If last week’s episode of “Suits” was the eye of the storm, this week’s “Sucker Punch” was most certainly the pinnacle of Hurricane Travis [Tanner]. Last night the show returned to the high stakes and high drama of the fraud lawsuit that already claimed it’s first victim in Harvey’s beloved secretary, Donna Paulsen. While the pain of this recent casualty continues to smolder at Pearson Hardman, the firm must come together in a last-ditch effort to save Harvey Specter from losing the suit and being disbarred.
Tanner’s deposition with Harvey was a lost cause from the start. While he questions Harvey on camera, Jessica strikes up settlement talks. Tanner makes it clear that the only thing he’s really interested in is seeing Harvey disbarred, and that he’ll only accept offers that include that stipulation. Jessica obviously refuses to meet such a request, which leaves them at a standstill and therefore pushes the lawsuit to a trial. As the deposition wraps up, Tanner continually provokes Harvey to the point where he finally lunges out of his seat and punches him in the face. The blood dribbling down his chin doesn’t keep the smirk off Tanner’s face when he tells Harvey that he will see him in court.
With the realization that the case will be going to trial, Jessica and Harvey decide that the best way to prepare is to have a mock trial run within Pearson Hardman. It doesn’t take them long to recognize that Louis would be the perfect person to represent Travis Tanner in their in-house trial. Jessica will act as Harvey’s defense attorney, while Mike will work as Louis’ assistant in prepping a case worthy of Tanner himself. Finally, Daniel Hardman will oversee the entire in-house exercise as the judge.
A Pearson Hardman mock trial was a brilliant way for the writers to keep all of the tension and theatrics of a real trial without the consequences of the real deal. Louis was unquestionably the perfect person to take on the role of Travis Tanner, and with that taken care of, the rest just fell into place. Despite the trial holding no grounds outside the walls of Pearson Hardman, all of the interrogations, pressure, and raw emotions of this mock trial are as real as if they were in an actual courtroom. Though the result of the faux trial bears no legal meaning, it’s obvious that the issues being tackled during it mean everything.
There’s a brief but significant scene between Mike and Rachel before the mock trial begins in which they talk about Harvey’s innocence. Mike’s positive that Harvey didn’t do it, but Rachel isn’t so confident. She also asks Mike what will happen to him if Harvey loses. Mike brushes the question off, explaining that right now he’s focused on saving Harvey and has no time to think about what losing the case could mean for him.
Though this exchange between Mike and Rachel is short, it captures so much in such little time. With just a few words, Mike demonstrates his unfailing loyalty to Harvey as well as his blind faith in him. Rachel’s question seems absurd to him, because he knows that Harvey is an honest and moral person at his core. And knowing that has created his drive to save Harvey without a single thought as to what the consequences of losing this case could be for him. Still, Rachel’s doubts illuminate the fact that besides Mike, few people believe that Harvey has any integrity whatsoever. Mike has an epiphany and advises Louis to “play the man” by building his case around an attack on Harvey’s reputation as an honest lawyer.
Harvey tracks down Donna in a thinly veiled attempt to persuade her to play herself in Pearson Hardman’s mock trial. Donna explains that she’s hired an attorney and that she plans on taking the Fifth Amendment for any question she’s asked during the trial. When Harvey begs for her help, Donna refuses and storms off.
Nobody could blame Donna for stonewalling Harvey here—who in their right mind would want to help the people who just fired them? The hardest part about this confrontation was finding out how betrayed Donna felt by Harvey, which makes perfect sense. When Jessica threatened to get rid of Mike, Harvey bent over backwards to keep it from happening. But when Donna was on the chopping block, Harvey not only remained silent but even let Jessica do the dirty work for him. How horrible must Donna have felt when Harvey stood up for a kid he just hired but then looked the other way when his best friend of many years needed him the most? And now Harvey has the gall to talk about how he could lose everything if Donna doesn’t help him out. Harvey’s never been more self-centered than he is in this moment, and sadly he can’t even see it.
As the faux trial commences, it quickly becomes a troublesome culmination of the pent up anger, resentment, fear, and pressure that has been brewing inside Pearson Hardman ever since the lawsuit began. Louis clearly loves the opportunity to rip into Harvey and dredge up the past in order to place his integrity into question. He also uses this opportunity to put Jessica on the spot and berate her about how unfairly he has been treated in comparison to Harvey. Later, Rachel stands in for the absent Donna while Mike bombards her with questions. By the end of the interrogation, Rachel speaks for everyone when she says to Mike, “This is gonna be bad, isn’t it?”
One-by-one the main players at Pearson Hardman are put on the spot, until finally Louis sets his sights on Mike. Unfortunately, this was the only weak point in an otherwise flawless episode of “Suits.” Louis logically comes to the conclusion that Mike would be the best person to put on the stand in a trial concerning the honesty and virtue of Harvey Specter. But in a bizarre turn of events, Louis subjects Mike to a polygraph test that he actually beats. When asked about attending Harvard Law, Mike initially fumbles but then answers firmly and produces an acceptable reading on the polygraph.
The polygraph ordeal felt like such a cop out, especially when the writers of this exceptional show undoubtedly have the skills to write a much more thorough and complex way for Mike to avoid revealing his secret. In this episode, Mike should have been put on the stand where he (and the viewers) would have had to sweat it out as Louis inched closer to the truth. Beating a polygraph test has been proven to be close-to-if-not-impossible, yet Mike nails it by simply composing himself. Plus, after the test Louis pretty much just drops his quest to pry Harvey’s secrets out of Mike. Maybe the writers were up against a time crunch, but in a perfect world (or a deleted scene), it would be great to see the polygraph scene rewritten.
Mike decides to approach Donna himself and initially she gives him the same answer that she gave Harvey. But Mike points out that it isn’t fair for Harvey to take the blame for a mistake that she made. That thought must have hit home, because Donna eventually shows up at the mock trial and takes the stand. At first, Donna’s strategy of pleading the Fifth works well, but it isn’t long until Louis finds a way around it. Eventually, he arrives at the all-important question—does Donna love Harvey? He continues to yell this at Donna, and as she begins to break down, Harvey stands up and demands that Louis stop. Instead of answering, Donna heads for the exit. Harvey goes after her, but the elevator doors slide shut before he has the chance to say anything to her.
Transitioning from one cataclysmic scene to the next, Harvey confronts Louis in the bathroom. He yells that he went too far with Donna and blames his need to win for clouding his judgment. But Louis explains that he was just doing his job by playing Travis Tanner. He hasn’t been savoring the chance to beat Harvey—on the contrary, he’s doing everything he can to save him. Finally, Louis contends that what just happened is all on Harvey, not him.
And this episode’s Emmy goes to… Rick Hoffman! Hoffman has done a phenomenal job with Louis all season long, but “Sucker Punch” was by far his crowing achievement thus far. The range of emotions that he packs into this scene with Harvey is a marvel. It’s obvious how pained Louis is over what he’s just done to Donna, and the degree of distress he shows makes it clear just how deeply he cares for her. But even still, his willingness to wound her demonstrates how passionate he is about helping Harvey win this case and keep his job. There is just so much going on in Louis’ head and his heart in this conversation with Harvey and it was an absolutely riveting performance to watch.
Another scene adds further depth to Louis’ character. Jessica calls Louis to the stand and asks him if he resents Harvey. After a little badgering, Louis admits that he does, but also that he believes Harvey deserves to be senior partner and is an excellent attorney. Furthermore, he does not believe that Harvey is guilty of committing fraud. Louis’ answers reveal that despite all of the anger and animosity between him and Harvey, he still believes that he’s a good lawyer and a good person. It’s incredible to see how far this character has come, even just from the beginning of the second season. He’s certainly become much less vilified, a move that the writers deserve a round of applause for.
With the mock trial pointing towards almost certain disaster, Mike decides to readdress the idea of a settlement. He gathers up boxes upon boxes of files pertaining to Tanner’s old cases, searching for any kind of mistake that could give Pearson Hardmam some leverage in striking a better deal. Daniel Hardman drops by and volunteers to help Mike dig through the paperwork. The overnight research session pays off, because Tanner pays Harvey a visit with an adjusted settlement that doesn’t include him being reported to the bar. But Harvey and Jessica don’t trust whatever dirt Hardman dug up on Tanner, and they both want to go ahead with a trial instead.
In typical nail-biting fashion, the final minutes of the episode come down to a vote by the firm’s partners. Once the votes are tallied, Jessica reveals that it’s a split vote, and that one person refrained from voting—Harvey. After a tension-heavy moment, Harvey votes to settle, and the decision is final. But before anybody can breathe a sigh of relief, Hardman announces that he would like to put something else to a vote. He proposes a vote over whether he or Jessica should be in charge of managing Pearson Hardman.
Like every episode of “Suits,” “Sucker Punch” was jam-packed with drama, pressure, emotion, and grit from start to finish. It’s a small miracle that the writers are able to cram so much material into an hour-long show (which is technical closer to 40 minutes without commercials). Thankfully, the Tanner lawsuit has reached an acceptable conclusion, and now focus will shift back to the Daniel/Jessica power struggle that began at the start of the new season. Though that storyline is beginning to feel rather worn out, it’s only a matter of time before “Suits” introduces a new plot twist that places us all back on the edges of our seats.