A Gathering Voices Post by Greg Garrett
I recently watched the season finale of the hit CBS show The Mentalist, in which the former “psychic” Patrick Jane (played by the great Australian actor Simon Baker) works with the California Bureau of Investigation as a consultant helping to solve crimes—and getting information that might lead him closer to finding the notorious serial killer Red John (seemingly played in the Season Three finale by Brad Whitford). You see, some years ago, Red John took offense at words Jane said about him on a TV talk show and killed Jane’s wife and young daughter, leaving behind his trademark bloody smiley face on the wall of Jane’s home.
Jane has been transparent about his motives—he has always told anyone who listened that if he found Red John, he intended to kill him. But could such a breezy, charming character actually do such a thing?
SPOILER ALERT. Yes. He could. In the final four minutes of the Season Three finale, Jane confronted the character claiming to be Red John in the food court of a shopping mall, convinced himself that the man knew enough of the details about the death of his family, and shot him dead, in plain view of a hundred people. END SPOILER ALERT.
This is a game-changer, as great cliffhangers always are. As actress Amanda Righetti, who plays Special Agent Van Pelt on The Mentalist, told TV Guide, “This forces a huge change in the dynamics of the series and every character. . . It's nice to always shake up your show at the end of the season but this is pretty insane!”
Ah, the insanity of the TV cliffhanger. Someone shoots J.R. in the shower. A bomb goes off. Someone proposes. Things will never be the same again. And we don’t know how the game-changer will play out for a long summer—
Now, we don’t normally seek this kind of radical change in our lives. For better or worse, most of us want to feel the ground stable under our feet. Even if it’s a sad life, a boring life, better the devil you know—
But in the stories we consume, we want to see these radical changes. We want to watch people wrestling with unexpected joy, loss, and surprise. No one wants to see characters continuing to live the status quo forever.
So here’s my question: What in our narrative or spiritual DNA accounts for our love of conflict-laden story?
A couple of possibilities come to mind. First, these characters might serve as surrogates for us, having adventures, wrecking and then rebuilding their lives so we don’t have to.
Or they might give us the chance to benefit from their mistakes and triumphs. We might ask ourselves, would I have killed the man who murdered my family? Would I take another path?
Or they might remind us how, in our sacred stories, loss, despair, and destruction are confronted and made right in the loving mind of God.
What do you think?