[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Wednesday's episode, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."]
The Mentalist team is down one member.
CBS’ long-running procedural bid farewell to one of its own in Wednesday’s episode, killing off rookie agent Michelle Vega (Josie Loren) while she accompanied the team on a routine chase. The unexpected loss brought Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and the rest of the FBI team’s worlds to a halt.
As The Mentalist approaches its two-hour Feb. 18 series finale, ETonline chatted with Loren and executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi about the unexpected death – a plan that was set and what this means for Jane and Lisbon’s now rocky future.
Was it always the endgame for the character of Michelle Vega when she was introduced at the start of the season?
Tom Szentgyorgyi: Yes. Sadly, it was always the plan to kill her off. When we were planning the season over the summer, there were two things we wanted to do. We wanted to introduce a new character, someone who would be new to Patrick Jane and knew nothing of his past and knew nothing of The Mentalist and the way he worked. We wanted someone who would look at Jane through new eyes.
Because the network had told us it was the last season, we knew we were going to go back to the beginning and revisit the world of a traumatic loss. Patrick Jane is a character who was born with love, who became the person we know through the last seven years because he lost his wife and daughter. To complete the story, we wanted to close the circle. Vega’s death was the catalyst for the last episodes and the last steps for Jane.
Knowing where Vega would ultimately end up, what was your thought of her arc over these 10 episodes?
Josie Loren: Considering these were the last 13 episodes of The Mentalist, when I was told about the death in episode 10 – and in that phone call I was told about her story line – I thought it was great. I thought it was very well thought out and frankly I was honored to be able to be that person for The Mentalist – that person that sets Jane to a different trajectory. It was a big deal for me and I was happy to play it.
Were there discussions through the season that Vega shouldn’t be killed off?
Szentgyorgyi: It’s such a head and heart thing. We watched Josie over the first couple performances and we were all taken with how immediately she was Michelle Vega. Josie was just it from Day 1 on the set. As was intended, everyone kind of loved Michelle Vega, which was what we wanted. Those of us who were planning episodes, there was a mild sense of regret but our head told us no, we never pulled back. When word spread throughout the cast when the script came out – we didn’t tell anyone what was going to happen – there was a real [call to] action. Some of the actors came to me and said, “Are you really going to do this? We like working with Vega!” We wanted death that felt like a [surprise], not a death foretold. It was a surprise and a shock, and like someone was being ripped from us.
What was that day like filming the sequence at the diner where Vega was fatally shot?
Loren: It was very difficult. I had never even come close to dying on camera and at first, when I got the episode, it was intimidating. I thought, “How am I going to do this and honor this script that’s so well-written in this pivotal point in the show’s history?” It was the last scene that I shot on my very last day. Throughout the whole day there was heaviness - although I got up after the scene was done, Michelle Vega did die in that moment. I was leaving such a wonderful cast and crew, but I wasn’t prepared for the sadness and loss I felt for Michelle Vega, who I thought was a beautiful and strong character. To play that death scene, it was emotional to say the least.
Vega left a lot on the table. For instance, things were starting to progress with Wylie. Did they have a future together?
Loren: Wylie and Vega were drifting toward something more a little bit more than friendship and I think if Vega and Wylie had a whole season, I think it would have been very clear that Wylie was perfect for Vega. He brings out the lightness in her, he makes her laugh. He’s the yin to her yang. But because of where it left off and him being in his Wylie way, it was developing very slowly.
Szentgyorgyi: That was the idea. People die with tickets to the movies that night and lunch plans. They’re taken, mostly. We wanted it to be like everything was just starting for Vega, and then death comes. That’s very much the challenge for Jane, who’s on this brand-new relationship with Lisbon that’s just starting but there’s always the cost of it being taken away and of him losing her. He has to somehow come to terms with that.
At the end the episode, Jane tells Lisbon that he can’t deal with her staying on the job and decides to leave. Was this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Szentgyorgyi: It’s what brings what was always lurking to the surface. Jane’s been burned, he’s been terribly hurt and he knows that by declaring his love for Lisbon and by starting a relationship with her, he’s opening up the chance of getting hurt again. One of my favorite sayings is, “The price of love is loss.” Vega’s death was meant to bring that out to the point where no one could ignore, and force Jane and Lisbon to deal with it or not. That’s what the last batch of episodes is about.
Is there a lot of push and pull between the two of them now that they’re at a standstill in their relationship?
Szentgyorgyi: How can we go forward? Jane’s saying, “I can’t risk losing you and can’t get hurt again,” and Lisbon’s saying, “I can’t quit my job. This is what I do, this is what I am.” How that’s resolved is the principle topic.
Will fans be satisfied with where Lisbon and Jane end up?
Szentgyorgyi: I think and hope that fans will be deeply satisfied.
Are you mourning the loss of Vega? How do you think this will affect Jane and Lisbon? Tell us your thoughts by tweeting Philiana Ng at @insidethetube, and don’t forget that #ETnow hashtag!
The Mentalist airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.