Season 5 of The Mentalist premiered last night, with the CBI's Lisbon and Jane back on the trail of serial killer and megalomaniac, Red John. The show really found it's groove in season 4, and Simon Baker gave some great performances towards the end, especially in the thrilling conclusion. His depiction of despair was so real that it even fooled seasoned veterans of Patrick Jane's shenanigans, myself included. Season 3 had ended in a similarly spectacular fashion, and given what followed I had high hopes coming into this fall.
The focus of season 5's debut was the interrogation of Lorelei, one of Red John's agents who was captured during last year's finale. Naturally, for the sake of the show's procedural core, there was also the standard double-homicide that needed solving. However, the murder investigation was clearly treated as an afterthought by Lisbon, Jane, and the rest of the CBI. Unfortunately, there was still a fair amount of mystery to unravel, so a lot of time was wasted on exposition for an obviously ancillary storyline.
Distracting though it may have been, this week's case was drawn up well and came to a satisfying conclusion. I especially enjoyed the foreshadowing of the break in the case, which hinted at the key piece of the puzzle, but gave nothing away about where it fit. The perfunctory red herrings were well executed in their believability, and we also got a cameo from Parks and Recreation's Jim O'Heir as a bonus. The only problem with the investigation was the purely expository nature of the sleuthing. There was absolutely no personal interaction between the detectives, who could just as easily have been one-off characters considering the amount of depth they were given in this installment of The Mentalist.
This problem was exacerbated by the fact that the rest of the episode was devoted to facilitating the interrogation of Lorelei, leaving us with not so much as a taste of character-driven entertainment. Supporting cast members like Tim Kang, who plays Kimball Cho, were almost entirely absent after the opening scene. Cho is a beloved curmudgeon whose tough-guy bit was still fun to watch after four years. I was hoping they'd make it five, but last night he simply wasn't on screen long enough to do anything remotely bad-ass. Even Robin Tunney as Agent Lisbon seemed like a role-player rather than the deeply developed character that fans of the show have come to know.
But the real draw of The Mentalist has never been the mystery solving or the colorful cast of characters; people watch the show because of Patrick Jane being mischievous. Though there was a fair amount of playful irreverence on the part of Mr. Jane, I could certainly have used a healthier dose after the long summer hiatus. This episode's big reveal, where Patrick Jane tricks the guilty party into exposing themselves after he solves the case, wasn't nearly as entertaining as some of the ones from previous years.
Hopefully The Mentalist will get back to its roots before it becomes too much of a “whodunnit?” Five seasons is a pretty long run, but we're not nearly at the point where the show needs to start moving away from its tropes. Save that for season 6, because I still just want to watch Patrick Jane mess with criminals until they accidentally confess.