This post is brought to you by the infinitely literate Violet, who was kind enough to share this monumental work of the cultural references in our favorite show, The Mentalist. Please enjoy her gift to us and have a wonderful holiday everyone!
I Conception of the main character: (S1-2)
1) Sherlock Holmes.The prototypical detective is the most obvious source of inspiration for Jane’s character: every following quote is taken from the very first pages of A Study in Scarlett, where Holmes was first introduced.
- Alternating activity/laziness: “I’m the most incurable lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather – that is, when the fit is on me, for I can be spry enough at times.”
- Enthusiasm: “At the sound of our steps, he glanced around and sprang to his feet with a cry of pleasure. “I’ve found it! I’ve found it”, he shouted to my companion […] Had he discovered a gold mine, greater delight could not have shone upon his features.” Cf. Jane’s “aha!”.
- He likes to impress: ““Wonderful!” I ejaculated. -“Commonplace” said Holmes, though I thought from his expression that he was pleased at my evident surprise and admiration”…
- … to the point to pass for vain: “This fellow may be very clever”, I said to myself, “but he is certainly very conceited”(Watson, upon first reading Holmes’s views).
- He seeks fame: “I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous.” Cf. psychic Jane on a TV show…
- Towards his fellow detectives (Lestrade and Gregson): cutting analytical judgement, fun at their expense, since he enjoys their rivalry. “They are both quick and energetic, but conventional –shockingly so. They have their knives into one another too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put upon the scent”. Same sense of acute and funny comparison as Jane. Irony and mockery: “I may have a laugh at them, if I have nothing else.” He also relies on his confidant’s connivance to catch the joke.
- He doesn’t seek women’ company, although it’s more because he’s simply not interested, while Jane’s a widower.
- He’s cold and people are a little afraid of him as they are not sure what he’s able to do: “Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes – it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects.” That assumption is far-stretched for Holmes: he wouldn’t risk any friend’s life on a whim, but it’s revealing of how people who superficially know him may be wary of him. Now, replace the “scientific” by “manipulative” and the bit about alkaloids by a cunning plan, and the quote works for Jane too…
Similarities in their methods:
- At the crime scene: “As he spoke, his nimble fingers were flying here, there, and everywhere, feeling, unbuttoning, examining, while his eyes wore the same faraway expression which I have already remarked upon. So swiftly was the examination made, that one would hardly have guessed the minuteness with which it was conducted. Finally, he sniffed the dead man’s lips, and then glanced at the soles of his patent leather boots.” Jane doesn’t really touch the body, since it would be a glaring mistake nowadays with the progress in forensic, but he does everything else: attention to detail, sniffing, glancing at the soles, you name it, you have it.
- No respect for the dead: beating the corpses in dissecting-rooms.
- Odd mix between knowledge and ignorance: “Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science or any other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have fairly astounded me.” Actually, the similarity is played with: Jane’s ignorance touches science and forensic, the very subjects that Holmes is well learnt upon…
- The memory palace: “”I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend at any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for any addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”” Various things are partially used for this quote: the notion to compile and order memories, the selection of uninteresting knowledge (that Bertram is Hightower’s boss, for example). This well-known speech is played with: Jane’s “attic” is his thinking room, with “nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work” of hunting Red John.
- Although he is quite action-oriented, he still lets Watson carry the gun: “”Have you any arms?” […] When I returned with the pistol, the table had been cleared, and Holmes was engaged in his favourite occupation of scraping upon his violin.”
- The archenemy: Moriarty is a respected secret criminal mastermind, who stays hidden behind his web of minions. There is a variation with RJ, since Jane becomes a detective/consultant because of his nemesis, while Holmes’ usual activities helped him guess Moriarty’s double life.
2) Detective stories and popular classical culture
There are various hints that Jane is well-read in old-school detective stories. In passing mentions develop aspects of the persona Jane has elaborated to hide his true self:
- The classy characteristic car reminds of Ellery Queen and his Duesenberg.
- His elegant (if slightly rumpled) suits remind of classical aristocratic detectives (Holmes, Ellery Queen, Van Dine’s Philo Vance, Christie’s Hercule Poirot and so on).
In other words, he’s playing the role of the detective and he’s aware of it. Those allusions also hint at Jane’s love of fun and his tendency to consider his day-to-day job as a big game solely for his amusement, hence the different clichés he revels in:
- He explains how to open a hermetically closed room in S1 ‘Red John’s Friends’ (the trick has been explained in numerous stories for example in a Philo Vance novel, The Bishop Murder Case).
- “The butler did it!”
- The detective in an armchair: in novels featuring Nero Wolfe, there is a duality between a clever subordinate who does the leg work and the master who does the ultimate brain work. There are hints of this with Jane on his couch: he sometimes let the team collect information when it doesn’t seem fun enough and analyses it and comes up with a theory while lying on his brown couch.
- To some extent, the treasure hunt in a mansion in S2 ‘Red Scare’ might be a classical element too (cf. Holmes’ “The Adventure of the Mustgrave Ritual” and Poirot’s short story “The Case of the Missing Will” for example)
More broadly, Jane’s childish vision is completed by reference to a past era connected with mystery and gangsters adventures (more or less the Prohibition era):
- The hard-boiled detective stories (the fedora)
- “Stop the press!”
II Conception of his nemesis: Red John and William Blake (S2-3-4)
Red John’s depth comes from the fact that is more than just Jane’s Moriarty: he’s been given a personal universe of his own, characterized by references to Blake’s poems.
Two quotes are used directly in the show. First, ‘Tiger, tiger” said by RJ and repeated by Todd Johnson in ‘Red Moon’, which lead to think the quote is used as some sort of a code among RJ’s disciples and that the philosophy he teaches to them to convert them may be based to some extent on Blake’s poetry.
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
In this poem, we have: the color of the fire (“burning, “burnt, “fire”, “furnace”), that is red, laced this the “night” in a “fearful symmetry”. As Cho analyzed in ‘Strawberries and Cream’, the poem enlightens that both the tiger (evil) and the lamb (innocence) have been created by God as part of the world equilibrium. Said equilibrium is also used and twisted by RJ in his speech in the limo in ‘The Crimson Hat’: both sides are equivalent and, therefore, there is no good or bad, meaning evil actions or good ones are similarly justifiable. What’s more, as RJ is part of this symmetry as the evil killer as well as the one who defines it by creating an enemy in Jane, he might be at the same time the “tiger” and a sort of “god” his followers may believe in, if we were to link this with Gupta’s “deeply religious” beliefs (‘Strawberries and Cream’).
The “night” is also mentioned by Bertram: “When thy little heart doth wake,/ Then the dreadful night shall break ” (from A Cradle Song). We don’t know yet if Bertram is connected with RJ, but it’s plausible that the quote is relevant anyway in a “meta-meaning” concerning RJ’s beliefs.
Indeed, the night seems to have a particular meaning both in Blake’s universe and in RJ’s: the night associated with the fire symbolize the tiger and the symmetry it represents. It also seems to be RJ’s favorite moment to strike (Panzer’s and Jane’s family’s murders).
Moreover, since the show seems to revel in classical mystery stories, another poem by Blake
has been quoted by Agatha Christie (in Endless Night) and apparently fits to some extent with
what we know of RJ’s philosophical view:
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine […]
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.”
(from the end of Auguries of Innocence).
Those words seem to fit with RJ’s supposed spiritual goals: to make people better by making them suffer (“Under every grief and pine/ Runs a joy with silken twine”), through a revelation of the inner balance of the world. He detaches them from a false sense of morality, opening a path towards that illumination. He dispenses a superior knowledge as well as a new take on life, through purification by sufferance; hence, RJ presents himself as a mean to divine knowledge, or better yet as a prophet: there is no good or bad, hence no punishment or reward in a so-called after-life (cf. the speech in ‘The Crimson Hat’). His followers are freed from any consequences of their actions.
Last, if we were to believe Rebecca’s statement that RJ wanted to redeem Jane by punishing him, then we can also connect his behavior with this quote from the “Annotations to Lavater”: “forgiveness of enemies can only come upon their repentance.”
III The narration: Jane’s fate
A number of cultural –mostly literary- references have made their way in the show. In the first seasons, said references have been used to develop some particular aspect of Jane’s personality (in the same fashion as Holmes has shaped some parts of it), and/or to give some depth to a situation.
Season 1: Jane’s obsession with revenge and killing his nemesis: Moby Dick (‘Flame Red’) Parallel with the case at hand hinting that revenge only ends up in blind cruelty, deceit, and is hurtful for innocent people.
- ‘The Scarlet Letter’ references the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne: the case deals with adultery and, like in the novel, the secret identity of the mysterious lover’s plays a great part. Both also deal with guilt: like Hawthorne’s protagonist, Jane’s behavior has caused him to lose his old life and, like her lover, he lives in self punishment. (Amusingly, the novel has inspired Ellery Queen’s The Scarlett Letters…)
- Director Bertram’s name might also be a reference to Christie’s At the Bertram’s Hotel, which might then refer to a façade used to hide a criminal network, like RJ’s started to reveal itself after Bosco’s murder.
- ‘The Red Mile’/ The Green Mile. Dr Steiner is in his own personal death row and chooses to die, whereas Jane is implicitly left wondering about his own fate.
- Minor reference: ‘Rhapsody in Red’/ Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, mixing jazz and classic, Jane’s usual tastes in music.
Season 4: While the first seasons only used references to enlighten Jane’s character and motivations, season 4 uses them to give some perspective over his fate. Two recurrent references provide two major angles, as two sides of the same coin.
- First madness and despair is developed under Shakespeare’s influence. A recurring theme in the season (‘Fugue in Red’, ‘Cheap Burgundy’, ‘Something Rotten in Redmund’): essentially ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’. There is a similarity of tone with the show and Jane himself (seriousness mixed with lightness, tragedy with foolish things). Like Lady Macbeth, Jane is also obsessed with guilt and his sanity might be at risk; like Hamlet, he hides behind the mask of a fool and seek ruthlessly revenge over a dead relative’s assassination, hurting in he process the people around them (and both cause quite a lot of collateral damage). More, both plays end in loneliness, madness and death and that’s what Jane himself risks.
- Then a path towards hope is shown: The Wizard of Oz, first referenced in Season 2, but blossoming in ‘Ruby Slippers’. The differences between those two allusions show that Jane has progressed personally (See ‘Ruby Slippers’ review for more details).
- Some songs show Jane’s set of mind and situation (Hotel California show that he’s trapped in his revenge and RJ’s games; Dust in the Wind alludes to the futility of his six months scheme and to the dust surrounding him and Lisbon when they’re holding hands and he can fully realize its pointlessness).
Season 5 (so far):
- Alice in Wonderland: ‘Devil’s Cherry’ uses the two themes introduced by Shakespeare and The Wizard of Oz: madness and a journey in an extraordinary land.
- « La donna è mobile » From ‘Cherry Picked’ is from Verdi’s Rigoletto is an allusion to Lorelei.
- Agent Nemo in ‘If It Bleeds It Leads’ references Ulysses and Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. Both characters are connected with travels over the sea…
– ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’, whose title is inspired by a song where a fisher girl waits for her lover to return. Various interpretations are possible: one of them it that the fisher girl may be the siren Lorelei Martins who thought her master RJ was helping her get out of jail. Anyway, the original song ends with these words:
“Above no bright stars are glowing/ It means the storm’s coming soon.”
– Also in ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ : Jane’s flight with Lorelei is compared with Hitchcock’s movie North By Northwest. Various interpretations in here too: they are hunted down by the police (Lisbon and Kirkland), based on a misunderstanding; the show plays with the notion, since innocent Thornhill was mistaken for someone else, while the CBI is convinced that Jane has been kidnapped and thus hasn’t orchestrated everything. Moreover, Lorelei’s attitude towards him is ambivalent (somewhat like Eve Kandall in the movie): meaning that Lorelei may become an ally too. Besides, in the scene Jane and Styles are watching at the very beginning the movie plot reaches a pivotal moment (Thornhill and Eve fake his death, before he decides to enter the bad guy’s dent); that hints that Jane may be about to turn the table on RJ.
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