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'Suits' Scoop On What Jessica And Harvey Did, Plus Thoughts On A Snazzy, Smart Cable Drama

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I have specific information at the end of this post about the most recent episode of "Suits" -- including thoughts from series creator Aaron Korsh about a questionable thing two lead characters did -- but first, a generality:

"Suits" is delightful.

This law drama is not perfect (and my exchange with Korsh revolves about one aspect of last week's episode that didn't quite work for me). But I hasten to add that whatever flaws the show has are minor, and my opinion isn't too far off from that of critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who recently wrote that it "might be the most purely entertaining series on television." (By the way, if you plan to catch up on "Suits" -- which I recommend -- you can read everything before the Korsh portion of this post without being spoiled on Season 1, 2 or 3 plot developments.)

fred buckley
Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) and Nigel Nesbitt (Adam Godley) have been frenemies all through Season 3 of "Suits."

Pleasure, remember that? Can you recall when pleasure was a regular part of your TV diet? I kid, sort of, but what's often missing from television drama these days are characters who, generally speaking, enjoy their lives and derive pleasure from their accomplishments.

I enjoy soul-sucking misery, freaky-scary stuff and existential despair as much as the next neurotic fan of "Game of Thrones," "American Horror Story" or "Mad Men," and in theory and practice, I usually support any creator who tries to plumb the murkiest corners of the human psyche with rigor and compassion.

But let's admit that a steady diet of those three shows -- not to mention "Hannibal," "The Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad," "Broadchurch," "House of Cards" and "The Bridge," and even meat-and-potatoes shows like "Arrow" and "Supernatural" -- can leave you longing for the someone, somewhere, to enjoy something. All these shows have their good qualities and they don't always take themselves seriously, but you wouldn't exactly say they're suffused with optimism, and all the violence, gore, despair and isolation that swirls through dramas these days can leave me looking for some kind of relief. That's why I'm extra-grateful for frisky, intelligent concoctions like "Justified," "The Good Wife" and now "Suits."

I'll forgive those shows anything because they so often make me smile, and they show people enjoying the fact that they're good at their jobs, despite the hitches and impediments that episodic television constantly throws at them.

I don't mean to imply that "Suits" is a slice of piffle that lacks stakes and heft. Wrong. If anything, what drew me deeply into a recent catch-up marathon were the conflicting personal loyalties and complicated professional agendas that the show so deliciously exploited, especially during Season 2, which was highly addictive and markedly stronger than Season 1.

In Season 2, the endlessly versatile David Costabile devoured a long guest-starring arc about the unwelcome return of a former partner, who delivered a great deal of instability to control-freak corporate lawyers Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht) and Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres). Harvey's right-hand man, savvy operator Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), rode the waves of conflict and shifting alliances, all the while hoping his secret -- the fact that he's not actually a lawyer -- wouldn't ruin him, the firm or his chances with paralegal Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle).

A Season 3 ongoing conflict, which just ended, had "Game of Thrones" actors Conleth Hill and Michelle Fairley crushing very different roles as well-heeled U.K. executives. The show's generally fine use of high-profile guest stars (Gary Cole is another standout) is just one more thing to enjoy. But this isn't a client-of-the-week show, and courtrooms barely appear in "Suits."

As befits a show about high-earning corporate sharks, "Suits" offers well-dressed men and women cutting deals, carving out compromises and managing high-stakes conflicts (inside and outside the firm). These people love their jobs, and there's no dutiful trek home to the suburbs at night (none of the lead characters are married, much less have kids).

But because they aren't actual family, every bond has to be negotiated, bargained for and covertly assessed. Jessica, Harvey and Mike are continually exploring how much loyalty they can expect from each other, and every betrayal cuts deeply because they don't give up their trust and their intimate emotions easily. The show percolates with barely suppressed emotions, and as deployed here, that repression can be kind of sexy. When professional detachment gives way and desire and violence and anger finally burst forth, they're all the more potent for having been held back for so long.

The one exception to the general wariness concerns Harvey and his assistant, Donna, who's played with zest and great comic timing by Sarah Rafferty. Harvey and Donna trust each other absolutely, and it tells you something about "Suits" that, despite their obvious attraction to each other, the show has never even shown them kiss (they did hook up once, but it was off screen). Their romance, and I'm convinced it is one, is the slowest of slow burns, and the way the palpable chemistry between them is restrained by a Victorian sense of propriety is kind of divine, if you're into that Jane Eyre sort of thing. Still, I very much hope that when the show returns in a few months (its mid-season finale airs Sept. 17), "Suits" does a lot more to develop Donna -- right now, she is almost completely defined through her relationship with Harvey, and that limitation is kind of absurd. (As long as we're on the topic, can Jessica get a love interest already? Torres can play every note under the sun, but her character has had a relatively restricted emotional palette thus far.)

The show's original premise revolved around the fact that Mike isn't a lawyer and is thus perpetrating a fraud, but, as is the case with most good shows, the hook is now just part of the scenery.

Even more than Mike, Harvey was a type when the show debuted: a high-powered lawyer in an expensive suit who enjoys being a Master of the Universe and will do just about anything to win. Harvey wasn't quite a douche -- he always had too much wry self-awareness for that -- but he skirted dangerously close to being one.

But over time, we've learned that, behind his carefully constructed facade and Teflon hair, Harvey has a heart -- and ethics, too (well, sometimes). Among the show's many pleasures -- crisp yet expansive direction, snappy dialogue and a masterful performance from supporting actor Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt -- is a rather interesting exploration of where and why Harvey draws moral and ethical lines. He may play rough, but he doesn't like wins that feel dirty, and he may be intensely demanding, but he's also ferociously loyal. In a recent episode, viewers saw that he has no issue with physically shredding those who hurt the people he loves.

Adams, who was impressive in HBO's short-lived "Luck," has been given a wide array of feelings to play -- grief, bemusement, terror, self-hatred and the fizzy cocktail of emotions that accompany falling in love -- and he has quite frequently knocked his big scenes out of the park. The show probably wouldn't work if Macht and Adams didn't also have chemistry, given that this is essentially a bromance, and you could almost say that Harvey and Mike represent the two sides of Don Draper (Mike is Dick Whitman and Harvey is Don as a Manhattan alpha dog). Yet Mike has a quiet, indomitable strength that Don never had; that resilience has allowed him to survive daily legal combat and the nearly unbearable workload his bosses throw at him.

If the frequently aggrieved Louis Litt were reading this, at this point he would be fuming about not having gotten his turn yet. Louis, a capable lawyer whom Harvey enjoys subverting and mocking at every turn, has managed to transform resentment into an endlessly entertaining art form, and the writing for him and Hoffman's perfectly calibrated performance are two of my favorite things on TV right now.

Louis is a perfect demonstration of why supporting characters are often our favorites. Lead characters are often constrained by a whole bunch of rules, expectations and narrative demands, but from Day 1, none of that has applied to Louis, who started out as comic relief and has remained entertaining even as the show has given him depth and nuance. Louis is desperate to be accepted but manages to sabotage himself nearly every time, and though "Suits" has fun with Louis' misadventures, the show has also allowed him to be a real person with his own hopes, dreams and desires.

It's a tribute to "Suits" that Louis' recent mock trial regarding the custody of a cat shared episodic space with a fight for the very existence of the firm -- and both story lines had their moments of humor and pathos (and the expansion of the Louis-Rachel friendship was expertly handled by both actors). Those two things should not have worked together, but "Suits" carried off the combination with panache. And unlike a lawyer, I can't think of an objection.

Ryan McGee and I discussed "Suits" (and other shows) in this week's Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.

But first, here is that email exchange with Korsh about the Sept. 3 episode of "Suits."

Ryan: "I know the 'Suits' lawyers venture into grey areas on occasion, but wasn't Edward Darby offering to commit perjury regarding Stephen, by describing (to Cameron and then presumably later in court documents and testimony) a conversation that never took place? And by extension, weren't Jessica and Harvey suborning perjury by knowingly allowing Darby to talk about or testify to a conversation that they knew to be nonexistent? Obviously the firm employs Mike, who is not a real lawyer, and I know the lawyers at the firm occasionally skirt the corners of the law. But perjury seems like kind of a big deal, and it struck me as odd that they didn't think Darby's offer to perjure himself was a big deal, especially given that Harvey quit working for Cameron over actions he thought were unethical. Were they willing to go along with Darby perjuring himself if it meant that it got Ava off the hook and Darby out of their hair? 

"Maybe this is what happens when you watch two-and-a-half seasons of a show in two-and-a-half weeks -- I guess I feel like I have a condensed (and possibly erroneous) view of what Harvey and Jessica would stand for. And encouraging perjury (if that's actually what happened) without at least stopping to discuss the ethics or ramifications of that, and without contemplating the reasons for doing that -- it seemed like a hitch in the proceedings. If there's any light you can shed on that issue, that would be much appreciated."

Korsh: "First of all, yes, Darby was offering to commit perjury and we were essentially suborning perjury. We had numerous conversations about the notion of what that would mean for Harvey and Jessica, and ended up deciding not to have those conversations take place in the episode. The reason we didn't do that is because what essentially happened off-screen is that Harvey and Jessica both knew that Stephen committed these murders, not Darby and not Ava. They knew the only way to get Ava off the hook for murders she had nothing to do with would be to make Darby realize he had to protect her. And the only way he could do that would be to perjure himself. However, if we had that conversation, then it would ruin the reveal that we had worked in concert with Cameron Dennis to force Darby into a corner to get him to decide to commit perjury. 

"It is an interesting question that, in a way, touched off a larger conversation among me and a few of the writers today. 'Suits' absolutely deals with questions of ethics and morality, but also is meant to be entertaining and have twists and turns, and in this particular case, I felt that a discussion of the ethical quandary would hurt the twist at the end. But to me, it was relatively clear that Harvey, Jessica and Mike came together with Cameron not to get Darby out of the firm (that was a side benefit), but to free an innocent woman. They crossed a line to do it, but it was not significantly different in my mind, than at the end of Season 1 when Mike and Harvey crossed a line to free Clifford Danner. Essentially, sometimes the good guys have to do bad things to make the bad guys pay. 

"Separately, as part of our discussion, we talked about the fact that sometimes we leave out the philosophical/legal ethical/moral choices in favor of the questions of loyalty between our characters. For example, when Louis, in this same episode, decides to rip up his hard-earned settlement agreement with Harold, he is essentially selling out his client for Harold's career. Rather than focus on that dilemma (though it goes through his mind in the moment), instead we are prioritizing, 'Will Louis pass up a victory over Harold in order to save Harold's career?' Both things are going on, but I felt like the more emotional dilemma was between Louis' 'throwing a game he knew he'd won' to Harold rather than 'selling out his client' for Harold."

Korsh's answer is a thoughtful one, and I'll leave fans to hash out in comments whether it works for them. Here's my two cents: I have a better understanding of Korsh's thinking, and I appreciate what the show was going for, but I still feel as though there were a step or two missing in the wrap-up of the Darby-Hessington story line. Having seen the flashback to Harvey's days working for Cameron so recently during my "Suits" DVD binge, I thought the idea of suborning perjury would have been a bigger red flag for Harvey than it appeared to be in that episode. I guess I expected him to talk about the situation more with Jessica, Mike or Darby himself, or at least struggle a bit with that decision. I understand the desire to preserve a twist, but I would have been fine forgoing that surprise in order to have Harvey and/or Jessica walk each other through why it was OK in this instance to compromise their ethics (and maybe the fact that both of them went along with suborning perjury so easily was the hitch for me). The ending of the Darby story line reminded me a little bit of the finale of Season 2, which I found rushed and somewhat unsatisfying because it had a little too much territory to cover.

But again, this was one hitch in an otherwise good story line, and certainly not something that stopped me from greatly enjoying the show and wishing it wasn't taking a break soon.

"Suits" airs 10 p.m. ET Tuesdays on USA.