From the airing of the very first SUITS episode, it was inevitable: Mike Ross, fraud that he was, would eventually go on trial. It took us to the fourteenth episode of the fifth season — the seventy-fourth overall — to get here, but after a dry run that could have damaged Mike’ relationship with Harvey Specter, the trial has begun. With lawyers on both sides of the issue playing dirty, as SUITS lawyers are wont to do, and US Attorney Anita Gibbs openly admitting to wanting to drive a wedge, though, the question of who (or maybe what) is really on trial here remains. Is it actually just about Mike breaking the law by pretending to be a lawyer? Is it about destroying Harvey? Jessica? Donna? The entire firm?
Or maybe it’s just about destroying anyone who’s ever cared about these characters. Like me.
Maybe the relationships are on trial. SUITS has, in spite of being a legal drama, always been a series featuring a wide variety of complex relationships. With Mike Ross’ secret out and the possibility of prison time looming over every major player’s head, tensions have been running high since the second Mike was arrested. The potential for a slew of break-ups, for lack of a better description, was a big player in “Self Defense.”
Perhaps the biggest relationship that could have been ruined was the one between Mike and Harvey, as they spent much of the episode trying to get the best of one other in a mock trial.
Out of concern for Mike, Harvey didn’t want him acting as his own lawyer, and it caused increasingly nasty arguments between the two of them as the episode moved toward showing the real thing. Mike consistently had the mistaken idea that it was all about winning for Harvey, especially since they’d agreed that the winner would be his defense attorney. Harvey, for his part, seemed genuinely concerned. Because of that, though, his behavior in the firm’s dry run became increasingly cutthroat to the point where he crossed the line.
Tensions were so high in the fake courtroom that I often found myself wondering how it was going to be remotely possible to survive the real thing, especially when Harvey called Rachel as a witness. Harvey and Mike had already spent so much time bickering and tossing insults back and forth that Harvey lashed out at Mike, telling him that his fabricated marriage certificate was “a fake. Just like you,” and then he stopped at nothing to prove exactly that.
Harvey asked Rachel to describe her supposed Vegas wedding. Listening to her very detailed story, the impression that I got was that Rachel made herself extremely vulnerable as she shared her dream ceremony with the firm. It was the type of moment where one might expect to take a breather to appreciate what she stands to lose in all of this, seeing as how there’s no chance for that kind of setting when Mike gets thrown into prison if found guilty. Harvey, on the other hand, after not getting Rachel to slip up with a weak story, went in for the kill.
Remember that time Rachel cheated on Mike? Well, so does Harvey. He wasn’t above using it to prove Rachel was a liar, even though it meant humiliating her and making her hate him. Anything to win, right?
So, to be clear: Harvey and Mike were at each others’ throats; and Harvey attacked Rachel…and this was only during a fake trial. The real deal hadn’t even started.
Ultimately, Rachel broke up the men’s final post-practice-hearing shouting match to say that Harvey should be the one to take first seat in court. She didn’t decide it for any reason other than that it would be best to make the witnesses all hate Harvey the way that she had when he’d interrogated her. This is why you don’t let someone, who is neither a lawyer nor someone with a super brain for memorizing everything he could’ve learned in law school and more, make potentially life-altering decisions about lawsuits. They don’t always make them for the right reasons, especially if they’re kind of emotional wrecks after being verbally abused in “court.”
Score zero for the professional and personal connection that Harvey and Rachel have built up over five seasons. Seeing as how Harvey did go on the warpath when the time came and did have Mike over to let him down gently after the first day battling Gibbs didn’t go well enough, I’m pretty sure he and his protege are going to be fine.
Maybe Jessica’s loyalty and/or commitment to her firm was on trial. While all of that was going on, Jessica and Louis had increasingly tense conversations about Louis’ fear of being prosecuted for witness tampering with Sheila. The situation became so bad that Louis accused Jessica of being quick to ask him to put himself on the line to keep herself safe but ultimately unwilling to put herself in danger by lying on the stand to protect everyone else.
Louis and Jessica, bickering just like in the terrible old days. That always ends so well.
When Gibbs came to proclaim her victory in getting Mike’s trial moved up to the next day, giving the firm practically no time to prepare, Jessica Pearson proved (for at least the millionth time) that she was a formidable opponent. She didn’t flinch in the face of the woman who was trying to take away everything she’d built. Instead, she stood taller than ever. Jessica told the US Attorney that she was going to get on the stand and tell everyone Mike Ross was the best Harvard-educated lawyer she’d ever hired, forcing every remaining witness after her would follow suit.
And she did it with complete confidence, strength, and conviction. If anybody needed proof that Jessica Pearson was as loyal as ever to her people, that case is closed. Jessica wins.
Mike’s trial, Donna’s defeat, my heartache. Gibb’s first witness against was good ol’ Trevor. Welcome back to being the ever-sleazy former best friend, Trevor. (Verdict in the relationships on trial case: You’re kidding me, right? This one’s been dead for years.)
Trevor wasn’t willing to face time in jail for Mike. That much was obvious from the moment he was announced as Gibbs’ witness, but what he was willing to do to save his own hide was as despicable as ever. Trevor didn’t just say that Mike had never gone to Harvard. He gave up every bit of dirt regarding his supposed friend’s failed college career, time spent taking the LSATs for cash, and even their days spent too high to function. Yes, he had to answer the prosecution’s questions, but did he have to actually go that far? Probably not.
It was pretty telling when, in the flashback following his swearing in, Trevor actually had to ask why Mike wouldn’t just turn on Harvey. Mike’s answer? “Because unlike you, I would never do that to a friend.” Good boy.
Mike’s good friend Harvey was able to discount Trevor as a witness by ruthlessly bringing up personal information that caught him in a lie. His practice with using a similar technique on Rachel just the day before paid off, but it wasn’t enough. Mike still didn’t have any classmates from law school to prove he’d actually been there — because he hadn’t.
Harold Gunderson had come to Mike, offering to share stories about their non-existent law school days, but Harold wasn’t the type of guy that Mike could count on to keep his cool during a cross-examination. Instead, Mike begged Jimmy for help. But Jimmy didn’t see the guy who’d helped him rebuild his career after taking a shortcut as worth jail time. Forget about the part where Mike had also helped Jimmy’s aunt with a settlement, too.
Jimmy finally came around, but it was only as a rebuttal witness after SUITS did the unthinkable and went to the deep, dark place of showing Donna Paulsen in a weak moment. Donna always seems to know everything, have an answer to everything, and take everything that’s thrown at her in stride. Not so when she was called as a witness.
Before taking the stand, Donna asked Jessica what to do and was told that Gibbs would never outright ask whether or not Mike had gone to Harvard. In a moment of perhaps too much confidence — bordering on cockiness — Jessica also told Donna that, if she lied, nobody would ever know anyway. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Gibbs still found a way to shake the usually unflappable mega-secretary.
Donna’s testimony started off brilliantly enough. The prosecution had found the same thing she’d revealed earlier: Mike Ross didn’t appear anywhere in the Harvard class rankings. Gibbs demanded to know why that had never bothered Donna. Her answer? “Because I’ve never been on any class ranking, and I’m the best legal secretary in the city.” Where’s the lie?
In the end, Donna’s inability to lie was the problem. She made the mistake of saying that Mike had talked his way into his interview. When asked to explain, she said Mike pretended to be someone else. Once she realized she’d messed up, Donna was visibly nervous; and the deeper Gibbs forced her to dig that hole, the more hurt she seemed.
Donna’s time on the stand was incredibly difficult to stomach. Not only was Sarah Rafferty as brilliant as ever, but there’s just something to be said for seeing one of SUITS’ most beloved characters defeated so quickly and easily. Besides, Donna wasn’t supposed to be the one on trial, so how could she lose so spectacularly? Donna’s participation in the crime only ever existed because she cared about Harvey, Mike, and the others at the firm; in some ways, she could be considered an innocent bystander.
Even worse than watching Donna shredded by Gibbs (maybe Harvey and Mike should’ve spent their practice time prepping her instead of trying to outdo each other) was watching her beat herself up over it after the fact: “You know, I always talk like nothing can get to me. Well, it did today. I crumbled up there. And I hurt Mike’s case. And I’m ashamed of myself. And I don’t know what to do.”
Verdict in the trial of my emotional well-being after seeing Donna hurt, Harvey and Mike coming to blows, Jessica and Louis back to arguing after one of their strongest moments together in the series after SUITS 5×13, and everything else that happened in this episode? Non-existent.
Verdict in the trial against Mike? To be continued, but it’s not looking good. See also: A crestfallen Harvey called Mike to his condo to tell him that things were not going well, and he should actually move to change his representation. As Mike had said all along, it was best for him to be his own lawyer so he could essentially testify without being cross-examined.
Louis Litt’s loyalty? Yeah…back on trial. Adding injury to injury, Gibbs went to have a little chat with Louis after the trial’s first day. She had already driven a wedge between him and Sheila. She had already discovered that Louis sent Sheila to Argentina, threatened him with charges, and sent someone to rattle Sheila. She had also already been served with a court order to not have any contact with Louis without his lawyer (Jessica) present, but for someone so hellbent on punishing Mike for breaking the law, she doesn’t seem to care about following the law herself.
Apparently, Gibbs had already done to Louis was good enough…yet. Miss I’ll Be Dirtier Than Harvey To Get To Harvey Through Mike (really, what’s her obsession with this firm’s lawyers?) did some digging and, with just the right amount of conjecture, managed to figure out that his name partnership had only come about when he found out about Mike’s secret. She baited him with the whole tale — I think Anita Gibbs watches SUITS — and the chance at striking a deal if he turned on everyone else.
Louis, with tears in his eyes, swore that he wouldn’t turn on his partners. The more Gibbs kept talking, though, the more possible it seemed that he might do just that.
Will Louis stab everyone in the back to keep himself safe? Tune in to SUITS on Wednesday, February 24 at 10/9c on USA to find out.