It happened, in case you didn’t know. Patrick Jane, the protagonist of one of my all-time fave T.V. shows The Mentalist, finally defeated Red John, the serial killer who murdered Jane’s wife and daughter.
Many were unhappy with the episode. They thought it was a big let-down. James Hibberd over at Entertainment Weekly did a great review that echoed that opinion.
Interestingly, he referenced Seven, a deranged film from the ancient 1990s about another serial killer named John Doe (which I suspect is a completely falsified name). Anyway, in Seven, Morgan Freeman’s character states that John Doe cannot possibly live up to their expectations and that (according to Mr. Hibberd) is part of what’s wrong with the Red John episode: after so many years of build-up, Red John can’t live up to our expectations.
But consider: for people who buy into the romantic mythos of the Serial Killer, Seven’s John Doe does live up to the expectations that director David Fincher creates. John Doe is unstoppably brilliant, and transcendentally amazing. He is every bit the unearthly avenging angel of death that he wants everyone to believe he is. And he wins. The good guys lose. They are outsmarted, out maneuvered, and in the end goodness and innocence are destroyed and the supernaturally evil villain carries out his plan exactly the way he wanted.
And this is how our culture has come to regard serial killers. There is an entire movie genre for them now. They are profoundly evil, and we love them. We are thrilled by them. They seem to us almost pure in their horrifying vileness, and in possession of a power that seems to have few limits.
What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is wrong with us?
That’s what I found so fascinating about Patrick Jane’s final confrontation with Red John. People called it ‘boring’—but it’s only boring if you’ve come to accept the lie that Serial Killers are super-powered wraiths like John Doe and Hannibal Lecter.
In the end, though, we see that evil is repulsively…mundane. Red John isn’t Darth Vader. He’s “just a deranged, sexually perverted sociopath with delusions of grandeur” (that’s a slightly paraphrased quote). When Jane finally kills him, it’s in a beautiful park, with green grass and a gentle breeze blowing and unsuspecting families playing nearby.
I don’t know about you guys, but that says a lot to me. In the end, the Mythic Evil Fiend is just a freak who wants attention. He’s a blot, a temporary aberration. Beauty and goodness are what is real and lasting. When Red John finally gets hunted down, he just lies there, helpless, bleeding, pathetically begging to be spared. Jane finishes him off, and then leaves him there to rot away and be forgotten. That’s important for us to remember. I appreciate a great villain as much as anyone, maybe more so—but villains shouldn’t become our heroes, and I’m afraid for many of us they kind of…have.
Anyway, those are my thoughts, and I’m sure we can all agree that I’ve spent far too much time expressing them here. I’d love to hear what you wonderful people thought!