Episode 21: Red and Itchy
By: Carlos Uribe
The Mentalist is a show about Patrick Jane, a consultant for the cops who solves crimes while seeking revenge for his family.
What is the best part of a mystery? It's a question that this episode of the Mentalist tries to answer. There's a scene where Jane is at the house of a widow. He notices a small safe on top of the fireplace and figures out that it's the first one the dead husband collected. This husband found it when he was seven and he would put in every combination he could to figure out what was inside. When Lisbon asks what it was, she's disappointed when the widow doesn't remember. Jane proclaims that the answer doesn't actually matter-it's the process of actually solving the mystery. That's the real fun part. This small interaction about what's inside the safe happens to coincide with one of this episode's biggest mysteries: what's inside the Tupperware that J.J. has been keeping in his safe. The small plastic container is a major part of LaRouche's backstory and it's contents contain a secret that is big enough to ruin his career. The natural question that everybody is going to ask is what's in this box. Jane might not know the answer but he pretends he does so he can blackmail LaRouche. There's a part at the end where he could have peaked inside the box to find out what it was. He claims that he doesn't to Lisbon. He might have been lying but he says it doesn't matter. He thinks that keeping the mystery alive is a good thing on it's own. The writers don't agree with him there as Lisbon does figure out what's in the box. It's a pretty good exploration by the writers on what makes a mystery work. The journey to the answer can be more satisfying than figuring it out. In this way, they can proclaim their beliefs about what makes a good mystery memorable.
It's a belief that permeates throughout the series. We have weekly cases and those tend to get solved by the end of the episode. That makes sense since this is a procedural. We do get some serialization and that comes in the form of Red John. We've been trying to figure out who the elusive serial killer is for five seasons now. The idea is that his identity is not going to be uncovered until the series finale. Patrick Jane will finally be able to find Red John and avenge the death of his family. This mystery is crucial to the show. It takes a character like Patrick Jane, of which there are multiple on television, and gives him a dark edge that helps to separate him from the pack. It's Red John that motivates him to help the CBI solve crimes. His obsession for Red John is so deep that the title of every episode has some reference to the color red. The writers bring up that it doesn't really matter who Red John is. That doesn't mean they don't have to try and have a satisfying puzzle but that it's the search for the serial killer where the real fun lies. This is true to a point. Most of the best episodes in the Mentalist are episodes that deal with Red John. It's been a journey that has hooked me into the show. There is no doubt I'll remember the episode where Patrick Jane used Red John to kill that serial killer or the time where he was saved by his nemesis. There are the creepy tells such as where Betram recited a poem that Red John is fond of or the intense scene where Patrick admits that he's going to kill the serial killer. The strongest moments come without a doubt from Patrick Jane's search for Red John. The plot might get ridiculous at points and the power of Red John is over-the-top now but it's the character arc that matters. This whole season has been exploring not only how deep he's gotten in but how it affects his very soul. At the same time, the journey has been great but it's lasted way too long. It's been five seasons and we're only now narrowing down our list of suspects. The Red John plot has driven away fans because it's overstayed it's welcome.
The weekly case of this episode revolves around the Tupperware. It's actually a little more than that. There's two cases and there's also a bonus mystery. The first weekly case is different from most episodes. There is a dead body but we're not trying to figure out who killed him. It's a case to solve a breaking-and-entering. LaRouche goes to his home to discover two thieves cracking his safe. He's able to kill one but the other gets away with the Tupperware. He enlists the help of Jane to get the Tupperware back because one of the thieves left behind a message. They're using the plastic container as leverage to get him to drop his own investigation. This leads into the second weekly case where they have to find a security leak within the CBI. This is because she's behind the robberies. She hired two locksmiths a lot of money to get that Tupperware. I say she because it's revealed that it's actually the head of public relations for the CBI. She's that character whose always bothering Lisbon about doing interviews to help build the image of the agency. She's been efficient at her job but she's sadly become corrupt as she became enamored with power. She started to give out information to people who would pay her. This had allowed a drug dealer to escape the police and Tommy Volker to stay ahead of the investigation into him. They manage to enact a scheme where they get her to reveal herself on camera. She gets arrested and they manage to get the Tupperware back. Nobody can use the contents to ruin LaRouche's life and the status quo is largely maintained.
The mystery of the episode is what's in that Tupperware. Jane is force to admit the existence of the plastic box to the CBI team but he can't tell them what's inside because he doesn't know. They all get interested about what's in the box but the answer doesn't come until the end. Jane might not have opened the box but Lisbon managed to figure it out in another way. It's all in LaRouche's backstory. When he was younger, his mother was brutally raped by a man. She committed suicide three months later. It was a dramatic event in his life where he went to extreme measures to seek vengeance. LaRouche had found the rapist before the trial to cut out his tongue. He keeps the tongue in the Tubberwear because it acts as a warning to barbaric deeds a man is capable of and because it reminds him of his mother. The only reason Lisbon finds out is because she finds the rapist and his mother. It's a pretty dark backstory for J.J. LaRouche. It's a reprehensible action but it's one that keeps him within likeability because of who he did it to. He might think himself a monster for having done it but it's a very human response. A dark one but human nonetheless. That he keeps it as a reminder of his atrocious deed also connects to this season's themes of how dedicated Jane is to his mission for revenge. LaRouche wanted revenge and he got it but he wasn't satisfied with it. Quite the opposite, he's become ashamed of himself. He might detest Jane's methods and maintain his professional standards because he's seeking redemption. This is to suggest that Jane is on a path to darkness. Revenge won't satisfy his soul. The Tubberware acts as a warning to LaRouche about the dangers of the darkness of man. Jane is in a dark place and who knows what he'll do when he finally comes across the real Red John.
The ending of Red and Itchy has Jane shutting the outside world out to try and figure out who Red John is. It's exciting because it's building up to a season finale where the names of seven suspects will be revealed and it's bound to be a Red John episode. It's a promise for a fun finale where the plot actually moves forward a bit. On the other hand, there's some quite disconcerting by that action. We'll get closer to solving the mystery. Jane will remain on his obsessive path towards the heart of darkness. The Tubberware is a warning not just for LaRouche...but also for Jane as gets closer to the identity of Red John.