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.