Empress Ki – a half-review

Somehow I’ve made it through about 30 or so episodes of Empress Ki, mostly due to being sick and unable to do anything else. Thankfully, I am better now and enjoying the sunshine flooding Minnesota this week.

Empress Ki, like most of the Korean historical dramas, is decidedly epic in scale. A lot of the time it has me remembering the Lord of the Rings movies and that’s mainly due to the wonderful costumes and sets. The clothing alone makes the series worth watching. Empress Ki is a fast watch, despite so many episodes, because there’s really not much filler. Every episode has something major happen and the plot continually moves forward. The lead actors, Ha Ji-Won (Empress Ki/Seung Nyang), Joo Jin-Mo (Wang Yoo, the Korean king), and Ji Chang Wook (Ta Hwan/Emperor of Yuan), are all outstanding and do a good job with what they are given. I stress, what they are given, to work with.

Now to the story and writing. I’m in favor of keeping the plot moving most of the time and Empress Ki’s writing certainly fulfills that, however, in this case it comes at a cost, namely character and emotional development. Because the characters are constantly besieged by taxing or exciting moment after moment, they never really have time to process what’s happened to them, and neither does the audience. Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo, because they are strong characters, both physically and emotionally, deal with everything stoically–too stoically. We rarely get to see their vulnerabilities or them acting, for lack of a better expression, like humans! In contrast to them the Emperor of Yuan is so weak as to strain credulity. True, he’s much used and abused by the villain Yeon Chul (the subtitles I’m watching label him as El Tamur), and he’s young, but he has no interests or vices or focus in his life except for Seung Nyang and his out-of-control emotions often seem out of place. He would be more interesting, for example, if he actually was a drunk or a womanizer or even an actual basket case. The other leads, too, have no interests except the future direction of Korea and/or revenge. With a shorter series, these flaws would be fine, but at 51 episodes it’s not so excusable that most of the  emotional impact comes from minor characters, especially the eunuchs. Hopefully this gets addressed in the last 20 episodes, but it’s making me question whether I want to continue watching.

The love triangle is also irritating me, because the scenes depicting it are scarce and short. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was made up for by, say, amazing actions scenes, but, sadly it’s not. The Yuan Emperor has the most scenes dealing with romance, mostly his unrequited love for Seung Nyang. She is stoic, shows him no tenderness, has next-to-no feminine attributes and wiles that I’m often scratching my head at how he’s so infatuated. Because the plot calls for it, I guess. Also, the epic love for all time between Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo is scarcely represented adequately as such. She gets a ton more screen time with the man for whom she feels nothing. On top of that, both men seem incapable of having their own lives apart from Seung Nyang. She is amazing as their buddy and helping them get out of scrapes, but again, it’s baffling that she has cast such a spell over them in a (supposedly) romantic way, and she ironically seemed more feminine when everyone still thought she was a man.  I don’t think in writing strong female characters we need to balance it by making the male characters weaker, but it’s often done, though not quite believable.

All that aside, there are a lot of great scenes in Empress Ki, and many solid emotional scenes. We relish Seung Nyang triumphing over both villain Yeon Chul and his daughter, the Yuan Empress (played perfectly by Baek Jin-Hee of Missing Nine – Baek is a power house actress and her character’s story is a pathetic one.) We feel for Seung Nyang at certain losses and admire her smarts and resourcefulness. We feel the heartbreak of Wang Yoo and the Emperor, even if it’s not explained well.

I’ve decided to try and finish Empress Ki and I hope that it ends as well or better than it started, because the first fifteen to twenty episodes were pretty good. Middles are always hard to write and I do admire the writers for keeping the series jam packed with happenings, and for the production team and director having such attention to detail in the clothing, sets, and camerawork. I’ll have a full review up once I finish the series.


Fortitude 2015: Living on the Edge of the World

For fans of mystery and especially horror genre stories the best ones often take place at the “edge of the world” or rather the “edge of civilization.” The stories usually involve a limited number of people either living in or visiting a secluded spot where there is little relief from isolation and loneliness. Needless to say, these stories are often bleak and rarely have happy endings.

When the trappings of modern civilization are swept aside the lie that humans are basically good can be properly addressed. The number of people doesn’t matter, and in fact, less people around can lead to more vicious transgressions. Now, this could merely be a cosmopolitan disdain for small town life–and could be viewed in that lens–but it’s really purposeful isolation from broader humanity that’s being criticized, not merely small towns. The idea, I suppose, is that people who choose to live in secluded places have personal problems and inner demons that they wish to hide away. I would go further than that and speculate that these characters (at least those in the stories) have a profound sense of their own guilt and are afraid of what they would do living among more people. Then again, maybe they just like being alone.

Fortitude (2015) is set on an island in the arctic. The closest mainland is Norway and the scenery is gorgeous. What a setting! The story makes the island-glacier bittersweet in its beauty, drawing it right up against the evil in people and the evil in the earth. Sometimes we forget that our Earth itself, although beautiful, is tainted and corrupted. The very land supposed to sustain us can just as often kill us.

Like most other stories of this kind, Fortitude is set in a town with a few hundred people eking out lives in barren places. We are first introduced to the purposely flawed characters, then shown their indiscretions and weaknesses, then thrown into the larger plot as people start dying. Why anyone finds this entertaining, much less myself, I’m not sure. Sometimes we find it fun to be scared, sometimes we are eager to see what kind of person will make it to the end. Who will be the last one standing? Will they be like us and if so, would we also have a chance of winning out under such circumstances?

I generally liked Fortitude, but thought the ending too hopeless and drawn out. We’ve come to a point in our entertainment history where shows, not movies are the thing. Episode after episode can be devoured while the tension mounts. Trouble is, in too many of these stories, the tension is not held or increased due to too many episodes or too long of episodes.  Often the first couple of episodes are great and then the story meanders. In Fortitude‘s case too much time is spent dwelling on people’s faults rather than figuring out and fighting what was going on. For thrillers, a good policy is to have events happen faster than the audience thinks expects them to happen. Keep the audience on their toes. Of course this can backfire, but slow-burn really only works when the writers actually know how to consistently up the ante (AMC’s The Killing did this well in S1-3).

Fortitude increases the tension for a few episodes, drops it, forgets about certain characters or storylines for an unforgivable amount of time, and then tries to up the thrill level only when we’re already bored. It wasn’t a bad story, but it could have been as heart-stopping as some of the scenery was. It also had a non-ending–that is, Fortitude‘s writers left the forgone conclusion up to the audience without actually showing it all. If it had been a better-told story, this could have been brilliant, but really it just came off as the makers of the show tired of the whole thing and wanted it to end. And they strangely killed off Stanley Tucci’s (The Devil Wear’s Prada) character well before the ending. His character kept much of the plot going, so I don’t understand this decision, nor do I understand the uneven lengths of time devoted to the two researchers who end up being the ones to root for. We follow the sheriff mostly, but he’s already set up as an untrustworthy character. Until Stanley Tucci’s arrival, the audience doesn’t really have anyone to properly latch onto.

The acting was generally good, especially the mayor and the police team, but no one really stood out except for Tucci. The other characters could have been played by any number of actors. Maybe I just find Tucci’s American acting style more relatable, but I thought he did the best job. The taxidermist played by Ramon Tikaram (Jupiter Ascending) also had a lot of intrigue going for him that ultimately never paid off. Most of the characters seemed poorly drawn and so humdrum. Few had any dreams or plans or happy family life. Fortitude aimed more for depressing than thrilling and I think that choice was a mistake.

While I have criticized much about Fortitude, I found it generally entertaining and a puzzling story, but I would only recommend it to those that sincerely love these serial killer, edge of the world stories where most of the characters die. They are really not for everybody.

I am looking forward to watching S2 with Dennis Quaid to see the changes they’ve made in their story approach and to be able to compare the two.

When a Snail Falls in Love: Less Is More

“Less is More” is a common enough phrase, but rarely is it shown well in TV land. TV and movies more often than not, live in excess, clocking in far longer than the stories warrant and sometimes turning amazing shows at the beginning into shallow shells of themselves at the end. Romances or romantic comedies can be especially troublesome with this, throwing obstacle after more bizarre obstacle in front of the would-be happy couple in order to get in just one more episode.

The Chinese drama When a Snail Falls in Love, makes all the right moves where others fail. First off, the episodes are short, only thirty minutes, instantly increasing the pace compared to other shows. Second, although it’s a love story, that part is sparse at best, making the romantic moments that much sweeter, subtle though they may be. In fact,  the ending may be the only glaring part in the romance with (spoilers) a sudden kiss and proposal. At the same time, though, the couple has earned it by sticking to the case and having each other’s back. Thirdly, the main story is a police crime drama, not merely a cover story for the romance.  Despite the cute drawings the main character does, the story is anything but fluffy, with a ton of great action scenes and amazing cinematography that screams awards shows. It is also helps that the setting is somewhat exotic–southeast China (I think), and Myanmar.

The “snail” in the story is Xu Xu a psychological profiler, played by Wang Zi Wen.  Xu Xu’s deduction skills are top notch, but she’s not super athletic and is continually at risk for not being able to meet the physical standards of the police force.  She isn’t a bad cartoonist either, and quickly makes an animal cartoon character for each of her coworkers, including the boss, Ji Bai, who is her “lion.” Ji Bai (played by Wang Kai) is both good at his job and is also very athletic. His action scenes are pretty awesome as he uses his long legs to kick in one bad guy after another.

Xu Xu didn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but by the end she’s grown into her own and the audience can see why she deserves a spot on the force. Not only does she strive to meet the physical standards, but she is an intuitive detective, spotting things others don’t and having a sixth sense for when something is off. She is also courageous and bold at unexpected times, like when infiltrating a gambling den. Her alien watchfulness at the beginning (think Sherlock Holmes) becomes more feeling and animated by the end, perhaps due to her finding love.

Ji Bai is a good leader admired by women and respected by his colleagues. He is one of those all around good guys and if he’s a little eager to rush into danger, it’s because he likes and is good at doing his job. He has movie star looks and skinny arms that are somehow endearing. His weakness for a childhood friend is shown to be just that as she (again, spoiler) turns out to be one thread in an entire carpet of swindlers, drug dealers, traffickers, and near-do-wells, all of which he presumably had no idea.

The best thing about When a Snails Falls in Love is its unpredictability.  One starts watching thinking it’s going to be a typical romance with a sheen of police drama over the top.  Oh no.  The police investigation IS the story, and how refreshing it is. One crime after another is woven together in a way that makes the show feel more like a very long movie than just a show. In fact, the investigation pushes the romance story line to the side pretty fast, making the cartoon drawings with the theme song extremely out of place until they are finally dropped and preserved in Xu Xu’s comic book diary.

When a Snail Falls in love has less running time that other shows, but does far more with it.  A shout out to the editors and the director Zhang Kai Zhou. They know how to get the most out of their actors and quickly get to the heart of scenes instead of wasting time with filler. The choice to put the focus on the crime solving is what makes it stand out in a sea of romance dramas.  When a Snail Falls in Love is available on and

Shows That Need to Happen: Red John (Part 2 of 2)

Part 2: What would a Red John show look like?

You know you really a like show if you fantacize about ways to continue it. I thoroughly enjoyed The Mentalist, especially Seasons 1-5.5 – basically up until Red John was executed by the Patrick Jane.  The character of Patrick Jane played by Simon Baker is pretty awesome and well-rounded, and he had a great team to work with.

Here’s my vision of what a continuation of the story would look like:

  • It would be called Red John, not The Mentalist. As I’ve stated in Part 1 of these posts, the appeals and uniqueness of The Mentalist had a lot to do with Red John. Without the hunt for him, the series petered out quickly and did not work as a normal procedural drama.
  • It would consist of a limited number of episdes. 24 to comprise one “season” or “series.” Much more than that would compromise the “chase” of Red John that should be the focus.
  • Red John doesn’t have to be the “Red John” of The Mentalist. That is, the Red John caught and killed can stay dead. It’s not necessary to go back and make it look like Patrick Jane killed the wrong man. However, this would be a good ploy for the first couple of episodes, highlighting the doubt that may still be in Jane and the audience. Also, no bureau infiltration. That just got ridiculous after awhile. More of a straight chess match this time.
  • Put the California Bureau of Investigation back together. Since Cho has moved up in the FBI, a good plot could be to have “Red John” murders start springing up in California again ideally resulting in an FBI task force that combines with the local police force and the old CBI gang, all with Cho as the head. It could be even a reestablished CBI under the FBI’s jurisdiction.
  • Red John, whoever he is, needs to be a mentalist in a similar vein as Patrick Jane. In The Mentalist series, this element wasn’t pushed enough when it came to the villain. His powers of persuasion were alluded to on sporadic occasion but not shown in a definitive manner, like the tricks Patrick Jane uses to con people into confessing. It’s why Sheriff McAllistar didn’t work. He was never shown to have an almost supernaturnal ability over other people in which Jane could illustrate that there are no real psychics. This was somewhat attempted with the list of seven suspects, but never came to fruition, in my opinion, and the list itself seemed a let down.
  • Keep the awesome other villains. When it wasn’t about Red John, The Mentalist had some pretty good villains and absolutely chilling episodes. My favorite episode is when Jane comes across a serial killer who pretends to be investigating the murder of a girl he killed. Jane takes him down on TV by getting him to arrogantly denounce Red John, with the knowledge that Red John can’t take criticism and will kill him. Villains that could definitely get a couple more episodes are temptress and dating expert Erika Flynn (Firefly’s Morena Baccarin) and sociopath power broker Tommy Volker (LOST’s Henry Ian Cusick). These villains could be in cahoots with the new Red John or just red herrings and/or informants.
  • A romance for Cho. He and Summer were so awesome and had great chemistry. It was sad they couldn’t be together and it would be fun to watch him try again with another unlikely lady.
  • Let Van Pelt and Rigsby show off all their new spy skills and gear. It would be interesting to have Red John target their kids (and the adults terrified) only to have him be one-upped by these future agents and well-trained munchkins. The Rigsby’s would totally be Spy Kids.
  • Let Lisbon and Patrick Jane fall for each other all over again doing what they do best: hunting and catching killers. The show should highlight how it is the best line of work for them to be in. And altough Jane is generally hands off to the “action” part of the investigation and police game, it would be fun to see him be more physically active, perhaps in an effort to show how invested he is in beating the villain not for revenge, but to protect those around him. And perhaps to highlight how getting his revenge in the previous series has changed him – as has fixing up that run-down cabin he bought. He would have built up muscle and dexterity doing so.
  • Jane vs. John. Not that the team can’t deal with other mysteries/cases at the same time, but the hunt for this new Red John, should be the focus. The use of both Jane’s brain and skills should be combined with everything he taught the original CBI team. His quirky ways can be introduced to new members as well, just not in the boring FBI building/setting in which The Mentalist ended.
  • A wham bam ending not dependant on the guessing of Red John’s identity. The long-term arc in The Mentalist worked so well because it played into our love of psycological thrill. This could be the ultimate in that genre. Is Patrick Jane really good at what he does, or was it just because he was out for revenge? Will he work within the law this time around to catch the killer? How would he deal with a Red John copycat who knows everything about the case, is far better at manipulating people?
  • Sign on the original cast and add local precinct detectives who first run across this new Red John. Ideally these newbies would be played by Christian Bale (I’m a little biased, as he’s my favorite actor) and Zoe Saldana, both of whom would be excellent at playing detectives and have awesome onscreen chemistry.

So how would it all start?

Since this musing is pretty much fan fiction, let me describe how I would open a Red John show. Please excuse my self-indulgence, but I just couldn’t help it. The Mentalist was such a good show and got my imagination going.:

I’d work with a slow burn kind of storytelling instead of opting for the newer tradition of starting with an action scene straight away, or a thrilling scene from the middle of the episode and then going back to the beginning. Sometimes it’s just a breath of fresh air to start at the begining.

First scene: A pretty twenty-something woman waiting at a busy L.A. precinct to see a detective. She has a tip and looks as if she could be a journalist or a journalism student. She has a fresh, peaceful air reminiscent of Lorelai Martens’ first scene where she talks about comfort in her faith in Red John. She first interacts with a senior woman homicide detective – let’s call her X (I would cast Saldana) who offers to help her. The woman insists she wants the detective’s partner (Y) (who I would cast as Christian Bale). Detective X tells her it’s going to be awhile, and with a laugh in her voice yells to her partner that he has a new crush who wants to see him. Detective Y is dealing with a precinst disturbance, unruly criminals or something like that. The journalist puts a small snarl on her face after the female detectie leaves the desk and sits down to wait. In her lap is a sheaf of paper notes along with photos. We see she has scribbled serial killer? Trademark? and other questions in the margins of the papers.

Cut back to Y who is now finished with his crisis, but the young woman is gone. He shrugs and gets called to an emergency/crime scene (perhaps one that tantalizingly appears to be the work of Tommy Volker (though he’s still in prison – or he could be out for good behavior, has pulled strings or whatever). In the early morning when he gets off shift, the journalist surprises Y just as he’s unlocking his car. She asks if he has some time to discuss information she has. Y agrees, noting she’s pretty, and suggests they go for coffee.

Cut to a college or university on the East Coast, where a ciminial profiling or psychology class is beginning. The professor briefly introduces the Red John serial killer and notes that they had invited Patrick Jane to speak, but who declines for personal reasons. In his place is agent Kimball Cho of the FBI. Cho, looking very important indeed, steps up and gives his talk with the students asking questions. A few of the students ask questions designed to unsettled Cho, such as “could Red John be still alive?” and so on. Many students are too insterested in the killer, clearly living in the “ghoul” factor of Brett Patridge from episode one of The Mentalist. A couple stand out as possible Red John acolytes (one could actually be the new Red John if one wants to go that route). Cho’s expression shows disappointment and a little bit of worry.

Open the next scene on a birthday party at the Jane household’s mostly remodeled cabin. Patrick Jane looks sublimely happy as he does magic tricks for his one year old’s birthday party. Rigby and Van Pelt are in attendance, also looking happy, as are their kids. Lisbon serves snacks and asks Rigsby if Cho was able to get away for the party. Rigsby says he had a thing out East, but caught an early flight that should have him landing soon. When Jane is done with the magic show he comes over to hug Lisbon, and also asks about Cho, though his expression is grim. The friends joke around for a bit and then the doorbell rings. Cho has arrived and looks exhausted. Jane offers to get him a drink, and, all smiles, asks him how it went in a soft voice. He doesn’t want Lisbon or any of the others overhearing. Cho says it’s the same as always, same questions, disturbing interest in Red John. Jane states crisply that Red John was a nobody. Cho agrees and Jane says he’s glad the killer is dead. Cho asks how much more family leave the Jane’s have. Jane says only a couple of more weeks and back to the grindstone. Cho comments how they have been missed and how cases aren’t getting closed. He says he misses the old CBI. Jane says nothing, reluctant to talk about the subject. He steers Cho away into a party trick and getting all the kids excited about a pony or whatever.

Back to the L.A. detective meeting at a dinner with the woman who tells him she’s a journalist for on online magazine that discuss local crime trends. A couple of murders in the L.A. area caught her attention and she started digging into the past and other cases that to her seem similar. The detective humors her as she goes through the facts, but clearly does not believe her, saying they get tips like this all the time. He tells her people like to look for patterns to make sense of death and adds that no sense to it, just murder and chaos. The journalist says she thinks she knows where another murder is going to take place, though doesn’t know who. She asks the detective to follow up on this. He looks at the location, saying it’s a bad or remote part of town. She asks again and he takes the papers and says he’ll think about it. She looks relieved and tells him she’ll bring more information. To her and to the viewers it’s obvious he doesn’t intend to pursue the tip.

Cut to scenes involving Cho’s current work with the FBI, how they are struggling without Patrick Jane, but were struggling with him before he and Lisbon went on leave. Cho and his boss discuss the fac that the FBI isn’t the right place for Jane, but that the government still wants to use his abilities and are still obligating him to work for them in some capacities to keep murder charges at bay. Cho remarks that this cage would be better if it was some place Jane wanted to be. Cho’s boss says that Jane is a born detective and that he’ll get there. Cho says he hates to say it, but Jane was at his best going after Red John. “Then we need another Red John,” the FBI boss says. Cho’s expression sinks and he says he would rather Jane risk a murder charge by failing to fulfill his obligation to the government.

Back at the L.A. precinct, Detective X asks her partner how his night was. Y says he talked to that crush and it’s another silly tip on a serial killer. X remarks that serial killers are coming out of the woodwork these days and sighs, saying everyone wants to be a detective. They discuss the previous day’s crime scene in detail, bouncing ideas off of each other and flirting in the process.

Cut to the Jane residence where it’s a Sunday afternoon, but instead of doing the newspaper crossword, Jane is actually solving each and every unknown crime listed in the articles, even noting in the margins that a woman writing to Ann Landers is obviously having an affair. Lisbon catches him in the act and when he shrugs she holds up a detective novel she’s reading on which she’s made her own notes detailing the mistakes made and who dunnit. They smile at each other and lean in for a kiss only to be interrupted by their cute-as-a-button offspring who’s markered all over himself — or something to that effect. Cut to cleaning/house remodeling scenes and then them sitting on the porch and night where they both declare they are happy, so happy. Their eyes tell a different story, however, with looks of boredom and dissatisfaction.

Show a scene where the young journalist prepares to go out at night. She looks at her notes and takes a deep breath in the mirror. In her bag, she included a taser, gun, or weapon of some kind. She is made up to look her best, almost for a date. Cut to her again walking into the same L.A. precinct that is chaotic as usual. She asks for the male detective, but he is out. She nervously leaves an envelope for him at the front desk, saying it’s another tip. She appears scared and says goodbye to the sargeant at the desk as if she is heading to her death.

The next scene shows the harried Detective Y coming back from a suspect interview or what have you (could even show the interview scene). He gets stopped by the desk sargeant who gives him the envelope. Y smiles and shakes his head. He heads to the office he and his partner Detective X share. She is finishing yelling at someone on the phone. Y asks whose heart X’s mother has broken this week. X states that her mother never stops looking for true love. “That pretty much sums up humanity.” He jokes back. He settles into his desk and looks through some paperwork and emails, finally settling on the envelope left by the journalist. His partner asks what it is. “You know that crush from last week? She left me another love note.” “Like you said, we’re all looking for true love,” X says back. When Y opens the envelope and starts to read the contents his expression becomes one of dread. X, who has started munching at her takeout dinner, asks what’s wrong. “This isn’t a tip,” Y says, “it’s a murder in progress.” He throws his badge (maybe he wears it around his neck) and/or coat and stormes out the door with the X in his wake asking him what’s going on.

Action scene with them both racing to get to the location the journalist previously showed Y. They shoult questions and answers back and forth and from their conversation Y thinks that either the journalist is committing the murder or going to be murdered. (To up the thrill factor could intercut this scene and the scene before with shots of the journalist nervously waiting for someone in a dark and remote part of the city). They make it to the location and find the journalist daed, with her body slashed up and Red John’s smiley face on the wall. The music gets louder as their eyes fasten on the smiley face with both horror and curiosity.

That would be the big climax of the episode, then it would go into the detectives trying to figure this out, and their superiors assuming it is Red John and informing the FBI. Cho meets with X and Y and all three hit it off and it’s obvious to him that the two work well together and are whip-smart. Jane is mentioned and Y states how he used to do magic tricks as a kid. Cho remarks that mentalist work is a little more advanced than that. At first, Cho and his FBI team work on the case with the L.A. detectives, but a couple of the FBI team members end of dead and it is then when the FBI boss says they have to bring Jane in. He or she (whoever is cast or kept on from the previous show) apologizes to Cho, saying they wish they’d never said anything about Red John.

Cho takes on the task of breaking the news to Jane and Lisbon. He is so worked up and spends so long hesitating that Detective X, having sympathy and compassion for him, says she’ll do it. The last scene of the episode could be her waiting at the Jane residence (perhaps she can see them happily cooking together or something through the windows) and knocking on the door. Patrick Jane answers, and being who he is, knows instantly why she is there. His expression says it all: Knowledge that there’s no way Red John could be resurrected. Fear that he is wrong in that and fear for his family. A spark of excitement at the thought of a new worthy opponent. Dun, dun, dun! Credits.

Whew!  You made it!

So that’s how I would begin, but I’m sure professional TV writers could do much better and also fill in more of the details. Thanks for reading.

Shows That Need to Happen: Red John (Part 1 of 2)

The Mentalist

Part 1: The Case for Another Season  *Spoilers abound*

Anyone who has watched The Mentalist knows that the driving force behind the show was Red John, or more precisely, Patrick Jane’s pursuit of Red John. Other shows are crime/detective procedurals, other shows have quirky consultants, other shows use alternative methods of solving the crimes, and The Mentalist had all of that and more: A serial killer that didn’t get caught for 5.5 seasons and was hunted by a man so permanently damaged that not even a happy wedding ending could shake the feeling of melancholy surrounding his character.

Despite being a con artist who pretends to contact the dead and read minds for money, Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) was picked to help figure out the identity of a serial killer named Red John whose calling card was a giant smiley face painted on a wall with his victim’s blood. After publicly insulting this unknown killer, said killer murdered Patrick Jane’s wife and daughter for revenge. After suffering a mental breakdown, Jane made it his mission in life to hunt down and kill Red John. He joined the California Bureau of Investigation to work with the team assigned to the case.

As great as The Mentalist was, I think it could handle another season, and one centered around Red John at that.

First of all, the catching and klling of Sheriff Mcallister (Xander Berkeley – did a great job, by the way) should have been either the last or second to last episode of the entire show. It was painful to watch Patrick Jane limping on two years later, forced to either work for the FBI or have to face prosecution for taking the law into his own hands. And although I was happy to see him and agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) get together, I thought they deserved better than an overdone rom-com airport confession and a following relationship that carried little of the closeness that had come before.

Marriage and a baby on the way both point to a good future for the couple, but there are things that show that Patrick Jane is still very damaged. Take the scene in South America (don’t remember which country he’s in) where Jane wakes up in deja vu to an undercover FBI officer cooking him breakfast at the stove, eerily like Lorelei Martins (Emmanuelle Chriqui) did before she revealed she was a follower of Red John. The lighting, the slow motion, everything about that scene recalls the one that came, in on-show time, two years before it. Patrick Jane is also much subdued after finally killing Red John, something that may be realistic, but is hardly exciting to watch.  Although he initially welcomes working for the FBI to see Lisbon again, he grates against the job in a way that is disconnected from the Patrick Jane we’ve come to know. He grates against the work more than he does against the FBIs rigid way of operating.  He proposes to Lisbon with his dead wife’s wedding ring. He wants to spend his life fixing up a shack.  He buys a RV caravan thing eerily reminiscent of the carny culture he so wished to escape as a young man. These things don’t signal “happy ending” for either him or Lisbon. This is a man still very much in crisis. This a man who stll has a sliver of doubt about himself, perhaps because Jane was at his best when hunting Red John. He had a purpose and a calling.  Revenge is a tragic way to make a living, but for his character and for the show, it worked.

Make no mistake: I want a happy ending for the characters. I want a wham bam, wow of an ending that makes sense of all of the seasons that came before. The choice of Sheriff McAllistar as Red John didn’t work for me. The Captain Hook phrase “worthy opponent” comes to mind. Why the sheriff was not that opponent has a lot to do with screen time, but also due to the fact that he was a random choice. He was only in one episode previously to being added to the list of seven suspects, but so were others like Brett Partridge (Jack Plotnick). Brett with his greasy hair would have been a better choice, actually. His first scene in episode one of the entire show is chilling. Partridge describes what Red John does to his victims not in the clinical tones his job calls for, but in an excited and almost reverant fashion. Patrick Jane immediately names him as a ghoul, and the entire scene crackles with foreshadowing. Had Brett Partridge been chosen as Red John, I would have thought, “Ah, that makes sense. It fits.” His fanaticism and downright creepiness make him a worthy opponent. Vizualize cult leader Bret Stiles  (Malcolm McDowell) (why are all of these guys named Bret(t)?) would have also been a worthy Red John, as he mentally spars with Jane throughout almost all of the seasons of the show. Even the fake out choice of CBI director Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston) was better. He at least had several previous episodes to give the audience reason to suspect him either to be Red John or to be working with him.

The biggest problem with McAllistar is that he was suddenly added to a list of 7 suspects of people with whom Jane had met and shaken hands since…really? Really, writers? If the list itself had been a bluff for a different person they had in mind, that would have been awesome. How it turned out, not so much. The Vizualize guy would have been a better choice. Heck, Cho (Tim Kang) would have been a better choice. Who would have seen that coming? I mean, he’s got a brain. Have you seen the classic tomes he reads? And he likes the bad-good girls.  His romance with Summer (Samaire Armstrong) was epic.  What about Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti)? What about Lisbon? Rigsby (Owain Yeoman)?

I have to ask, is it really that big of a deal if some or even all of the audience guesses the answer before the end of the story? I guessed who Johnny Depp was in The Tourist and I still enjoyed the ending. Writing a twist that almost no one guesses (i.e, The Sixth Sense) is next to impossible. And once someone does, every thriller after the audience is hunting for the twist and it becomes a headache for the writers because same audience decides that the story lives or dies on whether they guess the twist. Too easy to figure out, the writing is crap. Too hard to figure out, audience feels cheated (i.e., my own wish that there had been a different ending).

Did fears of the audience guessing “who dunnit” play into the strange choice of McAllistar and the even worse choice to try out The Mentalist as a straight procedural? I don’t know, but as a viewer, I felt it didn’t work. The show never sold me on being a procedural at the cold and clinical FBI, although it worked ok at the CBI as long as they were also chasing Red John. The Mentalist deserves another season to remedy these mistakes. Patrick Jane deserves another season to revel in the chase. He can be happily married, and a father, and still revel in the chase. He can be happy in all of these things and still be a tragic character, but one true to the episodes that came before. Patrick Jane does not build cabins in the woods. He does not buy RVs. Patrick Jane enjoys detecting and the con, especially conning evil. And he’s damaged and always will be  Patrick Jane is still very much in need of therapy, and that therapy involves catching killers.

Up Next Time: Part 2 – What a Red John Show would look like.