Mentalist's Owain Yeoman: I'm "Very Satisfied" With Rigsby and Van Pelt's Goodbye
Amanda Righetti, Owain Yeoman
[Warning: This article contains major spoilers from Sunday’s episode of The Mentalist. Read at your own risk!]
Wayne Rigsby and Grace Van Pelt have left the building — for good.
“I feel very satisfied that we gave the characters the conclusion that we did,” Yeoman tells TVGuide.com. “We chose both the most satisfying but also the most practical way of ending their characters.”
It doesn’t take long for Rigsby, Jane (Simon Baker) and Cho (Tim Kang) to discover that Van Pelt has been kidnapped while they were at the bar on Sunday’s episode. They quickly focus their attention on chief suspect Richard Haibach (William Mapother), who unfortunately presents an airtight alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the kidnapping.
While Rigsby, Jane & Co. are investigating, Van Pelt has managed to escape and hitch a ride with a passing motorist who agrees to bring her to a cabin so she can call the FBI. (First red flag: This woman doesn’t have a working cell phone?) Turns out, the woman is none other than Haibach’s sister, Hazel (Lisa Darr), who had been spying on Van Pelt and caught her trying to escape.
After getting nowhere with bureaucratic channels, Jane and Rigsby decide to take matters into their own hands and basically kidnap Richard Haibach to confront him. While they’re arguing about whether or not to shoot him (a desperate Rigsby wants to; Jane tries to talk him down), Haibach manages to turn the tables and brings Jane and Rigsby at gunpoint to the same location where Hazel is holding Van Pelt.
Per usual, that whole scenario is part of an elaborate ruse set up by Jane and Rigsby, who staged their argument and made sure that the gun Haibach is armed with is empty. After a final, tense shootout in the cabin, Rigsby is left (critically?) wounded, but still manages to kill Richard Haibach and save Jane’s life in the process.
Fast-forward to Rigsby’s recovery. Impressed with Rigsby’s work on the case, Dennis Abbott (Rockmond Dunbar) makes him an offer he can’t most certainly can, and does, refuse: to join the FBI full time. Looks like Rigsby and Van Pelt are leaving law enforcement for good. And who can blame them?
TVGuide.com spoke with Yeoman about Sunday’s episode, what he saw as the one “huge missed opportunity” for Rigsby’s character, and whether he thinks the current season of The Mentalist should be its last.
Rigsby and Van Pelt finally got their happy ending, but it was looking a little dicey there for a bit!
Owain Yeoman: It’s one of those things where [their whole relationship] was a whole lot of off and on, and you have to get used to the idea that all things are not going to go well. … I was talking to someone about it the other day and they were saying, “Why can’t you just have them be happy?” I said, “You know what? That is actually quite dull to watch. No one really wants to watch that.” You have to insert a lot of drama. … We wanted to make sure that people feel like at any given moment, this could be the last moment for Rigsby and Van Pelt.
Was it fun to film those action scenes?
Yeoman: I was joking the other day, I felt like I was kind of like Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis. … Rigsby really just became this sort of like all-American action hero out of nowhere. But it was great fun to shoot. … There’s a bit of a badass side to Rigsby. It’s kind of fun to go out on. Who knew? [Laughs]
Are you pleased with the way their story wrapped up?
Yeoman: Pretty much, yeah. Certainly, I look back at my time on The Mentalist as nothing but an incredible journey, a wonderful family of people, a wonderful crew of people. And to have an audience for six years in today’s TV landscape is nothing short of miraculous. I think people have an attention span of, like, two or three episodes these days. So to have been on the air as long as we have, it’s a real honor and a real privilege to have found a place in people’s pop culture hearts, really. So, I feel very satisfied that we gave the characters the conclusion that they did. They ended up together, which I think was the main concern. Ultimately the justification that they give in the episode for leaving is that they no longer want to be in law enforcement, which is very understandable. … [After] literally looking death in the face, they find that they just want a quieter life.
Did the writers ever mention the possibility of killing one or both of the characters off?
Yeoman: It was discussed. And I put that forward as an idea. I think from an actor’s point of view, you always want something to play that’s dramatic, or something that feels like it could be very bold in choice. And of course, the boldest possible choice you could play at the end of a character’s life is death.
What was behind the decision to give them a happy ending?
Yeoman: [Killing them off] is just something that I think, in the end, both the network and the writers wanted to shy away from because I think it’s just the feeling that people want to wrap up these beloved characters in a comforting and satisfying way. And I don’t feel like, with Rigsby and Van Pelt, there would have been any justification for killing them off in anything other than a kind of dramatic fashion. … I think it’s far more interesting to find dynamic and benign ways of resolving a character’s story line, and that’s what I think we did. [They’re] parents, there’s a lot more to live for now. It’s one of those things where they’re just trying to get a sense of their priorities. They say, “You know what? Life’s too short.” So I feel like in that way, we chose both the most satisfying but also the most practical way of ending their characters.
[But] I always said that I thought they missed a huge opportunity in not making Rigsby Red John. Just do that in the final episode. … Rigsby was this evil, fascist genius. [Laughs]
After so many years of will-they-or-won’t-they, were you happy that viewers got to see at least a little bit of domestic bliss with Rigsby and Van Pelt, with the time-jump?
Yeoman: I think it was nice to see … because I always believed that the success of our show lies in our characters. It wasn’t just another police procedural. It was like you knew these people. You knew their family lives. You knew them outside the badge. So I believe that’s what breathed life into our show for the last few years.
So, CBS has not yet renewed The Mentalist for next season.
Yeoman: The fact of the matter is that, as we get closer toward a six- or seven-year story arc, there’s never a really clear outline of when the show might end. I feel like the writers have a little bit of an impossible task sometimes. They have to be prepared to wrap something up, but also keep the possibility of it going. … Every single season has been like, this could be the last one! Every time we got a new re-order or a new season, it’s always been a bonus.
Do you think the current season should be the show’s last?
Yeoman: We told some great stories and we [explored] some really, really interesting avenues. … I think it honestly comes down to story. Is there a story to be told and are there people still wanting to hear the stories and watch them? … I think if the story were to wrap up this year, we resolved the main things that fans wanted. We worked out the Red John story line, to a greater or lesser degree.
The main mythology, or certainly the main protagonist of the show, for me, was always Jane’s hunting Red John. I think that the minute that you find Red John, you have to then find a completely different part in the Jane character, because Jane was always driven by that. And in many respects, maybe not too many people want to see him live this blissful life where he could move on. Because half of the show was always that terrible tragedy, that underneath this light and charming Patrick Jane character, there was a real heartache, a real hurt of someone who’s lost their family. And I think no one really recovers from that. So maybe people don’t want to see him remarried, living a blissful life with all of that in the past. I think if this were the year that things were to wrap up, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that.
Why was now the right time to move on for you?
Yeoman: Certainly, personally for me, it’s time to move on. Rigsby really is a very small facet of what I want to do and what I think I’m capable of doing. And I think [when actors play long-running TV characters], people assume that’s who you are. And Rigsby, if I’m honest, couldn’t be more different than I am. I’m not American. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box. So, I want to move on to something extremely different and show people that that’s a very small part of what I’m capable of.
What’s next for you?
Yeoman: I’m actually starting something right now with a writer friend of mine that we’re pitching to a couple of networks. … I’m kind of fascinated by the idea of what a character might be like if he was slightly less than James Bond. James Bond went to Oxford. This is the guy who went to Oxford Community College … and he’s just got a massive chip on his shoulder of not being quite good enough. I think there’s huge comedy to be mined in that. … So, that’s something that we’ve been developing as a vehicle for me. … I’m very, very interested in the idea of trying to exercise my brain a bit. … So I’ve [been focusing on] developing my own work, my own shows, working with people that I love and breaking the mold of what people might sort of pigeonhole you into.
The Mentalist airs Sundays at 10/9c on CBS. Were you happy with the way Rigsby and Van Pelt’s story line ended?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)