Welcome to EW’s Suits season 5 recaps. The always fashionable USA procedural kicked off its fifth season with an interesting episode that picks up where last season’s finale left off, with Donna announcing that she was leaving Harvey as his secretary. “Denial” is mainly concerned with how Harvey is processing Donna’s decision, and it does a good job of humanizing him. Although it’s a fairly heavy hour emotionally, the show finds much levity in its patented Harvey-Mike pop culture banter and other moments.
(Sidebar: Forewarning, there will be little discussion of the particulars of the case of the week because they aren’t particularly as important as the character work and interpersonal drama done in the episode, which is the standard for Suits.)
Donna’s departure hangs over the entire show in the opening few scenes of the premiere. The Pearson Specter Litt offices look darker, and almost everyone is dressed in black like they’re in mourning. As the episode unfolds and we get adjusted to the new status quo, things start to lighten up.
Actually, Harvey’s journey through this episode does feel like he’s moving through most of the five stages of grief. No surprise, Harvey isn’t handling Donna leaving well. It’s so bad that he’s started seeing a therapist because he’s suffering from insomnia and wants a prescription to help. Sitting on her couch with bloodshot eyes and pale skin, Harvey looks awful (shout-out to the make-up team). He’s convinced his problems will go away once Donna returns. But, like most of the women on Suits, she’s not easily fooled and knows he isn’t telling her the entire truth. So, we flash back to six weeks earlier to see what’s been going on.
When Donna hands in her two weeks’ notice, Harvey—confident that she’ll be back and hurt that she even thought about leaving—tells her to not even bother staying to find her replacement and to just clear out her desk now. Donna rightfully points out that this isn’t how adults who care about each other move on, to which Harvey responds, “Two adults who care about each other don’t move on along.”
The next time we see Harvey, he’s washing his face in the bathroom sink. Or, so we think. His therapist, who read Harvey from the moment he walked in, deduced that he was actually washing his mouth out after having vomited because he’s been suffering from panic attacks. Yes, the great Harvey Specter is succumbing to something as mundane and common as panic attacks. They stem from fear that he can’t succeed without Donna by his side.
Looking for a distraction, Harvey agrees to help a man save his trucking company from bankruptcy. But, this still doesn’t soften his mood and he’s colder than usual when Mike tells him about his and Rachel’s engagement. To help him with the transition, Rachel and Mike decide to go easy on him, and Rachel even starts doing Donna’s job.
Unfortunately, there’s a screw-up in the case, which sends Harvey on a rampage. Wanting to save Rachel from being unnecessarily chewed out, Mike takes off the kid gloves and tells Harvey that he needs to swallow his pride and ask Donna for help. Which he does, but Donna refuses because she knows that it’s a slippery slope. First she’s helping him on tiny things, but eventually she’ll right back outside his office. Donna is trying to make it clear that this—her and Louis—is the new normal.
His conversation with Donna leads to another vomit-inducing panic attack, which convinces him that he needs to get help. And, that was the first night he visited his therapist claiming to have problem sleeping in order to procure anti-anxiety medicine.
Realizing how much he’s suffering, Jessica pays Harvey a visit and offers to undo Donna’s move. But, Harvey declines because he’s still convinced that she’ll come back. Some of the strongest Suits scenes are the ones between Donna and Harvey because the characters play so well off of each other.
Back in the present, his therapist, noting that Jessica sounds like a “hell of a woman,” says that she won’t write Harvey another prescription for medicine. However, she will give him a sample packet with enough for the week to insure that he’ll come back. The pills will only do so much. The key to overcoming the anxiety attacks is to accept that Donna’s leaving.
NEXT: Donna and Louis’ first six weeks
At first, Louis resisted Donna becoming his new secretary because he was scared that her final two weeks with Harvey would convince her to change her mind. It’s classic Louis insecurity and paranoia, but it’s understandable because of what happened when Mike agreed to join Team Litt: He immediately changed his mind and returned to Harvey, forcing Louis to waste a perfectly good mocha fudge cake.
What’s nice about this episode, and about the show as it has grown, is that it has gotten better at taking Louis seriously. It still manages to find the humor in some of his eccentric behavior. But, unlike the first season or two, it doesn’t feel like it’s making fun of him.
However, Louis eventually acquiesces when Donna tells him that she can start immediately. So, they’re off to the races. But, their new partnership hits a speed bump when Louis goes to collect something from Donna’s old printer by Harvey’s office. In an emotionally manipulative move, Harvey hands Louis his and Donna’s sacred can opener and commands Louis to give it back to her. Paranoia slowly starts to fill Louis, but it doesn’t reach its boiling point until he finds a list of secretary replacements Donna originally made for him, but saved for Harvey. Clearly, he thinks, she’s getting ready to leave and is worried he and Donna will never have what she and Harvey had—which is true.
To protect his own feelings, Louis doubles down on being awful to Donna and assigns her a ton of work that would force her to miss a night out at the theater. Having found the can opener on top of the list, she figures out what’s got Louis so grumpy and confronts him because she doesn’t want to work with someone else who prefers to lash out over talking about their feelings. Louis notes that the talking thing needs to go both ways and asks Donna what the can opener was for. Because it’s something that’s still important to her, all she’ll say is that it was a ritual she and Harvey used to do before trial. Enthusiastically, Louis declares that they need to come up with their own ritual, but Donna tells him they need to wait until they win their first case together. Flash-forward a few weeks later to the present where Louis and Donna win their first case. To celebrate and establish a ritual, Donna purchases a mocha fudge cake that’s exactly like the one Louis bought Mike.
Meanwhile, Harvey and Mike were forced to pay their client a visit and confess that in order to keep his business and get that lucrative contract, he’ll have to give up his name. In a rare moment of humility and compassion, Harvey accepts the blame for Rachel’s minor screw-up and says that he couldn’t save this guy’s entire company. Harvey tells the client that change is coming whether or not they like it. Taking this lesson to heart, Harvey decides to ask Donna for the list of secretary replacements, but when he gets there, he finds Donna and Louis indulging their sugary ritual. Feeling another panic attack coming, Harvey runs to the bathroom. But once inside the stall, he starts to calm down and flushes all of the pills down the toilet because he thinks he’ll be okay without them.
The episode did a really good job of convincing us how hard Donna quitting was on Harvey, but having him overcome his panic attacks by the end of the episode feels rushed and not completely earned. Hopefully, we revisit them a bit next week because I don’t feel completely satisfied by the ending of the episode.
- The episode ends with Rachel and Mike receiving engagement gifts from Donna and Harvey, respectively. Donna gives Rachel two gifts, but we don’t find out what they are. Harvey takes Mike out to a Nets game with floorside seats. There’s banter about sitting next to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, because natch.
- There’s a hilarious exchange midway through the episode where Harvey and Mike have a Silence of The Lambs quote off with one of their client’s creditors.
- I hope this isn’t the last time we see Harvey in therapy. It was fun and reminded me of the House episode “Baggage.”
- Rachel skipped a law school exam to help out Harvey. Who gets the sense that this will come back to bite her later on?
- Also, Jessica mentioned an ambitious partner named Jack Zoloft today. Who thinks we’ll also meet him at some point this season?