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Episode 43 - The Mentalist

posted Dec 16, 2018, 5:03 AM by Joreth InnKeeper

The Mentalist s02e16 (2009)
www.imdb.com/title/tt1196946/ - Internet Movie Data Base
https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/The-Mentalist/70155590 - Netflix
https://amzn.to/2ry2nhQ - Amazon

Here's a new one! I find poly movies to review by one of 3 ways: 1) It's on a poly list somewhere on the internet; 2) Someone learns that I review poly movies & suggests a movie to me; 3) Netflix suggests a "similar title" based on me adding known poly movies to my queue. What has never happened, to the best of my recollection, is me stumbling upon a poly show completely by accident.

The closest I've come is watching movies or TV shows that are strong poly analogues - shows that are not explicitly poly, but, other than the sex, they might as well be. For example, Sex And The City (the TV show, not the movies), a story about 4 female, non-sexual (with each other) best friends who are actually each others' soulmates and form an intentional family of sorts between them. Think of Cunning Minx's Poly Weekly podcast episode about "What Would Monogamists Do?" where her basic premise is that, what we do isn't all that different, and if you're stumped for how to deal with a situation, just ask how you would handle it if you were monogamous, and the answer will probably be very similar. I say all the time, "that's not a poly problem, that's a people problem."

But I'm getting off topic. Stumbling across actual polyamory in popular media with no notice, right.

As regular followers undoubtedly know, I am also a skeptic. In addition to my collection of poly media, I am also building a collection (mostly an online list, but I will slowly collect the physical media too) of skeptic media - movies, music, podcasts, books, etc. I like lists and categories, and just like the poly community, the skeptic community suffers from a lack of specific-to-us art & entertainment. Much like the poly community, the skeptic community not only suffers from a lack of art, but is drowning under a deluge of "art" that promotes the antithesis and even outright reviles everything we stand for.

What both the poly and the skeptic communities have in common, is that they are both subcultures struggling to find a toe-hold in a society that has built into its very institutions, its foundations, a support structure for mindsets & philosophies that are both opposite and intolerant of these subcultures themselves.

But again, I'm getting off topic.

All this is to say that I've been watching The Mentalist. It's a TV cop drama about a guy who was a con artist using the label "psychic" to bilk people out of money by making shit up about their dead relatives, and other related cons, until he offered his "psychic services" to the police on a serial murder case. In his arrogance, he did what media-hungry con artists (*cough* Sylvia Brown *cough*) do, and that was to spout off on television about his "work" on the case, insulting the serial killer and pissing him off.

So the serial killer, Red John, targeted Jayne's (the "psychic") wife & daughter, and made damn sure that Jayne knew who had done it and why. Now we come to the actual start of the series, where Patrick Jayne works as a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation, not as a phony psychic, but using his skill and expertise in deception to help catch criminals. Although he closes cases left and right and has been a tremendous asset to the CBI, his sole motivation for working with them is to get close enough to the Red John case that he can find Red John and kill him, and the other closed cases are merely incidental. He knows that he will go to jail, and possibly get the death penalty, but revenge is what drives him and helping people are a side effect.

Patrick Jayne is an atheist and a skeptic, and every episode highlights, not only the kinds of things that people do to trick other people, but also how we can fool ourselves. The character states outright, unashamedly and in no uncertain terms, that there is no god (episode 2), and there are no psychics, faith healers, people who can talk to the dead, none of that (almost every episode). He is James Randi, Jamey Ian Swiss, Penn & Teller, and Joe Nickell, all wrapped up in a slick, charismatic, borderline sociopathic, TV protagonist package. With expensive suits and vests. You can see why I might like him, yes?

So, what does this have to do with polyamory? Nothing, and that's why I was caught by surprise and why I liked the episode as much as I did.

In Season 2, there is an episode called Code Red. It takes place in a bio-warfare lab where one of the research scientists goes into the containment area to do her work, opens the scary briefcase of deadly toxin, finds one of the vials missing, looks around, and sees it lying, open, on the floor. Knowing she has only a few hours left to live, she hops on her fancy research computer there in the containment lab (which is also connected to the internet) and finds the "best detective" in town - Patrick Jayne - and calls to tell him that she has been murdered.

So, Jayne does what TV detectives do, and rounds up the usual suspects, including her husband / co-researcher. In the course of the investigation, we find out that she has been having an affair with another researcher. Well, that makes Hubby the number one prime suspect, right?

SPOILERS:

Normally, it would, and the team immediately turns to the husband. Except they find out that the Mister & Missus have an open marriage. As they try to poke the husband for hints of jealousy, husband and wife both put their hands on the glass wall separating them and gaze soulfully into each others' eyes as they both admit to having "affairs" and to not being jealous. The husband goes so far as to explain that he loves his wife so much, that her happiness means everything to him, and her lover makes her happy, therefore he is happy about the lover.

[inserted clip of the husband being happy for his wife having a lover]

Well, at this point, the writers have a choice to make. They can, like they did in House, show the cracks in the facade of this weird "open marriage" and eventually lead us to some jilted lover or the husband who was secretly really jealous or even the wife taking her own life in some sort of guilty conscience and wanting to frame her husband or something. Because, of course, only "crazy" people have open marriages, right? Or they can use the open marriage as a red herring that eventually leads to a dead end, to distract us from who the real killer might be.

Guess which path they took?

I'll give you a hint. In fact, I already gave you the hint. I liked the episode.

That's right, this was treated as something none of the main characters understood, but, as it didn't actually lead to the killer, it was immediately dismissed as unimportant. We met the wife's lover, and we also met a former lover of the husband.

[inserted clip of the wife's lover describing his response to the unusual arrangement]

The husband's former lover had nothing but kind words to say about both husband and wife, with no estrangement or bad feelings post-breakup. In fact, she revealed some of the social backlash that *she* received for participating in this unusual arrangement.

[inserted clip of the husband's former lover describing the backlash]

The relationship was not dysfunctional and did not contribute to the case, therefore, even if the main characters didn't "get it", it was not otherwise worthy of comment. There was also no relationship re-evaluation by the main characters in light of the events that eventually led to a reaffirmation of social norms. The polyamory (although they never used the word) was just a non-event.

In order to explain why I liked the episode, I did have to reveal the red herring, which is a common plot twist in murder mysteries - any good one will have at least 2 before the crime is solved. So I ruined that for you. But I won't tell you what the actual resolution was, in case ya'll want to actually see the episode.

And I do recommend watching the show.

It's a TV drama, where complicated murder plots have to be set up and then revealed in an hour, so we have all the expected super-cop stuff that happens in TV shows, where warrants come in on time and fingerprints can be run in a couple of hours, and Jayne's deception expertise borders on real magic. Blah blah blah, I like the show anyway. And I liked this episode because an open marriage was introduced and ended up being, as far as I can tell, exactly what the couple said it was - a happy open marriage with satellite partners who didn't seem too harmed by their experiences with the couple - and their open marriage did not lead to death and distruction. Therefore, this was not one of those morality plays I hate so much that want to tell us "polyamory is doomed to fail, here, watch this train-wreck to see why".

Jayne's detection skills seem supernatural, which could be bothersome to real skeptics. In fact, those of us who have spent time learning about "psychics" and their tricks know how sloppy they actually are. When you're not their target, when you are aware of what they're doing, and when you're looking for it, these people really aren't very good. They throw out a whole buch of bullshit like spaghetti to see what sticks to the wall, and their "marks" do the work for them - remembering the hits and forgetting the misses, supplying the answers themselves but misremembering later, stuff like that. I mean, they're really not very good. Hell, I used to do it myself when I was a teenager, and I amazed everyone. Cold reading combined with an intuitive sense of people, relationship dynamics, and psychology can be a pretty amazing combination. But in the end, it's just a lot of guessing.

Jayne, in the nature of television, skips over all the misses and just seems to "hit" every single time he opens his mouth. I know that's not how it works, and I don't care. He also breaks all the rules and always gets away with it - the typical "maverick cop". In the real world, I don't want any maverick cops that get excused. I don't want vigilante justice. I want a system in place to protect me from those who would abuse their roles as my protectors. I don't want rule-breaking built into the institution and I don't want what we see on TV to be celebrated and practiced by flawed humans with their egos and their broken perceptions and without high-paid writers who know the ending. They have rules for a reason, and I am very disdainful about cops who break the rules. But in a TV show, I get to indulge my schadenfreude and my frustration at the injustices of the world and have cops who follow the rules when they should, and break the rules when it's necessary, and the bad guys always pay the price for their crimes.

So keep that in mind if you watch the show. It's a TV cop drama, and all that it entails. But to get more skepticism on television, to explain how the quacks, frauds, and charlatans pull their cons on unsuspecting victims, I'll take the formulaic writing if that's what it takes to keep a show on the air that highlights science & skepticism where the general public can see it. And I'll also take more shows where polyamory makes an appearance but isn't the evil that leads to destruction and chaos. In an episodic series where the characters have to come into contact with a variety of people, of course they should come in contact with people in unusual relationship structures. I would prefer to see these people portrayed realistically, not always as villains or as victims of their own relationship choices necessarily going bad.


You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!

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