Mike Ross' Biggest Crime Isn't Fraudulent Practice of Law - It's White Privilege
It's the show's biggest unresolved point of tension.
Spoiling slight but easily predictable elements of the show was necessary to making this piece. If you’ve missed Meghan Markle becoming British Royalty, too bad.
I caught a cold over the weekend and thought, what better time to finish up a show I’ve been keeping on hold for quite some time. My eyes turned naturally to ‘Suits’.
Something I find quite interesting with this show, is that I started it midway through last year, but I only watch it in bursts sandwiched between regular-sized slices of current network television programming. It manages to grab me, but only in a way that lasts two to three episodes at a time, then I drop it, and come back to it weeks or even several months later. Well this time around, I was able to knock the fifth season in three days and I have a lot of thoughts pertaining to the format of the series, and most intriguingly, a conclusion I think the showrunner Aaron Korsh meant for every fan of the show to eventually reach.
What is the difference between a fake lawyer and an actual lawyer?
The series takes its liberties in trying to answer that question, and throughout the runtime of the show, it explores what the intersection of a job at a top-tier legal firm in the middle of Manhattan, and the bummy livelihood of past a serial weed user has to offer. While the show has never struck me as particularly New York-y–it encompasses the tribulations of professional life in such a busy city to an almost perfect degree.
I think for many fans of the series such as myself, we were absolutely wowed by what the creators of the show had going on at the very beginning. Twelve episodes of pure masterful storytelling, coupled with great character moments, the perfect introduction to the dynamics at the firm–who would become important later on in the show, and it made us the acquaintance of adversaries and key players in the Suits lore that you’d never be able to quite make out as you’re just starting to watch, but will fully understand why as their threat is introduced, episodes, and even seasons later on.
The key figure in making all of this come together harmoniously is “Mike Ross”. This character has been the highlight of the show ever since the beginning, and in perhaps the most inevitable spoiler of all-time, would come to leave the show along with Meghan Markle who has since become British Royalty and is therefore, not reprising her duties as performer–not on this show, and not on any other show. But all real life circumstance aside, Patrick J Adams did a magnificent job getting across the story beats that were required to communicate the writers’ intent without blunder.
I don’t think that Mike Ross was intended to be the “good guy” of the show. Not at all. I think there may have been reverberations of that in early envisioning of later seasons, but all of that would have been shelved to what I think is a much better, more accurate portrayal of legal struggle within the confines and limitations that were imposed upon the character–mainly, that he’s a fraud.
Yes. You heard me correctly. Since the very first minute, Mike Ross steps foot into an interview to get a job at Pearson Hardman, you’re made aware the boy wonder has conned his way, lawyering himself into a position he had no legal right to attain. He has not gone to law school, nor has he attended Harvard — where the firm exclusively hires from — to warrant a position at the firm–this is where things start to get juicy.
What the show is getting at from the very jump, is that Mike Ross, held a position that could have gone to anyone else, and avoided the firm the danger of reckoning with the inevitable outcome of such a hiring. Not only did Harvey Specter (Mike’s handler) gambled his job, and his freedom on Mike, but he also bet his firm’s validity, and integrity on it too, as we’ve come to find out five seasons later on when the secret eventually slips and it all comes crashing down. But we won’t get into that right away, I’d like to also talk about something else–perhaps the whole meat of this entry.
Is Mike Ross, any more a culprit of his own crime, being a lawyer without having gone to Harvard, than everyone else playing fake pretend lawyers on television?
I’d set my eyes on covering this show but didn’t knew what to say that hasn’t already been said by many–is Gabriel Macht, playing fake pretend Harvey Specter on television, any more frivolous than Mike Ross taking up law within the lore of the show, thanks to his photographic memory and no informal introduction to the practice of law? You never see Harvey Specter’s trials in court, you’re just supposed to believe he’s good at what he does, at the service of public record testifying as such. But we never really see it happen.
It is morbidly curious how the show tries to juggle its obligation as a fourth-wall dismissing piece of media, while tackling the very issue that its very parameters are set to outright prove wrong.
Everyone in the audience is watching this show, wholly convinced that Harvey Specter, the guy who hired Mike Ross in the first place, is a much better lawyer. But all the base information the show provides in service of that reality is mere inference.
There isn’t a shred of evidence that Harvey Specter is that much better than Mike Ross in the court of law. Aside from his title, his office, and his dollar figure.
An important thing to remember is, that TV shows, by nature of their making, aren’t shying away from their origin as a production that ultimately relies on an intimate relationship between the audience, and what happens on-screen. The sets are elaborate, the budget that goes into these things with the tax credits shaved off is still insane, but the integral heart of the question the show is fatally asking, is that we’re supposed to side with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and not Mike Ross–or vice-versa. The truth of the matter is, Mike Ross is no more or less competent than the ones fake pretending he’s going to jail over charges of his impotency, if only for the fact that within the universe of the show, we’ve been conditioned to believe the boy has a photographic memory in the most stereotypical of fashions. So what does a degree mean in his case other than wasting three years of his life at Harvard after having failed the character and fitness portion of the bar for the fact he took it for other people?
There’s an internal script in a real lawyer’s mind, and it isn’t that much different than any script handed to the actors in place for them to enact–only with the real possibility they have to redo it in a more badass way. You’d have to believe there’s evidence of someone’s potency with the law in real life to be able to trust them with any real degree of legal proficiency, but how has that proven to be reliable in the past to just about anyone who’s embarked on a legal dilemma?
Would it be better to have it? Sure. Is it primordial to have it? Absolutely, yes. But that speaks more to our very real inability in coming up with a viable solution to avoid easily gamified accreditation systems than our absolute necessity to stamp on someone the prestige of having accomplished a certain level of education thanks to a remote sense of convenience, not that which of competency.
That degree of bureaucracy, and professional courtesy ‘Suits’ terminally tries to poke a hole in. In that as much law is rooted in a lot of taken-to-be-true beliefs, it fails to show for what its most fundamental of tenants is founded upon–tangibility of information, rather than the formal presentation of such information.
Whether it’s intentional or not, I think that highlights a collateral weakness in the justice system, whether examined through the lens prior mentioned or not. There’s a growing sense that judges, prosecutors, attorneys, the jury and every acting legal entity in determination of a case’s outcome are ultimately motivated by which that goes in complete polar opposite to the message the law is trying to convey–delivering justice. But as everyone comes to discover, either by examining true-to-life fiction or just following legal drama of which there is plenty in real life–you clearly come to the conclusion that most of it falls back on how the facts of the cases are presented, in defiance of what those facts actually state.
I think the whole show is a very good examination of audience expectation and story meta-commentary interwoven into the DNA of the text, and the characters subsequently all alike. We’re supposed to root for Mike for he has been robbed of parents at a very young age, we’re pushed to empathize with him because all he was good for is delivering mail and smoking weed in his dirt-rotten, bill-showered, cockroach-filled Brooklyn apartment his friend Trevor was paying for by illegally selling dope. But the fact of the matter is, despite all, Mike is still a privileged lil’ white kid who thinks he’s owed everything in life because of something people further down the social ladder have faced far worse than.
The creative minds behind the show will try to fight it all they want, but it’s true. This show, for all its wit, and wonderfully written dialogue, amazing punchlines and comebacks, is the public aired out grievances of rich people.
Louis Litt was made fun of by people when he was little, was bullied and only befriended when it sought to serve a more intimate relationship with his sister Esther, but guess what? He’s swabbing his tears with wipes that cost more than my everyday clothes combined. Harvey Specter was having panic attacks because way back when, he told his father his mom was cheating on him — overlooking the outdated optics on cheating for a second — and that caused them to split, sending his father into an alcohol consumption frenzy — triggered by his secretary, the jack-of-all-trades Donna Paulsen to leave him for his closest competitor at the firm — the aforementioned Louis. Jessica Pearson, the head honcho of the entire firm, throws an entire orb of expensive belongings, smashing it on the wall, at the risk of losing Managing Partner privileges over a vote. What? Is that a rich person getting less rich? Throw the towel, the tears are coming down!
The show is filled with moments where we’re supposed to shed tears for those who literally and figuratively, make at least three zeros than most of us do, for the most vapid and petty shit. It’s interesting, and it’s fun to watch, but nonetheless, I’m left to wonder, whether the show was making a bank on doing that in the first place–realizing it had a strength in mustering an energy out of the audience it knew it never had in the very first place.
Now don’t get me wrong. I very much enjoy this ordeal happening before my eyes on the television screen. It’s full of delight, and downright Emmy-caliber performances, ranging from the esteemed Gina Torres, all the way to notable cameos like Neal McDonough, Tricia Helfer, DB Woodside, Rachael Harris, Amy Acker, and a solid crew of main lead actors who never cease to amaze.
I’d like to nonetheless remind any fan, or yet-to-be-fan of the show that the propos treated within the context of the text, is not only commentary on what happens inside, and between the characters, but what our real world comprises of too. The casual mentions of real-life fixtures like Google, or even popular directors like Martin Scorsese, iconic Jazz musicians, quotes from pop culture staples like Game of Thrones, classic franchises like Lethal Weapon, all-time greatest flicks such as Shawshank Redemption… Those are not done in vain. They’re a reminder that the show is very much grounded in reality. There are no mythical flying creatures roaming the sky, there are no vigilantes wearing ridiculous Halloween costumes trying to get thugs’ attention, there are no vampires, werewolves, and hunters tangled up in a web of sexual fluids and blood–these are real people embarking on real journeys, resulting in real-life consequences. And no matter how hard the show tries to distance its fictional roots from its impact as cultural produce adored by many, it’ll never be able to assume its lack of responsibility in engaging a healthy conversation about the effects of socioeconomic privilege in modern society.
Mike Ross being an overachiever as he is, and earning that spot at a legal firm for five years without suspicion of being a fraud is the most perfect portrayal of white privilege I had ever seen in years. Not because it tries to stipulate being such from the beginning, but because it depicts a very accurate picture of how people not meant to be in positions of social and economic leisure, are able to occupy them anyway at the detriment of others more qualified.
Can Mike atone for his sins? Absolutely he can. But not until he doesn’t feel entitled to be lift out of the piranha’s reach. As I’m nearing the end of season five, I’m quickly realizing that a multi-billion business is risking their neck on the line to save one pasty white, straight, male employee, and if that isn’t the biggest indictment of the current American sociopolitical climate, I don’t know what is.
There’s probably a whole lot more I can say about this show that others have already uttered at greater length, but that said, I hope you give the show a shot. It’s a lot of fun, and what lies beneath the veil of great suffering, struggle, and strife, is one of the most entertaining dramas of modern television history. Dare I say, far more gripping than any Game of Thrones episode managed to be.