Spoiler Note: This is a current season episode and the entire plot is outlined below.
This second-season episode of The Mentalist features an incident of sexual humiliation which is visited upon the victim rather than being something he was pushed into from a hazing/initiation perspective, as with Criminal Mind’s Elephant’s Memory episode (2008).
In the fictional story the victim is dead of an overdose following failure in therapy and drug addiction in his 20s though it’s the offender’s relatives that are interviewed as he and his wife have been murdered on the eve of their 15-year high school reunion. Naturally, it can’t be the historical victim that did it, leaving an instant mystery for former TV psychic Patrick Jane and the CBI team. The other strand of the story involves a local politician which folds into the main storyline by the end. The other cutaway running plot is the relationship between two agents in the same field office which threatens to go public and jeopardize their careers.
Despite the abuse victim being dead and the generally lightweight comedic format of this show (when the running storyline isn’t about the serial killer Red John), the late victim receives full exposition through the vice principal character and the audience gets to see the flashbacks at the second and final act of the episode.
What makes this episode memorable despite the show’s fluffy nature is the method of flushing out the killer. Having the agent who physically resembles the historical victim in his 30s, pretend to be him and make the speech he might have given were he still alive, is a stroke of genius. Together with the end flashback scene, the writer makes pointed and deliberate modern-day cultural references to Kanye West’s drunken awards speech and the prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War. Unlike Numb3rs “Growin Up” (2010) which just threw in CSA as a cipher, the impact on the historical victim is never minimized or forgotten amongst the other plot strands or the lead character’s interplay and banter with the CBI agents. There’s also an allusion to indirect revenge of another bullying victim as a parallel to the old case, partially influenced by Jane’s advice.
So the writer Leonard Dick (with creator Bruno Heller in executive credit) deserves praise for maintaining the format of his show without trivializing the traumatic impact that just one school prank with sexual overtones can have on a school student of any age. It’s one thing to have it verbally described as with the Criminal Minds episode mentioned earlier, but it’s another to have it acted out and articulated by both the victim and surviving offender that committed murder to try to keep the secret. Some fans of the show labelled it filler; that isn’t the case for male survivors. Hopefully there will be a lot more episodes of American TV like this in future when dealing with hazing and/or child abuse, as opposed to Numb3rs.
Episode Tracking: IMDB, TV.com