Three may be a crowd on The Mentalist (Sunday, 10/9c), but four was company when the CBS series’ creator, Bruno Heller, along with leads Simon Baker and Robin Tunney, spoke with TVLine to survey the season-ending arc centered on Lisbon’s D.C. debate and how it’s stirring something in Jane. Read on for their thoughts about navigating that sticky wicket and how the May 18 (series?) finale will split the audience 50-50.
TVLINE | Bruno, I understand that it was always the show’s intent to get to this place with Jane and Lisbon at the end of this season, even dating back to last summer?
BRUNO HELLER | We were certainly thinking about it. When the show started, for me there was not a thought of that at all. But one of the things about TV over the years is the characters develop their own dynamic and direction as truth is revealed, and it seemed to us – and [the actors] can contradict me if they like – that love blossoms. There is a genuine feeling there between the two characters that had to be honored, one that was just natural and organic.
TVLINE | Simon, were you interested to explore this side of….
SIMON BAKER | [Interrupts] From the moment I met Robin Tunney. [Tunney and Heller laugh] I looked at her and I said, “You will be mine.” No, you know, it’s one of those things where…. It’s the whole Moonlighting theory that comes into play with long-form TV. It goes on, and sometimes on and on, and do you give the audience what they want, or do you keep the flirtation and tease going? Is that really what they want, is that what they like — to want something? Because as soon as you seal any sort of a deal with anything, it’s like, “Well, that’s that, and from there where do we go?” There are plenty of places always to go, but it’s a risk and a challenge.
TVLINE | But on a character level, were you and Robin interested to ask the question, “What do these two people really mean to each other after all these years?”
BAKER | Yes — and that became really evident, I thought, after we closed the Red John story and we did the episode that took place two years later. It was about laying the foundation for the rest of the season, in the sense of it was an episode about longing and missing each other, missing that relationship as it stood.
ROBIN TUNNEY | I also think the show has always been something more than just a straight procedural. And once the Red John storyline cleared up, it was like, “OK, these people are left with each other. So how do you create stakes?” There was a history, but there was this idea of “What’s next?” How do they feel about each other? It created sort of an arc where there was a lot at stake, people’s hearts and all that stuff, without, “Oh, we can throw another serial killer into the mix.” It was something that was fitting to the show and it created drama.
TVLINE | Robin, in the closing scene of last week’s episode, what is going on in Teresa’s mind as she stands at the doorstep, wiping tears off her face?
TUNNEY | I think she’s just dying for [Jane] to declare himself — and she’s really worried that he won’t. This opportunity with somebody else [Agent Marcus Pike, played by Pedro Pascal] has come up and it’s like, “OK, am I crazy? Should I do this? Am I missing out on something because I’m hanging out waiting for somebody else?” That’s something that’s really scary to her. This guy comes along who’s crazy about her and it’s like, “Am I going to pass up on something that’s real, to hang out and see what happens?” She’s just dying for Jane to declare himself. She’s not sure what else she can do, like, “So, this other guy has asked me to move with him….”
TVLINE | What is it that’s keeping Jane from being more forthright with Lisbon? Is he perhaps not confident in his ability to make her happy, or…?
HELLER | Simon can probably answer that better than me, but for me, if you spent so much of your life self-protectively concealing your feelings, for very good reasons, and feel that it was your love that essentially killed other people in your life, that connection to you has been a bad thing, there are all kinds of fears deep down that would stop you from speaking honestly. Men in general have difficulty declaring their emotions, and in this case [Jane and Lisbon] had a long and close, brother-sister relationship, so to suddenly declare a different kind of love is extremely difficult.
BAKER | Everything seems to be good, and then suddenly the girl that I like to stand next to has these “demands” upon my character to give more of himself…. That’s a part of it. It’s also that Jane is a broken toy. He looks like he’s gotten to be OK, but really, he’s not functioning completely. I guess Lisbon’s wondering and hoping whether or not he ever will function again, and he’s looking at her, thinking, “She’s going to walk away, and I can’t fix myself. I’ve forgotten how to give of myself and surrender.” So it’s a challenge. You could interpret it a lot of different ways, but I knew what I was playing. I didn’t necessarily choose to articulate it, because I think the nature of someone not being able to surrender to someone else or give themselves up is incredibly private. And I think it has to feel like it’s authentically private for it to be legitimate.
TVLINE | Robin, has this last run of episodes been entertaining for you, to be “the prettiest girl at the dance” with two not-unattractive men fighting over you?
TUNNEY | Uh, yeah – after wearing sensible clothes and shoes for five years, it’s been pretty nice.
HELLER | That’s Robin’s real life anyway, men fighting for her….
TUNNEY | [Laughs] It’s interesting, the storyline between Jane and Lisbon. From the very beginning, I remember the TCA [press tour] and PaleyFest [panel during] the first season, it was like, “Will they or wont they?” And my answer – “I have no idea” — was an honest one. And then throughout the years… [Simon and I] could have grown angry at each other or hated each other, but I grew so fond of him as a human being that the idea of where that was going was so easy to play, because I really enjoyed going to work with him. I feel like it’s a progression of how people bond. That’s the great thing about television, is you have the chance to experience things in real time, over six years.
TVLINE | Bruno, are you willing to rule out Pike as the mastermind behind the season-ending kidnapping mystery? That there won’t be that easy out?
HELLER | I’m willing to rule that out, yes. Pike is not the bad guy.
TUNNEY | It all seemed too good to be true!
HELLER | Sometimes I think I’m way too dumb for this audience, to come up with clever solutions like that. [Laughs] Life is not that complicated or dark – though I wish I had come up with that before.
TVLINE | How satisfying will the finale be if it turns out to be the series’ very final episode?
HELLER | You go first, Baker.
BAKER | [Thinks] On a scale of 1 to 10….
HELLER | Oh, I’ll go first then – “11.” Listen, this last one was written and designed to be a suitable big, happy romantic send-off for the series if that what happens — but it also opens a new chapter if that is not the case. I think we hit the mark well enough. I’m very happy with it. Baker is a perfectionist, so he’s not going to be happy until I’ve created a cross between Gone With the Wind and Psycho or something.
BAKER | Oh, Jesus. Can we readdress those references?
HELLER | OK, maybe not those two. But one of the reasons the show has gone as long as it has is precisely because these two, especially Simon, are never satisfied. They’re always pushing for more and better, more interesting and fresh and original. We may not have always succeeded, but that is the bar we’ve been trying to get over. I think we’ve done our best and it’s up to the audience to decide how well it’s done.
BAKER | We’re in the popularist business with The Mentalist. It’s not Breaking Bad, it’s a show that has had a very consistent audience for six years, and it’s all about pulling our audience in directions where we challenge them a bit. You can’t always give everyone what they want, and sometimes people want to be protected from what they want. I think the best result could be to divide the audience 50-50.
TUNNEY | I think it’s going to make a lot of people really happy, and I think it’s going to make some people angry — and that’s the most you can hope for. Because everybody’s emotionally invested in the show in a different way. And that’s good, because they’re genuine reactions. I don’t think anyone will feel in the middle of the road about it.