Quirky police procedural The Mentalist hits its stride in season three, and delivers consistently amusing plotlines, strong characters and oddball mysteries, even a few with twist endings that are quite difficult to guess in advance.
The show's hero, California Bureau of Investigation consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), who could almost be described as an anti-hero, so single mindedly does he pursue his nemesis, serial killer Red John, is up to his normal dubiously legal antics. If anything, he has graduated from a cavalier disregard for procedure and law to the dismissal of any barriers or obstacles, whatever they may be, in his lust for vengeance against the man who killed his family. (He even goes so far as to hire a criminal to break into someone's house looking for information, blackmail one of his CBI superiors, and help a wanted fugitive to escape custody.) Despite this, he is still as likeable and funny as in the previous two seasons, but the pain and sadness that dwell within him are closer to the surface now. There are several meditations on the efficacy and methods of revenge, and it is clear that Jane is committed to killing Red John when he finds him, not arresting him.
Jane's CBI compatriots are mostly the same. Agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) still heads the team, and agents Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Cho (Tim Kang) help out with the investigative duties, with Lisbon's boss Madeline Hightower (Aunjanue Ellis) around from time to time, even once jumping in to investigate herself. The close knit, almost family like nature of this team is a big reason for the show's success. We like and sympathize with these people, all sharply distinct and well drawn characters, and we want them to succeed and be happy. The season is full of subtle (and not so subtle) character beats, and each one of the team is given the chance to shine, whether its Van Pelt's botched security detail, Rigsby's dealings with his ex-con father, or Cho mentoring (against his will) a wayward youth. A couple of new additions are CBI internal affairs agent LaRoche (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and CBI Director Bertram (Michael Gaston), both of whom could be considered contagonists, not necessarily villains, but often at cross purposes to Jane and his cohorts. Season three also brings back a lot of characters from the first two seasons for guest appearances, including cult leader Brett Stiles and supercilious coroner Dr. Steiner.
The episodes are all fairly strong, and the series seems to have grown comfortable enough with itself and its formula, without becoming repetitive or formulaic. These are standard murder mysteries, often with a twist, and always with a sly sense of humor and irony. Quite a few of them are able to conceal the true murderer until the final few minutes, a tribute to any show of this type. The sensibility of The Mentalist has gotten a bit darker in the third season, however, mostly through Jane and his obsession with Red John. He still has his cockeyed view of life, but is definitely "broken", as one character calls him. He is willing to do whatever he has to in order to catch Red John, and calmly explains to others that they have to be willing to lie and break the law if they want to exact revenge. This presents a challenge to the show's writers. The battle of wits between Jane and Red John is escalating, and cannot continue to do so forever. Either they have to meet and grapple face to face, or the steam will start to leak out of the drama. At the end of season three, there is such a confrontation, and a startling conclusion, but it remains to be seen what exactly comes of it.
Below is a list of episodes, as described in the included informational pamphlet:
Red Sky at Night
The Blood on His Hands
Red Carpet Treatment
Pink Chanel Suit
Ball of Fire
Jolly Red Elf
Blood for Blood
The Red Mile
Every Rose Has its Thorn
Like a Redheaded Stepchild
Rhapsody in Red
Strawberries and Cream (Double Episode)
The third season of The Mentalist continues the strong showing of season two, and finds its groove, balancing plots (including the overarching pursuit of Red John) with strong character moments and sly humor. It's full of murder and mayhem, but it is often quite life affirming, and definitely a joy to watch. Highly recommended.
The Mentalist: Portrait of a Serial Killer - Red John
"Red Moon" Directed by Simon Baker
As with seasons one and two, no commentaries are included, which is a disappointment.