In a sea of procedurals, The Mentalist manages to stand out because of the performance of Simon Baker as Patrick Jane. Like Dr. House, Jane is a bit of a rules-breaker, but he's far more charismatic. Also, there are some recurring elements that hint at larger stories going on behind the case-of-the-week nature of most of the episodes. Add to this interesting supporting characters, actual character development and growth, and you've got easily one of the best examples of the procedural format.
The second season continues the slow burn of Jane's ongoing obsession with serial killer Red John, who killed his wife and daughter. It's a driving motivation that keeps him moving through the season, and there are more tantalizing clues toward his eventual (we hope) capture or elimination. The season does a good job, in best X-Files style, of offering regular updates and progression on the Red John front, while balancing it with standalone episodes that spotlight Jane and his team. After all, you don't want to offer resolution that quickly or Jane might lose too much of his drive.
Aunjanue Ellis joins the cast this season as Madelein Hightower, the new agent in charge of the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation), replacing the always engaging Gregory Itzin's Virgil Minelli. This gives fans a whole new foil for Jane's maverick tendencies. The question is if she will come to respect Jane's ways, and perhaps more importantly, if he can grow to respect her.
But Minelli's departure isn't without some drama of its own, as the CBI faces a far more significant and powerful loss that precedes Minelli's retirement. It's something that profoundly affects both Jane and Lisbon (Robin Tunney). Perhaps because of the profound loss she experiences, Lisbon has more troubles with Hightower than Jane.
Not to be left out, the writers chose to push Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) closer as well, resulting in more tension between them than improved relations. There's a reason it's risky to mix lust and work. Other episodes look into the past of team member Kimball Cho (Tim Kang) and offer fun guest appearances by Sean Maher and Malcolm McDowell, among others.
The Mentalist is one of the most popular shows on television, with Baker getting Emmy nominations and other accolades for his performance, much like Hugh Laurie does for House. And just as House is a procedural that manages to be somehow better than that stigma because of the strength of its characterizations and the performances of its ensemble cast, The Mentalist is well worth catching. Plus, by watching all 23 season-two episodes in close succession, the Red John revelations don't seem to be as drawn out. Of course, once you're all caught up and sinking your teeth into the new season, you'll be chomping at the bit for any new clues along with the rest of us.
As the show's star is a former psychic who uses the tricks of that trade in his current police work, the "Mentalism: A Subliminal Art" featurettes are actually quite intriguing. Featuring Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Luke Jermay, Owain Yeoman, Amanda Righetti, Tim Kang, and Bruno Heller, the videos comprise shorts covering a variety of "mentalism" topics such as cognitive persuasion, suggestive imagery, muscle reading, and mind reading. It's surprisingly informative, and while I'm not ready to start my own psychic friends network just yet, I did gain some insight on the craft.
The "Art of a Mentalist" companion piece talks with executive producer and director Chris Long about how these techniques are incorporated into the making of an episode of The Mentalist. Add to this 10 deleted scenes, and while it would have been nice to see more extras for such a popular show, what we do get is unique and memorable.