Apr. 25th, 2018

joreth: (being wise)
The Mentalist (2008)

www.warnerbros.com/tv/mentalist-season-1 - Warner Bros
www.imdb.com/title/tt1196946/ - IMDB
https://amzn.to/2HsaqqC - Amazon
https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/70155590 - Netflix

I posted about individual episodes from The Mentalist that highlight what I really like about the show. I've finally finished the whole series and am ready to talk about it as a whole. I will try my best to avoid specific spoilers.

I've been watching this show for years. I still get Netflix DVD, and the reason I signed up for Netflix in the first place, back when it first came out, was I felt a monthly subscription fee was cheaper than all the late fees I wrack up from rentals. I get a DVD and then forget to watch it for MONTHS. Or I get it, watch it, and forget to send it back. If I like what I see, I'll obtain a copy to own.

My Netflix DVD subscription is also now used to help me archive movies for library collections, so I've had to bump shows for pleasure down the queue in favor of movies that I review and archive. So I've been making my way through the show for years. I had to put off getting new discs of the show for a long time, so I can only re-watch the seasons I've already acquired.

So I've loved the show forever, but I haven't finished it until now.

The premise is that a "psychic" who knows he is a fraud and a conman tries to increase his brand by going on TV to say that he's helping the police solve a serial killer case and he ends up insulting the serial killer, who kills his wife and daughter to teach him a lesson in humility. The show starts out with Patrick Jane as a relatively new consultant with the fictional California Bureau of Investigation on the day that the very newest agent joins the team.

The show is mostly episodic in a traditional Sherlock Holmes-style cop drama with one super genius of observation and a team of people who can't hope to match his prowess ranging from those who accept his methods to those who disbelieve his methods to those who resent his unorthodox methods. With the serial killer case weaving in and out throughout the show.

If you don't like cop dramas, with their police procedural format, their "cops are almost always the good guys and their prey are always the bad guys" tone, and their "sometimes the good guys have to bend the rules for the greater good" justifications, you won't like this show. I grew up on cop dramas in the '80s, so I love them.

If you don't like Sherlock Holmes-style shows with one character with nearly magical powers of whatever it is he does (investigate, diagnose, whatever) and, as a result, a personality that is very off-putting to most people, then you won't like this show. Jane is not quite the Dr. House grumpy, unlikable cynic because he is very charismatic and energetic and charming when it suits his needs. But he is cynical and brash and he doesn't quite see other people as real people, he often sees them as tools to achieve his own ends.

Patrick Jane is an out atheist, and pretty confident in the assertion that there is no God or supernatural of any kind. He shows us how many things that people think are supernatural are tricks that some people exploit because our brains are exploitable. He is arrogant and confident and fiercely loyal to those who have earned his respect. But still not above a practical joke here and there. I enjoyed seeing an atheist protagonist who actively pulls the curtain aside so the audience can see what's behind it.

As I've stated before, the show also routinely adds powerful women characters without stereotyping them; it has close to 50% female supporting cast; when the bad guys are women, they're almost always very intelligent women who get away with what they do for as long as they do because they are both very intelligent and because everyone underestimates them (although Jane does not underestimate them for being women, he knows how capable women are); and the main female lead does not have a romantic or sexual relationship with the main male character.



Now the criticisms.

Eventually, we have to wrap up the serial killer storyline. The killer takes on epic proportions, becoming Villain Sue, almost a God Mode Sue foil for our hero. He starts to get too big. So I feel that the writers wrote themselves into a corner and decided to take a left-turn to get themselves out. The killer becomes, in my opinion, too powerful and the plot becomes too convoluted, and then the character they choose to finally reveal as the killer is ... unbelievable, in my opinion. I don't buy it. It feels like they were running out of time and needed to pull someone in as the killer in a hurry.

But it's weird, because they wrap this arc up in the middle of season 6. The rush job that this feels like seems more like when a show gets a surprise cancellation notice so they have to finish up a story arc that they expected to have more seasons to finish. But in the middle of a season, that's not very likely.

So I don't like who they finally revealed as the killer. I feel that this choice doesn't account for so many of the, frankly, unbelievable details they used to set up the character of the killer. And I don't like how it feels rushed. So now, with half a season left to go and the main driving force behind our protagonist's motivation gone, the show takes another turn.

Now we have a cast change and a location change in addition to a plot change. The show needs to justify why Jane continues to work as a consultant with law enforcement now that the only reason he has for wanting to work with them is gone. He joined the task force originally because he wanted to take down the killer himself, and he needed to know all the details of the investigation to find him. Now he has no reason to continue doing what he does.

So the show invents a reason, having the FBI invite him to work with them doing the same job he did with the CBI. As part of his negotiations, Jane insists that his former CBI boss work on the team too. But now everyone is in a different role. His former boss is now not his boss, she's the newest member of the team and has the least seniority and the least authority. The senior agent under her at CBI started working with the FBI before her so he is now the senior agent, somehow, outranking all the other agents who we see only as extras because it's not very believable that the FBI has a task force made up of only 3 people. The new lead agent for the team is another woman who Jane has to start over from scratch to convince that he's so good at what he does that the rules don't apply to him. And, of course, there is a new Department Head who has to clean up after Jane's messes to justify having hired him in the first place.

Two of the characters from the old CBI unit leave the show and only give guest appearances. That's not so bothersome, I think they wrapped that story arc up pretty well. They had a sexual tension from day 1, so they finally concluded that relationship arc satisfactorily, IMO.

Now Jane works in Texas with a new team and a contrived reason for 2 returning characters but in different roles. These roles change their characters. The senior agent from the old team who is now the senior agent in the new team is not terribly different, but he used to be totally emotionless with only brief glimpses into an inner emotional landscape, and we see more emotion from him now. The new agent who used to be the boss agent, and who previously had no romantic relationship with Jane (which was a point that I liked), apparently stops being a hardass and lets her guard down now that she's not in charge, and the writers turn them into a romantic couple.

I don't buy it. They have no romantic chemistry on screen and they spent 5 years building a deeply intimate but platonic relationship. Suddenly, it's all "I love you" and jealousy shit and I think it's a terrible arc. I would much rather have seen both of them meet someone else in their new roles with the FBI and fall in love that way, because both of them *do* have emotional damage that ought to start healing by 5 years into the story. Just not with each other.

So, my final thoughts are that if you are OK with letting a story go unfinished, watch until the final episode of Season 5. In the final episode of Season 5, they reveal a list of names that Jane has narrowed down the serial killer suspects to. That list is where I lost my suspension of disbelief. If you can let go of a story, then stop watching before you get the unbelievable list.

*I* need to finish a story, no matter how terrible it is (and, to be fair, this was not terrible). Midway through Season 6, everything about the story changes and it becomes, in effect, a different cop drama. It was ... OK. I didn't hate it. If the show had been like that from the beginning, I might have still enjoyed it, if a little less. I just didn't like the changes that were made. I became invested in the characters and the story as it was, and I don't think the changes were an improvement on what had come before.

Season 7 was very short, about half as long as any other season. Combined with the fact that the change all happens midway through season 6, and it felt as though Season 6 and 7 were two independent seasons of a different show. Or, perhaps a spin-off show that didn't do as well. In my experience, very few spin-off shows ever have that magic of the original. I felt that this was the same - a watered down version trying to capitalize on the popularity of the original, but missing that magic that made the original work.

Season 6 (post midpoint climax) and 7 were just OK. It didn't quite grab me. Jane had already established his Holmesian powers so all the episodes just took his skill as a given. We didn't have any build up for him, he was just running on steam from his earlier establishment. Same with his boss-turned-coworker-turned-romantic partner - she was just kind of there because we already knew her. But she was also different, and there were no really intimate moments in the script to reveal where those differences came from, so they were just kinda there too.

I might have found the last 2 seasons as a stand-alone show mildly entertaining and unique for revealing the whole supernatural facade, but it all seemed so ... soft. All the sharp and rough edges were rounded off and there was just nothing really there to grip onto. Frankly, it felt like the writers were just phoning it in. Which is a shame, because I think the new Head of Department character could have become really interesting.

I kinda wish I wasn't the type who needed to finish a story and I could have let it go before the big reveal at the end of Season 5. When I re-watch the show in the future, I will probably stop there from now on. But prior to that point, I think it was an excellent show in its genre and I highly recommend the first 5 seasons.

Banners