Veg*nism & Pop Culture: Animal Rights Terra-ists on The Mentalist

December 20th, 2008 4:26 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Proceed with caution: Spoilers galore!

Ten episodes in, and already The Mentalist has jumped on the animal rights terra-ism bandwagon.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m addicted to cop tv: The X-Files, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, Life, NYPD Blue – I just love ’em. And my love runs extra-deep for the serialized cop drama/mystery/thrillers with a season/series-long story arc. Throw in a lead character who just so happens to be an atheist, and I’m hooked. Hello, The Mentalist!

That said, the latest installment (Season 1, Episode 10: Red Brick and Ivy) just wasn’t up to snuff.

The plot line is all too familiar: a scientist who experiments on non-human animals is murdered; the prerequisite, SHAC-like animal rights group which has been “terrorizing” said scientist (or said scientist’s university/lab/company/employer) for months is suspect numero uno. Cue the crazy!

In The Mentalist, the scientist in question is an up-and-coming neuroscientist who, along with his colleagues, has been conducting invasive research on animals (most notably, chimpanzees – unfortunately, a baby chimp does have a role in the episode) in order to locate the structures in the human brain which govern morality. The end goal? Finding a way to manipulate these structures and thus, magically, turn all of humanity into moral beings. Whatever that means.

(One question used to judge whether the subject is “good” or “evil,” for example, goes like this: “You and another person are stranded on a desert island. There’s only enough food supply to sustain one person. Do you hoard all the food for yourself, or do you share it?” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. The morally “good” answer is to share the food; this implies that you’d be “evil” to hoard it. But if you share the food, you and your fellow Lostie will both die of hunger, albeit more slowly. The questioner did say that there’s only enough food to feed one person, remember? So why would it be “immoral” or “evil” for each island dweller to try and ensure his or her own survival?

Another question involves eleven people stranded in a life boat made for ten; do you sacrifice the sole 60-year-old man to ensure the survival of the ten children on board, or not? The moral answer is to chuck the older dude overboard. But moral in whose estimation? I’m sure the old dude would take exception with the “moral” choice.

Also of interest is whether the scientists’ own research will put them out of business; if your goal is to make all of humanity moral, won’t the end result be a world in which no one wants to torture animals for a living?

Finally, and I know I digress, but the research involves the ability to “turn” people good – or evil. Hello, anyone see a problem with the applications here? I’m fairly certain that success in this area will not lead to the hoped-for “utopia.”)

In the end, the murderer is not a member of the animal rights group (whose name escapes me now – it’s something generic, like “Animal Equality Now”), but rather the dean of the university which houses and supports the research institution. The animal rights terra-ism angle, in fact, is ditched pretty early on – within the first 15 minutes or so. But not before the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation) hauls in one of its members, who proves to be eccentric at best – in need of mental help, at worst. The guy is a middle-aged, conventionally unattractive white dude, living in a run-down warehouse-like building with twenty-odd cats – your typical gross loser slob. He promptly confesses to killing the Professor (even though he didn’t), and claims that the lead researcher is next. Then he starts ranting about the structure of the animal rights group; nevermind that ALF (which usually serves as a prototype for Hollywood) doesn’t have a hierarchical leadership structure. The “titles” are laughable, and sound like something out of World of Warcraft or Harry Potter: I am the Grand Imperial Wizard of AEN! All bow to my awesome power!

So while the animal rights crazies didn’t do it, the animal rights crazies are still crazy. Bah.

On the flip side, the “scientists” are all depicted as frauds, falsifying their data to prove their cockamamie theories and justify worthless research. Call it a wash, I guess.

The stupid stereotypes surrounding animal advocates isn’t the only reason I disliked this episode, though. Normally, The Mentalist is pretty fastidious with the details. But the psychiatrist/patient relationship as depicted between Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) and Sophie Miller (Elisabeth Röhm) is unrealistic. In real life, fraternizing with a patient – even an ex-patient – like that is highly unethical, if not grounds for having your license revoked. As is allowing Jane to consult on a case in which his ex-psychiatrist is the main murder suspect. It just wouldn’t fly. At least, I hope not. Our justice system is supposed to be just, ya know?

Anyway, I do so hope The Mentalist hasn’t jumped the shark. We need more atheism and skepticism on tv, not less!

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One Response to “Veg*nism & Pop Culture: Animal Rights Terra-ists on The Mentalist

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Veg*nism & Pop Culture: Meat huggers ruin everything on The Mentalist Says:

    […] A few weeks ago, I wrote about an animal rights terrorism plotline on CBS’s The Mentalist. At the time, I worried that maybe the show had jumped the shark. Well, after a brief break over the holiday season, The Mentalist returned Tuesday with an awesome episode (Season 1, Episode 11: Red John’s Friends). Although…I was a little surprised to see animal rights terra-ists make another brief appearance. That’s two episodes in a row, and in completely unrelated story lines. And this time, we Totally. Ruin. Everything. Like WTF, Bruno Heller!? […]

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