Consultant Patrick Jane (Baker) arrives at a crime scene outside Auburn, California where he learns that Dr. Steiner ( recurring guest star George Wyner- Season 2’s ‘The Scarlett Letter’ and ‘Red Herring’) is the coroner handling the case. Agent Lisbon (Tunney) warns him to not tease the doctor which he always enjoys doing. The warning of course falls on deaf ears. The victim is Timothy Hartley (Ian Vogt) whose married to Peregrine Cook (Heather McComb), a member of wealthy family. When the body is stolen en route to the coroner’s office, Dr. Steiner (who feels responsible for its theft) asks Jane to tag along the case to help in any way he can. Grace’s fiancé FBI Agent Craig O’ Laughlin (Eric Winter) also joins the investigation stating that his agency has been investigating similar cases of stolen bodies. They think they are being sold to tissue banks for profit. Later, an alien possibility presents itself when Lisbon and the team learn that the victim believed he was abducted by extraterrestrials a few months prior.
I had such a hard time with this one. It was written by Tom Szentgyorgyi who brought us one of the most thrilling episodes “Ball of Fire” which was also one of my favorites this season. Here, Mr. S gave us an episode with such great character moments. The Lisbon/Jane camaraderie is back in beautiful full effect (they haven’t been so in sync since season two). It also had lots of continuity, and a few very important scenes (VIS).
But the tone at the beginning and the end were in such extreme contrast it’s like they belong to two completely different episodes; a phenomenon that affected me so much it left me having to judge the episode based on its individual components to ensure objectivity. My conclusion: there was just way too much going on. You try to do too much and something is bound to end up lacking.
Here it is the Alien “mystery” that suffered the most. The case simply wasn’t very interesting; the concept of aliens has been done before but better (in House). It was also obvious from the very beginning who the killer was. The money jargon went over my head, and even Cho’s (Tim Kang) scenes which were supposed to provide comic relief weren’t as funny as they should have been. I actually found them awkward though I can’t put my finger on why I felt that way.
The Grace/Craig/Wayne plot line didn’t fare very well either; most of the scenes felt very rushed, especially in comparison to how nicely paced Jane’s scenes were with Dr. Steiner.
Of course it could be argued that Jane and Steiner’s scenes were so captivating that it was inevitable for the other scenes to be rendered not as interesting by comparison. But I contend that they didn’t have a fair shot to begin with. Since I rate episodes holistically not based on individual parts, I’m sorry to say that I can’t give this one higher than 8.5. It really is such a shame. This would have been a straight up 10/10 if the script had been a bit more focused.
That’s all I can say here without going into spoilers.
Read below for details, and be prepared for some tough love (emphasis on love).
Detailed AKA humongous review (spoilers galore)
As I already mentioned the beginning and the ending of the episode are so completely different it’s like being told the movie you’re watching is a romantic comedy only to have it end like a psychological drama. And while both genres are arguably enjoyable, it is very hard to pull them off in a single movie, much less in a single TV episode without something feeling very off.
In “The Red Mile”, not only is the combination awkward, it is also unsatisfactory. I’ve discussed the episode with a number of people now and know that I am not the only one who felt betrayed by the bait and switch. This isn’t like Red Moon where the cute opening deer scene was used at the beginning to contrast with the immediately following morbid crime scene. Here, viewers were intentionally misled into thinking that the episode was a lighter one, from the upbeat promo to its fantastically fun beginning. Even the title (referring to The Green Mile) wasn’t enough to indicate what would happen at the end. Such underhanded methods are not ones viewers expect from “The Mentalist”, which is usually the epitome of class. Nor I dare say, is such a method needed for this show; it’s The Mentalist for crying out loud.
Little Mender was kind enough to share her opinion on this aspect which elucidated my censure in a nutshell:
We’ve seen this pattern in several episodes this season, light-heartedness ending or bisected with a dark, sometimes troubling and often unsatisfying scene. I don’t know if it’s intentional, or just the sometimes seemingly unthought-out writing we’ve seen before. OR, are they just setting us up for a very dramatic season finale and trying to draw together as many story cords as possible (What WAS that with O’Laughlin, anyway?)? If the latter is the case, more clarity of thought needs to go into the writing. What I mean is, the writer(s) need(s) to establish EXACTLY what they’re trying to get across (the direction the want to take, the points they want to make, where they want to take the characters, how they want to affect the characters, etc.) and then write to that end.
Amen to that. And speaking of writing and story cords: the other reason I was so frustrated with this episode (enough to make me want to bang my head against the wall repeatedly) was the gem of an opportunity wasted here.
For some reason a few of the Mentalist writers this season are in such a hurry to tell their stories that they are giving untimely ends to their own highly promising plot lines. This has already happened twice before.
In ‘Red Hot’ we didn’t need for Lisbon and Mashburn to sleep together to know that they like each other. Simple drinks at the end of the episode would have been the perfect nightcap for that episode and it would have left more mystery regarding the relationship (an example of where this method was used effectively was in CSI’s highly intriguing Lady Heather/Grissom dynamic). This would have also given the Teresa/Walter pairing more possibility in the future. But it doesn’t seem like the writers intend to bring Mashburn back now and why would they? The attraction between him and Lisbon has already been (prematurely) consummated. Essentially, by letting that happen it seems that any hope for the pairing has been effectively destroyed.
Another example of a needlessly wasted opportunity was in episode ‘Bloodsport’ when the amusing Dr. Montague (Linda Park) told Rigsby a relationship between them wouldn’t work.
In this episode, there was no need for Dr. Steiner’s to commit suicide in the same episode he tells Jane that he’s dying of a fatal disease.
But more on that later.
First I’m going to discuss one of the subplots which was fighting for attention in the episode: The Rigsby-Van Pelt- O’Laughlin Drama (RVOD).
RVOD Scene # 1: The Trio at the Bullpen
Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) tells Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) that other occurrences where a dead body was hijacked had occurred in the past and the FBI was in charge of the cases. Because of that her fiancé FBI Agent Craig O’Laughlin (Eric Winter) joins the investigation. Out of Grace’s earshot, Craig approaches Rigsby to tell him that his boss sent him to work the case since he’s worked with CBI before and that “I’m not trying to get in your face.” Rigsby replies “didn’t think you were.”
Why is it that whenever Craig does something ‘nice’ he just seems more of a jerk? I’m starting to think the writers want us to suspect him. I would say they are being gracious and giving us inside knowledge so that we know the crash is coming even though the characters don’t. But this episode was so deliberately misleading that it’s more likely the writers are just using him as a red herring.
RVOD # 2: The Trio During the Shoot Out
Van Pelt’s gun is jammed (I guess. No proper explanation was ever given, due to the time constraint no doubt) and Craig who was in a better position to help her (i.e. take out the shooter) doesn’t. Instead Rigsby breaks his cover to come to her rescue.
Notwithstanding how expected that was (that Rigsby, not Craig would end up saving Grace), this scene could have used some more emphasis, maybe even a thank you from Grace and/or Craig to Rigsby for saving her. Plus, at this point it wasn’t really clear (to me at least) if Craig was or wasn’t in a position to help Grace. At least that’s cleared up later.
(RVOD) #3 Rigsby and Cho
In the CBI kitchen, Rigsby tells Cho that he thinks O’Laughlin “flaked on Van Pelt.” When Cho asks him what he means Wayne elaborates: “Well he saw she was in trouble and didn’t do anything. Guess he was scared.” Cho’s answer is a very short “It happens” followed by “Van Pelt doesn’t known this?” Rigsby answers that he doesn’t think so then gets to the crux of his problem: should he tell Grace. Cho replies that it’s a tough decision and that it’s Rigsby’s call.
I would have appreciated a lengthier conversation, but more than that I think that the fact that Rigsby wasn’t shown to be talking to O’Laughliln about this was a mistake. Rigsby had told him before to not hurt Grace or Craig will have to deal with him. In that vein, shouldn’t Wayne have confronted Craig for not rescuing the woman he’s about to marry? It just seems so out of character for the fiercely protective Rigsby to not do so. I think it would have given Rigsby’s eventual decision on whether to tell Grace or not more significance if he had talked to Craig about it first. It would have also given viewers a chance to see the latter defend himself.
Either it didn’t occur to the writers to include such a scene or they decided to drop it because there wasn’t enough time for it. If the latter is the case, then that problem could have easily been remedied (I’ll be discussing that in VIS #4).
(RVOD) # 4 Rigsby and Grace .
Rigsby decides to tell Grace about how Craig didn’t help her when he could have. She smiles at him waiting for him to speak, then frowns worried when he hesitates. Viewers can practically see Rigsby’s heart melt here and rather than risk upsetting her, Wayne instead tells her that he knows a ranger who works at the state park where she wanted to have her wedding, and says he’ll ask him if they’ll allow it.
Obviously, this scene was meant to show how much Grace means to Rigsby that he doesn’t want to sadden her by bad mouthing her fiancé. It’s also continuity to show that Rigsby is an angel, and that when it comes to Grace, his judgment isn’t very sound: he should have at least talked to Craig about not helping Grace even if he didn’t want to tell her about it.
Now that the love triangle’s been dealt with, let’s move onto the Very Important Scene’s (VIS’s) of the episode. I’ll start at the beginning.
VIS # 1: the episode opener
The opening scene was so good. So good! It was very funny but more importantly it served to further establish previously raised issues.
1- Jane joins Lisbon at the crime scene and when she asks him where he’s been he answers “hunting and gathering.”
Now this provides excellent continuity considering how Jane’s been continuously tardy to crime scenes this season. There has been many speculation as to why, but his statement here leads me to conclude that he’s pursuing his own investigation with regards to Red John’s mole and that’s what’s been keeping him busy (for more theories, see the comments of “Red Alert” review).
2- Both Jane (and regular viewers) are then delighted to hear that Dr. Steiner is the coroner on the scene, and Lisbon exposits for newcomers to the show about how much Jane loves to tease the coroner. She then asks him not to but of course her request falls on deaf ears. Jane gleefully heads over to where Steiner and the body are. There he learns that Steiner has enlisted the help of a deputy to keep him away from the body, saying that the mentalist has led him to desperate measures. But to the doctor’s dismay, Jane manages to pull a seemingly impossible trick. Later, Lisbon is trying to guess how Jane did it when she gets a call that the coroner’s truck had been hijacked and that the body was stolen. Both she and Steiner ask Jane if he had a hand in this which he denies. Lisbon asks him if he swears on his life, to which he responds: “on your life even.”
I love how Baker read that line. We have it in canon that Jane values Lisbon’s life more than his own (when he shot sheriff Hardy saving her life, in the season 1 finale) and this was such a beautiful humorous reference to that fact.
Again, this was a lovely, gorgeous, and beautiful opening scene. It gave me such high hopes for the rest of the episode; specifically that it will be just as “feel-good”. Ah the irony.
VIS #2 Lisbon and Jane regarding Steiner’s presence in the investigation.
1- Steiner asks Jane if he can help on the case. Jane welcomes him with open arms (he had previously invited the doctor for a cup of tea which the latter had refused). Jane tells rather than asks Lisbon of the arrangement and she agrees despite her confusion.
Lisbon’s passiveness here is more evidence that she’s starting to trust Jane. Or is she…?
2-Later, Lisbon asks Jane what the “game” with Steiner is. He says there is none. She asks “what’s he doing here then?” Jane evades replying “what are any of us doing here?” Lisbon pushes the matter, and starts to tell Jane that if this is one of his “gags” but doesn’t get a chance to finish. Jane, annoyed, interrupts her and stops mid-stride to say: “It’s not, he asked if he could come along and I said he could, alright? That’s it.” Lisbon is a bit taken aback at Jane’s terseness which he immediately covers up by continuing “We’re building bridges, mending fences, planting seeds…” and goes on until Lisbon repeatedly tells him that she gets it.
This is another scene I loved, and it’s such an overdue one too. It addresses the fact that Jane, whom we have it in canon wants Lisbon to trust him (Season 2 ‘Carnelian Inc.’), is getting annoyed that she’s starting to doubt everything he does. He can’t really blame her; she’s been duped too often by him to take him seriously anymore.
Another reason for Jane’s ire could be how well Lisbon knows him: she knew he had a reason for allowing the doctor to tag along and she was right: Jane was being amiable to the man because he suspected he was sick.
It’ll be interesting to see whether either fact will give Jane more incentive to be honest or more incentive to be furtive. If he thinks that Lisbon won’t believe him even if he tells the truth then he might think that there’s no point in being honest with her. Likewise, if he thinks Lisbon is starting to read him more easily, it might make him hold his cards even closer to his chest.
It should be noted that Jane not telling Lisbon that he’s letting Steiner tag along as a favor also fits with Jane’s MO of wanting to hide any “good” he does (Season 1,’ Red Handed’, Season 3 ‘Bloodstream’, among others. ) Jane doesn’t like receiving praise (regarding his heart, not his brains) most likely because he thinks he is undeserving of it.
Another possibility could be that Jane just wanted to protect Steiner’s privacy.
VIS#3 Jane and Dr. Steiner at the Cook Mansion
When the victim’s wife and her mother start arguing over whether he was crazy to say he’s seen aliens Jane leads Steiner to a lavish room in the mansion and offers him a scotch from a liquor table. They sit to share a drink and Steiner calls Jane out on his niceness:
“You know that I’m sick. Why would Patrick Jane of all people invite me to a fancy house and put a first-rate scotch in my hand if he didn’t know.”
Jane answers that the doctor has lost weight and that his pallor suggests he’s being heavily medicated. Steiner admits that he’s dying, that he has a month or so left. Jane is appropriately disturbed and expresses his sorrow. Steiner thanks Jane for the distraction. Jane then suggests Steiner take a cigar from the room while he snoops around. Steiner muses that the only time he recalls being in such a fancy place was examining a body who died accidentally during an autoerotic ritual. Jane answers that he bets the man died with a smile on his face and the two share a laugh.
This was such a beautiful and profound scene. In fact, this scene would have served as the perfect ending to this episode. After the case is solved, Steiner confronts Jane on allowing him to help and the exact same conversation takes place as the two are sharing drinks (perhaps from a bottle Jane stole from the mansion) with a fade out to the sound of the two laughing at Jane’s remark on Steiner’s story.
That way, the episode would have not have ended on an entirely different tone than the one it started out with. It would have been made serious due to the fact that Steiner was dying but would have still retained some lightness due to the new friendship between the two men.
Alas it was not to be…
VIS #4 Jane and Steiner at his house – AKA the beautifully acted and profound but frustratingly premature and conflicting (with the rest of the episode’s tone) scene.
Jane arrives at Steiner’s home after the case is solved. The latter thanks him once more for letting him tag along on the case then tells Jane why he invited him over: Steiner states that he has no intention of waiting for his disease to kill him painfully; he wants to commit suicide via pill overdose, and wants Jane “a law enforcement officer” to witness his death so that no autopsy will be needed to investigate his death. Jane is appropriately taken aback at the revelation and is very quick to point out that he’s not a law enforcement official. Steiner answers that Jane’s close enough. Troubled, Jane states honestly that he doesn’t think he can do it and that “I’m not sure killing yourself is the best idea”. Steiner states firmly that he’s going to do it and Jane responds that it’s his choice but it’s clear that he doesn’t agree. He doesn’t say anything further and Steiner accepts Jane’s refusal. He walks him to the door, apologizing but Jane stops with his hand at the doorknob and asks Steiner if he has tea. Steiner says that he does and shows Jane to the kitchen where he proceeds to make himself a cup. The doctor says he’s going to the other room (to take the pills which will kill him) to which Jane responds “take your time”. The next scene has Jane pouring them tea, and they drink together. Steiner whose breathing is getting shallower ventures a guess as to how Jane pulled off the trick with the victim’s body at the beginning of episode, saying that he had a previous arrangement with the deputy. Jane smiles and admits it, saying that it’s an “old carnie magic trick”. Seeing Steiner’s interest, Jane elaborates that he started with coins and cards and proceeds to show Steiner how he can make a coin disappear in his hand. He does this repeatedly to distract Steiner saying “it’s there, then it’s gone.” After a couple of times of this Steiner, whose breathing is getting heavier says: “Patrick, thank you.”
Jane, knowing that the end is near, tells the doctor “Just watch the coin.” It’s almost like Jane wants to pretend that they’re just having a normal conversation. Either that or once more he’s avoiding having to hear someone thank him.
Jane finally stops after Steiner passes on to remove his teacup from his hands.
Distressed, Jane then quietly resumes drinking his tea.
Firstly I’d like to say that this was one of the most powerful scenes in the Mentalist ever. It was very well written and beautifully acted. I love how Jane’s initial reaction was refuse the doctor’s request. It is very in character as we have it in canon that Jane does not handle the macabre very well. It also gives his changing his mind later much more significance: to have the often self-serving and seemingly selfish at times Jane do such an altruistic favor for a man he didn’t really like (at least at first, other than to amuse himself with) truly speaks to his compassion and reminds us of his generous side which has been painfully absent this season.
That being said, I have major issues here:
– Story wise, such a moving scene deserved a more gradual set up. It would have been more effective if in a few episodes (or even the start of next season) Steiner shows up to ask Jane (whom he knows is ill) for the same favor he asked him here. All that was needed to achieve this is to change the script from Steiner having only one month to live to a few more. This would have solved the problem of the awkward genre combination in this episode and allowed for more gradual character growth and development (Jane’s). Also, holding this powerful scene for later would have allowed for more attention to be given to the other plots in the episode, thus solving the problem of them being glossed over. But more importantly….
– While I appreciate what Jane agreeing to stick around as Steiner dies says about his humanity, I don’t appreciate the writer’s need to turn the show into a “torture Jane” angst fest. I know firsthand that watching someone die is not easy. You’re never the same afterwards no matter what the circumstances are. There really better be a very good point to this because the Mentalist is not about shocking people. I know that because I’ve seen the first two seasons and have read early Heller interviews.
– While Jane here doesn’t encourage Steiner to do his deed, having a character commit suicide on-screen hardly sends a positive message to viewers. God knows the point of TV is not to provide morals; and yet, that’s exactly what the Mentalist used to do indirectly, once upon a time. I was recently re-watching one of my favorite mentalist episodes, ‘Flame Red’ by Ashley Gable. The killer in that episode committed his crimes out of vengeance, but we didn’t see Jane applauding him or lauding his actions despite being able to emphasize with him. Jane was, at the very least, ambivalent towards the killer and at the most hiding his disgust with him. Although he does tell him good luck at the end. The difference between that Jane and the one in this season was striking. This is understandable as Jane has been through a lot. His run in with Red John in particular (Season 2, ‘Red Sky in the Morning’) has changed him, made him edgier and subsequent events only served to make him more motivated than ever to catch the killer. But this is exactly why Patrick didn’t need the additional stress of witnessing a man commit suicide. Unless the writers are purposely trying to desensitize him. If that is the case, I must object. Jane is already jaded enough as it is. While he is bound to get used to death seeing as he deals with it on a daily basis I see no reason why that process needs to be expedited. An unaffected character does not make for an interesting character. Speaking of which…
– Any psychologist will tell you that de-sensitizing an audience is not the wisest move because then you’re left with needing to continuously raising the “shock” factor and before you know it you end up in Tarantino land. Obviously I’m exaggerating (no offense to Mr. Quentin, I like his movies) but I’m trying to make a point here. The show has already renewed Baker’s contract so, again, why the hurry to subject Jane (and viewers) to such emotionally draining situations? And this wasn’t even a Red John episode. It’s not like the series will end any time soon (God willing).
I’m not going to discuss the “A plot” (the case) as it was only as a backdrop for the rest of the episode (another reason why this episode didn’t get a higher rating is how obvious this was). In that sense, ‘The Red Mile’ reminded me a lot of ‘Jolly Red Elf‘ in that I wasn’t particular interested in the case. But what’s different is that in that episode, the case was woven so intricately with Jane’s personal growth. Yes, we didn’t care about Santa’s death but the fact that the victim was an addict allowed Jane to ponder his own addiction.
I guess therein lies the million dollar question: how will this episode’s ending affect Jane? There also lies the nub of the problem with a few of the episodes this season: continuity is always a good thing, but a viewer shouldn’t have to wait to watch the next episode to decide if they like the direction the current one facing.
The Red Mile has some of the best scenes written for the show, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a cohesive episode. Also, the balance has officially been tipped this season. While we used to get a few dark episodes per season, it now seems that gloom is becoming the new norm of the show. I am starting to fear that The Mentalist is very quickly losing what made it special: its good storytelling and its delicately subtle positive outlook which tempers the shows dark premise.
Just like living is much harder than dying (Jane chose life, even if only for vengeance) writing profound episodes without resorting to extreme plot devices is much more impressive. I respectfully and sincerely beg the writers to show more restraint in the future.
The winner: VIS #4 Jane and Steiner at his house – AKA the beautifully acted and profound but frustratingly premature and conflicting (with the rest of the episode’s tone) scene. Another name could be “The one the rendered the rest of the episode forgettable and of very little consequence”. Despite my many qualms with the scene it was excellently written; very moving and gently haunting. Myner was very good depicting his character’s fear at the inevitable pain and distress at being “the body at the table.” Baker was even better. He exuded such warmth despite Jane’s inner conflict over what was going on. How is it that this man does not yet have an Emmy or a Golden Globe?
1st runner up: Steiner telling Jane he’s dying. See VIS # 3 for details.
2nd runner up: Opening scene. See VIS #1 for details.
Simon Baker and George Myner
Frances Conroy: the mother in law Elspeth (cool name). Her great acting kept me somewhat interested in the A plot
Heather McComb as Peregrine (another cool name) Hartley. She was very convincing as the utterly devoted wife, ready to believe her husband was abducted).
“Dammit, who steals a body.” I love petulant Lisbon.
“On your life even.” Jane to Lisbon when she asks him if he swears on his life he had nothing to do with the body’s disappearance.
“Steiner loves the attention.” Jane to Lisbon, excusing his teasing of Steiner.
“You have driven me to desperate measures.” Steiner to Jane, on having a deputy protect the body from him.
“It’s the butler! The butler! I’ve always wanted to say that!” -Jane.
“When the aliens do come, I hope they eat you.”-Lisbon to Jane.
Okay, here’s a poll for readers, but please share your opinions in the comments as well.
Finally, a couple of stories based on this episode have been written over at fanfiction.net and I thought I’d share them here:
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