Wednesday, February 17, 2016

REVIEW: 'Suits' - Mike and Harvey Fight Over Strategy While Anita Moves Forward with Her Case in 'Self Defense'

USA's Suits - Episode 5.14 "Self Defense"

As time runs out before the trial, Mike wants to represent himself while Harvey wants to lead the charge. To decide the issue, Harvey challenges Mike to a winner takes all showdown.

At times, "Self Defense" feels like it's two episodes smashed together. The show obviously has many great ideas about this current story arc. It is threatening to expose and destroy the entire premise of the show. That has this immense pressure and seriousness to it. It allows for the show to bring up all the painful details of the past and how they may complicate the trial that Mike and the firm find themselves a part of. However, six episodes really isn't a whole lot of time. So this run of episodes has somewhat been the show throwing every plot point it can think of into the story. It's a lot to handle. That lack of balance is firmly on display in this episode. With more time, the ideas at play here could have been fleshed out more. But the urgency still remained quite high. And even though the various elements at play here didn't quite go together, they still had some strong emotional material for the characters.

"Self Defense" wants to simultaneously be an episode about Mike and Harvey going head to head in a mock trial to determine who's best to represent Mike in his case as well as the actual start of the trial. With a ton of buildup in this story, it's about time that the trial has actually started. It needed to. Not all of that action could be contained to just the final two episodes of the season. There's too much importance for it to be abbreviated like that. But it's also meaningful to show just how divided and complicated the firm politics really are at the moment. Everyone involved with this case has to look at what's in their best interests while also doing their best to protect the entire firm. A lot is riding on this case. Because of what Harvey and Mike did all those years ago, there may not even be a firm a year from now if Mike is found guilty of fraud.

And yet, a lot of the tension happening at the firm right now largely amounts to Mike and Harvey on opposite ends of an argument and fighting with one another. Their bond is so crucial to the appeal of the show. It's the chemistry that they have together that makes the show so fun and amusing to watch. They have been at odds before. It strangely hasn't been that compelling of a story engine. It's part of the reason why Season 4 was one of the weaker stretches of the show. It's just not fun seeing Mike and Harvey fight like they do in this episode. They recognize themselves in each other. That's the main reason why they refuse to turn on each other during this case. That plus their strong friendship. But it's hard for them to look in the mirror and realize that their friend may be right about the strategy for this case. It's just odd to see them waste so much time battling each other when they should be focusing all of their energy on Anita Gibbs. She's not letting her guard down at all. She's still plotting to take down the firm and is approaching everyone deeply connected to this case. That creates an opening for her to strike. She succeeds too. She gets the date for the trial moved up and she gets into Louis' head. It's all because the firm is a little too divided right now in how they should go about handling this trial.

But the mock trial setup doesn't even provide a ton of interesting story for the episode. It's largely just an excuse for Mike and Harvey to prove to the other as well as the entire firm just how well they can handle themselves with this case. They both put forth efforts that make their case. Harvey is a ruthless attorney who can coldly destroy any witness that may wind up on the stand. Meanwhile, Mike is able to use his extensive knowledge of the law to show just how skilled he really is in a courtroom. Both of them prove their point. The tension between them just isn't all that meaningful or compelling. They then have to put those skills into action later on. But it's a little trivial to have them waste time on this mock trial. It shows just how ugly this fight can get. But that was already apparent during the three previous episodes. This is a highly emotional time for everyone involved. They all have a personal stake in this trial. Mike and Harvey then air all of their dirty laundry in this mock trial in front of the entire firm. That's certainly a strategy. But it doesn't quite lead to an engaging drama.

The show itself doesn't seem all that interested in the mock trial setup either. The hour starts with Anita questioning Trevor on the witness stand. The trial was going to start in this hour. That tease proved it. So it's just a little too weird to then waste the next 20 minutes or so worrying about strategy. The merits of Harvey and Mike's arguments need to be seen in the actual trial. They need to be united in order to handle this outside threat. The entire firm needs to be. They have to be willing to get up onto that stand and commit perjury just so Mike isn't sent to jail and the firm is destroyed. Harvey has the ruthlessness to destroy Trevor with his cross-examination. He calls into question his entire testimony. That's an effective strategy. They are even able to provide a counter witness in Jimmy who is willing to come forward and say that Mike was in his classes at Harvard. It's a lie that Jimmy isn't willing to do early in the hour. But it's still a valuable part of the trial later on. And yet, it's not enough to cast doubt. Anita is a very skilled lawyer. She doesn't even need to take time to build up her cross. She knows exactly which tactic to use immediately once Jimmy takes the stand. She's a much more formidable opponent than anyone at the firm originally thought. That forces Harvey to see things from Mike's perspective. An emotion appeal to the jury may be exactly what they need to turn to their side in this case. They need to see Mike as a lawyer. That would be enough to question the charges that Anita is going after him for.

Of course, that may soon be complicated by Louis later on. Everyone at the firm is going to have to make a tough decision with this case. Do they risk going to jail just in order to protect Mike? Jessica is willing to tell that lie in order to keep her firm and its reputation intact. Everyone closely connected to Mike believes they will do that in order to protect themselves. But when Donna is actually on the stand, the pressure becomes too much for her to handle. She breaks and pleads the fifth. She is sorry about that. It's a good thing she can rely on Rachel for support. But it's much more important when it comes to Louis. Because of his handling of Sheila, Anita knows just how important he is to this case. He is more vulnerable than the other partners at the firm because of the lifestyle he enjoys. He doesn't want anyone to be hurt by Anita. He loves the firm and Sheila too much to put them through the ringer. But when Anita presents him with a deal as well as the truth on when he found out about Mike and used it to finally get name partner, he seriously questions whether it's all worth it. That internal struggle will be crucial in the next episode. It seems unlikely he'll turn on the firm. But he'll be forced into a terrible position by Anita - just like everyone else.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Self Defense" was written by Kyle Long and directed by Patrick J. Adams.
  • Lots of references to the past in this episode. Jimmy and Harold both come forward willing to testify that they went to Harvard with Mike. Benjamin returns to fake a wedding for Mike and Rachel. Harvey brings up Rachel's past with Logan to destroy her on the stand and then uses Mike's relationship with Jenny to show that Trevor has been jealous of him in the past.
  • The latest complication with the evidence against Mike is the fact that the class ranking from the first year he would have gone to Harvard doesn't have him listed at all. Lola apparently didn't do everything to establish this fake life for him.
  • The mock trial is at its most pointless when it comes to Mike and Harvey using fake evidence in order to win their case. Harvey presents an afadavit from everyone in the graduating class of Harvard saying they don't know Mike while Mike presents fake evidence that he and Rachel got married early on in their relationship. It's all a little too ridiculous to work at all.
  • Sheila isn't able to hide out in Argentina for very long. Anita already knows she's there. That's how she gets the trial moved up. That's the pressure Louis is facing right now. He may be charged with witness tampering. It also seems unlikely that Sheila will stay hidden for very long.
  • With Harvey and Mike both agreeing that Mike should represent himself, they just have to find a way to get the judge to allow such a charge for no reason whatsoever. Producing a reason could actually hurt the case too.