“Back on the Map”
Original Airdate: July 27, 2016
Sometimes the best thing for writers to do when a television show is six seasons deep is find a new way to refresh it — a way to make the things that have become expected and stale new and alive. I’ll admit that the past few seasons of Suits have felt rather hamster wheel-ish in their plot and character growth: Mike would almost get caught in his fraud, but at the last minute someone new would discover his secret and together, they would be saved. Harvey would fight with Jessica or Louis, but by the end of the season they would be strong again. The firm would face a crisis and then narrowly avoid it by doing something risky and bold. And while that pattern of storytelling isn’t bad, necessarily, it’s also not original and it’s not new and when it happens for five years in a row, it can become pretty old pretty fast. The characters are given only a finite amount of space in which to breathe and grow, and plot points become recycled using different characters and new nemeses.
But we are three episodes into Suits’ sixth season and suddenly it’s like the show has found its second wind. It has come alive in a way that hasn’t happened for years because of its decision to isolate Mike into his own storyline and give the rest of the characters real, difficult stakes. Harvey, Louis, Rachel, Donna, and Jessica don’t win every single episode — some episodes they’re barely hanging on by a thread. But that makes the victories sweeter, and it makes the characters richer. And Mike is becoming more realized and more developed than he has in years by being in prison. I am really, truly loving this season of Suits thus far and I’m hopeful that the show can continue to keep that strength throughout the rest of the summer and the rest of the season.
But for now, let’s discuss why I enjoyed “Back on the Map” and why I think Suits is flourishing in terms of character growth this year.
BRIEF RECAP OF “ACCOUNTS PAYABLE”
Since I was in San Diego for Comic-Con last week, I didn’t get to watch “Accounts Payable” until before “Back on the Map,” so I’ll recap what I enjoyed about the episode: I loved that Mike’s arrogance reared its head again because even though I hate the self-centered and narcissistic version of Mike Ross, that version generally melts away pretty quickly and turns into selfless Mike Ross. I’m glad that he and Kevin bonded at the end of the episode and that Mike finally got over his stubbornness long enough to let someone else help him. Elsewhere, Jessica and Harvey try their hardest to fend off their class-action lawsuit, and Jessica has a moment of character growth in which she recognizes the way she hurt Jack and makes amends. Indeed, all of the characters (but Harvey and Jessica in particular) recognize that their actions had major consequences. They can’t skirt the blame for the trouble the firm is in, and it is actually really refreshing to see them both actively accepting blame and consequences. Furthermore, Jessica’s comment to Robert and Jack about how the older she gets, the more she wants friends and not enemies was brilliant. Overall, “Accounts Payable” was a great episode filled with character growth (even for Rachel), and we all know how much I love character growth.
THIS IS STILL NOT A PRISON MOVIE
We’re going to discuss Mike Ross first, because I am loving the decision Suits made to isolate him into a separate storyline (for now). I think the lack of Mike at the firm is actually more powerful — and a more powerful motivator for the other characters — than him being present. Mike is experiencing a unique type of character growth that would not happen if he remained at Pearson Specter Litt. Because the truth is that Mike is entitled and narcissistic and egotistical, in his worst moments. He feels like the world owes him and he justifies his crime and he essentially acts as if everyone should just treat him the way he deserves. Life isn’t a prison movie, and Mike is beginning to learn that the hard way in this episode after Harvey — bless his soul — threatens Frank Gallo and Frank takes it upon himself to make life a whole lot more difficult for Mike. But Mike has someone in his corner, and it’s his cell mate named Kevin.
I love Kevin. I adore the fact that he has loyalty and he tries to make amends for leaving the cell so that Frank could be in there and learn all about Mike and his loved ones. Kevin isn’t a terrible person, but Mike treats him like one and brushes him off. “Back on the Map” proves, however, that these two men need one another in prison. Kevin is the only friend Mike has, and Mike isn’t always the greatest friend. He runs his mouth and his ego gets the better of him. But Mike cares. That’s what really gets me about his character. On his best days and in his proudest moments, Mike Ross will do everything in his power to protect his own, just like Harvey and Jessica and Donna do. So when Kevin gets beaten badly because Mike’s job conflicts with his ability to protect his cell mate from Frank’s goons, Mike is furious. He’s tired of feeling helpless and he will not sit idly by while the one person who has his back and who he cares about takes a beating because of something he did.
Already one of the most interesting relationships in the prison is the one between Mike and Julius (played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who I adore). Julius is the one person Mike needs on his side and his team, but his arrogance — shocker — is driving a wedge between them. Julius wants to help, but only if Mike is humble enough to stop yelling and throwing childish fits and actually communicate for once. I kind of love their relationship and the fact that it hinges on Mike being able to be “rehabilitated.” Mike needs to become a better version of himself in prison, not a worse one. And if he learns nothing while in there, what was it all for? Mike’s crutch right now is his ego. He’s leaning on it so hard that it’s blinding him to the possibility that he might actually not always have the right answers. Julius seems to be unwilling to help — when Mike confronts him about Kevin being beaten up, Julius tells him to lodge a formal complaint which Mike knows will mean certain death for them both — but as it turns out, he pulls strings at the episode’s end and gets Kevin a job in the kitchen with Mike so the two will not have to be separated anymore.
You can tell that Mike realizes how necessary it is to communicate and to trust other people in prison, even when it seems like they’re not really listening to you. Julius is the kind of person who sees straight through someone else’s crap. He knows that Mike genuinely cares, and when Mike finally lets his guards down enough to communicate that clearly, Julius is willing to help.
Mike’s story is so great and it’s going to be made even better when next week, he learns that if he sells Kevin out and/or gets important information regarding a case from him, he can be released from prison. Mike’s moral conflict will likely be front and center and I’m excited about seeing more of that.
I’m going to take a brief interlude here (before I talk about Harvey) to discuss the small but satisfying story that Rachel had with Jessica. Finally — after what seems like eons — Rachel has a storyline that doesn’t revolve around a wedding or Mike. While in a law school mock trial, Rachel’s classmate questions her ethics, given the fact that everyone obviously knows about Mike’s conviction and sentence. This makes Rachel furious, of course, and her professor notices her evident discomfort in class. So he offers her a position with The Innocence Project — a dream job that Rachel is afraid taking will only lead to her being seen as weak by everyone. And I get that. I totally do. I think Rachel is valid in her fears. And it’s something that Suits hasn’t really addressed: the way that Mike being in prison will impact Rachel and her career as a lawyer. Her classmates obviously know what happened and question her character and her ethics. It won’t be the last time that people do once they realize who her fiancé is. And so Rachel is stuck — she wants to take this job because it would be an amazing opportunity, but she doesn’t want to run away from people every time they seem to have the upper hand or make her upset.
So she seeks out Jessica’s advice, and it’s a lovely little moment of bonding between the women. Remember in the premiere, how Rachel vowed loyalty to Jessica and Jessica opened up to Rachel? Well in “Back on the Map,” Jessica offers Rachel a piece of ruthless advice: make her classmates fear her. When Rachel makes a quip about how quickly and easily Jessica’s response came, saying that she must have experienced a difficult classmate like Rachel is, Jessica smacks down more truth in saying that she faces that kind of criticism every single day.
Suits doesn’t usually talk enough about the women in power in this show and how that not only influences their decision-making but also the way they process and react to situations. But I love this little moment and the ones throughout this episode that address the struggles that women in power face. Jessica wants people to respect her, but in order to survive in a man’s world, she needs them to fear her. So Rachel does exactly that. The next day, she digs up some dirt on her opponent and in exchange for not releasing it in their mock trial, makes the girl read an apology that Rachel wrote and then drop out of the debate. It’s a great, very Jessica Pearson-esque move and Rachel’s professor takes note. She then accepts the position with The Innocence Project because she proved to everyone in class that she’s not to be messed with.
Good job, Rachel. And that’s a sentence I don’t say often.
BROS AND FAVORS
Louis’ story in this episode is hilarious, as he rents out the Pearson Specter Litt office space to a bunch of dudebro stock traders, and clashes with their boss named Stu. I mean, Stu is a jerk so I don’t really blame Louis for being frustrated with him for violating the fridge. But Louis, whenever he gets even an ounce of power, enjoys wielding it to no end. (Unfortunately, Harvey undermines that power in the end, but whatevs.)
Speaking of Harvey, this man keeps growing leaps and bounds, as do the people around him. As we saw at the end of last week’s episode, Harvey sacrificed the painting that his mother did in order to save Mike and the firm. It was a really emotional moment and a surprising amount of both sacrifice and character development for Harvey, whose pain is palpable and whose burden of responsibility grows ever heavier. But I like that Harvey has finally taken responsibility after years of placing blame on others for the decisions he made. And though Harvey’s default response is to always point the finger at someone else, he’s growing and he’s learning that sometimes you have to carry the weight of what you’ve done and you’re the only one who can.
This week, Harvey refuses to make a deal with a wealthy but shady man and turns to a jerk (but a jerk whose word is his bond) to help Pearson Specter Litt out instead. There’s a really great commentary here on what Harvey is now willing to do in order to save the people and place he cares about. He’s not willing to go to any length to get things done, and I don’t think Jessica is either. They’re both still powerful and they’re both still ruthless and they both use their favors and friends in order to help them out of tight spots. But Harvey and Jessica are living by a newly-refined code: there are certain things they just won’t do anymore. And for Harvey, he’s learned his lesson about making deals with shady guys in order to get what he wants. He played that game and he lost Mike and he’s not willing to risk the things he has left in trying to save Pearson Specter Litt. As Felicity Smoak from Arrow might say: “There’s always another way.”
Eventually, Harvey lampoons his “whale” (the jerk, Nathan) for the firm by being honest and speaking to Nathan, rather than above him. I appreciate all that Harvey’s done and the way he’s trying to live in light of all of the crises around him. I think it makes for a compelling character study, and I’m interested to see how the rest of the season plays out.
“Back on the Map” is another solid episode of Suits. Apparently shaking things up is the way to go. Doing so has refreshed the show in a way that hasn’t happened since the beginning.
And now, bonus points:
- Gabriel Macht has been incredible this season. I just have to throw that out there.
- “Okay, I’m gonna choose not to respond to that…”
- I was so excited that last week’s episode and this week’s (and presumably next as well) featured the return of Neal McDonough. I loved his character on Arrow and I feel like they softened his Suits one up just a little bit in the best way.
- “To being back on the map.” “To drawing a new one.”