SUITS Recap: The Rocky Path of Leadership

mudmare

The latest episode of SUITS featured a number of conflicts, all of which stemmed from the main characters’ lack of preparedness for their new leadership roles. While characters like Donna Paulsen and Rachel Zane seemed to at least recognize their failures by the end of “Mudmare,” Harvey Specter continued to digress. And Louis Litt’s reaction to the way his “best friend” treated him was the most unhinged it’s ever been, setting up at least the possibility that SUITS season 7 could be Louis’ darkest yet.

Donna Paulsen and Rachel Zane: The only two mature, self-aware characters.

In the world of SUITS, Donna and Rachel have been tossed into the background far too many times to count. Donna was just the secretary and Harvey Specter’s potential love interest (a mistaken identity, apparently), so she spent much of SUITS’ sixth season with no story at all. Forget about the fact that she happened to clean up everybody else’s messes and was basically Pearson Specter Litt’s resident Wonder Woman: She was a “supporting” character.

Rachel, for her part, was the world’s most capable paralegal, a strong, independent woman who refused to take the easy way out and work for Daddy’s firm…But sometimes, her story seemed to be more about incessant whining and/or being Mike Ross’ “supportive girlfriend” than the Supergirl of sorts that was embodied in her original, then occasional, characterization.

It comes as no surprise, then, that both women would find themselves struggling in their new roles. Donna lost her senior partnership after five minutes because being a partner at Pearson Hardman, Pearson Darby, Pearson Darby Specter, Pearson Specter, Pearson Specter Litt (and probably Specter Ross, one day) was supposed to “mean something,” after all. And Rachel did only gain control of the associates because of Louis Litt’s insane behavior — even for him — after having just recently passed the bar.

That Rachel went to Donna for help in “Mudmare” when Stephanie, the nightmare associate, failed to respect her was also expected. But the pleasant twist in this episode of SUITS was just how complex and satisfying of a conflict the associate issue ultimately created, even if it meant the second week in a row where Donna’s new position(s) of authority <s>was</s> were questioned by other women in some sort of backstabby-feeling trope.

Can’t women just support women? Then again, had some male associate been as disrespectful to Rachel as Stephanie was, that probably would have been even worse. The sad thing is that both situations are painfully realistic. When Donna said Louis would never have been treated that way, she was correct on two levels: Not only had Rachel failed to assert authority in the same way that Louis would have; but Louis, regardless of whatever immature barbs Alex and Harvey may throw at him, is a man. That’s an instant sign of authority, whether it’s been earned or not.

Also: Louis is low key in the middle of a psychotic break, which is terrifying. We’ll get to that later, though.

Donna’s solution to the Stephanie problem was to show up, destroy her, and and remind her who’s senior partner COO, whether she likes it or not. And she was about 50% right, 50% dead wrong to do it. As Rachel’s closest friend/older sister in the Pearson Specter Litt family, Donna probably felt the instant instinct to be supportive and step in when she saw someone she cared about being bullied. And Stephanie, having pawned her work off on Jason and used some technicality to pass the next assignment off to someone else after giving her word she wouldn’t — all because she felt the assignment was “beneath” her — definitely needed to be put in her place.

However, as COO, Donna is now Rachel’s boss, too. And as Rachel pointed out in their intense ladies’ room showdown, the moment Donna inserted herself into Rachel’s conflict with Stephanie, she undermined her friend’s authority. Whether she intended to or not, Donna sent the clear message to the associates that she, not Rachel, was in charge — meaning terrible employees like Stephanie could do whatever they wanted to Rachel as long as Donna wasn’t around. “And you just belittled me and embarrassed me in front of all of them. And that’s nothing that I thought my friend would do to me.”

The latest SUITS bathroom drama became so heightened that Rachel and Donna lashed out at one another with insults about each other’s lack of ability to do their new jobs. Painful as it may have been to hear, both women were right. But that’s ok. It’s a starting point, a place for potential growth.

Unlike a Harvey Specter or a Mike Ross — and definitely unlike a Louis Litt — SUITS’ leading ladies realized their own failings in the situation without having someone else (normally Donna…but who is Donna’s Donna?) point those out to them. By the end of “Mudmare,” the longtime friends and colleagues apologized to one another and admitted their own feelings of being out of their depth.

“I’m not completely ready for this. And I’m not always going to get things right. And I got them really wrong today.” The apologies were heartfelt and vulnerable, honest and completely devoid of any agendas. Regardless of anything else, the women of Pearson Specter Litt continue to prove that they’re capable of learning and growing, even when they have their own flaws. And the best part is that they know when they’re flawed but just keep fighting to do better.

They’re even keeping the SUITS family dynamic alive, while certain other elements of the series’ writing is obscuring it in the worst ways.

Earth to Harvey: You’re woefully unprepared. The sooner you admit it and listen to those around you, the sooner we can all get back to caring about important things like seeing you go mudding.

Harvey Specter has some huge shoes to fill when it comes to running the firm, and as SUITS has shown time and again, even Jessica Pearson herself wasn’t always perfect. The problem in the current season’s arc for Harvey (thus far) isn’t that he’s making bad decisions as managing partner; it’s that he’s learning absolutely nothing from those bad decisions. And he refuses to listen when his supposed partners try to help.

Despite having been mentored by a great leader, he’s just throwing his weight around. It’s like Harvey is living in his own delusional world in which he can do no wrong.

(It’s almost as if the man should go see a therapi-…wait.)

The biggest case of this is Harvey’s weird tendency to “bulldoze” (Mike Ross’ words) others in favor of pleasing Alex Williams. After having to go all the way to Chicago to learn that he couldn’t just hand name partner to his new-old buddy, then conflating that issue with the issue of Donna’s promotion, Harvey was back at the baseless favoritism in “Mudmare.” This time, instead of demoting Donna and giving her senior partnership to Alex in an attempt to prove something, it was selling Mike’s pro bono cause down the river for Alex.

Is the bromance as dead and replaced as that other relationship?

Only time will tell, but one friendship is certainly suffering thanks to Harvey’s closeness to Alex: Whatever it was that we’re calling Louis and Harvey. Larvey? That sounds like larvae…but Houis isn’t any better. Either way.

Knowing how sensitive Louis is and how often he’s been bullied, Harvey chose throw feelings that he’d shared in confidence back in his face when the name partners argued in “Mudmare.” What exactly Louis’ insecurities had to do with whether or not to keep Mike Ross’ client, no mature person will ever know. New client versus an actual contractual line about a junior partner’s workload, especially after that junior partner checked for clients ahead of time? Seems pretty clear cut.

Coming from a managing partner ending a disagreement over which case to keep, “your new honeysuckle friend canceled lunch on you for me” is just awesome.

Worse yet, Harvey spent much of SUITS 7×03 proving Louis’ worst nightmare to be more prophetic than paranoia. Harvey did, in fact, put Alex before Louis; and Harvey even joined his buddy in making fun of Louis during a celebratory bar outing. SUITS has always made it very clear that Harvey Specter had a lot of growing to do, which was always one of the most exciting things to watch for this character, thanks to the seemingly endless opportunities for growth. But behavior like this just makes all of Harvey’s beautiful development seem null and void.

And no, this wasn’t remotely ok on any level whatsoever: “What the hell is wrong with this guy? does he have a crush on you?” God forbid a lonely guy, who’s always been picked on, treasure his friendships. Must be a crush. And even if it werea crush, it would need to be the butt of a joke because…?

Spoiler alert: It wouldn’t.

And I guess no discussion of SUITS season 7 would be complete without mentioning the continuing wrongness of Harvey’s relationship with his former therapist.

hagard

A recap: Harvey made two “romantic” gestures in the premiere. It ended with him and Paula in bed. The new couple had dinner plans; but Paula had to cancel for work reasons, which was super convenient since Harvey was off in Chicago, trying to tear down that statute of Jessica Pearson. That brings us to “Mudmare,” where the rescheduled dinner was set for Harvey’s place: “You want to have dinner at your place because it’s the closest restaurant in the city to your bedroom.”

How very romantic this all is. Totally “not a small thing.” Much love. Fabulous development.

Harvey and Paula finally had that rescheduled dinner, and Harvey did a lot of talking about himself. Remember when Mr. Specter said he couldn’t wait to learn more about his new girlfriend, the one he has all the many feelings for? Well, Harvey doesn’t either. And when Paula, a therapist, shared her very real concerns about the relationship, Harvey called those feelings crazy.

The whole “what do you say we both be scared together” had the potential to be sweet, but (broken record here) without earning that “us against the world” feeling, it just falls flat.

Between what Louis went through by the end of the episode and whatever is going on here, it seems like SUITS is trying to set up some kind of mental health thing. The problem is, when it turns out that a supposedly detached professional turned out to harbor secret feelings for her patient all along, how does the other side (Louis’ treatment) get any respect or credibility at all?

Louis Litt loses it.

Oh, Louis.

For as frustrating as this lawyer’s yo-yo of a characterization can be, he was nothing if not sympathetic in “Mudmare.” He was terrified of losing his friend to someone else, and he knew it. (It’s not like Louis’ mudding dream was that difficult to interpret.) So, he sought professional assistance. Back to Dr. Lipschitz’s office he went.

Louis even took his therapist’s advice by trying to make a new friend in Alex, and he really thought he’d succeeded. The lawyers bonded over some sort of strategy and, more importantly for Louis, cats. Louis has been so starved for attention that he even dubbed Alex “you bff, you” by the end of their brief encounter.

As any loyal SUITS viewer would expect by now, every attempt at being nice just blew up in Louis’ face. Alex Williams canceled lunch to go work with Harvey, something that Louis saw as the realization of his nightmare. But he pressed on. He called his therapist again and sought more help.

But then the fight in Harvey’s office happened. And it was too much.

After years of being Harvey’s friend when it was convenient and his punching bag when it was either useful or just entertaining, Louis snapped. In one of his strongest performances since Louis was fired in SUITS’ fourth season, Rick Hoffman portrayed what looks to be the beginning of some sort of breakdown for the character. All of that pain and anger battled for dominance, creating a scene that, like Donna and Rachel’s argument and its resolution, restored that character-based strength for which SUITS has been known.

Not that I necessarily see SUITS going there, but with the way things have crumbled down around Louis Litt yet again, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of realism if he were to do something very drastic and very violent — either to himself or others. That could spell disaster for Harvey, whose name slipped out when Louis took his pain and anger out on Dr. Lipschitz via phone.

There is a chance for a very good story here. It’s just a shame that that story has to exist at the same time as Harvey’s (apparent) reversion back to whatever he was in SUITS’ first season.

Additional thoughts on SUITS 7×03:

  • Alternate headline for the section on Donna and Rachel: Sarah Rafferty and Meghan Markle, SUITS’ true stars. Wow.
  • On a similar note, petition to reset SUITS as a female-led drama that focuses on the adventures of Donna and Rachel, with occasional appearances by all of the series’ badass ladies (so, every woman except those with unhealthy, fairytale delusions about relationships).
  • So, to be clear: Paula Agard knows what she’s doing with Harvey is wrong. She is so ashamed, in fact, that she doesn’t even want to share with her mentor. But he’s hot and kissed her after spilling platitudes, so… 
  • Yours is helping big corporations screw over the little guy.” Breaking: Oliver pours tea all over Mike’s hobbies, talks about his own love for comic books. If only this had aired last week when we were busy at SDCC.
  • More beautiful Oliver moments: “If it means so much to you, why don’t you do it yourself?” I love this guy. And a personal favorite, “Because there’s something in it for you. Like always.”
  • “Business trumps lunch. Louis will understand.” Has Harvey Specter met Louis Litt??
  • Remember that time Donna Paulsen told Harvey Specter to stop speaking for her? Iconic. Maybe Louis should do the same.
  • My notes actually have “Mike goes to prison” in them. Too bad that trip wasn’t to, you know, suffer the consequences of his actions. With that slight bit of shade out of the way, I’ll say this much: Nobody gets to pick on our Mikey but us. “If this kid doesn’t get that, then what the hell is he doing here?” Take several seats, Alex. You have haven’t earned the right to treat Mike like that. Not to mention, Mike has at least proven that he’s very good at winning cases, regardless of his years of fraud, so that’s what he’s doing here.
  • Do all therapists on SUITS harbor secret fantasies for their patients, or is it just the young, pretty ones? Asking for a friend.
  • Somewhere buried in Mike’s pro bono case was a subtle message on just how godawful for-profit prisons are, as well as a warning about making punishments too harsh for people’s supposed crimes. An ounce of pot equaled incarceration, which caused Chris’ death. Add in the fact that the inmate’s last name was Reyes, and you’d have to be either blind or willfully ignorant not to get what was going on here. SUITS has always been clever about sneaking some issues with corporate America into storylines. It’s so strange seeing such serious business tackled so well when others are either mocked or simply unapologetically ignored.
  • “LAWYER GETS COCKY, GIVES INTERVIEW,” “FAKE LAWYER BECOMES REAL DICKHEAD,” “BIG BOY PANTS: THE MIKE ROSS STORY.” These are totally things that newly-crowned managing partners looking to prove themselves spend time on.
  • “Don’t be hostile. Don’t be hostile.” It’s like someone at SUITS spied on my inner monologue when dealing with just about everyone, ever.
  • “The 7 Stages of Louis: panic, sorrow, self-loathing, hatred, justification, self-loathing again, and rage.” Tag yourself. I’m all of the above.
  • “Because this is where we met, but this isn’t where I need to be anymore.” Sure. Fine. Whatever.
  • You’re never there for me. You’re always against me!” No, really, SUITS. Stay out of my head.
  • “And I don’t give a shit what you think: I’m not the horrible person you always say I am.” It hurts.

Can Louis’ therapist talk him down off the ledge? Will Harvey ever listen to Donna again? And will Mike actually stay out of that Reyes case? Make sure to watch the next all-new episode of SUITS on Wednesday, August 2 at 9/8c on USA to find out.

 

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