Exclusive ‘The Mentalist’ Season 7 Interview: What’s Coming After [SPOILER] Happened

The Mentalist Nothing Gold Can Stay Season 7 Episode 10 04

[WARNING: This interview contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Mentalist “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” if you do not wish to be spoiled please come back after you have watched the episode.]

If you have seen the latest episode of The Mentalist “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” then you now know about Vega’s tragic fate. The character was shot in pursuit of a couple of suspect in tonight’s episode and left quite a whole in the team and shook up Patrick Jane to the core.

TV Equals got a chance to talk to Josie Loren, who plays Michelle Vega, and executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi exclusively about the episode, the decision that led to Vega’s death and how it will affect the rest of the season including Jane and Lisbon.

How and when was the decision made to have Vega die on the show?

Tom Szentgyorgyi: Well the decision was made, really, over the summer while we were planning the season. It was very much a part of the plan from the get go. We knew from the beginning that this was going to be our last season. That was very much in our minds, and there were two things we knew we wanted to do. We wanted to introduce a new character. Someone who didn’t know Jane. Someone who will be learning about Jane, and maybe even questioning some of what Jane is doing. And we knew that for the last batch of episodes, as we were winding the show up, we were going to want to sort of go back to the beginning. We were going to want to revisit the world of, frankly, loss and trauma that brought Jane to the world of the show in the first place. He became a detective because his wife and his daughter had been killed. He never would’ve done it otherwise. He became the man that we knew because of that. He was very much shaped by those events. We knew that to sort of round the circle we would want to do that again. We’d already killed off Red John and we didn’t want to bring that specter up again, but we wanted Jane, and the rest of the cast frankly, to suffer the kind of loss that feels like someone had been ripped for you and have to deal with it in the last batch of episodes. And use that death as a catalyst for the last batch of episodes. So it was all plotted out in June and July, and very much a part of the scheme from the get go.

Josie, what was your reaction when you found out your character was going to die? I’m guessing they told you pretty early on?

Josie Loren: Yeah. Tom actually called me the day before I started shooting the very first episode. So I knew from the get go that this was going to happen, and in that phone call, he informed me about basically my arc for these ten episodes, what it was going to be. Although, I would’ve loved to have gotten thirteen episodes because I would’ve gotten another month with this incredible cast and crew. At the same time, I thought it was a really well written, well thought out storyline. I honestly feel honored to be able to be that person for ‘Mentalist.’

How was the experience of shooting that last episode for you?

Josie Loren: The whole thing from beginning to end was bittersweet because I think that they setup that scene really well. The whole time before in that first act, Vega is just so playful, and I think she finally feels a hundred percent comfortable with these people and she feels like she’s a part of the team. I don’t know if you saw episode nine, but that’s established in nine, and going into ten she’s so comfortable and happy as well to be part of this great team. So she’s very light, and she’s having so much fun with the people around her, and then this happened so unexpectedly. So shooting it, I think the whole experience was bittersweet because we’d have these really playful, fun scenes and I knew what was coming next week. I knew what I had to shoot next week. So it was something that kind of lived with me for the two weeks that we were shooting this episode.

Can you expand on how this will affect the characters, how it affects Jane?

Tom Szentgyorgyi: Well, it’s the sort of the crux of the rest of the season. We very much built the season so that it would start in a happy place. Jane and Lisbon start. They’re a new couple in the first couple of episodes. They’re in that really happy space you are when the relationship with someone opens up, someone you’ve known a long time and you’re kind of giddy and everything feels fun. We wanted to go from that to a place where the real consequences of that would finally be brought home for Jane, and that is what Vega’s death does. One of my favorite sayings is the price of love is loss. If you love someone, you risk losing them. You open yourself up. You make yourself vulnerable and Jane has done that again. Jane has already once in his life suffered the worst loss, one of the worst losses one can imagine and that closed him off. That’s one of the reasons that he hasn’t been with anyone after more than a decade since the death of his wife and daughter. By opening himself up to Lisbon, he opens himself up to happiness, but also opens himself up to risk, to the chance of losing someone. In this case, that risk is heightened because she’s an FBI agent. That’s a dangerous profession. It’s a dangerous profession even if you’re brave and smart and cautious, all of which Vega was when she died and all of which Lisbon is. So for Jane, Vega’s death takes the question of a relationship, “Can I risk loss again? Can I risk having my heart broken again?” and puts it right up there to face. Answering that question is the real work of the last couple of episodes, and so in a sense Vega’s death is what brings all that to surface and sets off the last few episodes.

What word would you use to describe the end of the journey for Jane and Lisbon?

Tom Szentgyorgyi: What word would I use for the end of the journey? Well, without giving away too much the word would be joyous.

That’s a good word. I was worried there for a moment.

Tom Szentgyorgyi: Well, the best things are all earned, and Jane has to earn this.

How was your experience of writing the final season, especially knowing that it was the last one while you were in the process of writing it?

Tom Szentgyorgyi: It was great actually, and liberating in ways that I didn’t anticipate, and for the record, I think there are six of us on the writing staff, and so as with all TV writing it’s a collective effort. But knowing that it was the end and knowing that we were driving to a very specific thing weirdly opened us up in a way. We could tell stories that had definitive and real stakes. We could change characters in committed and real ways. When you’re doing episodic television, particularly stand alone television which is what ‘The Mentalist’ was, you tell a self-contained mystery in an hour, you sort of have to tap dance. People can talk about change, but they can’t really, or if they do, they do it on the edges and then you kind of pretend that didn’t happen. For these thirteen episodes, we were playing keeps and Vega’s death is sort of the key to that. We introduced the best character that we could think of and then killed her. That’s for keeps. So that was great. And the cast really stepped up to that job, and I think you can see it in these last batch of episodes. I get to see everyone really embrace the sense of a change and sort of the heightened stakes and the dramatic possibilities of the last few episodes.

If you could write a flashback episode on any of the characters, who’s story would you have liked to tell?

Tom Szentgyorgyi: A flashback episode, wow. Well, we did Jane’s first case. There are several things that I’d like to see. I would love to do a full episode of Jane before any of it happened, the Patrick Jane who was happily married with a daughter and a complete scumbag, which was a mentalist pretending he could talk to the dead. One of the great things about the show, how I imagined it, in a weird way the character that precedes the character we see is just as interesting. We didn’t spend a lot of time with him back then, but he was a fascinating guy.
I would’ve loved to have seen Lisbon as a young San Francisco police officer, what was she like coming out of this difficult family life. That would be good. I would’ve loved to have seen Cho when the mask dropped into place. We had setup that he had a really tough and kind of violent childhood, being a part of a gang and clearly some point self-control became uppermost in his mind. Would’ve loved to see that happen, how it happened.

There was some discussion among fans about whether Vega would be in a relationship with Cho or Wylie. Was there someone that you were rooting for her?

Josie Loren: It’s so funny because, yeah, a lot of people asked about that. To think of Michelle Vega in a relationship with Cho is just awkward.

Tom Szentgyorgyi: Yes.

Josie Loren: Yeah. Absolutely not. It’s definitely a relationship and it’s an important one, and I think it’s a sacred one, but one between mentor and mentee. He’s someone that I admire and I look up to, but not in any way romantically. I think Wylie is everything that Vega needs. He is her opposite, and he brings the lightness out of her, and the joy because she had heartbreak in her life. He makes her laugh and he makes her happy. I think that that would be a perfect match, and as I was playing the season that’s always what I’ve got in the back in my mind. Never, ever did I even once entertain the idea that it was with Cho. That’s just a teacher/student relationship.

Tom Szentgyorgyi: It was very much built that way. We built Cho to be an almost parental figure for her, at least a professionally parental figure particularly because she had lost her father and was fighting her way through life without a male authority figure. I think that Cho instinctively understands that, that that’s what she’s looking for and that’s the role that he can fill. It’s interesting because we talked a lot about Wylie and Vega. And the way we wanted to build it, and I think that Josie played this beautifully, is that she’s kind of drifting towards a relationship with Wylie, but she’s so focused on work and doing well in her job, that she’s almost not quite aware of where she’s moving. It’s happening, but it’s happening kind of off to the side and we wanted to preserve that very much. You can sometimes in shows get kind of self-conscious about these relationships and people start having conversations with other characters about, “Should I be dating Wylie?” and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to play it more realistic, and maybe they would go somewhere and maybe they wouldn’t, but we would never really find out because fate would step in. So I guess I’m on team ambiguity, to answer your question.

The Mentalist airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on CBS.

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