Where season one of Suits was more about the exploration of Mike’s character, season two’s focus is squarely on Harvey Specter. Suits explores character the way Jack Bauer extracts information from a terrorist: by beating them down until the pertinent information tumbles out of them as they scream for mercy. (Luckily for Harvey and Mike, the character exploration here involves much less gunplay and general torture.) Mike’s season one exploration all stemmed from the constant pressure of his big secret; Harvey’s, through the big fraud lawsuit. Tonight, the lawsuit came to a head in a fabulous episode that showcased just how confident this show has become.
“Sucker Punch” is structured a bit differently from a typical episode in that there was no case-of-the-week: Harvey was the case of the week. With Travis Tanner returning to let the firm know he will not stop until he gets Harvey disbarred—even baiting Harvey enough with vague, intriguing information about Harvey’s difficult childhood to get Harvey to punch him in the face—Hardman suggests they do an in-house trial run to see if Harvey’s case is even winnable in court. The genius thing about this trial run is that it’s less about the actual trial and more an excuse for an episode-long character exploration of not only Harvey, but everyone else in the firm as well.
With Jessica defending Harvey the natural stand-in for Tanner is Louis, and this episode is just the Louis Litt show from there on out. Week-by-week, Louis is steadily becoming the most interesting character on the show, and Rick Hoffman has been terrific exploring all of the different facets of his character. What’s brilliant about Louis is how similar at his core he is to Harvey. They are both misunderstood by others (albeit for different reasons), and despite the picky rivalry at their core they both have a grudging respect for and understanding of each other. This is illustrated perfectly in the mock trial tonight, where Louis completely goes overboard badgering a flustered Donna on the witness stand, trying to get her to admit she covered for Harvey because she’s in love with him. It feels like classic unfeeling Louis who ignores the hurt of others just out to beat Harvey at any cost, but in an amazing scene between Louis and Harvey we learn that wasn’t the case at all: Louis only went after Donna because he needed to do it to help Harvey. Louis’ devastation when explaining how he had to hurt Donna—who he genuinely has feelings for—for the good of Harvey and the good of the firm was pretty close to heartbreaking.
As for Harvey, this entire episode was like a window into his soul, or perhaps the space where his soul is supposed to be. Harvey’s big problem, and one that’s been a theme throughout this season, is the dissonance between what kind of person he is and what kind of person other people think he is. To the people who know him like Mike, Donna, and Jessica, the idea of him burying such an important document is ludicrous. But to an outside viewer, Harvey is all arrogance and hard edges, a guy who will stop at nothing to get a victory. When trying to crack that image Jessica makes Harvey admit why he does what he does: to him, caring makes you seem weak. This philosophy is obviously wrapped up in his childhood, which Suits has been wise to hint at instead of explicitly state, building the intrigue over just what makes Harvey tick.
In the end, the lawsuit ends in sort of a typical Suits fashion: abruptly, due to some last-minute trickery from Pearson Hardman. This time it was Mike and Hardman teaming up to do the dirty work, with Hardman finding enough dirt on Tanner (who, as evidenced last season, really does practice law outside of the established rules) to blackmail him into drafting a settlement they can feel good taking. Sneakily, though, Hardman used this settlement to finally show his hand after weeks of neutrality; he’s there to take over managing partner from Jessica, and this forced settlement happening on Jessica’s watch is just the leverage he’s going to use to make it happen.
It hasn’t been clear until tonight, but he is Pearson Hardman’s snake in the grass, camouflaging himself until the perfect time to strike. The indistinctly threatening Hardman we’ve seen throughout the season was unsettling in his ambiguity. Now that he’s made his intentions clear, it looks like the threat is just beginning.
- Another great Harvey/Donna scene tonight. I don’t know how they are going to keep Sarah Rafferty around, but it’s essential that they do.
- The show is really stretching Harvey beyond his suit this season. Last week it was Harvey in jogging gear; this week, boxing gear and casual pool-hall clothes.
- Jacinda Barrett, who played consulting lawyer Zoe, is Gabriel Macht’s real-life wife (although she'll always be Jacinda from The Real World to me). She’s fine in the role, but their flirting scenes were probably the least successful thing in the episode; they felt a bit too forced and “wink-wink-look-audience” for me.
- Mike’s A Few Good Men cross-examination: not bad.