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Suits: “War”

(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)

Well, that felt a lot worse than a cop out.

On the bright side—and it’s miniscule at the moment—maybe Suits doesn’t know how to work through a finale. The midseason finale was a dud, and the first season finale only set up doubling down on Mike’s deception, a clever stay of creative execution that hasn’t borne tangibly positive results this season. As Carrie noted last week, there was a hell of a lot on the table to fit into this episode. And sure enough, this was an overstuffed, underdeveloped, chaotic mess of loose ends and occasional blips of life. My disappointment at the first 35 minutes of this finale is second only to my disappointment at the last 10 minutes of this finale.

Look, I care about Suits on an oddly visceral level. The first television show I latched onto that wasn’t on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, or WB Saturday mornings was Law & Order, which I could watch in marathons with my father. When that show went off the air, I didn’t pick up another legal show. No Boston Legal, no The Good Wife (though I do have to catch up with that one), just L&O reruns—until Suits. It’s had such a deep effect on me that I’ve started to reconsider my moratorium on looking into law school. And this is over a slimy, messy, soul-sucking tribute to the hell of high-powered New York law firms. When Suits is humming, it’s the most entertaining melodrama on TV.

Perhaps it’s because Suits isn’t exactly a legal drama in the typical sense. It gracefully and unexpectedly transcended the cookie-cutter tone of a USA original series. Suits is the best show the network has ever produced, because once it hit the second season, it stopped being simply a slick, entertaining take on a corporate law closer. This season had a much larger arc, a mission to paint Pearson (Hardman) as more than just a corporate law office.

This is law firm as kingdom. Jessica and Edward are the two betrothed royals, and everyone else is scurrying around worried about the line of succession and their place in court. Harvey wants to block the two kingdoms from ever uniting—going to Edward starting a personal arrangement to kill the deal—all because of his goddamn pride, a cancerous trait that is at once his greatest asset to the firm and what nearly tears everything apart.

Suits falls into the trap of lesser legal shows because Pearson (Hardman) always wins—and Harvey is the knight to lead them to victory, with Mike as his faithful squire—but not this time. The show has laboriously emphasized the role Harvey’s outlandish pride and ego plays in his actions, and glorified what he's able to accomplish because of that unwavering belief in his ability to punch his way out of any corner.

And like any pseudo-Shakespearean wannabe worth its salt, the hero’s tragic flaw is his own undoing. Harvey cannot stand that he can’t put his name on the door without anyone’s help. He’s so blinded by his selfish need to prove himself the best without any help from those who care about him that he recklessly breaks his own rules about illegal tactics, ones that nearly got him disbarred when he didn’t actually stoop to used them

On that pseudo-Shakespearean level of overly trumped up drama, the “Harvard or bust” attitude makes sense. But start to think about it for even five minutes, and the fixation on one school to rule the all comes off as ludicrous and closed-minded for a group of people driven by logical reasoning and outside-the-box thinking.

Rachel is so obsessed with Harvard and its elusive power that she isn’t satisfied by Louis’ phony explanation. She wants to go over Sheila’s head and plead her case to someone higher on the food chain, but she puts Mike in the compromised position of standing up for her as a Harvard law graduate, which he obviously can’t do without risking his own tenuous position. Louis won’t come clean, but then the plot just drops out of the fray while all the other machinations over the merger take over—only to reappear at the last minute… but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Louis has been the MVP of this six-episode back half. Fending for his continued existence, even if that meant self-expulsion from the kingdom, he’s now firmly on Harvey’s side. But his job isn’t necessarily secure, as he finds out while sparring with Nigel Alexander Nesbit, his British equivalent, and nearly his equal as “hatchet man,” responsible for efficiency reports in the event of a successful merger. Louis is alone for most of the series, cordoned off for his esoteric taste and fiercely dedicated demeanor. But in Nigel, he finds a kindred spirit, a potential friend so alike that they each initially attempt to ruin the other. But then Louis turns out to be the better (worse?) man, breaking their friendly understand because he holds his work above any possible amicable interaction. It fits perfectly that someone as professionally focused as Louis would make this error, and that he ruthlessly ignored the possibility of correcting it.

Okay, I need a break for a second, because this is spiraling out of control. A lot of revelations come out of nowhere in this finale and for seemingly no purpose, but one that did seem like a long time coming was Scottie’s admission to Donna that she loves Harvey, and just can’t get him to notice what she’s trying to impress upon him. Suits features so many double-crosses that initially Scottie’s plea is unbelievable. She could just be slow-playing another move to get the upper hand on Harvey. Only one line bridges the believability gap: “This is not a lie.” Take Scottie at her word, because she says so this time. Why she’s telling the truth this time doesn’t really matter to Donna, who takes the opportunity to ambush Harvey about his mother, her cheating, and his monumental trust issues that tie into his lone-wolf attitude and excessive hubris.

I’m not sure any of this character deconstruction matters, because Harvey just does what he wants anyway. He directs Mike to do as he’s told in the case against Edward, and Harvey does his best to rankle Edward’s sense of honor and propriety in a friendly bargain. (Side note: It’s interesting just how few details come out about the case at hand between Harvey and Edward, which constitutes the only successful bit of clever obfuscation.) After some back and forth, illegal inside information from Louis and help from Scottie, it’s all for naught. Jessica blocks Harvey by getting to Mike, and Harvey’s plan goes down in flames, truly defeated for the first time. Scottie gets fired, but Harvey crawls back to Edward and saves her job… leaving yet another loose end.

Donna tells Scottie that in order to send Harvey a message he’ll actually understand, she has to take a risk without a guarantee of the results she wants—a sacrifice. But Mike is unwilling to take that chance with Harvey, caving to Jessica’s pressure in order to save his own skin. Mike did the same when Louis confronted him with an opportunity to save Harold by putting his own job at risk, and Mike couldn’t do it then, so why expect it of him now when the stakes are significantly higher? This finale pulls out a lot of moves, but doesn’t follow through on what any of them mean. Sure, someone finally defeated Harvey, from within his own firm, and prevented him from his goal of name partner on his own terms. But there is no indication that any of it has an effect on him, always projecting the image of effortless calm, even when groveling with his tail between his legs to get Scottie her job back.

And then the season ends with what is without question the worst scene Suits has ever done. This second season has done a lot of work to distance itself from Mike as the initial lens into this world, instead framing the law firm as a large ensemble piece based on relationships constantly revised in the face of new information and shifting power.

But the final scene circles back to Mike, his back-story, and the biggest weak spot in the show as presently constituted. Rachel corners him on a terrible day, where he’s been threatened, fired, rehired, and severed from everyone he cares about in the firm except Rachel. And while pressing, just because she cares so ardently about Harvard Law School as the one and only viable option when she left herself with no safety net, Mike cracks and tells the truth about his, ahem, lack of a legitimate legal background.

Rachel slaps him once, and it’s awesome. Mike betrayed her trust. He tries to explain, so she slaps him again. Even better. But then, as though picking the absolute worst possible moment for the sexual tension building since the pilot to finally come to fruition, Rachel forgets everything about the bombshell Mike just dropped, and they tear each other’s clothes off. Louis tells Donna he needs to make things right with Rachel, and then… nothing. He disappears—yet another loose end—and instead we get the raciest scene USA can allow. It felt like a crass basic cable version of what Cinemax or Starz would attempt with a legal show.

Where exactly does Suits go from here? The merger goes ahead, Jessica puts Harvey in his place (for now), and there’s more discord than every between the senior partners who matter. Does Harvey tell Edgar to place Scottie in New York, listen to Donna, and finally take an emotional risk? Will a first significant defeat at the hands of his mentor do anything to curb Harvey’s unhealthy pride and belief Jessica only fears his Macbeth-esque ascendance in a coup? Did Mike actually burn his last bridge, and do we care what happens to him anymore?

I’m not sure there’s a way to salvage this, even if the third season starts up again in the summer with Louis walking into that file room and catching Mike and Rachel in the act. In almost every facet, this was a failure of a finale, resolving positively nothing about the season while still making a big change with the merger. Maybe time will heal this wound, and in the summer doldrums of television, more Suits won’t seem so bad. But right now, after this giant turd of a capstone, it’s hard to imagine ever enjoying watching these characters again with the same fervor.

Stray observations:

  • Where the hell was the girl from Center Stage? She and Mike have a “Who can be the pettiest?” contest, nuking Mike’s character arc, and then she’s completely MIA. Retroactively, I’d downgrade last week’s episode because that plot amounted to absolutely nothing.
  • Good lord, the Downton Abbey references.
  • For all this finale’s flaws, Conleth Hill deserves a ton of praise for his limited role in these last few episodes. I never thought I could see him as anything other than Varys, but as a stuffy, overly honorable yet secretly ruthless British lawyer, Hill shows he’s a man of many talents.
  • Thanks so much to Carrie for letting me sub in on this finale, I owe her a mysterious, yet-to-be-named favor.

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