(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Sixth Sense about DANNY in The Mentalist & DONNIE in The Sixth Sense

Last night, ringing out 2013 quietly with my wife and stepson, we watched a couple of episodes from the third season of the show all three of us love, The Mentalist. The second episode we watched, entitled “Cackle-Bladder Blood”, features a guest character named Danny Ruskin (younger brother of protagonist Patrick Jane’s murdered wife). Danny is himself a skilled con artist whose con goes south when he finds himself the primary suspect in the investigation of his mark’s mysterious murder.

Danny, in desperation, reaches out to Patrick (who is, as many of you know well, a former successful TV psychic who turns police consultant after his wife and daughter are murdered by a serial killer provoked by Patrick’s public taunts) for help, even though Danny has not spoken to Patrick since the death of Danny’s sister (Patrick’s wife), which Danny (rightly) blames Patrick for, and which left the teenaged Danny adrift in life without her mentoring influence.

Anyway, that is all background to my purpose in telling you this little tale of sleuthing, which I have now reached. In the climactic scene of the episode, we watch Danny seem to freak out and then shoot and kill Patrick in a fit of revengeful rage, and then turn and crazily threaten the murdered man’s wife with a similar fate. The wife, desperate to save herself from death at the hands of a maniac, offers a valuable statue to Danny, which was concealed in a drawer (they are in her house).

Thereupon Patrick immediately and miraculously revives from “death” with his trademark broad smile, and we see that Danny’s shooting of Patrick was all staged, designed by Patrick precisely so that the wife, whom Patrick correctly suspected was the actual murderer of her own husband, would be provoked to reveal her guilt by producing the statue, the crucial evidence which proves her to have been the murderer of her husband. Case solved.

I’m telling you all this because as I watched this episode for the second time (we had watched it the first time on DVD last year), there was something about the way Danny spoke to Patrick as he threatened him with his (fake) gun just before “shooting” him, crying as he accused Patrick of betraying his trust, that tickled my memory for something I had seen before.  

And then I instantly realized what it was I was reminded of. I realized upon this second viewing that---of course!---this scene was a deliberate parody of the scene at the beginning of the hit 1998 film The Sixth Sense, in which a former child patient confronts social worker Malcolm Crowe, crying and accusing Malcolm, blaming him for not curing him of his endless psychological torments a decade earlier, and then actually shooting Malcolm in front of Malcolm’s horrified wife.  

This was so strikingly similar to what happens in the climactic scene of “Cackle-Bladder Blood”, that I knew it had to have been completely intentional on the screenwriter’s part. And I quickly also realized three further ironies of this parody, which sealed the deal in terms of confirming my suspicion of the parody being intentional.

First, there is irony in that Malcolm, as a ghost the rest of The Sixth Sense, does not remember that he was shot, so that, upon first viewing of the film, it’s as if that first scene never happened and Malcolm had recovered from his wound and had not actually died at all. Second (of course), the audience in both The Mentalist and The Sixth Sense are taken in by the clever scam of the storyteller, until the final reveal (or Gotcha!) which comes after one minute in the TV show, but after 90 minutes in the film. Third, at the end of The Mentalist episode, Patrick and Danny visit the graves of their two murdered relatives, and speculate as to whether they actually exist as ghosts looking down.

FYI here is the dialog from that scene in the film:

MALCOLM     What do you want?  I don't understand what you want.
The stranger turns and glares at Malcolm.
STRANGER    What you promised.
Malcolm stops all movement.
ANNA             --My God.
MALCOLM     --Do I know you?
STRANGER    Let's all celebrate, Dr. Malcolm Crowe. Recipient of awards from the Mayor on the news.  Dr. Malcolm Crowe, he's helped so many children...And he doesn't even remember my name?
Malcolm can't speak.  Beat.  The stranger's face starts to tremble.
STRANGER    I was ten when you worked with me.
Beat.  Malcolm's intelligent eyes race for answers.
STRANGER    Downtown clinic?  Single parent family? (beat) I had a possible mood disorder...(beat)I had no friends... you said I was  socially isolated. (beat) I was afraid -- you called it acute anxiety...
(beat)   You were wrong. (beat) Come on, clear your head...  Male, nine...  Single parent...  Mood discorder... Acute anxiety.
Malcolm looks like someone hit him with a sledgehammer.
STRANGER    I'm nineteen.  I have drugs in my system twenty-four hours a day... I still have no friends.  I still have no peace.  I'm still afraid.
Tears jump into the stranger's eyes.
STRANGER ..I'm still afraid.
Malcolm stands.
MALCOLM     Please give me a second to think.
Malcolm's shaking hands touch his mouth as he stares at the stranger.  Beat.
MALCOLM     Bed Freidken?
STRANGER    Some people call me freak.
MALCOLM     ...Ronald...  Ronald Sumner?
Tears fall down the stranger's face.
STRANGER    I am a freak.
Malcolm looks up at the sound of those words.  Something clicks in his head.
MALCOLM     --Vincent?
MALCOLM     Vincent Gray?
VINCENT GRAY stares with surprise through his tears.
Malcolm lets out a deep breath like he just emerged from deep waters.
MALCOLM     I do remember you, Vincent.  You were a good kid.  Very smart... Quiet...  Compassionate... Unusually compassionate...
Vincent's eyes burn at Malcolm.
VINCENT        You forgot cursed.
VINCENT is fully crying now.
VINCENT        You failed me.
MALCOLM     (whispers) Vincent...  I'm sorry I didn't help you...  I can try to help you now.
Vincent turns to the sink.  His hand goes in.  He turns arund and raises a gun at Malcolm.  He FIRES.  A VIOLENT, EAR-SHATTERING ECHO.  Malcolm clutches his stomach and folds like a rag doll onto the bed.
Vincent instantly moves the gun to his own head.  ANOTHER HORRIFIC BLAST SPIKES THE AIR.  Vincent crumples onto the bathroom floor.

So we further see a fourth ironic parallel: i.e., that both Vincent and Danny blame the older protagonist for a profound betrayal of their trust, and for receiving acclaim and adulation from the world, while being a fraud in the actual helping department.

So, based on all of the above, I was sure that Bruno Heller, the creator of The Mentalist, and/or Ashley Gable the writer of this particular episode, had played a very sophisticated game of cat and mouse with the audience, hiding this entire shadowy layer of veiled allusion beneath the surface, providing to those in the audience who recognized the veiled allusion an opportunity for a bit of satisfying metafictional amateur detection as well—like solving a diabolical crossword puzzle.

Now, here’s where things got positively spooky last night, and left the realm of clever allusion for parts unknowable. As I sussed out all of the above details, I also became convinced that the actor playing Danny Ruskin was Donnie Wahlberg (brother of the more famous Mark), the actor whom I distinctly recalled as having played Vincent (the shooter) in The Sixth Sense. But then IMDB told me I was wrong, the actor who played Danny was not Donnie Wahlberg, but Kevin Rankin, who just sorta looks like him.

And that should have been the end of my tale of literary sleuthing…except for what happened next, which added a sixth sense, Twilight-Zoney feeling to all of the above.

 We completed watching this episode of The Mentalist at 11:40 pm, i.e., 20 minutes before the ball dropped at Times Square to usher in 2014. After the ball dropped, we were watching the silly aftermath for as short while on TV, and there was Jenny McCarthy hugging a handsome man whom she had kissed at midnight for the camera. And then…we learned who that handsome man was…..Donnie Wahlberg!

Need I add that I didn’t have the slightest idea, prior to that moment, that Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg were  “a thing”, so there  was no reason why I should have expected to see him on the screen when I tuned into Times Square.

Make of it what you will. But it really happened just as I described it. Honest.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


These two tidbits add to the Sixth Sense subtext of The Mentalist:

May 11, 2012 The Mentalist "Red Rover, Red Rover" Review -- John Scott [Tom Szentgyorgi writer]
The Mentalist" in a nutshell: It's all an ILLUSION. (Another one: you people are GULLIBLE.)
In episode "Red Rover" Patrick Jane is forced to face his ghosts on the 9th anniversary of the deaths of his wife and daughter.  Does Patrick Jane break his chains to the past and cross over to the light or the dark side? Patrick Jane sees dead people: This episode is an homage to "The Sixth Sense" and "Ghost, " as they each deal with the loss of a loved one and the need to break the chains if one is to move on. In the opening scene Jane meets a young girl named Haley, who tells Jane that a man told her to ask him "if Jane gives up." Haley then shows Jane the RJ symbol in her hand. In Jane's mind Haley is an image of Jane's deceased daughter and her name the writer's shout-out to Haley Joel Osment, who played the troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to the dead, and an equally troubled psychologist who tries to help him. Like Bruce Willis' widow, Jane reserves a table for himself and the departed and drinks three blood Red Marys, one for each life he destroyed. (Does he have BLOOD ON HIS HANDS?)  In the end the psychologist realizes he is a ghost and that he has to break his chains to the past and cross over.

The Mentalist: Seeing Red (2008)
Patrick Jane enters the home of a self-proclaimed spiritual medium, sniffs the air, then says, "I smell dead people".

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