is Fearful Symmetry: Red John and William Blake
“Tyger, Tyger burning bright, In the forest of the night, What immortal hand or eye, could fame thy fearful symmetry,” wrote William Blake. When he wrote the poem he used simple language to convey the complexity of a world in which beauty and horror exist simultaneously. Blake uses the symbol of the Tyger to explore the presence of evil in our world. It is no coincidence then that this poem should come to represent evil in the world of Patrick Jane and in the world of The Mentalist.
The penultimate episode before the last three episodes (the final trilogy) of The Mentalist titled “The Red Dragon” was also a reference to Thomas Harris’s book and the Blake painting on which Harris’s book is centered. The painting Blake created was meant to be an illustration of a verse of the bible—specifically Revelations Chapter 12, verses 3 and 4. The primary antagonist of Harris’s novel, Francis Dolarhyde has an obsession with the painting. Dolarhyde is fixated with the strength and power he believes that the dragon possesses. The connections between Blake, Harris and Red John add a powerful undertones to The Mentalist.
I am also reminded of the 2009 novel Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenfinger. Twins move into their dead aunt’s flat in London near the Highgate Cemetery. Little do they know, the flat is haunted by their aunt. Eventually, their aunt Elspeth comes to posses Valentina’s body, leaving Valentina’s spirit disembodied and stuck in a desk drawer.
Interestingly, both Her Fearful Symmetry and the Red John story arch share the theme of twins. Julia and Valentina are twins in Niffenfinger’s book. In The Mentalist Episode, “Red Listed,” Robert Kirkland confesses that Red John murdered his twin Michael, and for that he is seeking revenge. Like Robert Kirkland, Lorelei Martin also had a sibling killed by Red John. When Red John recruited her, he used her sister’s death to manipulate her. She was in the dark and then in just plain denial about Red John’s hand in her sister’s death. Lorelei eventually turns against him, only to be murdered herself.
Blake and Red John are both tied to mysticism, though it is difficult to see exactly what Red John believes. There seems to be a definite connection to the organization known as Visualize, though we are led to believe that Visualize’s leader Brett Styles is not actually Red John. Visualize is a sort of New Age, Self-Help Church that boarders on Cult. We have heard from Red John’s followers that he is not only charismatic and provokes undying loyalty, but that he actually has supernatural powers. Blake himself claimed to had visions from a young age, which makes the subtext that much more powerful.
We know little of Red John, since he has been elusive throughout the series, but William Blake feels like a pretty good subtext nonetheless. Blake was a poet and mystic who rebelled against authority. Blake is often credited with being the precursor to Freud and Jung because of his psychological insight and use of archetypes. Since The Mentalist is all about psychology and mind games, this is an excellent fit.
In his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake views the devil as a sympathetic character and a hero even. It would be easy to see why a serial killer or criminal of any kind would latch onto Blake’s early notions. However, later in life, Blake views humanity as being redeemed by self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Perhaps in the final episode we will see how these two conflicting views are reconciled through Jane and John’s antagonistic relationship.