A lot of television show, even ones that have stellar first seasons, will begin to falter or go stale as time wears on. Luckily, The Mentalist manages to avoid this trap in its second season, and even improves in some areas.
Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) is still working with the CBI, along with Lisbon (Robin Tunney), Cho (Tim Kang), Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti). The producers manage to keep things fresh by shaking up the unit. Rigsby and Van Pelt finally act on their long restrained romantic feelings for each other (though this causes them trouble, and a bit of rethinking), Lisbon deals with some anxiety about almost being killed, and CBI director Minelli (Gregory Itzin) retires after a number of agents are killed right in the CBI building, at the direction of Jane's nemesis Red John. Red John is Jane's real reason for working with the CBI. The serial killer murdered Jane's wife and child when Jane talked about him on national television. Now, Jane uses the skills he developed as a fake psychic to help solve crimes, and hopefully catch the man who killed his family.
The show keeps most of what made it work in the first season. The characters are all likeable, and the actors who portray them are quite talented. Jane himself is manipulative and indelicate, if possible even more so than before. He doesn't hesitate to interrupt a funeral service, wrongly accuse someone of murder or make people believe they are going to die to solve a case. This exasperates his team mates and superiors, though Madeleine Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis), the new CBI director, tends to be much more tolerant of Jane's unorthodox methods than her predecessor was.
The stories are more consistently believable and well crafted than the previous season, which had a few that were simply implausible. The only issues of that same kind in the second season are the occasional pangs of wonder the viewer experiences that Jane is able to keep his job and stay out of jail after his more outrageous stunts. He does go to jail for a couple of days, for bugging the office of CBI agent Sam Bosco (Terry Kinney), but he escapes from there on the way to catching a killer. He regularly subverts the legal process, conducts illegal searches and outrages against common courtesy, with few apparent repercussions. The often repeated mantra that "he closes cases" works up to a point, but occasionally fails to fully explain the situation.
This is not a fatal flaw, however, just a concern that occasionally niggles at the back of the mind. The adept execution of the quirky police procedural template the show follows, along with the intensely likeable characters and fun writing sweep away almost any doubts, and let the viewer simply enjoy the ride. Baker's performance as the tortured victim and driven investigator, who still insists on maintaining his ironic perspective on tragedy, is what really gives the show its driving power. The other actors are all very good as well, and create a vibrant ensemble together. And the guest stars, including the likes of Dina Meyer, Sharon Lawrence and Malcolm McDowell, integrate well into the cast, and don't stand out or foul up the chemistry, as can sometimes happen. But without Baker as the lynch pin, the emotional center, everything else would fall apart. Seeing how Jane reacts in odd or uncomfortable situations, such as a high school reunion, a reservation, a gang house or a research lab full of deadly viruses, is always engaging, and often quite funny. This is not to say that the other individuals on his team aren't given a chance to shine. Lisbon, Rigsby, Cho and Van Pelt are all given a chance to shine a bit more brightly: Rigsby when posing as a long lost reunion attendee, Van Pelt when setting up a hired killer, Cho when he visits his old gang, and Lisbon when she's framed for murder. The characters get a change to grow and evolve, without ever changing the essence that the viewers love.
Below is a list of episodes, as described in the included informational pamphlet:
Patrick faces two foes: whoever murdered a mom with a hot million - and Agent Sam Bosco, who now heads the Red John case.
The Scarlett Letter
Politics is a deadly game when a state senator's aide tied to a sex scandal takes a dive off a Sacramento bridge.
A child molester Lisbon put behind bars years earlier meets a violent end - and Lisbon's prints are on the murder gun.
Patrick straddles a hog and bellies up to a biker bar to solve the murder of a mouthpiece for a vicious motorcycle gang.
Ghostbusters: the team investigates a homicide in a haunted house. Also, Rigsby and Van Pelt finally lock lips.
Black Gold and Red Blood
In the slammer for planting the bug in Bosco's office, Patrick sleuths a murder case from behind bars.
A recent kidnapping and a long-dead corpse bring Lisbon's and Bosco's teams into conflict... and eventual rapprochement.
His Red Right Hand
Bosco is critically shot and his team members are dead or missing. Red John is back... with a vengeance.
A Price Above Rubies
"Like I don't know how to work a fat crowd of suckers." Patrick hobnobs with the beautiful people to solve a jeweler's murder.
Knocked out by a foul ball while investigating the death of a baseball scout, Patrick relives his childhood training as a phony psychic.
All dressed up with nowhere to go. A couple is murdered on the way to the husband's 15th high school reunion.
The beaming mayor of Salter, CA, wields a shovel at a groundbreaking ceremony... and unearths the dead body of her aide.
The $300,000 coffin. The trunk of an ultraluxury auto is the final resting place for Zenith Motor Gallery's star saleswoman.
Blood In, Blood Out
Cho seems unmoved by the death of his one-time best friend, who was also his fellow gangbanger in the Avon Park Playboys.
The secret ingredient is poison. When a top chef keels over during a competition, suspects are as plentiful as clams in a bouillabaisse.
"I've been murdered!" With only hours to live, a scientist purposely exposed to a deadly engineered virus turns to Patrick for help.
The Red Box
Cleopatra's wedding ring is the motive for murder. And the CBI's new boss thinks Patrick is indispensable... but Lisbon isn't.
It's tough to be a mentalist when your subject's mind is blank. Patrick helps an amnesiac discover who she is and why she's covered in blood.
Too clever for his own good: Patrick's unorthodox methods get a case thrown out of court - and a killer walks free.
Red All Over
When the new CEO of a media empire is offed at his celebration party, suspects include a glib cult leader and the ousted CEO - who happens to be the dead man's father.
Big shoes, red hair, real gun. A clown kills a socially inept math genius and makes off with the dead man's index finger.
Despite their prickly relationship, Patrick and "psychic" Kristina Frye join forces to unmask the killer of a human-rights leader.
Red Sky in the Morning
A video of a Red John copycat killing leads an emotionally overwhelmed Patrick into a trap... and into a stunning encounter.
The second season of The Mentalist is, if anything, an improvement on the first. There's plenty of action, thrills, humor (a lot of laugh out loud moments) and some real insight into human character, without the one or two subpar stories that were present in season one. Even though it's about murder and serial killers, the show is upbeat and hopeful about humanity, and a joy to watch. Highly recommended.
The image is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks quite nice. The colors are bright and clear and the contrast is good.
The audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and sounds quite good, with deep bass and always audible dialogue, and entirely free of any issues. English and Portuguese audio tracks are included, along with English, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai subtitles.
Deleted or extended scenes are included for a few episodes, as well as two longer featurettes. They are:
The Art of the Mentalist with Chris Long
Producer Chris Long deconstructs a scene from the first episode along with actual mentalist Luke Jermay in this featurette, clocking in at just under fourteen minutes. The two discuss the various mentalist techniques that are portrayed in the show, such as muscle reading and non-contact reading, and how they are impacted in their portrayal for dramatic purposes. Quite interesting.
Mentalism: A Subliminal Art
This is the most substantial extra included, at almost an hour in length. It consists of mentalist techniques and tricks by Luke Jermay, with the cooperation of most of the main cast of the show, and the writers as well. Jermay demonstrates visual suggestion (getting someone to spontaneously draw a preselected image), muscle reading (to find a hidden object), cognitive persuasion, guessing secret numbers, and much more. This is very enjoyable, and Jermay is able to accomplish some impressive feats.
The only disappointment with the extras is that, as with season one, no commentaries are included, which might have given a bit more insight into went on behind the scenes, and how the production process worked.
The second season of The Mentalist is an improvement on the first. It's funny, thrilling, and a joy to watch. The human relationships among the characters draw in the viewer on a deeper level than detective shows usually do, and are as important as the mysteries solved to the show's success. Patrick Jane as played by Simon Baker is a tragic hero, focused on his mission, almost unstoppable in his intellect and observational skills, but still vulnerable and human. The show that revolves around him is excellently crafted, and recommended for almost everyone.