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Harvey Specter continues to be pulled between loyalty and his own conscience in the upcoming season of "Suits." (Image via USA Network)

On July 17, the ninth and final season of “Suits” premiered. The show focuses on a fictional New York law firm and the exploits of senior partner Harvey Specter and his associate, Mike Ross. At the end of Season 7, Mike left the firm, leaving Harvey one of the named partners of the firm and without his closest associate and best friend. Season 9 promises to bring Mike back for the final episodes, but after two seasons away, will the duo still have what it takes to bring “Suits” to a satisfying end?

The chemistry between Harvey and Mike was strong enough to form the premise of “Suits” for the first seven seasons. Their relationship crafted the rest of the show around itself as the two faced questions of loyalty and morality in relation to American law, and the resulting story grew strong enough to keep going once that premise ran its course.

The pilot takes off with newly-promoted senior partner Harvey Specter looking to take on an associate among Harvard law graduates. Through a series of mishaps, high school dropout Mike Ross gets an interview, and his charm and impeccable knowledge of law get him the position despite his lack of qualifications. The two must hide Mike’s lack of education from the rest of the firm and everyone else, as hiring someone without a license is against the law.

This initial picture of Harvey is not one interested in morality, loyalty or even the law itself, and he shows more interest in doing things just because he can than for any other reason. In Mike’s case, the decision to break the law stems from his sense of both morality and loyalty. His grandmother, whom he supports, needs to be transferred to a full-time nursing facility, and without making money fast, he’d be unable to pay for her care.

Though Mike is the one practicing law without a license, the more he and Harvey work together, the more Mike functions as Harvey’s conscience. During Mike’s time with the firm, he uses his newfound power to help the vulnerable, taking pro bono cases whenever he can and trying to help the most people possible. Mike’s morality functions primarily on empathy, a trait that Harvey doesn’t understand, but learns by watching Mike and being dragged along on each new crusade.

This dynamic fills the story for the first seven seasons. But, by the end of Season 7, Mike has come to the realization that the firm just can’t help others the way he wants it to. As Harvey has risen in clout and become named partner, his ability to think of others rather than the firm has receded, as the firm is his responsibility now and he has to put it first. Mike pushes back throughout the season even as his leash is shortened. In the end, he has to make a choice between loyalty to Harvey and his own sense of morality. He chooses morality.

It’s at that point that the show takes a drastic twist. Mike leaves the firm to start his own nonprofit in Seattle, and “Suits” loses half of the iconic duo that drove the whole story from the beginning. Season 8 and now the beginning of Season 9 both deal with this transition.

In the first few episodes of Season 8, the focus lands on Harvey’s adjustment to living without his partner. He makes decisions uncharacteristic of him but characteristic of Mike, even while claiming he’s unaffected by the loss. He pushes against the other leaders of the firm in the same way Mike used to, fighting for the morality of each case more than how they can help the reputation of the firm.

Of course, in acting the same way Mike did, Harvey comes to the same choice Mike had to make — whether to side with morality or with loyalty to the firm. Where Mike chose morality and left, Harvey chooses loyalty and begins to give in. Mike was always Harvey’s protege, but where Mike proves himself strong enough to stand by his own rules rather than succumb to the rules of others, Harvey loses his sense of morality to his sense of loyalty.

Throughout the rest of the season, Harvey continues to act with more empathy than he ever did in early seasons, but without Mike to push him toward his best self, he repeatedly falters, regressing a bit more each time.

All of this comes to a head in the currently airing Season 9 that began in July. The season promises to finish “Suits” out with the return of Mike for one last battle. Given all that’s happened and the different choices each character has made, will Mike and Harvey have that same chemistry that they did for the first seven seasons? Or will the pair find that they’ve diverged so far that the reunion will lose the spark that served as the show’s original premise?

The intersection between morality and the law, as well as between morality and loyalty, and how all three interact with each other forms a major theme of “Suits.” Of course, Harvey begins by eschewing all three in an attempt to prove himself invincible, whereas Mike breaks the law to satisfy both his loyalty and morality.

Harvey and Mike only make up one of the many complex relationships on “Suits.” The cast features many others, all of whom face these same dilemmas in their own ways, but of great interest to many fans is the relationship between Harvey and his secretary-turned-COO, Donna. Donna is with Harvey before Mike ever enters the picture and stays long after he’s left — in fact, in the transition between Season 7 and Season 8, in the wake of Mike’s leaving, Donna steps in to fill a lot of that space in the show.

Like Mike, Donna fulfills a role in Harvey’s life — where Mike is Harvey’s conscience, Donna is his reality check. When Mike leaves, it’s Donna who swoops in to tell Harvey that he can’t make erratic decisions out of grief and hope to keep control of the firm. In the end, she forces Harvey to choose between his conscience and the firm, and sways the decision toward the latter.

To Harvey, the firm is not just a company. It’s his connection to his friends, and more importantly, to Donna. Numerous times, Harvey has stretched the law (and even occasionally broken it) to protect Donna, and his loyalty to her is a truth the show never transgresses.

Season 9 promises to highlight Harvey and Donna’s relationship in all-new ways. The end of Season 8 introduced a major twist in the relationship, and Season 9 already shows the fallout of that, both bad and good.

“Suits” examines the intricate relationship between law and morality, and throws in the human aspect of loyalty to interfere with it all. The firm itself becomes a kind of character as everyone struggles to balance loyalty to it with their other priorities.

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