Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mental Narcissist

I watched all the episodes of the first four seasons of The Mentalist, the police procedural TV series. It's catchy. But it's not about a mentalist. It's about a raving narcissist.

The main character Patrick Jane, played bullseye excellently by Simon Baker, is a reformed conman psychic now consulting the police, helping them solve murders, while he is obsessed by revenge against Red John, the monstrous serial killer responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter. A juicy setup.

The crime stories are retro – skipping the CSI lab procedures, going back to the whodunit of writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Solving the mystery by contemplating and observing the people involved. That's a nice renaissance.

But chasing villains is not what makes the series magnetic. It's the mentalist, solving crimes by old deduction and by playing tricks, flashing an irresistible smile while bending the laws as much as any criminal. He behaves like a sociopath, not the least bit inhibited by justice or police ethics.

He's obviously very fond of himself, even when depression hits him. He behaves as if he's the only real human being in the world, and the rest of us are mere spectators of a lesser species. That's narcissism.

That's what the show is really all about. Narcissism, being intoxicated by the admiration of oneself. Patrick Jane is full of it, albeit in a very charming way, like a rascal boy reminding us that life is but a game. But he is a time bomb.

Narcissism may seem like a joke, but it's a mental condition with distinct hazards, especially when combined with a dose of paranoia. Jane's arch enemy Red John makes sure of that.

The secretive, unseen super villain is also evidently a narcissist, tremendously fond of himself and of forcing his impression on everybody – especially the one to whom he feels akin. He should, since they suffer from the same delusion.

So, the only proper ending, when ratings drop and the series approaches its unavoidable cancellation, is to reveal that they are both the same person, Patrick Jane and Red John. Maybe a split personality thing, or just a delusion gone haywire. He's chasing himself, because in his narcissistic universe, it's the only one worth the effort.

Although the creator of the series, Bruno Heller, is equipped with some guts, as can be seen in his former series Rome, I wonder if he dares to let The Mentalist reach that natural conclusion.

He might chicken out by revealing Red John as the twin brother of Patrick Jane or some compromise of that kind, but what he really should do is to go out with the bang of exposing Jane as the serial killer. The obsession of a narcissist, creating an alias of no less brilliance than his self-image.

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy the series, although I'm frequently irritated by sloppiness in making the plot plausible, and some side-stories that are far too conventional to fit in this setting. Side-stories must relate to the basic theme of the show, or they're nothing but distractions.

At length, maybe what remains the most attractive in the series is the acting by Simon Baker. His smile is so genuinely devilish in all its charm, his posture and attitude fit the character so well, it's hard to imagine that it's not 100% typecasting. That's good acting.

And it's mesmerizing how his face turns from that careless rascal into the despair of someone who has lost everything, in spite of all his superior competence, at moments when he is harshly reminded of the tragedy in his past.

I can see a few more seasons of that before getting bored.


  1. Thank you Stefan, I too enjoyed many episodes of the mentalist, I saw the killing of the supposed Red John and a few more, where he kills again. Do you really think that it is like the Fight Club. Maybe I should look for some more episodes. Just watching now again CSI Las Vegas in the 9th season. I'll see...

    1. Yes, I was thinking of Fight Club as an example of such a plot. I'm not sure that the team behind The Mentalist has the guts to go for that solution, but I have a feeling that they're reserving it as one of their options.

      CSI Las vegas is cool. I'm delighted that now, there are so many TV shows counting on the audience having some brains. That was rarely the case in the past.

  2. I was very impressed with your assessment of this program. I love to analyze what I watch. I recently was trying to find write ups declaring narcissism in film, so I could get a better mental picture about this disorder I am learning about. I congratulate you on an honest presentation of narcissism as a serious disorder. (Shame on Dr. Phil last week!) I am going to revisit some of this series again with a new perspective. I have to say though, as I read this blog entry, I am chagrined that I had been just as fooled by the mentalist, as I was fooled by a narcissist in my own life! Thank you for sharing this poignant review! I very much enjoyed it. :)

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words. I know the feeling, I still hurry to see new episodes of the TV narcissist - who is, thank God, purely fictional. In real life, it gets much more complicated.