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Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Mack makes a case for The Mentalist’s “Strawberries and Cream” Read below, argue with us in the comments.
Patrick Jane spends his life at the CBI sleepwalking through cases, three steps ahead of bozos stupid enough to murder someone on his watch. He is a self-indulgent puppet master, trying no harder than he has to until boredom convinces him to coax loose cannons out through unnecessarily elaborate schemes. The mental chess match is rarely competitive, and Jane always prefers to let his opponent beat himself, at least whenever the foe isn’t Red John.
Red John’s power doesn’t lie in his savage nature. It lies in his ability to turn Jane into a reactionary character, one of those loose canons the consultant spends most of his time apathetically hunting. The bloody face on the wall doesn’t just signal carnage, it signals a role reversal, a cat and mouse game in which Jane is the one more often being toyed with. It’s in these episodes that The Mentalist, both the show and character, are at their best, and no single moment better illustrates that frenzied battle of wits than Strawberries And Cream’s ingenious trap.
There’s a mole inside the CBI. Through clever foreshadowing and a brilliant introduction of new characters throughout Season 3, Jane, and by proxy, viewers are left with five suspects. Each is casually told a different location where former director Hightower is hiding, and video cameras are hidden in each room to detect which is broken into. The scheme is Jane at his best, a perfect blending of the calm tactician found in his best moments and the rogue vigilante found in his most human.
Through miscalculations, misreadings of situations and clever guess work by Jane, the consultant winds up face-to-face with a man claiming to be Red John. Their conversation is calm and vicious, eerily controlled by the serial killer. Jane asks for proof, and when his nemesis recounts the odor of strawberries and cream he smelt during the murders, our hero fires two bullets directly into his chest before coolly sitting down and finishing his tea.
It’s one of the most satisfying checkmates I have ever seen. It feels earned and fitting. Had the series ended at that moment, I would have been absolutely elated. Obviously, it did not. New information emerged this season which calls into question how we’re supposed to interpret what happened and who exactly the exchange was between. I suppose I should probably recalibrate my thoughts based on the facts, but I choose not to do so.
For me, a wonderful television episode should be taken in the context it was delivered in. It should be analyzed knowing only the information that was available at the air date, and in the exact moment when I saw Strawberries And Cream, I was blown away by how perfectly The Mentalist’s broad story arc had come together. It was moving, and it was flat out incredible.
I don’t know where The Mentalist will take us from here, but even if it’s all downhill, I’m still happy to know, for a single instant, it all played out as it should have.