'Suits' Creator Discusses Surprise Exit and Details Scrapped Character Death

Suits - Season 6 - H - 2016
Shane Mahood/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday night's midseason finale of Suits, "P.S.L."]

For anyone wondering whether Pearson, Specter, Litt could be saved in its current iteration on USA's Suits, that question was clearly answered in Wednesday’s midseason finale. After spending most of the current season trying to get her firm back and then defending an innocent death-row inmate, Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) made the moral decision to leave it all behind and head to Chicago for a fresh start with her on-again, off-again flame Jeff Malone (D.B. Woodside).

In real life, actor Gina Torres had asked to leave the series in order to spend more time in L.A. (Which may explain to viewers why Torres booked an ABC pilot this past development season despite Suits' continued run on USA.) Behind the scenes, the producers had been strategizing that exit for two seasons — but it didn’t quite pan out the way they had originally hoped.

To find out more about the deadly storyline that almost was, where Jessica’s exit leaves the firm and what’s next for Harvey (Gabriel Macht) and Louis (Rick Hoffman) without their partner and mentor, THR caught up with creator and showrunner Aaron Korsh.

At what point was the decision made for Jessica Pearson to leave the firm?

Toward the beginning of season five, Gina expressed that due to personal stuff going on in her life she needed to be in L.A. more. We formulated a plan at that point to try and gracefully exit her from the show. She said at the time that if Suits were shot in L.A. she’d be on it forever, and if I had my way she’d be on it forever. But we tried as best we could to require her in Toronto as little as possible during season five and in season six we were just going to ratchet her episodes down. She ended up getting a pilot, and part of the requirements of having her be the lead in that was for us to not have her in first [position] for the back six [episodes] of this season. So her exit ended up being in episode 610. Her pilot ended up not getting picked up, but at that point we had the storyline sort of locked.

When you were crafting Jessica’s exit, did you want to leave the door open for her return or did you consider something more dramatic like killing her off?

It was out there that Gina had taken this pilot, so people knew that if the pilot went, there was a good chance she’d be leaving. In my mind, Jessica was going to make this decision to go off into the sunset with Jeff Malone, and that father Larry Marsden (Colin Glazer), who was a little bit crazy and accosted Rachel and got broken on the stand, was going to bring a gun and go nuts and kill her. I didn’t think we were going to see it; we were going to hear about it. It was going to shatter everyone and we were going to do a two-year time jump afterwards.

The inspiration for that partly came from M*A*S*H*. When Henry Blake — the Colonel (McLean Stevenson) — left that show, they had an emotional goodbye for him that was incredible. And then 10 minutes later, it came out in the OR that the Colonel’s plane was shot down. It was so emotional; you never forgot that. I thought that would be a twist you wouldn’t see coming. You might have seen that Jessica was going to choose to leave, but not her death on top of it. It would have been baked into the show — this guy already went nuts on Rachel and he’d paid off a witness … he was an unstable character.

What changed?

The network didn’t want that to happen and they kind of let me know that. They’ve always been good at being collaborative and supportive and hearing me out on something I wanted to do if I felt very strongly about it. But we were so under the gun with timing that I didn’t really feel like planning two endings. When we got into the writing of the episode, we just decided to let her have a happy ending. And it does absolutely leave the door open for her to come back. The door was still open for her to come back because we do flashbacks; they’re in the DNA of the show. But I don’t feel like we give happy, unfettered endings in Suits that often, so it was sort of unexpected to end episodes eight, nine and now 10 with a happy ending.

Where does this leave the show when it returns for the back half?

We’re picking up right where we usually do, where we left off. Had we gone with that other ending we would have picked up years later; it would have been too devastating not to. But as it is now, all of these characters have a lot going on. Mike has to figure out what he’s going to do. Harvey, Louis and the firm have to figure out what they’re going to do logistically and who’s going to run the place. In addition to that, what are they going to do when the woman who has kept them from sort of killing each other all these years leaves? The last six is about that — to some degree it’s about people figuring out what they’re going to do in this time of change and uncertainty. Then hopefully at the end of it, we land on something that gives us somewhat of a paradigm for moving forward for next season. 

What does Harvey and Louis' relationship look like without Jessica as a buffer, and are you looking for anyone to replace that kind of figurehead?

We aren’t really thinking in terms of casting someone to replace that figurehead at the moment, but there’s no doubt she was a buffer. They’re sort of forced to self-buffer. Metaphorically speaking, it’s like what do you do when you leave your parents’ house? Each of them, over the course of the next few episodes, behaves as you would expect them to behave, but also not as you would expect them to behave. They’re going to have to figure it out, and hopefully they can.

At this point, there are two engaged couples. Is a wedding in store?

There could be, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. I don’t have a preference on who yet. ... We’re writing them one at a time, even though we have a rough road map. There are other things that are more pressing right now, whereas something like a wedding gets figured out more naturally and falls in place. We have to see what we have room for and what we can do. 

In terms of Mike’s prison release, Frank Gallo (Paul Schulze) is technically getting out in five years. Should Mike and Harvey not be worried about his retribution?

Yes, they probably should be. I don’t know that we’re still going to be on the air at that point so let’s just pretend that our guys will live happily ever after. (Laughs.) It’s possible that Frank Gallo will take retribution on them in five years. They did the best they could with what they had. Five years is a long time and you never know what’s going to happen. Someone else might take up Frank’s revenge mindedness. They at least bought themselves peace of mind for the next five years.

Mike declined a return to the firm in the finale. Does that make it harder to write scenes with Mike and Harvey together?

Mike said no, but Harvey told him to take a few days and think about it. When Mike brought it up to Rachel, he didn’t know what he was going to do. Harvey isn’t a guy that takes being said no to lightly or easily. That question has not been dropped. But it’s a struggle for Mike, because when Mike gave that speech to the jury about having a gift and he was wasting it, he meant that stuff. He got out of prison early and he doesn’t want to just go back to corporate law. He wants to try and help people. Unfortunately, he’s a convicted felon. It’s not going to be that easy for him to help people. So that’s his struggle.

Was Harvey and Donna (Sarah Rafferty) holding hands at the end of the episode a hint that their relationship is back on the table, or was that more an act of friendship and solidarity?

It remains to be seen. I try to be super cagey with the Darvey stuff because any answer I give I just get in trouble. And I prefer to let what we do speak for itself. Harvey lost an important figure in his life and I love the way they did that last scene. It was very intimate. We’re not going to completely ignore it going forward, but it remains to be seen what kind of effect it’s going to have on their relationship.

Do you have anything to add?

As much as you’d imagine it would affect Harvey to lose Jessica, it affects me that much to lose Gina Torres. I cannot imagine a better combination of talent and attitude and work ethic and professionalism. There’s no person you would want to work with more — she is such a class act, I can’t express that enough. The Suits family onscreen and off are going to miss her terribly, and we hope to have her back from time to time.

Suits returns for the second half of season six in 2017.

What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @amber_dowling