With CBS’ The Mentalist entering its seventh and final season, we spoke to series creator Bruno Heller about what fans expect now that crime-solvers Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) and Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) are officially an item, if there’s a wedding in their future, whether the CBS finale will have a true ending, and the odds of the popular detective series having an eighth season afterlife on another network.
EW: In broad strokes, what’s unique about the final season?
BRUNO HELLER: From a professional point of view, we got a chance that’s rarely given in this business to really end the story, to tell the story exactly as we wanted to do, and give you the coda, the happily-ever-after chapter. It was a great move and suggestion on the part of [Warner Bros. TV chief Peter Roth] to end the Red John story [last season] and move on to life after that. What’s different and fun about this season is it’s the same characters, but with life ahead of them—with options, possibilities and joy in their lives. It’s the same Mentalist, but with more sunshine peeping through.
How long after the last scene of the finale does the story pick up?
Now that Jane and Lisbon have expressed their true feelings for each other, how does that change things?
Well it makes things very difficult for them because they’re both very private, self-contained independent people and have kept a tight control on their emotions at the job. And now they have this wonderful thing between them that they feel obliged to cover up. They don’t fool many people for long. The next question is: What are we going to do? Do they really want to spend the rest of our lives as homicide detectives? They have conflicting views on that issue and there hangs a lot of the drama.
We’ve been told before with Rigsby and Van Pelt that there are rules against a dating couple working too closely together. Is that an issue here?
That was CBI. Much stricter rules in the California Bureau of Investigation. They’re okay that way. That’s a story point I came up with in season one to stop Rigsby and Van Pelt from making love on the desks and it’s come back every season to bite us on the ass!
There have been rumors of a wedding this year, are fans getting ahead of things?
They’re getting ahead of things. But a wedding is always something to be wished for. It’s certainly a question that arises at different times for both Jane and Lisbon—if they love each other, and they’re living together, then why don’t we get married? I don’t want to give away too much. The season is very much about how do these two people become a couple and work as a couple and still survive as a couple.
Erica Flynn [Morena Baccarin] is returning, that should be interesting given her and Patrick’s history now that he’s with Lisbon.
Yeah that’s a fabulous episode. Morena Baccarin kills it. This is early on in their relationship between Jane and Lisbon when she’s still uncertain about his level of commitment and ability to be a good boyfriend/spouse/husband. And here’s this incredibly suave gorgeous clever woman who’s very much a match for Jane; probably the only woman in the show’s history who was a match for him, and she’s working her wiles on him. And as always with Flynn. she has more than one agenda and more than one plan in process. That’s a really fun episode. And the fun is from Lisbon grappling with the appearance of her character.
That episode also goes to Lebanon—are we spending more time out of Austin this season?
We’re going further afield, if not necessarily spending more time away.
Will any element from the Red John storyline resurface or is that completely put to bed?
It’s put to bed. I don’t want anybody to think we didn’t get the right guy and he’s still running around—because he ain’t. There are story elements that resonate with that story, because something as traumatic as that is never going to leave you alone the rest of your life, but Red John does not come back in that way.
How much of the storytelling is serialized, and how many are stand-alone mysteries in this final run?
It’s the usual mix. Every week—even the finale—there’s a stand-alone story along with the serialized story. It’s less urgent, if you like, because they’re not chasing down a monstrous serial killer.
Any particular crimes you’d like to tease to?
My favorite of the storylines is Jane has to go back to his old psychic tricks. It’s the return of Jane the psychic con man. That’s going to be a fun one.
You always have said in past seasons that you write finales like they could potentially be a series finale, that they could serve either purpose. This time, it sounds like you’re writing one that’s more definitive?
[Spoiler alert] Yeah, absolutely. I would never say never, because it’s such a vibrant character, but the chance to actually end the story is something rarely given in this business, so were taking full advantage of that. It’s the end of this story, but no one dies. Somebody, I won’t tell you who, said, “We should kill them all in a massive explosion.” That’s not going to happen. The great thing about being able to do a final season is it’s a gift, an encore, it’s being able to do all the things people love about the show, all the nuances humor and suspense. We’re trying to make it as classic of a season of The Mentalist as we can.
There’s always the potential of the show being shopped to another network. What are your feelings about that? Would Simon be up for that? Or do you think this is it?
It’s possible. This is a business. And it’s been such a wonderful part of my life and Simon and Robin and [co-star Tim Kang’s] life. No one involved is walking away and throwing down the mike and saying, “F–k y’all, I’m done with this.” It’s been a remarkably happy experience. There’s no reason why it couldn’t continue. But when you’ve done seven years and have an end date, people concentrate on that. For the audience it’s important to give a sense of closure. To a degree, it’s up to Simon. and I’d do whatever Simon wants to do.
So you guys haven’t talked about it?
Oh, we talk about all sorts of things…
The Mentalist final season premieres Sunday, Nov. 30 on CBS.