The Mentalist: Pilot (Recap)

By Julia Diddy


It’s just another average morning for Patrick Jane, who is busy making tea…….in the house of a couple whose daughter has been murdered. The distraught mother enters the kitchen. Patrick sits down with her at the table, watches her closely, and speaks in sooooothing tones, the better with which to deliver a zinger: he inquires as to why she suspects her husband of killing her daughter. Flustered, she first denies it, but then comes around. She has a funny feeling, although she has not – contrary to Patrick’s suggestion – outright confronted her husband about her suspicions. Patrick doesn’t see why not, seeing as how he insists most wives can tell when their husbands are lying.

So, when the cad in question enters the room, Patrick poses the tough question himself. Based upon hubby’s response, the wife’s worst suspicions have been confirmed – and she freaks out, fleeing the room. The husband is indignant and threatens to sue Patrick for all this insolence! “An innocent man would have punched me by now,” Patrick points out. Before he can wield any further insight, the wife re-enters the room. With a gun. Some people just deserve to meet with the business end of a Smith & Wesson. The husband is toast.

The other police on the scene, including Patrick’s superior, Teresa Lisbon, had been waiting outside – presumably while Patrick worked his mentalist magic. Upon hearing the shot, they spring into action and burst into the kitchen, guns drawn. Patrick shrugs about the whole dead husband thing. Is a deceased murderous pedophile really such a tragedy? Lisbon nods her head in disbelief. These rogue employees are such a pain in the keister, even if they are good-looking and whip-smart!

He’s suspended but good!

Meanwhile, a yuppie golf pro returns home from a trip to find his wife and her doctor bludgeoned. The splatter totally detracts from the otherwise gleaming upper-crust décor. He summons the authorities. Patrick tags along, even though – as Teresa repeatedly points out – he’s not supposed to be back on the job yet.

On the scene, certain team members assume this was a tryst gone wrong, but Patrick notes at first glance that the doctor was gay. An infamous serial killer nicknamed “Red John” is suspected due to the presence of his trademark smiley face scrawled in blood. Patrick has a flashback to an earlier time, years prior, when he pocketed coin by grandstanding as a psychic on television….at which point he first began to help police track down Red John.

Patrick snaps out of it. This isn’t Red John’s handiwork. It’s not flashy enough. In response, the other team members roll the insolent eyes that are lodged inside their inferior little craniums. Do they not recognize a genius at work? However, after studying the crime scene photos back at headquarters, Teresa must concur that the overbearing and all-knowing asshole might just know what he’s doing. She tells him to consider himself unsuspended.

Two male agents question the widower at his home as they watch old home movies of his fallen spouse. The hubby admits all was not well nor quiet on the western front – he’d spent the weekend with a “masseuse.” Meanwhile, Dr. Wagner – colleague of the dead Dr. Tannen – is being questioned by Patrick and Teresa. Wagner says Tannen helped the golf pro’s wife obtain some birth control pills on the sly. Why is this relevant? The golf pro had a vasectomy. The plot, along with evidence of still more martial strife and infidelity, thickens. Patrick figures Doc Wagner, what with his prescription pad and all – might also be willing to play fast and loose with pills, and asks if he can hook him up with some sleeping aids, off the record, without the preemptive chit chat. Wagner balks at the idea.

Over dinner, the team discusses the case. Patrick doesn’t think the hubby did it, because he’s a bad golfer. (Huh? Even a bad golfer ought to be able to successfully bludgeon another person at close range….with maybe a double bogey, if not a birdie…..but never mind…….) This leads to a debate between Patrick and the wide-eyed female rookie on the team, who believes in real psychics, and God, and Santa Clause. She pities Patrick and his sad, nihilistic, damned-to-hell soul.

Back in his hotel room, a taunting letter, presumably from Red John, is shoved under Patrick’s door. Patrick spots this, opens the door, and gives chase to a shadowy villain. Shadowy villain gets away.

Back in his room, the team analyzes the letter. They then disperse in order to study security camera footage, and test the letter for forensics, and other cop stuff. Teresa tells Patrick to get some sleep.

Meanwhile, a hair belonging to the golf pro’s brother turns up in incriminating fashion. Brother is questioned by police. He admits to having been lovers with his sister-in-law. The golf pro doesn’t take this particularly well.

Teresa notices that Patrick has not, in fact, had any sleep. She makes an appointment for him with Dr. Wagner. A little head shrinking will undoubtedly do Patrick some good. But Patrick just wants the pills, whereas Wagner wants to delve into what deep, torturous secret is keeping Patrick awake at night. Pesky shrink.

Patrick flashes back again to his former life as a loud-mouthed hack on TV, and in particular to a talk show appearance in which he whipped out some armchair analysis about what a sad, ugly, sexually inadequate loser Red John must be. Because it’s always good to taunt serial killers in such fashion.

Red John subsequently breaks into Patrick’s big fancy house, and offs Patrick’s wife and kid.

However, Patrick glosses over this particular detail in his session with Wagner, and instead explains how he was a lazy kid who once paid his kid brother to saw some firewood for him, which resulted in his kid brother having an accident and bleeding to death – an incident which has tormented him ever since. Which is nearly identical to the childhood tragedy that tormented Johnny Cash, as played by Joachim Phoenix in Walk the Line.

Dr. Wagner saw that movie too, it turns out. He wishes Patrick would open him to him, instead of offering up glib movie recaps, but he reluctantly gives Patrick a prescription anyway. In walking out the door, Patrick asks Wagner if he ever came across Tannen’s diary. What diary?! Wagner didn’t know Tannen kept a diary! Though he looks awfully nervous at the prospect of one being uncovered by the police. Patrick departs, though not before casually pointing out to Wagner that magicians always employ beautiful lady assistants, the better with which to distract the audience from the trickery going on.

It was that, or make some random comment about the weather, which wouldn’t have set the same tone of foreboding and intrigue.

Thinking Patrick gone, Wagner proceeds to tear apart Tannen’s old office. Patrick – who lifted the building key from Wagner’s pocket after hugging him goodbye a moment earlier – doubles back and catches Wagner looking guilty amongst Tannen’s deconstructed office. He offers to help Wagner look for the item in question – and proceeds to plant, and then retrieve – a fake diary from underneath a bookcase.

Wagner pulls a gun on Patrick and then spills his guts about why he did it – as is the fashion when caught in a lie in a televised crime drama. See, Wagner was embezzling money, but with good intentions, because the money was going toward saving sick children in Africa! However, Tannen threatened to expose his fiscal shenanigans. Wagner killed Tannen in the interest of a greater public good – because if Wagner was imprisoned, he wouldn’t be able to save any more African orphans! He’s no deranged killer! He’s a friggin’ philanthropist!

But how did Patrick figure it out? Easy! Despite Wagner’s previous claim that he’d never heard of Red John, there were recently-moved books on his bookshelves which contained psychological profiles of the killer. And being the family doctor for the murdered woman’s clan, he would naturally have access to her brother-in-law’s hair sample, and was privy to the martial infidelity via knowledge of the birth control pill cover-up, and could throw about ten other red herrings into the mix as a result, too! The dead wife was just another distraction…..not unlike those attractive lady assistants who are routinely employed by magicians for purposes of distraction, as neatly mentioned earlier.

Calling it a night, Patrick goes home to his big fancy house, and climbs wearily up the stairs to his bedroom – a spartan cell in which we find no trappings of comfort…..just a lone mattress on the floor, and Red John’s blood-scrawled smiley face on the wall.

Yikes. Haunted much?

This pilot is off to a promising start. More than anything, Simon Baker has the chops to carry this far beyond the predictability of the standard crime drama. His past as a smarmy fake psychic adds an interesting layer to the character, and his acute insight into human behavior is a more emotionally compelling and accessible device than an entire lab’s worth of clinical CSI-styled details would otherwise be. Trace elements of physical evidence are all well and good, but piecing together fragments of dicey human behavior is infinitely more watchable.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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