In “The Mentalist” episode “Ball of Fire,” a kidnapped Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) once again finds himself at the mercy of someone who wants revenge. While the circumstances differ each time Jane is confronted with his past deeds, one element keeps being raised. When Jane apologizes, no one believes him. Even when he’s operating with the best intentions, Jane is still a con man of sorts, so what can you believe? Has Jane ever really been sorry?
As the CBI team searched for suspects in Jane’s kidnapping, it becomes clear that Jane has more enemies than an extremist dictator. Throughout his life, Jane has collected enemies by duping them with his “psychic” business, and then duping both innocent and guilty alike in his pursuit of criminals with the CBI. While some might consider that he’s reforming himself after the death of his family by working with the CBI, Jane himself has told Agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) that he’s only there to get his own revenge on Red John.
Jane has also told Lisbon that he thinks fighting crime is fruitless, and that there are always more bad guys to catch. It does often seem that Jane is only hanging around crime scenes for the fun of it, to solve mysteries and see how he can manipulate people into telling him what he wants to know–and to ruffle the feathers of anyone he doesn’t like. If anyone is offended, Jane is usually more irreverent than ever. He just doesn’t seem to care what people think, or feel, and when things go awry–like a distraught woman shooting her husband–Jane responds with something akin to a shrug and an “oops.”
There are, of course, exceptions. Though he’s always after information of some sort, Jane does have a fondness for children and often relates to them better than he does to the adults. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t fear anything from them; in most cases, their motives are pure and honest. Jane also tends to heap his abuse on people he finds to be absurd, egotistical, rude, and suspect. There appears to be a moral judgment with each interrogation. Anyone who’s a decent human being gets off with at most an awkward conversation with the weird CBI consultant. Jane is ruthless, however, with anyone he finds fault with.
In “Ball of Fire,” Lisbon says that the CBI team are really Jane’s only family. It’s been clear from the beginning of the season that all of the agents have a fondness for Jane, despite his arrogance, intrusive questions, teasing and propensity for getting himself and everyone else into trouble. Jane, in turn, does involve himself in their lives, watching over them and offering advice, whether they want it or not. In the episode “Red-handed,” he even uses his casino winnings to buy expensive gifts for the team, as well as donating anonymously to a casino worker and her sick mother.
Despite his well-established aversion to guns, Jane fires one to save Lisbon from being killed by a suspect who escaped his handcuffs in “Red John’s Footsteps.” His quick thinking has also saved Lisbon in other situations, including tonight’s “Ball of Fire,” where Jane’s ruse with Lisbon stalled the kidnapper Rachel long enough for the CBI team to find them.
So it appears that Jane does have the capacity for caring. He has also been distraught and a completely changed man since friend and professed psychic Kristina Frye was kidnapped by Red John in “Red Sky in the Morning.” But does Jane only care about the people close to him? Does he distance himself from the lives of those he interrogates and tricks, considering them a means to an end? In “Ball of Fire” he tells Rachel he’s sorry for what’s happened to her, but he’s not sorry for anything he did to put her murdering father away.
In the first season of “The Mentalist” especially, we got the sense that Jane didn’t value his own life any longer, since he was carrying so much guilt over the death of his wife and child. As the seasons have progressed, we have seen him afraid of death, and once again he showed that fear in “Ball of Fire.” Though, perhaps like Captain Kirk of “Star Trek,” Patrick Jane doesn’t believe in the “no-win scenario.” We watch him con Rachel once again, so that he can get a knife from the dead body and get his cuffs loose. He seems almost gleeful, then, and close to smug when Lisbon ends up next to him.
Perhaps it all comes down to a God complex. Just as Jane felt confident enough to taunt a serial killer, he now feels it is his right to taunt thieves, mobsters and killers, and to pass judgment on whomever he sees fit. He chooses those who are worthy of his affection, and damns the rest.
Or perhaps we can’t believe anything Jane says at all. After all, he seemed quite sincere when he declared his righteousness to Rachel, so maybe he doesn’t believe that law enforcement is a waste of time after all. And maybe his irreverence is just a way to cover up his insecurity, and discomfort in his own skin. Certainly his sometimes unprovoked anger shows the raw nerves that are still exposed, and his unsettled sleep and loner ways point to a deeply damaged psyche.
This is one of the questions that keeps us watching “The Mentalist.” Is Jane good, or ruling by a “God complex?” Is he Evil, or just broken? Or, like many people, is he a little bit of everything?
Watch “The Mentalist” on CBS, Thursdays at 10 pm ET.
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