Mentalism and Justice
My wife and I recently finished watching the final season of the Mentalist. Although only seven seasons long, it took us the better part of 10 years to finish the series due to several stops, moving to a different continent and our first child. For myself, I have a strange quirk where I find it extremely difficult to not finish every season of a show once I begin it. This means I try to choose my shows very carefully, and it also means that I frustrate my wife at times. Also, I feel it necessarily to watch every episode in sequential order. (OCD anyone?)
One aspect of the show that struck me as significant was the propensity to make the audience root for a deeply conflicted character. Not only is the audience influenced to hope for the success of the main character, Patrick Jane, but they are also desirous for him to obtain revenge against his nemesis Red John. But it is not only against the terrible actions of Red John, who killed Patrick Jane’s wife and child, that Jane fights. As Jane seeks the destruction of his nemesis, he helps the authorities to catch many other criminals. However, unlike the normal law-abiding police, he decides to catch these criminals through trickery.
Sometimes this leads him to go beyond the bounds of the law. For instance, at one point, he buries someone alive in order to get him to confess on a small camera that he has placed in the coffin. At another time, he is unable to prove that someone is a serial kills so he tricks the person into saying something on TV knowing that it will lead Red John to kill him. Yet something seems to excite the viewer as the outcome is often precisely what justice demands. One’s internal feelings seem to suggest that it does not matter if a person like Patrick Jane does such things outside the law because he is getting justice by his manipulations and scheming where the law often fails. It is also enjoyable to see him tell people exactly what he thinks of them. His “I don’t care” attitude is refreshing in some ways.
Of course, we realize that people often do not obtain justice in this life. Even when Patrick is able to find Red John and choke the life out of him, there is an obvious lack of full restitution. Yes, he has killed the man who murdered his family, but it does not bring his family back, nor provide all the closure he desired. After years of building up to the point, the audience is left feeling a bit let down at the resolution and at the same time glad that he was able to kill Red John in such a way.
This seems to exemplify the truth that all human beings desire wicked people to be punished and victims to find justice. Yet at the same time, it seems to suggest another truth all of us intuitively realize – ultimate justice will never be found in this life. We might be able to inflict an apt punishment on a criminal, but that does not fully rectify the terrible things they have done. Even if a rapist is given the most severe punishment under the law, the physical, emotional and psychological pain he inflicted continues on. This brings us to a helpful principle: all earthly justice falls short at some point – it will always be unsatisfactory. So too does revenge, the desire for which can even cause more harm to the victim than the original crime. As Patrick Jane found out, he destroyed most of his relationships and his health in his pursuit of revenge.
So it seems that this show leaves the audience with two important conclusions: (1) all human beings desire justice when they have been wronged, and (2) no victim will ever see true and complete justice in this life. Even revenge falls short. While this might cause some victims to despair, I would suggest a better alternative. This should cause all those who have experienced injustice to long for the claims of Christianity to be true.
Only Christianity claims that justice will be found after this life and that God will make all things right. Even if a victim does not believe in Jesus and the claims of Christianity, they should want to believe because the Christian worldview is the only one that claims to offer justice in the end. Of course, there is also another side of this wonderful truth. In those areas where a person has been victimized, they long for justice. But all of us have also been the perpetrator at times. We have harmed others with our words and actions and justice must be had for those individuals as well. This is why all of us need the forgiveness and grace that only Christianity offers. Only in the Christian story do the desires for justice, forgiveness and grace converge, and they do so through Jesus’ death on the cross.