When it was first reported late last year that Meghan Markle and Patrick J. Adams would be leaving Suits after its seventh season, it was hard to imagine how the show would go on. Having already lost Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) a season earlier, fans of the long-running USA drama had genuine reason for concern given how pivotal the show’s ensemble has always been to its appeal.
But the introduction of Katherine Heigl as Samantha Wheeler, a ballsy and uncompromising attorney unafraid to tell Harvey Specter to “kiss her ass,” has thrown an intriguing new spanner into the works. Samantha’s presence shakes up the status quo at the newly-renamed Zane Specter Litt, while fan-favorite relationships like Harvey and Donna remain as pivotal as ever.
BAZAAR.com visited the show’s Toronto set last month, and spoke with Gabriel Macht, Sarah Rafferty, and Katherine Heigl about what to expect from the new era, and how it’s felt to continue the show without Adams and Markle. Here are eight things to know about the eighth season.
1) Harvey is missing Mike a lot.
But arguably not as much as Gabriel Macht is missing Patrick J. Adams. “I didn’t really know how overwhelming it would be for me,” Macht admits, “because we really started together. The show started as a two-hander and became an ensemble—which I’m very grateful for—but Patrick and I would bounce ideas off of each other, and Patrick always comes with such integrity and intelligence that he was very much my partner in this journey.” The actors are good friends in real life, and when Macht admitted to him how daunting it felt to do the show without him, “his response was ‘any time you want to talk, I’m a phone call away.’ So that was very touching, and I take solace in the fact that he’s there for me, but it’s definitely been a void.”
2) But Mike remains a strong presence in Harvey’s world.
Early on in the season, there’ll be a storyline that highlights just how deeply Harvey was shaped by his protege. “Mike has always been all about pro bono cases, and Harvey takes a pro bono case,” Macht says, “and Donna points out that this is his way of trying to keep Mike’s spirit alive. I think Harvey understands that, and acknowledges that, and he also understands that he is not Mike. Harvey’s always been aggressive and manipulative, but he also has a heart of gold.”
3) Alex (Dulé Hill) and his prickly friendship with Harvey will help to mitigate the loss of Mike.
“That does fill [the void] a little bit,” Macht said. “But it is a different relationship. Harvey and Alex do have history, but they’re also in a place where Harvey is managing partner and Alex really wants to be name partner, and much as Harvey wants to give it to him, it’s too soon. You will definitely see some of that banter, some of that wit and sparring, with Alex and also with Robert [Zane].”
4) Samantha is filling the void left by Meghan Markle’s Rachel—but not in the way you might expect.
Robert (Wendell Pierce) is more integral to the firm than ever before, but he’s also dealing with the new absence of his daughter. In the season premiere, he brings in Samantha as his right-hand woman, and per Heigl, their relationship is very much that of a surrogate father and daughter. “Robert is the only person that she truly respects enough to, not acquiesce to him, but listen to him,” she explains. “They have a really important, powerful connection that’s based on her love and respect for this man. She believes him to be somebody in her corner, and that matters to her a lot, because she hasn’t had that very much in her life.
Samantha’s relationship with Robert also allows her to let down her guard. “We shot a scene yesterday that I loved, where Sam comes to Robert very much like he’s her father, and she’s being a little petulant in trying to get her way, and it’s so great because it’s the only time you see her being less than in charge,” Heigl adds. While there was never a direct intention for Samantha to replace Rachel in that way, it just worked out. “You do feel the absence of that relationship [between Robert and Rachel], so this is in some way filling a void,“ Heigl says.
5) Harvey and Samantha’s relationship isn’t so much love-hate as straight-up hate.
And the initial tension and distrust between these two won’t ease up much, at least early on. “She’s a real foil for him because she’s a lot like him,” Heigl says. “She has that similar confidence, a similar cockiness, a similar wit, and I think Harvey’s biggest issue with her is whether or not she’s loyal to him and the firm.”
And while many shows would have immediately started to play up sexual tension between the two, that’s not necessarily in the cards here. “I don’t think the first instinct is ‘let’s throw them together romantically.’ I have no idea whether they will or not, but it’s fun to come into it like that’s not what these people are thinking. They’re not distracted by that right now. They’re very focused on what they want, and that might develop into something or it might just develop into a mutual respect—or a mutual loathing!”
6) Samantha may not be what she seems.
While this is arguably true of everybody in Suits to some degree, Macht hinted that Samantha’s account of her own backstory isn’t necessarily to be trusted. “She’s disrupting the status quo, and you don’t quite know if she’s on your side or against you. She becomes a villain in a way, but she might be redeemable, and in many ways she’s like the flip side to Harvey. We’re going to learn that they come from the same place, and that they’re both outsiders—or at least that’s what she claims. I think she says what people want to hear.” Hmmm…
7) Gender politics will play a slightly more prominent role in the show.
Sarah Rafferty revealed that Donna’s recent “lean in” moment, where she finally decided to go after what she wanted at work, and ultimately earned the COO title, came directly out of a tearful conversation she had with showrunner Aaron Korsh after the election of Donald Trump. “I said, ‘we have to do something. We have to take Donna on a journey.’ We needed to consciously make a statement, and shine a light on a woman’s story.”
Even though Korsh generally avoids making any overt statements with the show, Rafferty adds, “I said, ‘I know that you don’t feel you’re making a statement, but we must acknowledge that a statement is being received, whether you’re making it or not.’” Having received countless messages from female fans who have been inspired and empowered by watching Donna, Rafferty knows this matters. And in Season 8, Donna’s dynamic with Samantha allows for even more exploration of women’s working lives. “I’m about to shoot a scene with Kathrine in episode 809 where we, as two formidable women, both acknowledge that we’re having a gendered conversation, and dealing with some gender programming,” Rafferty revealed. “I appreciate that Suits is doing that in Season 8. It’s time.”
8) Rafferty has a very specific dream storyline in mind for Donna.
In last year’s midseason finale, Donna was torn apart on the stand by a lawyer who was hellbent on proving that she got to where she is by sleeping with Harvey. It was a painful sequence that also served as a reminder of why it’ll be so hard for these two to ever make it work: should they ever get together, Donna will be more vulnerable than ever to these types of attacks on her, and she knows it. “I want that to happen, actually,” Rafferty said when asked about this potential future. “That’s a storyline I want to follow in 2018. Everything that she’s worked for, all her superpowers, all of her unique potential, I want all of it to hang in the balance because of sexism, and because of [her relationship with Harvey]. I want a full arc where that threatens everything Donna has built, and Donna ends up potentially saving herself.” We are here for this storyline, for the record.