After last week’s morally uncomfortable revelations, it’s back to business at Pearson Darby. With the events of the last few episodes officially getting messy for everyone involved, Suits spins an episode that plays many different characters off each other and lets us enjoyably see what happens.
Neither Harvey nor Louis are thrilled to find out the attempted takeover of Hessington Oil is coming to a head, with a vote for control of the company scheduled in 48 hours. They both hate the idea but, as usual, are coming at it from different perspectives. Louis and his new minion Katrina want Ava Hessington to make a public statement to bolster her credibility, and even as Harvey and Mike disagree, Louis reveals ava is already on her way to a press interview. Dammit, Louis.
The solution to this sudden problem? Mike gets on the phone, fakes an accent, and pretends to be Ava’s personal assistant, while Harvey confronts Ava. “I don’t particularly appreciate being muzzled,” she complains, while Harvey makes his ‘Seriously? Do you know how frustrating you are?’ face, as perfectly illustrated at the top of this article. Just before she storms out, she reminds him that her problems are his problems. If you’re scoring at home, Harvey could probably use a large bottle of aspirin about now.
Meanwhile, Rachel calls Donna out for looking excellent (when does she not, really?) just before Stephen Huntley (recurring guest star Max Beesley) interrupts their break room conversation. This is, of course, so Donna and Rachel can talk about Stephen. Rachel thinks he’s into her and Donna promptly corrects her that she is the intended target, revealing that Stephen asked her out the week before. “I don’t mix business with pleasure,” she protests, but Rachel tries to persuade her that it wouldn’t be a party foul since Stephen is based out of London and only in New York temporarily.
Louis finds out that Harvey and Mike blew up Ava’s interview and angrily confronts Harvey, pointing out that while Ava is Harvey’s client, Hessington Oil is his client. Harvey thinks those are the same thing, but Jessica interjects and overrules him, saying that Ava needs to step down. Harvey retorts by saying that it’s not her call to make, because Darby assigned him to the case and it’s Darby who has a controlling interest in the firm. Jessica is quietly furious, and Mike isn’t happy either when Harvey assigns him to keep an eye on Katrina so there aren’t any more surprises. We’re reminded that if Ava loses her company, Harvey will likely lose Darby’s support to become managing partner of the firm. On that note, Louis tries to align himself with Jessica, and when she refuses his help, he also takes a shot at her authority. Ouch.
While Donna and Stephen continue their flirtation in the file room with a ridiculously loaded conversation, and Katrina continues to endear herself to Louis, Mike takes over a conference room with enough paperwork to make up a whole new forest while looking for dirt on Tony, the corporate raider attempting to take over Hessington Oil. He and Katrina stop arguing enough to realize – complete with a reference to The Wire – that their strategy is flawed. And going to Toronto (which is actually where Suits is filmed), Jessica chases down Darby in an attempt to get him to rein in Harvey, but he calmly tells her she’s overstepping her bounds.
Harvey sends Mike with Louis to see Tony, which Louis pretends he doesn’t want to happen even though he kind of does, because he wants to impress Mike and hopefully Jessica. Before Mike goes anywhere, though, he gets to sit in on another argument between Harvey and Ava, who’s been reading her own bad press. It’s a good thing he doesn’t accompany Louis in the end, since Louis’s meeting with Tony doesn’t even materialize. This results in him asking Jessica to be taken off the case, and perhaps still bitter about her earlier meeting with Darby, she refuses but finally gives him her implied permission to do her dirty work.
Donna meets Stephen for their first not-date, with both of them admitting they looked into each other beforehand. Donna abruptly decides they’re not going to the play they’re supposed to see. Let’s all take a moment and applaud the fact that after more than two seasons of being smart, strong, funny and unbelievably gorgeous, Donna Paulsen finally is getting some attention. Now all is right with the world.
Well, almost. Harvey is grilling Ava as he’s attempting to prepare her for her murder trial, and snaps at her that “You and I both know you did this.” He doesn’t buy her “that’s how it works over there” justification, continuing to press her. This prompts her to show a moment of weakness, admitting that she loses sleep over what happened and plans to shut down the entire oil pipeline project. That confession throws Harvey, who reverses course and admits out loud, “She didn’t do it.”
That might not matter, though. Louis is chatting up a Hessington Oil board member, telling him that the firm is recommending Ava’s departure from the company, as long as he recommends that the company retains the firm. Yet when he meets Katrina afterward and informs her that Ava’s fate is as good as sealed, Katrina – who’s been talking to Mike – tells Louis that Ava is innocent. She hands him the same evidence that Mike showed her.
While Harvey decides Ava’s best bet for survival is to convince the Hessington Oil board herself, Louis begins to feel a ton of remorse, even as Jessica tells him Ava’s a lost cause no matter what she does. Louis rails against her, telling her that he now agrees with Harvey’s belief that Ava Hessington is Hessington Oil, but Jessica doesn’t want to hear it.
Rachel correctly deduces that Donna and Stephen are now sleeping together, with Donna admitting that “I may have met my match” and that she didn’t think about Harvey, which seems to surprise her. She decides that she ought to tell her boss/BFF about her new “arrangement,” but Harvey is on the way to Hessington Oil’s board meeting. He’s stopped en route by Ava, who informs him and Mike that she was just voted out of the company. She, of course, blames Harvey and Mike for this, because that’s what she’s prone to doing and because she’s also found out Pearson Darby has been retained as the company’s legal counsel.
Harvey knows this was Jessica’s doing, and when he confronts her about selling Ava out, she stands by her decision-making. “This isn’t personal and it’s not about you,” she tells him, but he doesn’t believe that at all. He tells her that she’s really upset at herself for being played by Darby into giving up a controlling interest in the firm. “You can’t stand being number two,” he retorts, and heads straight for his office to get Darby on the phone.
He also takes a moment to ask Donna where she’s been, and for the first time we see the great Ms. Paulsen flustered. When he’s not happy about her making copies for Stephen, Donna decides it’s not a good time to tell him that she’s sleeping with the other man, too. Oddly uncomfortable, she leaves Harvey to brood. Downstairs, Rachel gets a little jealous about Katrina telling Mike she enjoyed working with him, but at least she can admit that she’s jealous. He responds by finally saying that he loves her, and she says it back. Let’s have another round of applause for finally getting that off the to-do list.
But not everything is hearts and rainbows here, because that wouldn’t be interesting television. Darby accuses Jessica of “insubordination” in another argument in which she insists that “I am in charge on this side of the Atlantic” and he retorts it’s because he allows her to be. She responds by saying he let his feelings for Ava cloud his judgment, informs him how much money she just made, and tells him he should turn off the lights on the way out.
This is usually the point in the season where Suits starts to put together the puzzle. Having laid the pieces out on the table in the preceding episodes, now you can start to grasp how they interlock. Things like the conflict between Jessica and Darby (are we headed toward another war not unlike the one between Jessica and Daniel Hardman?) and how that trickles down throughout the firm into these unofficial teams. Things like Donna finally finding a personal relationship with likely the last person Harvey ever wanted her to go out with, which is obviously going to cause tension in the show’s steadiest alliance – which, lest we forget, got rocked last season after Donna’s firing, so it’s not perfect. One can even infer there might even be a little tension between Mike, Rachel and Katrina, though let’s hope not.
What’s interesting with “Conflict of Interest” is the continuing evolution of the show’s narrative as a whole. The writers obviously know what works – this is one of USA’s top-rated series and, for this writer’s money, the best series on television over the last two-plus seasons – but unlike so many other shows, they don’t then just keep coming back to those things over and over again. They have, each season, kept what gives the show its identity, but moved on to developing different issues, and different relationships. Now we’re seeing Jessica finally in a position where she’s technically under someone else’s control. Now we’re seeing Donna have an important male connection other than the one she shares with Harvey, which in reality should’ve happened a long time ago because she’s too good to be single, but in the show we’ve finally found the right time to mine that concept.
First seasons of a show are about laying the groundwork: establishing your characters, showing an audience who these people are and why they should care. The smart shows, the best shows, then move outside of their proverbial “home territory” in the subsequent years. They don’t just build a workplace, or an apartment building, or whatever their primary setting is. They build an entire universe. Look at a show like FX’s Justified, which is full of rich supporting characters that make Harlan County feel like a real place. That’s what Suits has done and is continuing to do in season three. It’s created something that’s true to life. People grow, people change, they see people come in and out of their lives, and they have to figure out what to do with all of that. Maybe none of these characters know where they’re going right now, but episodes like this prove a great point about the real joy of episodic television as opposed to film or theater: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that really pays off.