her son’s hospital bills: she was trying to fix things, hence the title ‘Redemption’. We can therefore say that the theme is continued, but with a progression. Another case (‘The Scarlet Letter’) later includes a father who was sleeping with his daughter’s mistress leading the former to kill the cheating girl… But the father still tried to protect his daughter too, which also indicates a slight shift in the theme.
At the same time, it’s widened to include other family scenarios: in the same episode, the victim’s brother (who is a despicable man), doesn’t show grief upon learning her death and even resents her for turning her back to them, arguing that family should help. That ambiguous double aspect of family, both close-knit and hateful will be expanded in later seasons in order to add more nuances to the theme.
The reflection about revenge and its limits is also continued: in ‘Red Badge’, the father of a little girl who has been raped admits to having abandoned the idea of killing her offender because his daughter needed him… which may remind of Lisbon’s words to Jane when she was trying to convince him that his life was more important than getting RJ: « there are people who care about you, who need you ».
Still, the new season introduces a change in the characters’ dynamic: the first episode alludes to the previous finale (Jane mentioning that he saved Lisbon’s life and she resents him) and to the following ‘Red Badge’ (Jane again, asking her about her therapist). This indicates that the bond between those two is about to change. As for the team, in this first episode they keep asking him if he’s told Lisbon about his plans and are reluctant to follow him: it hints at the trust issue which is at the center of the season. Moreover, there’s a subtle change in the titles of the episodes: while there were only two of them which involved blood in the first, ‘Bloodshot’ and ‘Blood Brothers’ and whereas the later is not necessarily expressing violence, we can count four in S2 – ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’, ‘Bleeding Heart’, ‘Blood in, Blood out’, ‘Blood Money’. It announces a heightened violence from RJ, since the serial killer will strike twice (killing Bosco and his team, then Rebecca, at the end of the first half if the season; taking Kristina away in the finale). Plus, the tone is more threatening and urgent, hence titles such as ‘Red Menace’, ‘Red Scare’ (respectively E4 and E5, when the tension with Bosco was at its worse and only three episodes before his death) and E16 ‘Code Red’.
1) Food: the Bosco arc
A rather discreet theme that had been outlining this half of the season mostly involving Bosco, from his arrival to his death, is food. Food is pretty usual in the show, that with the first impression viewers got of Jane’s character was him making a sandwich, the first dinner with Grace, the close-cases pizzas, and so on, not to mention that time Jane used his skills in the kitchen to make a killer lower her defences in ‘Red Sauce’.
The difference with the beginning of the second season is that, then, food seems to be used almost systematically to convey the essence of a relation: giving or sharing food becomes a way to express bonding or disagreement.
- In the first episode, ‘Redemption’, Bosco’s first contact with Jane involves taking him to the rooftop café when their first divergence in opinion takes place: Jane accepts a bottle of water from the agent, before making a face at Bosco’s comparison between hiding his bad eating habits from his wife and cheating on her (a theme later developed with his love for Lisbon). And later, after declaring that he was quitting his job, Jane tries to get back in Lisbon’s good graces by offering her strawberries. In those two examples, food is used as a way to communicate a deeper message: while the berries are a gift to get her forgiveness, the bottle of water (and the sandwich) are a declaration of war, an act of power from Bosco which already entails tacitly the battle both men will have to get Lisbon on their side…
- Another example of the same use of food is shown in the second episode, as Van Pelt seduces a suspect into letting his guard down by smiling and eating potatoes chips with him. She tries to win her trust before tricking him, like Jane tries to do (and fails, Bosco is no dumb) by offering donuts to the new agent in charge of the RJ case and his team… and using that opportunity to distract them from the fact that he’s planting a bug under his table.
- Again, a not-to-be-trusted food/drink-offering appears in ‘Red Badge’, with the drugged coffee Dr Carmen has been giving to Lisbon for weeks to make her have trouble remembering short periods of time. That trust abuse is in dire contrast with the pastry Jane is bringing her at the end of the episode, after she’s arrested the man with his help.
- Same with the fifth episode, ‘Red Scare’: Jane shares pricey wine with the team as a friendship gesture, prefiguring their alliance against Bosco in the next episode (and the team’s support to Lisbon against the same two episodes before in ‘Red Badge’) as well as it announced the toast in the memory of Bosco after his murder.
- In E6 ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’ Jane asks Lisbon a blueberry muffin, which he pointedly uses to play jailbird… it’s a message to Bosco as well as a way to make her take sides and chose him over the other man. Food then serves the double goal of forging a stronger bond between them and rubbing it in the face of his rival for getting RJ case…
- In the seventh episode, the victim’s sister and her husband express their hostility towards Jane by refusing to give him lemon for his water, whereas Bosco reminds Lisbon of their old friendship by bringing tequila to Lisbon to celebrate their success on the case.
- Betrayal is expressed in ‘His Red Right Hand’ (E8) when Rebecca finds the bodies of Bosco’s team members when she is bringing them coffee, while she’s shown later placing the gun she was about to use to kill them in a food basket. Same with the flashback when she’s gently threatening him to tell his wife about his sandwich. On the other hand, Bosco helping Lisbon to recover after she’s been choking on her coffee (she was drinking when Rebecca’s comment made her laugh) was a genuine gesture of care and it contrasts meaningfully with Lisbon coming back to the present and looking at the corpses. Also, the tequila the team shares at the end is a sincere homage too.
After Bosco’s death, the theme is occasionally used again: like in ‘Redline’ (Jane inviting her to dinner at Napa at the end of the episode), and in ‘Red Herring’ (a chief murdered with food because he betrayed an employee). And Lisbon dismissing her consultant by telling him to get himself some chocolate in ‘Red Alert’ is symptomatic of her closing herself in her grief while in ‘The Red Box’, Jane making himself a sandwich (not for Lisbon) might announce the distance he will try to maintain after the debacle involving Kristina.
Interestingly, a similar idea makes an appearance during Season 5, in ‘Red Velvet Cupcakes’: food symbolizes the failure of the victim’s marriage. Her husband’s diet vs. her passion for baking represents the lack of understanding between them.
As a conclusion, the food theme underlines the importance of the arc involving Bosco as a pivotal moment in the relationship between Jane and Lisbon: as he helps her in ‘Red Badge’ and she comes to his rescue in ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’, it introduces indeed the evolution of the trust theme, one of the more prominent in the show.
The theme of trust was already developed in S1, as Lisbon obviously doesn’t confide in her consultant, while he keeps lying to them all and hinting that he has a hidden agenda. It’s even more visible in the finale, when he seems surprised when she admits to not trusting him, and he talks her into doing a trust fall in order to make her see that he’s reliable… before reproaching her to have not respected their plan to get Hardy, because her intervention came too early to let him catch RJ (or rather be caught by him and have Lisbon make an arrest in flagrante…).
Still, this theme is even more central in S2, because it’s a pivotal moment in the characters’ dynamics, as loyalties are tested. Indeed, Bosco’s arrival questions both Jane’s right to get his hands on the RJ’s file and Lisbon’s support. It’s indicated by some scattered small touches, for instance, at the end of the second episode, Lisbon defends Jane’s last scheme (more precisely his debatable good idea of using a corpse in order to get a confession…), and Minelli ironically congratulates Jane in turning her. In ‘Red Badge’ (E3), Lisbon is faced with the troubling doubt of not knowing who she can trust: can she trust her instincts that she didn’t kill McTeer, when her memory was failing? The only answer she can come with is to let Jane in and accept to let him hypnotize her… which he does, by repeating her that she’s too tense and that she wouldn’t hypnotize her. She doesn’t turn to Bosco, her by-the-rules coworker, former mentor and friend, but to her unruly consultant whom she’s afraid would mess with her head; Bosco tacitly alludes to her lack of trust in him at the end of the episode. Same with ‘Black Gold and Red Blood’, when Lisbon at first refuses to help Jane get out of jail, he reads her reaction to him telling her that Bosco is in love with her and comments “lies and truths all mixed up together”. Then, again, Lisbon decides to choose him over Bosco and threatens to use some dangerous information she has on him if he doesn’t drop the charges against her insufferable consultant…
Plus, the team has to chose between helping their coworkers (Lisbon first, then Jane) or abiding to the rules represented by Bosco. And last, Rebecca symbolizes the other end of the spectrum, the most abject form of betrayal.
Later, after Bosco’s murder, there are some other interesting occurrences: in ‘Code Red’, Lisbon punches Jane because he lied to her, making her believe that they were about to die, when in fact he was trying to make it a life-affirming experience. And in ‘Blood Money’, Lisbon is suspended by Hightower because of another of his shenanigans; Jane’s reaction is to help her get her job back by involving her in the investigation. As a result, both get stranded in a container in the middle of nowhere and they have an interesting talk: Lisbon admits she had known from the start that working with him would cost her her career.
That’s the moment when, as Reviewbrain put it, the “trust vs. control saga’ begins to take its first steps into a meaningful turn, as both Lisbon and Jane start realizing that the other is more reliable that they first let on. Not that they start fully trusting him/her still, but it’s a tiny start… Afterwards, the theme keeps being in the background of every season as a barometer of their closeness, with meaningful moments such as in ‘Redacted’ where Jane at long last decides to listen to the advices he received during the season (from Hightower, Minelli…) and came clean with Lisbon, who find a solution to get Culpepper out of custody, in ‘Where in The World Is Carmine O’Brien?’ -Lisbon confiding her worries about Tommy- or in the first episode of the 4th season, after Jane messed up with the team by killing Carter: Lisbon and the others try to help him get out of jail, and he asks her if she trusts him; her answer is “not one hundred percent”, which is still better than her “of course not” from S1.
And the biggest altercation about trust is displayed in the beginning of the Season 5, when Lisbon starts resenting his half-truths and outright lies about Lorelei, before culminating in ‘There Will Be Blood’ with the confrontation in Orchid Lane, where she reproaches him not to be reliable and threatening him to make him leave the team he doesn’t stop, which he tries to do afterwards. Ironically, this season is also the moment when they’re the closest, starting calling each other “partners” and confiding more in the other.
3) The aftermath
The second half of the season, after Bosco’s death, deals with its consequences, both in the professional sphere and in Lisbon’s personal life.
Interestingly, the structure enlightens the corresponding arcs with a chiasm, as we have:
- E1- ‘Redemption’ (Bosco arrives)
- E2- ‘The Scarlet Letter (the victim’s name is Kristin)
Then at the end of the season:
– E22- ‘Red Letter’ (Kristina’s coming back)/
-E23- ‘Red Sky in The Morning (Kristina disappears)…
That inversion is even further underlined by another chiasm in the topic of grieving:
Jane’s willing to help Lisbon grieve Bosco (‘Code Red’), which is fallowed by him dating again and fidgeting with his wedding band. Therefore, we have: Bosco’s death/ Lisbon’s distress/ Jane’s distress (the wedding band in the men’s washroom because he’s thinking of his wife)/ Kristina vanishing and her symbolical death.
Bosco’s death is presented as a very traumatic event. It was somewhat announced by Minelli in “Red Bulls”: “CBI agents shooting each others is not a headline that I want to see”. Moreover, there are three cases in the remaining half of the season where someone is murdered on the job by a coworker (‘Redline’, ‘Red Herring’, ‘Code Red’) and one where there’s a traitor on a work team (the eco-terrorist in the mayor team in ‘The Bleeding Heart’), reminding of what happened with Rebecca and her team.
No surprise then that the dynamics between the two lead characters are changed after it happened. Indeed, it seems that Jane has been trying to discreetly cheer her up after she lost her friend and tried to play it cool: he keeps giving her small offerings in very much the same fashion than in the food arc, albeit with a slightly different meaning and not always with edibles: the tiara he put on her head in ‘A Price Above Rubies’, immediately following the traumatism; inviting her to dinner in ‘Redline’ and giving her encouragements to pursue a bit of “empty glamour” with billionaire Mashburn; offering her to dance in ‘Rose-Colored Glasses’… Jane is obviously getting out of his way to make her smile with small gestures, until he decides to confront the problem more directly by talking to her (and making her believe she was about to die) in ‘Code Red’ –an episode laced with mentions of grief, such as the emotional scene when the dying scientist tells her daughter not to grieve her for too long and to be happy. Still, after ‘Code Red’ it looks like he’s pulling away again, preparing to his breakdown involving Kristina as, among more meaningful signs, he’s making a sandwich for him alone in ‘The Red Box’.
Yet, those attempts to get a bit closer are undermined by the storylines involving couples facing problems: in ‘A Price Above Rubies’, a husband was suspect of staying with his wife for her money and of stealing from her family; it follows right after Bosco’s death. And, just before Jane’s “life-affirming” experiment, he and Lisbon were a bit shocked to learn that the soon-to-be victim and her husband had a very open marriage… That grieving period for Lisbon is therefore opened and closed by two marriages rising doubts, but happy nonetheless: it might indicated that, while Jane tries to comfort her, she’s having her doubts about her partnership with him. Because there is a work marriage alright, and people are often mitigated by the way it works, yet it does work. And those doubts are still in Lisbon’s mind in ‘Blood Money’, when she confronts Jane’s lack of honesty while trapped in a container.
Since the end of the second season and his reciting of Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’, the serial killer is associated with that animal and, more largely with predators. There’s a copy of Rubens’ painting ‘A Hunting For Lions And Tigers’ in S3 ‘Bloodstream’ (added to the painter’s name meaning red), and the team learns that tigers on the loose have unearthed the victim’s body in S4 ‘Ruddy Cheeks’… before being warned that one is still roaming free in the woods, leading Jane and Lisbon to joke about being chased while running away.
This new aspect develops something that was already present in the pilot: Jane was watching a nature show featuring a leopard chasing a gazelle, which received a meaningful echo seconds later when Jane runs behind the fake RJ in the stairs… only to be inversed again when Wagner chases after him again in stairs… That suggests that the hunting works both ways: RJ (symbolized by his imitator) is both the hunter and the prey for Jane, which is further enlightened in the finale, when both men set a trap to catch the other in the Hardy’s cellar.
The nature show is again used as a symbolic plot devise before Jane seduces/is seduced by Lorelei, leading once again to the ambiguity about who is trapping the other.
Without entering too much in details that have been already repeated several times, let’s just say that Blake’s poetry also enlightens other aspects of the RJ persona, such as the references to an iron-smith (Roy Tagliaferro, translated on the show by the name of his smoke screen business “Cut Iron Inc.”), an allusion to God forging both the tiger and the lamb, the right and the wrong, in a equilibrium reminding of the tiger’s “fearful symmetry”, thus levelling them both as heavenly creations. Hence the “there is no right or wrong” declared by the serial killer to justify his actions by brainwashing his minions in following his criminal lack of morality by denying the consequences of their actions.
In the same line of ideas associated with the iron-smith and the tiger “burning bright/ In the forests of the night”, there are also various references to fire (Rigsby being an arson specialist, a bonfire in ‘Red Tide’, a “Sacred Fire’ in ‘Blood Brothers’, the firemen and the burnt house in ‘Fugue in Red’; plus ‘Throwing Fire’, ‘Flame Red’, ‘Ball of Fire’, along with Todd Johnson’s murder, the many bombs like in ‘The Red Shirt’, ‘Strawberry and Cream’, ‘Bloodshot’, ‘Carnelian Inc.’, ‘Red Hot’ and so on) and to the sun and more largely to the sky and the beginning or end of the night, especially between S3 and S4 ‘Red Sky in The Morning’, ‘Red Sky at Night’, ‘Red Moon’, which will lead to Jane’s first decisive foray in his enemy’s schemes in the finale, Bertram’s quote of Blake “When thy little heart doth wake/ Then the dreadful night shall break”; and similarly in S5 ‘Red Dawn’, ‘Red Sails in The Sunset’ announcing a change of rules in the game they’re playing.
The end of season 2 introduces a shift in Jane’s perspective as he met his nemesis face to face for the first time. Progressively, his feelings towards revenge start changing: afterwards, he’s still as driven as he was, but fear makes emerge some once well-hidden doubts.