By Mandi Bierly
Updated April 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Shane Mahood/USA Network

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Suits‘ season 3 finale, stop reading now. Creator Aaron Korsh phoned EW to talk about the show-altering twist and what you can expect from season 4, premiering this summer.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This episode ended with Mike informing Harvey that he’s accepting the investment banker job — and he’s really leaving Pearson Specter. How do you hope fans are feeling?

AARON KORSH: Surprised. When the idea of Mike getting a job offer was floated to me, I thought to myself, I don’t want to give Mike a job offer unless he’s gonna take it. We thought, there’s no way he’s gonna take it; let’s not do it. But I just suggested to the writers, “Look, just come up with some ideas for some stories that we could tell if he does take a job offer that would interesting.” We thought they would explore it, they would think there was nothing or not enough, and we would dismiss it. They came up with a lot of good ideas that, in the end (Laughs), we’re ultimately not doing — we’re doing something different. But still, they came up with enough good ideas that assured us all that it was worth doing. We thought, “Okay, let’s have him turn down the job in 315, and everyone will say, ‘Of course he turned down the job, he was always going to turn down the job, you can’t have Suits without Mike and Harvey working at the same firm.'” Then we would say, “You’re wrong. Hopefully you can, and Mike’s leaving the firm.” Emotionally, I would imagine you’re feeling bittersweet about it: Mike is getting out of the pickle that he’s been in since the beginning, but he’s leaving. I can never predict how fans are gonna feel. (Laughs) And they definitely don’t feel uniformly about any one thing.

And this isn’t like he’ll return to Pearson Specter in the season 4 premiere?

That was the other thing I wanted: I wanted him to take it and not undo it in short order. We’re not finished [writing] season 4, but we’re into season 4, and he’s still gone. The thing that the writers came up with that I thought was really excellent was that he’s leaving, but he’s still a client of the firm. It was a way to let him leave the firm but still be in our world. That was the key. You don’t want Mike leaving the show, and you don’t want Mike being on an island somewhere else. We felt like that would bifurcate the show in not the greatest of ways. That’s why we included that last bit where Mike explains that to Harvey. It was to set up the expectation that we’re still gonna see plenty of interaction between Harvey and Mike — it’s just gonna change their dynamic and make it a little bit more fun maybe. Mike was underneath Harvey in the pecking order. Now, externally, you could make the argument that Mike is equal to or above Harvey, but still their personal relationship is not that. So that’s gonna be the tension moving forward. His work as an investment banker is gonna be connected to him as a Pearson Specter client.

So new characters will be introduced in season 4?

We are gonna meet new people in Mike’s office. We built a whole new set for it. It will not be as large as our firm set, but it’s a substantial investment we made. Obviously we’ve got Jonathan Sidwell, the guy who offered him the job, coming back. Mike gets an assistant [played by Melanie Papalia] — it’s his equivalent of Donna, whatever that means. Those are the main people that we meet at Mike’s firm, but he has interactions with a client played by [Family Ties‘] Michael Gross and we’re very excited about that. And then on the Pearson Specter side, DB Woodside is gonna make a strong appearance. He emerges as somewhat of a minion of Eric Woodall, and then we throw a twist in with him. One or two twist, I would say. And then Brendan Hines shows up as sort of a rival to Mike in his quest to win over Michael Gross.

Did you always know the Hessington case would come back to bite Mike and Harvey like this?

No. Louis getting on to Mike was a theme of examining how long Mike could keep up this lie at this firm. Episode 13 was him hitting the glass ceiling. Episode 14, he’s dealing with that and he happens to get a job offer. And then 15, he decides he wants to stay. And then 16, it just emerged. We used whatever stories were in place to further Mike’s narrative. The writers came up with this idea that someone at the U.S. Attorney’s office was gonna come after Harvey somehow, and we just ended up using that to make Mike have this realization that he doesn’t want to stay anymore — he doesn’t want to put the people he cares about in jeopardy.

Separately, I’ve spoken about an alternate ending. It’ll be on the DVD. Originally, the idea of the finale was going to be that Quelling, the lawyer, would come back and come into the office with a gun. Once we started with this Woodall thing, it just seemed like a little bit of a better story. But we were gonna try to do both: Have the whole ordeal with Woodall and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and then come back to the office and Quelling was gonna be there with a gun. In writing the episode, about the week before we were going to shoot it, we realized we just didn’t have any more emotional room. We weren’t sure if we were gonna have actual time in the episode, but we definitely felt like we can’t have a gunman in the office after going through what we went through. We decided not to do it. But we filmed Quelling coming in at the very end, in case we wanted to come back to season 4 to Quelling with the gun. We ended up not using it [there either]. We wanted to instead jump forward in time — Mike has been working as an investment banker — and see what life is like a few months later.

It’s nice to go out on that moment between Mike and Harvey. It’s a lot of change to process, and Harvey being okay with it helps us be okay with it.

When we wrote it, there was a ton of conversation: Should we end with Mike just saying, “I’m leaving”? We were unsure. We thought, “Let’s at least shoot this conversation that we wrote and then decide in the edit bay.” It ended nicely: It was a little bit of a throwback to the pilot. They’re talking about superheroes, like Batman in the pilot. And again, it’s bittersweet — he’s leaving, but they’re still gonna be in each other’s lives.

At what point did you realize you could have Louis representing Harold, which was great?

The writers came up with this idea that Mike and Harold did this thing in 303. Quelling finds out in 315. We thought, “If you’re gonna get out of this, you gotta get out of it with Harold.” And then we remembered the Louis-Harold relationship, and it just became serendipitous.

I loved how after all that stress, Harold’s line to Mike when it was over was simply, “Hey, Mike, how’s it going?”

(Laughs) On set that night, he just killed it. It was a great line.

There was also that great scene between worrying Rachel and Jessica.

Jessica and Rachel have had a lot of confrontational moments in the last six episodes, and we just thought it would be nice to have one where they have a real moment of connection. I’ll say this: When we jump forward in time, Rachel’s juggling working at the firm and being in law school — though given the course we’re taking, I don’t know how much we’re gonna see her in law school in the first part of the season. But as we’ve set up, she’s acting as an attorney within the firm, sort of like a summer associate as opposed to a paralegal. We’re gonna be a little bit surprised to see what her new position is.

This episode was also about Harvey admitting he’s crossed lines and taking responsiblity for it: he gave Mike permission to point the finger at him, if Harold turned on Mike. In the end, Harvey finally told Scottie the truth about Mike — because he doesn’t want to lie to the people he loves — but they broke up. Will we see her again?

We’ve picked a path that does not currently involve Scottie coming back in, though if we see opportunities for her to come back, we’ll use them. I’d be surprised if we go the whole season without seeing her, but given the path that we’re on and the breadth of cast we have, it’s gonna be a challenge to get her in.

Does this open Harvey up to other relationships?

It opens it up, but again, right at the moment, the path that we’re on is not that. What happened last year was we were on the Hessington Oil path: We took it, and when it was done, the last six episodes delved into their personal lives a lot more. We’ll see what the back half [of season 4] leads to, but in the front half, what we kinda have from the firm’s perspective is Harvey and Mike involved in their business dealing that they get involved with, and then there’s the ramifications of the Eric Woodall interaction. He reemerges both through himself and through other people and ends up playing a role in season 4. Those two things are semi-separate and then end up merging together as the season progresses. I don’t know what will happen after that resolution.

Anything else you want to say about season 4?

Just that in a general sense, obviously we’re excited and nervous. (Laughs) It’s somewhat of a new chapter for the people at Suits: How will everyone’s lives change by the fact that Mike took a courageous or smart step in leaving the firm? A lot of things are gonna get shaken up.

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