Friday, February 19, 2016

Suits 5x14 Review: "Self Defense" (Whose Side Are You On?)

"Self Defense"
Original Airdate: February 17, 2016

I love the fact that the back half of this season of Suits has a trajectory and a clear theme, but the show is not yet shoving that theme down our throats. It’s implied in every episode, yet not overt. What is this theme, you ask? It’s pretty simple — what is your limit? At what point do you stop defending the people you care about and start protecting yourself? All throughout these few episodes, that question has been raised and asked of Donna, Louis, Harvey, Rachel, Jessica, and Mike alike. And in “Self Defense” — an aptly titled episode — some of our beloved Pearson Specter Litt comrades begin to break down and choose protecting themselves over protecting Mike. And that's really understandable. Everyone has a breaking point, after all, especially when it comes to something as serious as what will happen to the characters if Mike is found guilty. If Mike goes down, so does everyone else in Pearson Specter Litt. And while it's often easy to comfort ourselves in isolation with cushy thoughts of small victories and daydreams of life after a trying time, the reality is that these characters haven't had enough time to process what it would mean if Mike was sentenced. So they push away those negative thoughts and insecurities and bottom lines until this episode.

Until Donna pleads the fifth. Until Jessica makes the decision to be all-in and perjure herself if it comes down to it. Until Louis considers protecting Sheila by turning his back on his firm. Until Rachel realizes how far Harvey will go. So let's dive in, shall we?


Near the end of last week's episode, Scottie brought up a really good point to Rachel, and it begs reconsidering in this episode, too. What happens when the dust settles in Mike's case? What happens if he doesn't make it out unscathed? What happens if he DOES? I don’t know that many of our characters have actually thought about the real, lasting consequences that lying for Mike while on the stand could have. And though they often pretend like nothing can bother them or get to them — that they’re invincible, because they’re the heroes of this whole story anyway, right? — I think that we see quite clearly in “Self Defense” that our characters aren’t as unbreakable as they want us to believe. It’s really interesting, right? Because Suits is a show that is about this guy who lied about being a lawyer and became a successful lawyer at the best law firm in the city. He helped people win cases and he helped rescue the wrongfully accused. He’s done so much good (again, like Shawn Spencer in Psych) that we can easily justify his actions. Also, Mike is the main character — he has to be the hero, right? Pearson Specter Litt is just the place that has been wronged by Anita Gibbs and is fighting back.

In a lot of ways, I hate the way Anita conducts herself (and it’s hard to believe that there is literally nothing else in her career vying for her time or attention right now), but she’s not wrong: she’s going after a fraud to prove he’s what he says that he is. The more that Harvey and Mike and Jessica and Donna and Rachel lie — to themselves and to the people around them — the more they hope they’ll believe that lie. Maybe, just maybe, they can convince themselves that Mike really did go to Harvard. If they squint and try hard enough, maybe lying will make this all okay.

Irony at its finest, am I right?

But Donna breaks in this episode and Louis breaks at the end (and, from what it looks like, in the next episode). Because here’s the deal — Donna is the kind of woman who shoots straight with you. If you’re doing something wrong, she will call you out. She’s not afraid to be the person who yells truth at you while you’re standing there, yelling right back. That’s why she’s one of the only people who can successfully go toe-to-toe with the stubborn Harvey and crack through his walls. She knows how to tell people what they don’t want to hear but desperately need to. And Donna has spent five years pretending Mike is a lawyer that, like most of the group, I think she has moments where her memory lapses and she doesn’t even think about the fact that he isn’t. But Donna’s entire life was placed in the cross-hairs because of Mike’s decision to lie, and that’s something she can’t untangle herself from no matter how hard she spins. Mike Ross will always be the charming man who walked into an interview pretending to be someone else and was hired by Harvey Specter. Donna knows in her heart that she cannot lie about that. Because it’s one thing to lie to yourself — it’s another to lie to the people around you. In spite of the fact that Jessica promises Donna protection (and Donna, being who she is, notes that if she takes the stand and lies, she will be going to prison as well), she doesn’t believe that.

Let’s all remember that Donna was VERY close to going to prison earlier this season. She’s still shaken by what happened and I don’t think she ever wants to repeat the fear that she had during those few days. So does it make sense that Donna would crack and plead the fifth about Mike? Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, Donna knows that she doesn’t have anyone else to fall back on but herself. Louis told Donna earlier this season that sometimes you have to protect yourself first and forgo protecting others. I know that Donna feels guilty for not lying on the stand (more irony), but I don’t blame her and I think that what she did wasn’t weakness: it was self-preservation.

Donna Paulsen wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t occasionally look out for her interests above those of Mike and Harvey’s.


Speaking of self-preservation, Louis has managed to stay pretty untangled from the whole Mike fiasco up until now, which means that up until “Self Defense,” he was off of Anita Gibbs’ radar. Now? Well, now he is smack-dab in the middle of that radar with a giant target on his back. Accusing him of witness tampering (by sending Shelia out of the country until Mike’s trial ends), Anita approaches Louis and badgers him, which causes him to seek out Jessica as his lawyer. Of course, Ms. Pearson protects the people at her firm like the awesome mama bear that she is, and fires back at Anita, rattling her. Because Jessica decides to lie and protect that lie.

Unfortunately for Jessica, she’s forgotten the way that Louis handles pressure is to isolate himself and try to handle problems on his own. Does any of this ring a bell? It’s basically why Louis has caused all the kinds of problems that he has in the past (especially for the firm and especially with Harvey). He refused to let others help him and, in the process, became the villain by selling out the people he’s supposedly loyal to in order to protect his own interests. I know that Louis loves Sheila, so it’s no surprise that this whole witness tampering fiasco is going to send him into a bit of a tailspin. But Louis is also afraid to bring anything to Jessica these days or Harvey. They’ve proven that they care more about getting Mike (and themselves) out of this than of damaging any collateral. And the truth is that Louis knows Jessica and Harvey care nothing for helping Sheila. So it’s going to be interesting to see exactly what Louis does in order to protect her and how it will cost him/the case/the firm/Mike.


Harvey and Mike did a mock trial in this episode in order to prepare for the real one. While Mike pulled out some fancy parlor tricks, Harvey was the one to lay down the hammer and badger Rachel (who was blatantly lying on the stand) as the witness.

After she breaks on the stand and is humiliated, Rachel goes into the bathroom. Donna comes in, trying to be comforting, and Rachel snaps that Donna has no idea how humiliated she is. I was infuriated by this line in the episode. Because Donna was on a mock trial and humiliated by Louis a few seasons ago (remember that time she was asked point blank in front of all of her colleagues whether or not she loved Harvey?). Not to mention the next line that Donna explains — how she was treated like crap by Harvey when she went to work for Louis this year. And yet, Rachel had the absolute nerve to talk about how horrible HER situation was and how no one understands her.

Speaking of people being selfish and reckless, Mike spends a majority of the episode being extremely prideful and ungrateful for the way in which his colleagues and boss are trying to help him. Everything now, for Mike, is ALL about him — he has little to no consideration for how much his lie is going to cost the people around him. The people, by the way, who don’t have to and probably shouldn’t be going to the lengths that they are to help. Mike hasn’t really acted in a way, within the last few episodes, that deserves help or acknowledgement. He’s been reckless and selfish and far too confident. In the mock trial, he tries to fabricate evidence and lie — no, REALLY — in order to win his argument. Harvey’s appalled, noting that there’s no way he could pull that trick in a real court. But Mike seems unfazed, too drunk with power and confidence to even see straight anymore. He asks Jimmy to lie for him, but rebuffs Harold from doing the same.

Suits is beginning to pick up speed again. I’m happy that there are fewer things per episode that annoy me, but knowing that this show has gotten another season, I’m intrigued to see exactly how the lawyers (or fake lawyers) at Pearson Specter Litt get themselves out of this mess.

And now, bonus points:
  • Ugh, Trevor was back in this episode, only serving to remind me of how much I loathe Trevor.
  • “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but he’s kicking your ass.”
  • This show really needs to update its credits.
  • “That’s my boy.”
  • Rachel also gives really bad advice to Mike. He literally wants to disobey Harvey and go fabricate the Harvard class ranking so that he’s on it. So he does. Because Rachel literally says: “You do whatever you think you need to do.” Which, funny, kind of is what got him into this whole mess in the first place.
  • “Ohhh, I get it. This is a fake, just like you!”
  • Apparently Anita lurks around in the shadows outside of peoples’ homes. Okay.
What did you all think of “Self Defense”? Hit up the comments and let me know!


  1. This was a really fast episode. Patricks Adams did well as director because it seemed like they had to pack a lot of dialogue in!

    Has anyone noticed the lack of music in this 5B season? I feel like maybe the show has had some budget cutbacks, which is a shame because the awesome songs used in the past have really elevated the emotions and made certain scenes far more memorable.

    Also, Donna's character has been quite unlikeable this season. It seems her only scenes with Harvey are to lecture him and try to boss him around. I know she's always been a bit too motherly toward him but lately it seems to be their only interaction.

    My prediction for the end of this season is that somebody other than Mike goes to jail ;)

  2. I don't even understand what Mike thought he was doing, though. The point of a mock trial is to actually pretend you are at trial and do what you would do there. He could never do the fake marriage record thing in court! Also, I'm confused because did he really get his name in the Harvard top students list thingy? Harvey told him not to, then he had that conversation with Rachel, then he asked Benjamin to do something and we're led to believe it's the Harvard thing, but then it turns out it's the marriage thing...isn't that what happened?
    Benjamin was too cute. Can I keep him?
    I have come to the realization that the writers don't mind writing crazy story lines even if they're damaging to their characters. Donna was a once awesome character that I no longer understand. I understand everything you said above, but for some reason I'm still a little annoyed at her for pleading the fifth. I think I'm even more annoyed by the fact that the writers have apparently made it so everyone forgot that Mike actually DID "go" to Harvard because Harvey made him go there for a day or something in the pilot! Donna could easily have said YES. What the hell is going on, writers? You're ruining Donna by making her come back to being Harvey's assistant and nothing more and now you're making her fail on the stand. Why must you cause me such pain?

    1. Because the writing this season absolutely sucks! look at what they did to donna and harvey by bringing scottie back last episode. The writers are all over the place....

    2. yea i agree, i think their strategy is to kind of ruin donnas character so that people get over darvey. They can't do that by making us hate Harvey so they are just making us dislike her, and i have to say its working. She's been so annoying these past few episodes