‘Suits’ Season 8 Shifts Gears With New Office Mergers and Standoffs

USA’s “Suits” is back from a short vacation for an eighth season recovering from the loss of its big stars, Meghan Markle and Patrick J. Adams. Markle of course left the series to become a member of the British royal family, having taken over international TV gazers for a brief moment to wed Prince Harry. Such a change in cast requires a change in plot and the new season opens with a big, new merger which pits hardened lawyers against each other. The first two episodes are all about people in suits trying to get the better of each other.

When the last season ended, the Pearson Specter Litt law firm was not in good shape, and so a merger was proposed with the firm of Robert Zane (Wendell Pierce). As the episode opens Zane and PSL head Harvey (Gabriel Macht) discuss the future in the wedding hall where Mike (Adams) and Rachel (Markle) were married in the previous season finale. Now Harvey’s fellow head honcho Louis (Rick Hoffman) has to work with Zane to put the new house in order. It’s a tough task considering both are bringing in major players, all expecting a piece of the pie. Alex (Dulé Hill) demands to be moved up in the firm. As with most big firm shakeups, some heads will need to roll and so Louis tasks Katrina (Amanda Schull) to make a list of the least productive associates and axe them. Katrina is determined to prove she has what it takes to eventually move up the ranks, but learns that firing people isn’t the most pleasant business. Giving her some cold advice is Donna (Sarah Rafferty), recently promoted at the firm and who is herself becoming a major figure at the firm.

“Suits” begins a new season with a larger than usual challenge when it comes to the plot. The entire premise of the series rested on the character of Mike essentially committing fraud by being a lawyer without credentials. The first seasons of the show were all about whether the guy would get caught or not. With him gone the series needs a new reason for existing, and it appears the showrunners have decided to go the route of traditional legal drama. As the new season opens, the spirit of the show turns into one of office showdowns. Most of the season premiere focuses on who will get fired, although none of the leads are at risk, it’s more about whether Katrina has what it takes. In one of the episode’s best scenes an employee getting the boot gets emotional, telling Katrina she has piles of student debt and bills to pay, but Katrina remains firm. It’s one of those rare moments where “Suits” goes beyond its usual melodrama.

To be sure the series does acknowledge the loss of Mike and Rachel. Zane stares into his daughter’s former office, admitting he’s not so happy that she’s gone. In a wink for the fans, Zane wonders which was worse: Mike’s deception or him taking Rachel away. Harvey himself is processing the loss of Mike and Donna openly wonders if his friend’s departure explains the rejuvenated, cutthroat attitude he’s now displaying. But much of the new season’s early sprint has to do with the kind of legal jargon law students will find more exciting than anything in “The Walking Dead.” Alex reveals to Harvey that in the last season he temporarily pitched Louis a scheme to save the firm during which Alex would temporarily be Managing Partner, Harvey’s actual title. While Harvey insists there are no hard feelings, Alex still demands his name go up as a “name partner.” But the merger will of course complicate this considering Zane is now in on any upcoming major moves. If you’re into suspense generated by well-dressed people trying to get promotions, then “Suits” is right up your alley. The tight editing and snappy dialogue keep it all flowing at an entertaining rhythm.

One of the key features of the new season is that the female characters are most certainly now at the forefront. Katrina is now attempting to swim with the sharks, and more challenges will come her way to prove to the big boys that she’s just as ruthless. Donna is becoming even more of a voice of authority and conscience, especially for Harvey. Without a Mike, this will be a good filler of the void the character leaves behind, especially since Louis is showing signs of being just as manic as ever.

It will be interesting to see just how longtime fans of “Suits” react to such a shift in tone after seven seasons of Mike and Rachel being the center of all the drama and intrigue. But by shifting gears towards office dogfights and legal power plays, “Suits” might still have some juice left.

Suits” season eight premieres July 18 and airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA.