The last four episodes of Suits have been the best scripted TV I've seen all summer. The accomplishment also raised my expectations for the season finale - expectations which were met in an hour that seemed to slide the last pieces into place.
Picking up where "Rules of the Game" left off, "Dogfight" sees Harvey try to free the innocent Clifford Danner (Neil Brown, Jr.) from prison, while Mike tries to keep a handle on his messy personal life. One of them succeeds, and the other, not so much. What that gives us is an episode that pays off last week's plot development in fine fashion, serving as a neat end to the early days of the series at the same time. It's clear by the end of the hour that the freshman run is over and the series has pushed past all that comes with that first year.
Foremost among the many great things in the episode is that Harvey remains in character throughout. Gabriel Macht does a fantastic job making us privy to the wheels turning in Harvey's head and the emotions he's going through, but he does it within the boundaries he's already established. The example is set at the end of the teaser as Harvey tells a wary Clifford, "I don't see anyone else lining up to get your ass outta here" - admitting to a misstep but not pleading for forgiveness or even tolerance.
The genius of Macht's performance is that while he has multiple scenes that he could wring an emotional, dramatic moment out of, he stays very controlled - an approach that can't have been easy for him as an actor but that is true to the character. Yet while that big moment does not exist, we take away as much about Harvey Specter as if it had. We're privy to self-doubt, self-loathing, and uncertainty, among other things. It's an actor doing far more than what's expected with less, and it's to be commended.
There's a fantastic scene where Harvey confronts Donna about going to Jessica in the previous episode, and both Macht and Sarah Rafferty play it perfectly. The standard approach to their dialogue - especially in a season finale, where there's a certain expectation of big scenes - would be to turn it into a shouting match. Instead of going for attention, though, they play what's true, showing us two equals who both have legitimate points without having to be demonstrative.
I'm pleased with the friendship between Harvey and Donna for the same reasons I like the one between Harvey and Jessica; they're real, full-fledged bonds where the characters can be wrong, or vulnerable, or just in a bad mood with one another. (His face when he's apologizing to Donna? Priceless.) Yet Aaron Korsh has created these close relationships with no cliche expectation of sexual tension. In addition, you can't manufacture the chemistry that exists when two of your leads have known each other for two decades. It's one of those instances that I love as a writer - where actors bring something to the table that takes the material to another level.
"Dogfight" also does a fine job of wrapping up the 'origin story' of Mike and Harvey's partnership by making it clear that they have now really become partners. Can you imagine the Harvey we met in the early part of the season trusting Mike enough to step out of the room when he asked? Or even letting him borrow his cell phone? That shows how Mike has earned Harvey's respect.
The banter about Mike thinking like Harvey is cute, but it also hints at how Mike has learned from Harvey. Yet, in mid-episode, when he doesn't quite get Harvey's "mountain" comment, that's also an indicator that the relationship between them still has room to grow - as it should, since we're only at the end of season one. It's great to look back on a season and say that we've seen real growth in these people that we've invested twelve hours in, but at the same time, you want to see that continue as well.
I'm less concerned with the Mike/Jenny/Rachel/Trevor goings-on, much like last week, although I'm glad that the situation is coming to a head and won't be dragged out over another season or several. Compared to watching what Harvey's going through, and how Harvey and Mike are evolving together, the other plot just isn't as compelling.
The episode does boast a great supporting cast playing some interesting characters; Human Target's Chi McBride is always a reliable pain in the behind (see: House, Hawthorne), and it's nice to see the detective character wise up when confronted with the DNA test, rather than be the one-note angry cop.
The one thing that gives me pause about "Dogfight" is the cliffhanger ending. It bothers me less since we know that the show has been renewed, but I've never been a fan of cliffhanger finales, because many of them don't pan out well, either for the audience or for the future of the show. In this specific case, since the wrinkle affects the very premise, I'm concerned with how it will play out in the second season. Whatever Aaron Korsh decides to do with it can't be too huge or he risks majorly changing the series, but it can't be too small or it would be unsatisfying to viewers. Either way, it's an ending that is problematic, and that makes me hesitate.
There are times when first impressions are wrong, and I have to admit that I was wrong about Suits; I was ready to send it the way of Fairly Legal. Yet something kept me from turning the channel, and I'm glad that I hung in there. Now that I've let the show unfold at its own pace, I love what I've seen. No, it's not a novel concept, and yes, there's plenty of cute banter, but this is no lightweight summer series. It's got characters with depth and thoughts for an audience to sink its teeth into. Here's to hoping that it continues to build on its strengths in the second season. This former skeptic will be waiting patiently for its return.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.