CBS teased viewers about a death on “The Mentalist” leading up to Wednesday’s (Feb. 4) episode, and it was not a cheat: A series regular did indeed die in the episode.
Zap2it spoke with Josie Loren, who plays the now-deceased FBI newbie Michelle Vega, about what the character’s demise will mean for the show — and particularly for Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) — and how she found out about Vega’s passing.
Zap2it: Obviously you knew going in that this was the final season of “The Mentalist,” but when did you learn you wouldn’t make it to the end?
Josie Loren: The day before I started shooting the very first episode, Tom [Szentgyorgyi], one of our executive producers, called me, and he let me know what was in store for my character. He kind of briefed me on what my storyline would be and that it would end with the 10th episode. So I knew going into it exactly what was going to happen, but they asked me to keep it a secret from everyone. They didn’t even let the cast know beforehand — they pretty much found out when the 10th script came out. It was even a big reveal for the cast.
How did everyone else react when they found out?
It was kind of interesting, because it was kept so under wraps. I had a lot of people coming up to me, cast and a lot of crew, just letting me know they weren’t happy about it, they were angry about it, they were sad about it. A lot of people went to the writers and producers as well, asking if they had to do this, which I thought was very sweet and very endearing. I didn’t expect the reaction at all, especially since I had known about it for so long. I was just sort of used to the idea. But people weren’t happy.
That has to be nice, since you were the new kid this season.
Yeah, they were wonderful. Obviously going into a show that’s so established already, there’s already a camaraderie, a familiarity established. You never know walking into those situations how you’re going to be received. But within a week of walking onto that set, I felt like part of the family. They were so welcoming and so warm — leaving was not easy.
What do you know about how the other characters deal with Vega’s death?
I do know that Vega’s death is a catalyst for Jane. I can’t tell you where it leads Jane, but it leads to change, and it leads to some big decisions in his life. … It also does something really great for Cho [Tim Kang] and Wylie [Joe Adler], because Cho and Vega had a very special bond as well — different from Vega and Wylie. But her death brings them together. It changes everybody in some way.
You can even see that within this episode, in how protective Jane becomes of Lisbon.
I’ve done interviews with the executive producer, and I know their plan was always to take Jane back to the beginning. … Losing your wife and your daughter is a totally different level of circumstance than what it is to lose someone like Vega, but [it’s] still back to the heartache and back to the loss. From loss, change is kind of born. So this changes Jane again.
Often in a character’s death episode, the focus suddenly shifts entirely to that person. But the writers did a pretty good job not telegraphing the outcome here, didn’t they?
Yeah. Obviously I knew I was going to pass, but as I was reading it, I was like, “When is this going to happen? Everything feels so normal and happy and good.” So even I was shocked when it happened. I was like, “Oh — I’m dead.” [laughs] I think it’s going to catch everyone by surprise. If they hadn’t teased it last episode with that trailer, no one would have known at all.
Were you sad to see the budding relationship between Vega and Wylie cut short?
I think the relationship between Wylie and Vega is one that, had I not been killed off and had we had another season, it’s one of those that would have blossomed slowly — very, very slowly — but surely. Wylie is Vega’s opposite. He’s someone that she needs in her life. He brings out the joy in her and the laughter, he makes her smile. Vega is so by the book and such a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person that she needs someone like Wyile to offset her. But unfortunately, that’s cut short. It’s not something that’s ever a focus for her in the episodes because she’s so concerned with doing a good job at the FBI, but it’s in the back of her head.
How have “The Mentalist’s” very dedicated fans reacted to Vega this season?
That was another thing I was worried about. There were characters who didn’t come back for the seventh season that people loved, and to introduce somebody in the last 13 episodes, I didn’t know how that was going to be received. But through social media, you know very quickly how people like or don’t like you. I feel very lucky to say that across the board, the responses have been really, really positive.
The fans are awesome from “The Mentalist.” I mean, they have to be to have gotten seven seasons, but they’ve been wonderful to me and so supportive and so encouraging. That’s also something I’ll miss in the next few weeks when the episodes are airing and afterward, is having those fans there. They’re great.