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Was the 'Suits' finale the best use of the reset button ever?

Season 5 | Episode 16 | “25th Hour” | Aired Mar 2, 2016

It was the end of Suits, it was the beginning of Suits—the USA hit’s season 5 finale slammed the reset button on everything that made the show what it is and raised the bar for dramatic storytelling as a whole.

“25th Hour” began with Mike Ross striking a deal to plead guilty to fraud charges and ended with him walking through the front gates of prison to serve a two-year sentence. It seemed like the kind of plot point that should never have even been considered, because you certainly can’t have a series with one of your two lead characters behind bars, right? Wouldn’t that be, as was pointed out a few times during the episode, not only a life-changer for Mike, but a terrible blow to Pearson Specter Litt and everyone he was trying to protect? And wouldn’t it also terminate what has been the fundamental concept of the show for the last five seasons?

Yet all of those questions are exactly why Suits had to make the move, and why it continues to be one of the boldest written shows on television.

We’ve seen plenty of series find ways to reset themselves in some fashion. There have been numerous time jumps (like Desperate Housewives), time jumps with memory loss (see Alias), major cast overturns (the final season of Chicago Hope), and all sorts of other devices trying to shake up the status quo on programs. But for a show to take away its entire initial premise is a bit like yanking the tablecloth out and hoping the table settings don’t go flying. It’s not just doing something different; it’s also moving away from what got you here in the first place. The Suits finale felt like closing a book that had been finished—but then also knowing that there’s going to be a sequel.

By getting rid of everything, that also enables you to do anything. “25th Hour” leaves us with the opportunity for an entirely new Suits this summer. Mike will spend some time in prison, and then at some point he’ll have to come out, and how will he be different? Will Rachel being without Mike also give her a chance to develop more on her own, like when she became Harvey’s associate? What about how the firm now consists of just the partners and Donna? Will that shock change the way that Jessica does business?

Suits can add new variables to the mix, whether it’s changing the dynamics between the existing characters or bringing in additional recurring faces to fill the void. It can also kiss goodbye the elements of the show that are played out, like the yearly debacle of, “How many people know Mike’s secret?” Now everyone knows. And all those people who constantly seemed to be determined to take over the firm? Well, they don’t work here anymore.

There’s no denying that this is also a terrible risk. Everyone in the writers’ room knows how important this is for the show. But those same writers would probably remind you that this has been in the DNA of the series since the pilot. Once the decision was made for Mike to be a fraud, at some point he had to face the music. Sure, “25th Hour” could have gone to the verdict and found him not guilty, and we’d all live happily ever after. Yet that would stand directly in counterpoint to the essence of Suits.

Suits is as great as it is because it continually pushes the boundaries of scripted television—not in the sense of showing us cleavage or someone’s head being cut off, but in the sense that it makes bold and smart choices. It constantly puts itself in a corner. It doesn’t mind being unlikable. And when its characters do something, they almost always have to answer for it. Jessica is the only main character who hasn’t left Pearson Specter Litt in some fashion yet, and only because she wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. Everyone has burned a bridge with someone over five seasons. No one has clean hands anymore.

Most shows aren’t so willing to go out on that ledge. There might be a shocking moment or two, but not five seasons of them, and not ones that make this much sense. Where other series might be looking just to startle, the leaps Suits takes are ones that always line up with the paths that were taken before—and its commitment to never let itself off the hook.

“25th Hour” was surprising, moving, and a little scary, but it was everything the show needed and wanted it to be. And by going there, Suits reinvented itself in the best way possible—boldly going where it seemingly would never go before, but also staying true to itself all the way to the very last scene. It was a definite ending, but it also held the promise of a new beginning. There’s no going back for Mike Ross now, and we’re all better for it.

Suits season 5 is available on demand, on iTunes, and on Amazon Instant Video.