In the past three weeks, I’ve watched six and a half seasons of Suits. That is, in effect, a debilitating amount of Suits. Creator Aaron Korsh hasn’t even watched this much Suits. And it would be a full seven seasons if not for this hiatus since mid-September.
This rapid consumption and sudden void, however, has given me a rare insight into the show. Namely, this dangerous binge tactic has allowed me to contrast the growth of characters and arcs rather easily not only between episodes but between whole seasons. What works and what doesn’t is much more apparent when you aren’t just splicing up rails but you’re snorting it wholesale right from the baggie.
And here’s the gist of this fan-favorite series: what started as homely, fantasy-level USA fodder about the Sherlock Holmes of courtroom bullshit became a taut drama about a fake attorney practicing real law before becoming mired in its own success. Worse than that, perhaps, is that its story isn’t a unique one. It follows the trajectory of many other similarly acclaimed shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation.
But let’s head back to the beginning. It starts with Michael Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a bike messenger trying his hand at dealing drugs, schmoozing his way into an interview with Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) for the position of an associate at Harvey’s law firm despite having no law degree. It’s a swirling mess of circumstance that brings this young gun yet to find his lot in life together with this man that can’t find britches he’s not too big for.
It’s absurd and confusing and hasty in the way a lot of pilots are, but it’s above all charming. All the major players make major splashes and you’re intrigued even if you can’t quite tell why. Snappy dialogue really helps it all go down smooth, too, with shutdowns coming in hard on people too beautiful to have otherwise ever heard the word “no.”
And it builds nicely from there. It never loses its lightheartedness (like when Mike literally runs away from managing partner Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) when she looks at him) but it also creates a fresh and invigorating structure. It has the familiar bit about naivety being led by a mentor but it also subverts it in meaningful ways, giving everyone ample opportunity to learn and grow.
It works so well that it’s not hard to see why this show took off, eventually garnering two People’s Choice Awards in 2015 and 2016. The strongest season, though, is probably the third one. It lays the groundwork for the following seasonal arcs of experimentation. I won’t spoil anything, but they successfully shake up the foundation of the show to keep it from getting stale. After all, one secret only has so much juice to give. (Just look at Revenge.)
For all the fresh life force injected into the veins of the show, it also at some point hits arrested development. Worse than that, it takes several steps backward. Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), for instance, vacillates at various points in the early seasons between being a villain and simply being an instigator. It’s confusing and makes for some weak side threads, but his character is at least novel enough to keep around.
As the show grows long in the tooth, however, he fails to become anything beyond that even though he eventually becomes a part of what feels like every other goddamn scene. As impossible as it is for Mike to have gotten this far with a photographic memory and zero actual law education, it’s even more impossible for a man this impulsive, insensitive, and painfully selfish to have survived past the age of 20. Someone, in all likelihood, would have killed him out of mercy. (Whether this is due to the writers or the actor’s portrayal, this lack of depth still a problem.)
And he stays that way. And people keep forgiving him. And, as a middle finger to all logic and reason, he actually gains friends along the way. It’s a grating, offensive chorus across these six and half seasons of verses. He’s a complication, deus ex machina, and denouement all on his own (in addition to being a walking bucket of idiosyncrasies and six of the seven deadly sins), and none of it fits with anything else the show is trying to do. His penchant for being an asshole wouldn’t be an issue if it at least served a purpose.
It’s a problem that ends up being applicable to many other characters, too. Mike eventually becomes a stubborn, bullish jackhole that fails to see how loyalty is what will save him even though it saves him roughly 30 times a season. The entire fourth season, in fact, is dedicated to this idiocy, even if the genesis of the conflict is a much needed refresh of the show’s premise.
Donna (Sarah Rafferty) is some sort of omniscient, omnipotent being that is fun at first what with her infinitely sassy quips and comebacks, but she’ll freely get into truly hot water only when it makes it interesting for the show. Basically the opposite of Louis’ aforementioned deus ex machina ability to finagle resolutions to any episode’s last act, only revealing her mortality for the sake of being mortal as the story demands.
And Rachel (Meghan Markle), despite being a paralegal for years and attending law school while working as an associate, can’t seem to ever grasp how rationality is a key ingredient to being a lawyer. It’s a flaw that as the show goes on begins to feel like a sexist trope. (It actually is, taking the recent cliché of every female journalist being the only ones with questionable ethics on the job and reshaping it for the courtroom.)
Obviously, these aren’t problems that can’t be fixed. It’d really be interesting to see how this season seven hiatus might have given the writers a chance to reflect on their own follies and work towards something more ambitious upon the show’s return. Or perhaps the Torres-led spinoff is where the solutions to all these issues come to fruition.
At this point, though, it’s a show of stagnation, even though on the surface it looks like it rejuvenates itself each season. It’s not watching a ship crash against the rocks; it’s just sitting at the pier, growing crusty and haggard as disuse and disinterest in its well-being consume it plank by dull, boring plank. Here’s hoping it sets sail again someday soon.