By Chancellor Agard
July 11, 2017 at 04:47 PM EDT

Suits is entering uncharted territory in season 7.

For the first time, Mike Ross’ secret (Patrick J. Adams) is no longer driving the show’s action and threatening to destroy everything Jessica (Gina Torres), Harvey (Gabriel Macht), Louis (Rick Hoffman), and everyone else at the firm have built. At the end of last season, Mike was admitted to the bar and agreed to return to Pearson Specter Litt—but only under the condition that he be allowed to work on one pro-bono case for every corporate case he does. Harvey, who plans on taking over as managing partner in the wake of Jessica’s departure, accepted that deal. However, Suits creator Aaron Korsh says we can expect that deal to “bite Harvey in the ass.”

Ahead of the USA legal drama’s seventh season premiere, EW caught up with Korsh to discuss what’s in store for Louis, Rachel (Meghan Markle), and Donna (Sarah Rafferty) this season, as well as what Korsh and the writers have planned for the show’s 100th episode.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Season 7 sounds like it’ll be a slightly different beast because it’s the first time that Mike’s secret isn’t hanging over everyone’s heads. How does the show move forward from that when it returns?
AARON KORSH: The good news is, we’ve had six seasons under our belt of getting to know these people. In season 6, because Mike was in prison, many of the other characters’ drives were no longer about Mike’s secret. I think after six seasons, you’ve established these characters enough on their own outside of Mike’s secret that they have a lot of things going on in their lives we need to pick up after season 6, regardless of Mike being there or not — one of the examples being Jessica. Jessica being gone was half-handled in 6B, but there were so many other things going on that we still have to deal with that in season 7.

How will season 7 continue to deal with her departure?
The back half of season 6 was largely about trying to turn Mike into a legitimate lawyer. That sort of took precedence over Harvey really dealing with the fact that Jessica’s gone. We had some dealing with it with Louis, but now that Mike is back at the firm, and now that it’s Harvey’s firm, Harvey, in his mind, is thinking, “What am I going to do? How do I make my mark now that Jessica’s gone and I’m not distracted by getting Mike into the bar?” It’s almost like a fresh start, and I think he’s starting to think, “Oh my god, I’m the captain of the ship. I need to take this ship over. How am I going to do it?”

How does Harvey fare in this new leadership role?
Harvey is not used to being the leader of the firm; he’s used to being the gunslinger of the firm. In some ways, it’s easier to be the gunslinger because you don’t have to worry about the consequences of your actions as much. But when you are the patriarch of the firm, all of a sudden you can’t behave the way you used to, [even if] your instincts are to behave that way. So I think it’s his instincts are maybe going to get in the way. When I say get in the way, I think it’s a growth process and a learning curve he has to go up to. Anybody would have to do it, whether they were Harvey or anyone else. Jessica likely had to do it. So, I think it’s really about him coming into his own. When we say, “how does he fare,” I think he has his challenges, his rocky parts, but he also has his successes and his good parts. I would say the season is about that.

It’s also about [how] one of his first early decisions was to offer Mike this deal to come back and one for you-one for me…That deal is going to come back to some degree and bite Harvey in the ass. Certainly, it’s going to have ramifications for Harvey within the firm and outside of it. At the same time, he didn’t quite have it inside of him to step up and say, “Louis, this is my firm. I’m taking it,” but he’s going to do that in season 7. That’s going to have its consequences, too. At the same time, Donna obviously has said, “I want more,” and she’s going to answer that question for herself, and that’s going to present challenges for Harvey, probably personally and certainly professionally. We don’t explicitly say this in the episode, but she got money from getting bought out by that business [in last season], and she’s going to use that money to further her career in some form or fashion that we’ll find out early on.

This season also finds Mike working on both pro-bono cases and corporate cases, which are sometimes at odds with one another. Will Mike be able to actually handle doing both?
The contradiction is in the whole philosophy of advocacy law versus corporate law. In one arena, advocacy law, which is the pro-bono cases, you’re often times trying to help people who are being preyed upon or taking advantage of by people who are in power. Often those people in power are clients of corporate law firms, so there is an inherent contradiction in the purpose of the two types of law that he’s agreed to practice. I think it’s a contradiction within Mike, too, because Mike has always had a lot of empathy for people and wanted to help people, but he also, as Harvey pointed out to him in the finale, has a competitive streak in him and likes being smarter than the other side and beating the other side. The higher level the other side is playing at, the more of a challenge it is. So, Mike, his character, is inherently conflicted between wanting to compete at a high level, which is the corporate law firm world, and wanting to help humanity and individuals, which is not the corporate law world. He’s made this agreement and this bargain where he thinks he can do both, and I think this season for him is about coming to terms with [the fact that ] he may or may not be able to do both. As the season progresses, that’s going to play out more and more.

Shane Mahood/USA Network

Louis ended season 6 with a broken heart, so what’s in store for him when the show returns?
Because he broke up with Tara and he’s going through some tough stuff, when we start the season, the people who care about him in his life are worried about him and worried on his behalf. He says he’ll be fine, and he’s not fine. He has to sort of go through a process of dealing with the loss of Tara, and I think it’s going to be evident throughout most of the season. It’s not all that’s going on for him, but it’s a lot of what’s going on for him. Because of that, we’re going to meet some new characters—maybe some we’ve wanted to meet before or heard of before. In the end, I do believe it results in growth for Louis, but growth comes in fits and starts.

Rachel’s finally a lawyer, too, this season. How is she handling that transition from paralegal to newly minted lawyer? What can we expect from her professional life this season?
Rachel’s going to continue her progression. She’s obviously no longer aspiring to be a lawyer, she’s a lawyer. Now, she’s dealing with a different set of issues in the firm, and early on, one of them is dealing with Louis and the way that he’s possibly lashing out at people who don’t deserve it for what’s going on in his life. It’s almost like she’s changing roles from being just a paralegal to someone who’s saying, “Hey, listen, this firm is at risk because of the way Louis is behaving.” It’s almost, in some sense, [like she’s] stepping in a managerial role. She’s doing it. She’s not asking for it. Then, we also have her being asked to do some other higher level stuff. There’s an incident with one of the new associates that she’s asked to handle. From a professional standpoint, her challenges are higher than they used to be.

At the same time, she’s got some personal stuff going on with Mike, because they’re both becoming lawyers and are dedicated to succeeding at this early point in their careers (even though Mike’s been a lawyer for a long time). So, that’s not going to create an issue really, but they have to figure out how much time they’re gonna devote to their personal lives versus their corporate lives. As we move forward, she’s going to step up. The old question of “is she being respected as a lawyer and as an adult?” is going to pop up again, and she’s gonna kind of earn some additional respect from some of our other characters. That’ll lead to something that we’re sort of in the works formulating right now.

Finally, this season will also feature Suits‘ 100th episode. Did you approach this landmark episode like a typical hour of Suits, or did you use it as an opportunity for introspection, to reflect on how far you’ve come?
I would say that introspection and the reflection does not occur on screen… [but rather] amongst us as writers, amongst the cast (we did the ATX festival). As the family of people who make the show Suits, it’s a big accomplishment, it’s emotional, and it marks a passage of time because nothing lasts forever. So, I’d like to think it sort of made us all appreciate how good we have it right now.

On the onscreen side, we always try to make the best episode we can. I don’t care what episode it is, you’re trying to make the best episode you can. So, I didn’t want to approach it totally from the perspective of, “This is 100, it has to be some outstanding thing.” The good news is that episode 8 in any season of ours, which is where the 100 falls this year, is usually [where the season starts] building toward the climax, if not the climax, of the first half of the season. That’s baked in just by nature of where the episode lands. Even though I didn’t want to approach it from that standpoint, I definitely said, “Look, this is 100th episode. Let’s try to do some things that are little bit more special if we can, when we can.” Hopefully, people are going to love it. We really loved writing it. Rick Muirragui wrote it. We always go through a rewrite process afterward, but it was really a lot of fun, and he’s written some of the first few flashbacks. Rick is very good at writing special episodes.

Suits returns Wednesday, July 12 at 9 p.m. on USA Network.