If you’ve been following Suits until now, then you know that a petty criminal with no college education can skip all that law-school nonsense and get hired by a firm on the spot for his photographic memory. Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) spent season one adjusting to the amorality of corporate law while trying to maintain the integrity instilled in him by his grandmother and parental guardian. Yet in a way, none of it mattered; he was inherently invaluable to the firm because of his brain. Now that founding partner Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) has found him out in season two as a criminally under-educated fraud, little has changed. Of course, she goes through the motions of trying to have him fired, but we all know that when Mike’s covertly caring boss, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), puts his foot down, Mike’s job is safe and sound.
Whether you view Mike’s special treatment as the epitome of meritocratic justice or some kind of perverse joke on those with normal IQs probably depends on whether or not you think of yourself as exceptionally smart. I, for one, will admit that it took me a good four episodes before I figured out the show’s title pun. But before jumping to conclusions, one should recognize that Mike doesn’t consider himself particularly bright; as Jessica puts it before revealing her own photographic memory, he just “thinks of everybody else as idiots.” Americans are happy to watch shows about people who are richer and more famous than they are, but do we really want to watch a show about people who are smarter than us? Showrunner Aaron Korsh adheres to the Hollywood bromide that a character must be “good at his job” in order to be likable, but he takes it to an almost daring extreme; his whip-smart workforce is so competent as to be downright impenetrable. There’s something thrilling about a TV procedural elevated to the level of corporate costume drama, in which formalities such as “we are not settling” are uttered with the chill of a sublimated death wish. Suits is generally easy to admire but hard to love, and the writers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yet the show isn’t always as smart as it thinks it is. Much like its intellectually brilliant but absent-minded protagonist, for example, Suits seems to file away storylines only to move on and forget where they were. From one episode to the next, the show jumps from being centered around Mike’s fight to keep his job, to gorgeous paralegal love interest Rachel Zane’s (Meghan Markle) attempt to finally pass the bar exam, to junior partner Louis’s (Rick Hoffman) malcontented pleas for recognition, to the decades-old oversight by quirky secretary Donna (Sarah Rafferty) that might now unravel the firm. The unwillingness to follow a single thread through more than one episode places an awkward emphasis on the rote legal procedurals at the expense of the long-form narratives, all of which inspire interest but fail to gather momentum.
Additionally, the writers don’t always manage to channel the full spectrum of human emotion into their high-minded setting. Mike’s secret has the potential to destroy his career, but there’s little attention paid to anything in his backstory that might be truly embarrassing, weak, or vulnerable. His passion for the law supposedly stems from his desire to never again feel “helpless” after his parents died in a car crash, but the exposition feels manipulative and simplistic. Rachel is cut from a similar corporate cloth, and Mike sums her up succinctly while helping her complete an online dating profile: Her parents are rich, but she still feels incredible pressure to make it on her own. It’s nothing we didn’t already learn in season one, and it feels pretty banal considering our innermost secrets aren’t usually career-related.
Luckily, the cast manages to evoke a more diverse range of desires than the single-mindedness of the scripts would seem to allow. Aaron Sorkin’s recent claim that actors “can’t fake intelligence” rings true here, and the cast has an alertness that can only be lived. Sarah Rafferty discerns the status of everyone in a room even in the midst of rapid renegotiations, Torres codes every intake of breath with anxiety and control, and Hoffman knows that envy is best played with a smirk. In fact, there’s hardly a weak link in the chain. Suits seems perfectly tailored to make its characters all look good, which is simultaneously its most attractive asset and its most discomfiting drawback.