Once a Terrorist, Always a Terrorist: Sean Maher Meets The Mentalist *

February 9th, 2010 by

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Caution: Spoilers ahead!

No stranger to the Green Scare, the latest episode of CBS’s The Mentalist (Season 2, Episode 12 – the appropriately titled “Bleeding Heart“) featured a terra-inducing plot line, complete with a proposed mega-development in the wilderness, government corruption and intrigue, and a graffiti-and-arson-loving eco-terrorist named Jasper.

Here’s what you need to know, via TVOvermind:

Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam of Firefly

The Mentalist “Bleeding Heart” begins with Agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) being interviewed by a camera crew in the CBI office. […]

Lisbon allows the crew access to the office and bullpen, but not the crime scene. The team is investigating the murder of the mayor’s aide, who was found when the mayor herself broke ground in front of the cameras for a new development project. When they interview Mayor Melba Walker Shannon (Sharon Lawrence of Privileged and NYPD Blue) and her assistant Wilson (Firefly‘s Sean Maher), Jane notices immediately that the mayor seems uncomfortable talking about the victim. When he presses, the mayor asks them to leave.

A possible perpetrator of the crime is an environmental group led by a man named Jasper. Though they’ve burned down buildings on protective land and other drastic measures, they haven’t committed any murder in their past history. Rigsby and Cho pay a visit to the foreman on the building site where the aide’s body was discovered, but while they’re questioning him, the trailer gets firebombed and the door jammed. The foreman is injured and Rigsby and Cho barely make it out with him before the place burns up. It’s clear to them that Jasper is escalating in violence.

Further investigation leads the team to suspect that the mayor was being bribed to approve projects on previously protected lands.

The investigation continues, yada yada yada, Jane takes the news crew out for tacos by way of an apology for exploding at them earlier – and is promptly kidnapped by Jasper and his crew:

Jane is blindfolded and led to a cabin in the woods. His blindfold is removed and he’s confronted by the masked men, one of whom he surmises is eco-terrorist Jasper. Jasper wants Jane to carry a message that he’s not the one who committed murder or attempted to kill the detectives. Unfortunately Jane reveals that he’s figured out Jasper’s identity–the mayor’s assistant Wilson. […]

While Jasper tries to decide what to do now that Jane knows his identity, Jane tries to talk his way out of his own possible murder, saying he can help Wilson. He succeeds in getting Wilson to a near state of hypnosis, when they’re suddenly interrupted by a loud shout that the house is surrounded by law enforcement personnel. Jane urges Jasper to stay calm. When Lisbon and the cops burst in, Jane is alone and restrained and Jasper has escaped out of a trap door.

On The Mentalist, the most obvious suspect never turns out to be the murderer – and “Bleeding Heart” is no exception. Despite the murderer’s obvious attempts to frame the eco-terrorists, in the end, Jane is onto Martha’s killer:

Mike [the news reporter] confesses that he’d been begging the aide for information about possible corruption in the mayor’s office–that the scoop could make his career. She wouldn’t tell him a thing, but then one day he discovered an expose she was writing about the mayor. Jealous and enraged at her cutting him out of the story, and pushed over the edge when she started mocking him, he killed her.

Jane remained true to his word to help Wilson. Due to the way he handled things, Wilson is able to cut a deal with the DA in exchange for information about the mayor’s corruption.

As with the series’s previous animal rights themed episodes, I was rather unimpressed with The Mentalist‘s treatment of eco-terrorism. While not the killer, Wilson/Jasper is portrayed at turns as a super-spy (infiltrating the enemy’s lair, gaining her trust, and persuading Martha to break the bribery story) and a bumbling fool (committing one crime in a sorry attempt to convince law enforcement that he’s innocent of another, thus revealing his true identity in the process). Additionally, while Jasper is no killer and in fact abhors physical/bodily violence, it’s strongly implied that Jasper is (reluctantly) willing to kill Jane to prevent his secret from getting out. Smart/foolhardy, crafty/sloppy, violent/pacifist – pick a side, we’re at war! (Lazy writing, perhaps?)

Also dubious is how Lisbon manages to track down Jane. CBI hauls in one of Jasper’s known associates for questioning – which basically involves Cho and Rigsby threatening bodily harm. As one reviewer puts it, “he folds like a card table, giving away the location of Jasper’s cabin.” From “green warrior” to snitch in less than 60 seconds. As if. (Possible, yes, but not bloody likely. Government harassment and repression of activists and dissidents is all-too common, such that I have trouble believing that an ELF member wouldn’t be able to withstand a little posturing, at the very least.)

Likewise, at one point during his kidnapping, Jane drops this eye-roller:

It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid doing things that require wearing a mask. And you’re such a handsome fellow too.

Now, Jane’s a smart, astute, observant guy – and in the season and a half that he’s been rolling with the CBI, he’s seen his colleagues do some illegal, unconstitutional shit. He’s enticed them into doing some illegal, unconstitutional shit. Hell, he’s done plenty of illegal, unconstitutional shit himself. Assault, breaking and entering, illegal search and seizure; Jane even wiretapped the CBI. In short, he should know much, much better than this.** Activists choose to remain anonymous for a number of reasons – including protecting themselves from government-sponsored “terrorism.”

So, as with the previous plot lines involving animal advocacy and terrorism, this episode of The Mentalist is a wash. While the show doesn’t buy into popular narratives of activists as misanthropic criminals, it doesn’t upend them, either. Also, only 38 episodes into the series, and 3 have featured animal rights and/or eco-terrorist themes – a rather high percentage, no? Then again, as the husband observed, the show is set in California. Bleeding hearts may be CA’s greatest export!

The space pirates-slash-terrorists of Serenity

* While the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I’ve no doubt that the entire crew of Serenity qualify as terrorists, even absent today’s uber-“inclusive” definition of the term.

** On a side note, I’ve a similar bone to pick with, ahem, Bones. Booth, the Reaganesque FBI agent / former military sniper, wants desperately to believe in America, “the greatest country on earth.” Acknowledging that the government is at turns immoral – repressing dissidents, oppressing marginalized groups, lying to its citizens, violating the constitution, etc. – might mean acknowledging that the many sacrifices Booth made throughout his career were in the service of evil. Yet, as an FBI agent who oftentimes abuses his power, Booth himself is evidence of that which he does not want to believe.

See, for example, Season 5, Episode 12, “The Proof in the Pudding,” in which shadowy government agents (led by an African-American man named “Mr. White”) put the Jeffersonian on lockdown (effectively kidnapping everyone inside) so that Brennan and her team can examine a set of human remains (whom they are forbidden to identify) for cause of death. Available evidence suggests that the bones are those of John F. Kennedy – and that the gunshot wounds in the man’s skull were inflicted by two shooters. Booth refuses to accept that the remains are indeed JFK’s, since this would indicate a massive government cover-up. In the end, Brennan uses “the proof in the pudding” to assure her partner that the skeleton is not that of JFK – though the audience is left wondering. Yet, the mystery man’s identity is moot, given the rest of the plot line. (I.e., is a government that kidnaps its citizens any more trustworthy than one that rewrites history?)

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