SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s two-hour series finale of CBS’ The Mentalist.
It was a long journey for The Mentalist, which tonight wrapped its run on CBS seven years and 1,800 miles from where it started. It was a happy ending for the brooding widower Patrick Jane, played by Simon Baker, who married long-time boss, Robin Tunney’s Teresa Lisbon in the final scene.
After a successful launch behind NCIS, The Mentalist was a key member of CBS’ formidable Thursday lineup, alongside Survivor and CSI. It has been a very valuable property for studio Warner Bros. TV, landing a record-setting off-network syndication deal and becoming a global hit. The series also accomplished something few shows have been able to do successfully — it underwent a major creative reboot, wrapping its core Red John mystery in the middle of Season 6, moving the setting from California to Texas and shaking up the supporting cast.
With The Mentalist‘s fate in limbo last spring, the show’s creator Bruno Heller and top lieutenant Tom Szentgyorgyi gave fans a Jane-Lisbon happily ever after in the season’s finale, which ended with him stopping her plane and professing his love. In a similar fashion, the series finale closed with the couple’s wedding. I spoke with Szentgyorgyi about the show’s final scene, his and Heller’s original Fugitive ending, spinoff possibilities, and what they envision the future holds for The Mentalist‘s main characters (FBI Director Cho?).
Deadline: With The Mentalist’s fate uncertain, the season 6 finale, which could’ve been a series finale, ended with Jane and Lisbon exchanging “I Love You”s. Tonight’s series finale ended with them exchanging “I do”s. Were you determined to end the show with a romantic scene?
Szentgyorgyi: Not determined, no. But we knew as the end of season six unfolded — as it became clear that Jane was going to tell Lisbon that he loved her in that season’s finale — that if CBS gave us another season we would spend it exploring the ramifications of Jane’s declaration.
Deadline: After the series got a last-minute Season 7 renewal, did you consider a plot twist, separating Lisbon and Jane after they’d declared their love for each other?
Szentgyorgyi: No. Before the renewal Bruno and I pitched season 7 to CBS. Part of the pitch was that we were going to end with a wedding. Though at that point we had no idea exactly what kind of wedding it would be.
Deadline: Bruno Heller has said that when wrote the pilot, it never crossed his mind that Lisbon and Jane may end up together. What possible ending for the show did he envision at the time of the pilot script?
Szentgyorgyi: When Bruno did the pilot he thought the show would end with Jane catching Red John. It was to be a Dr.-Richard-Kimball-finds-the-one-armed-man series finale.
Deadline: When mapping out the final season last year, what other possible/alternative series endings did you consider?
Szentgyorgyi: None at all.
Deadline: Was revisiting the Red John mystery in the final season ever on the table?
Szentgyorgyi: Never ever ever.
Deadline: How hard was it to wrap the Red John storyline before the end of the series and why did you decide to shake things up so dramatically in Season 6 with the show packing up and moving to Texas?
Szentgyorgyi: The impulse came from Peter Roth at Warner Brothers TV, who called us in at the end of season five and told us he didn’t think the Red John story was sustaining. He felt that if we wanted to continue past season six, we were going to have to close out the Red John arc and reinvent the show. After gulping, Bruno and I realized Peter was absolutely right, and we started plotting out a conclusion to the Red John story about a third of the way through season six. Once we made the decision it wasn’t at all hard to plot out — another indication that it was the right thing to do.
Deadline: The last 3 episodes of The Mentalist featured one of the show’s most intense serial killer arcs in the vein of Red John. There was uncertainty if Jane would survive as the psychopath killer went hard and heavy after him but you opted to eliminate the suspense, revealing to fans before the finale that the series will have a happy ending, with photos from the wedding released to the public. What was the thinking behind that?
Szentgyorgyi: The decision to release the wedding photos was ad hoc — not part of some larger plan — but in keeping with our feeling about the closing episodes as a whole, which was that we wanted to offer a happy ending. We didn’t mind if the audience knew.
Deadline: What is next for Jane and Teresa? Will he go back to the FBI? Will they continue to work together? Will Kimball Cho keep climbing the ladder?
Szentgyorgyi: Jane’s building a house for his family. Lisbon will work at the FBI through her pregnancy until two weeks before she delivers, take a few months’ maternity leave, then go back to kicking ass and arresting bad guys. It’s what she does. Will Jane go back to working for the FBI with her? I don’t know. I suspect he doesn’t either. As for Cho, he will certainly continue to rise. Could the Chelsea Clinton administration see an FBI Director Cho? I don’t see why not.
Deadline: During the run of the show, did you ever consider a spinoff? Tim Kang’s character Kimball Cho certainly has been a standout.
Szentgyorgyi: The truth is, no, though Cho is a great character, and Tim Kang did an extraordinary job playing him.