I have been wanting to write more substantially on the subject of Donna and Harvey for a while now and as we wait for the show’s return later this month, it seemed to be the ideal time to reflect on the complicated, yet fascinating relationship of Donna Paulsen and Harvey Specter. No one can deny that the actors, especially together have strong chemistry. I’ll go as far as to say theirs is some of the best I’ve watched on TV. It’s one of the reasons I was pulled in to this show and the superb work Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht bring to the screen together as these characters, continues to be one of the most fascinating aspects of Suits for me as a viewer and over the years, the question that has continued to be asked by fans is whether Harvey and Donna will ever become more than friends.
Where do we currently stand? After eight and a half seasons, it’s still the same Darvey question. To quote Donna’s much-loved Shakespeare – is it “To be or not to be”? It’s the question that also divides fans of the show.
Before I get in to the nitty gritty, I’ll be honest – I am a big supporter of Darvey. It’s the endgame I am hoping for and I will feel very disappointed were the show to end without them together.
That disclaimer aside, I’m also someone who, despite wanting them together, wants the circumstances in which that happens to be true to their characters and the narrative of their journey (apologies, I hate the word journey, but for once it seems a valid word to use on this occasion).
So, as we await the final six episodes of season 8, I wanted to take the opportunity to dig a little deeper in to the craziness of Darvey! I have no further insight in terms of the content of 8B. I don’t have access to screeners, writing my reviews after the show airs, so this post (as with all my Suits ramblings) is based purely on my personal opinions and speculation.
So…….let’s start at the beginning…………
The Story So Far & Why We’re Still Waiting
We’ve come a long way haven’t we, Darvey fans? Some days it feels like an eternity with very little progress, but looking back, there has been movement in the right direction and all signs still point to the answer to this will they / won’t they being yes. Let’s face it, the signs have always been there. Had they not been, we’d have all focussed on the show’s other couple, Mike and Rachel and saved ourselves the pain!
So, let’s think about what progress was essential in order for Darvey to happen, which does explain the need for a slow burn, well, up to a point anyway. For me, this falls in to two significant story points and I’ll take each one in turn.
1. Harvey Wasn’t Ready
The first key element was the emotional development of Harvey Specter. Let’s face it, he’s the focal point of Suits. Yes, it was about him hiring a fraud and their bromance, but I always felt (and continue to think) that Harvey is at the show’s centre.
When we first met him he was confident professionally, but he was also emotionally closed off to most of the world, hurt and angry about his mother’s betrayals, resulting in him trusting very few people. Not all of that has changed. He’s still not going to trust everyone he meets after five minutes and we won’t be seeing him dancing along the corridors of the firm, without a worry in the world, but he has grown emotionally and he had to in order for Darvey to ever happen.
I remember an interview with Gabriel in which he recalled the creative team having to pull him back from changing Harvey too quickly, due to him having become used to working in film and when I watch Harvey now, I imagine this is who Gabriel was hoping he’d become.
Yes, he already had Donna in his life when season one began and this had no doubt been a key step in shaping him, together with Jessica’s arrival in his life, but as Donna admitted to Jessica early on, having to look out for Mike gave him someone else to care about, reforming the family bonds he’d let go of along the way. It opened him up and the more open to that brotherhood he was, the better a person he became. True, a lot of his “I don’t care about people” attitude early on was a front to some extent, but along the way, the front was seen less and less. Caring, it seemed, didn’t make him weak after all.
Harvey’s need to become more emotionally open was vital in order for him to ever be able to hold down any relationship, especially one with Donna. Look at his attempt to open up in 4.15 (one of the best episodes of this show) – he started off so well, but ended up making things so much more complicated through his inability to process his feelings and his fear of losing someone so important to him.
As this episode and the cracks it caused in Donna and Harvey’s relationship highlighted, Mike’s arrival alone couldn’t solve all of Harvey’s emotional problems. It became clear to viewers, as well as those close to Harvey, that the scars and resentments he had carried through adulthood continued to affect his psyche and the only resolution was one that involved his mother. Healing that rift, or at the very least, letting go of his anger, was essential to the growth of Harvey Specter.
Do I wish they’d addressed this sooner than season 6? Absolutely yes, but at least when they did, it was written in a way that made sense. Harvey was floundering. His longstanding constant support system had shifted due to the loss of Jessica. Without a mother, or close family connections, she had become family and having her looking out for him gave him professional freedom, but also personal security too. She was there when he needed her. It therefore made perfect sense that her departure in 6.10 caused him to lose himself and lash out (poor Louis, always in the line of fire).
However, timing is everything and had he not already become a more emotionally open man through his relationships with Mike and Donna, this could simply have been another one of those angry Harvey phases, after which nothing changed and perhaps things may have got worse.
I suppose I should also take a moment to acknowledge the role of therapy in his development. Harvey seeking therapy in season five was clearly a contributing factor in his progress, as this too opened up his hard shell and arguably without it, he may not have had the self-awareness to understand that Donna was right in saying it was time to deal with his mother. Let’s face it, in earlier seasons, any attempt to bring up his mother were shut down pretty swiftly. What is deeply frustrating, is that instead of building on what was a strong, important storyline in season five, which had been handled very well, the writers felt the best way to bring back his therapist would be as his love interest. I’ll never agree with that choice, but to the Paula Agard of season 5, I say thanks!
So, by the time we saw Harvey hugging his mother in 6.12, I cheered. Take season one Harvey and thanks to the effect of Jessica, Donna and Mike in particular and a dash of therapy, what we saw by the end of season 6 was a man who’d grown up. He was more emotionally aware, less angry and was not as terrified of being seen to care. For me, at this point, he was finally ready to give a real, mature and stable relationship a try.
Yet, although I would have loved Darvey to happen right then and it may be unpopular for me to say, the time still wasn’t right, which brings me to point number two…….
2. Donna Wasn’t Ready
Sure, Harvey may have been finally written in to a place in his life where a romance wouldn’t have seemed out of character, but the truth is, Donna wasn’t ready for a relationship with him at that moment.
When we were first introduced to Donna she stood out, despite her small amount of screen time, due to the talent of Sarah Rafferty. She made the audience want to see more of Donna. It reminded me a lot of the increased role given to another Donna, played by Janel Moloney, in The West Wing and thankfully the Suits creator saw what we all saw.
I still love those early days of Donna and Harvey. They had only known each other a short time and they were more free with their affection. Their (then unknown, but hinted at, to the audience) past didn’t seem to weigh them down as it did later. He’d make a suggestive joke, she’d straighten his hair and clothes and they had fun together as a team. Mike entering their lives was as if a couple was testing the waters with a puppy before starting a family!
Crucially, Donna seemed happy with her place at the firm back then. She was working for the best closer in the city, had a stable job she excelled at and probably the best salary of any legal assistant too. Everyone knew Harvey, so everyone knew Donna and her skills and abilities supporting him from her place outside his office were never in doubt.
Yet, it made sense that this couldn’t go on forever and ironically, I’m again drawn back to a moment in The West Wing where that Donna’s position as an assistant (to a character most fans were hoping she’d end up with) is questioned by a colleague and friend who points out she’s outgrown it and is really only still there because of her boss, not the job. We all love Donna for many reasons and one is her ambition. She wants to be the best at what she does and ultimately, by season 4’s end we all knew she was (I’m overlooking the committing a crime for now).
I’ve also always disliked the cliche story of the boss dating the secretary. It is, for me, outdated and not the message that should be celebrated in the 21st century. Therefore, despite desperately wanting Darvey to happen, Harvey and Donna romantically involved while she continued to sit outside his office and answer his phone did not appeal to me at all and it limited what the writers could do with Donna in the show. Therefore, having her leave to work for Louis was fantastic! It gave them space professionally. With Harvey now in therapy too, the pieces could slowly start to come together. Perhaps the end was in sight……………
Then came Mike’s arrest and the focus, understandably, story-wise moved elsewhere. I get it, I do, despite my annoyance at the time and at least Donna’s awareness of her need to progress in her career was returned to once Mike was out of trouble. Yes, “The Donna” was a bit cheesy (although I wouldn’t say no to its return), but it served a narrative purpose. The itchy feet she’d felt and put on ice, that had only been fuelled by Harvey’s inability back then to express himself emotionally to her, were back and she could see that her current role was no longer enough. I strongly agreed with this narrative choice. Someone as ambitious and driven as Donna would absolutely be looking to spread her wings. Plus, if she wasn’t working for Harvey anymore, well then that was one less obstacle in the way of a romance!
The end of season six left the Darvey question wide open. What was her “more”? Would they face their feelings (don’t forget we’d already seen Harvey’s dream of their blissful morning not too long ago by now)? What was Harvey thinking in that moment of honesty and vulnerability from Donna, especially this new more emotionally open Harvey and not the one from years gone by?
Season seven had the potential to bring the final pieces together; Donna to find a role that gave her the same satisfaction and fulfilment she’d had in earlier years and become an equal to Harvey professionally and Harvey to finally allow himself to love and be loved by the woman he’d even described to his mother as being someone very special to him and not run from it.
And this ladies and gentleman, is where I get frustrated!
The Season 7 Cruelty!
Up to this point in Suits, I’d been able to appreciate the Darvey story arcs and rationalise why the slow burn torture was continuing. I was a hard-core X-Files fan after all, this is not my first time dealing with this nightmare and I could at least see reasons why it made sense that it had taken this long to get these two characters to this point! I won’t linger too much on season seven, mainly as it’ll make me want to throw my notepad across the room, but I couldn’t delve in to the challenge of Darvey without addressing the season where I lost faith (for a while) in the Darvey narrative.
By my own reasoning, Donna still wasn’t ready for a relationship with Harvey when we started this season; she had other aspects of her life to focus on, so opening 7.01 with them in bed would have felt a bit odd story-wise. Yet, as I’ve already said, Harvey, thanks to his new-found family ties, seemed ready to build a relationship, so I was open to him exploring that in the meantime. The problems for me were the timing and the choice of Paula Agard as that someone (no not his someone special, that position is filled remember)!
I still honestly cannot believe 7.01 happened and I shudder at the very memory of those ridiculous lines of dialogue, whereby Harvey recounts all his emotional progress and that Paula was the first person he thought of to share his life with! Come on now. I know the man is a bit slow in the emotional uptake, but that was just insane! All that progress and at the first sign of Donna leaving him, or wanting more in some way still unclear to him and he ran LITERALLY OVERNIGHT to his therapist FOR A DATE?! The horror of it!
Looking back now, I can see what the writers were trying to achieve – have Harvey get serious with someone and watch the effect on Donna and their relationship. My problem (besides the ethical choice of his therapist, former or not, in his bed) was that he was arguably in the right place to start that with anyone. The need for her to be someone he’d already opened up to just seemed lazy to me and the same goal could have been achieved through the introduction of a former flame we’d never met.
Unless of course, it had to be with a character with whom a relationship was destined to fail, due to how ludicrous it was…………Surely there’s only one reason why that would be crucial………But I see what I want to see apparently……
Overlooking the identity of the woman and the fact it happened the very next day after 6.16 and the storyline did make sense for Darvey log term. They both weren’t ready at that time, so why not let Harvey show Donna that he’s now a man who isn’t running from a serious commitment (well perhaps with her, but not with someone else)? The fact Donna gained a new role out from the shadow of his desk by early season 7 also meant that having her finally start to, perhaps unwillingly, acknowledge her feelings for Harvey made sense too.
I could spend hours discussing my dislike of how quickly Donna’s career change was dealt with (which, in my view, diminished the logic and satisfaction of the change) and how I still think there were more suitable and indeed credible roles for her (Head of Personnel, or even working somewhere else), but I’ll move on.
Despite, the narrative veering off of course in 7.01 and 7.02, by the time we reached that kiss at the end of 7.10, it felt like the natural next step. Harvey was actually giving love a serious shot. That’s great, except him being oblivious to the fact he was dating the nearest copy he could find to Donna (in terms of her connection to him, that is).
Donna meanwhile was setting out on a new career path, giving her a renewed sense of purpose. With that ticked off, all there was for her to focus on was what was still missing – love, and seeing Harvey seemingly finding it with Paula was understandably confusing for her, especially when the reappearance of Mark perhaps raised truths about her feelings for Harvey that she’d buried years ago. No, I don’t think she’s been pining for him for over a decade, but I do think there’s been that niggle of hope buried deep down, which every so often has scratched the surface of her heart. After all, she admitted to Rachel that she’d wanted to try all those years ago, so she’d clearly developed feelings for him while at the DA’s office and we didn’t imagine her comment to Louis about losing the love of your life twice in 7.08! Hmmm, that’s Mark and……..I wonder who else?
They’re not young and carefree anymore either and although NOT ideal to kiss someone seeing another woman, Donna’s spur of the moment action made perfect sense for her character in that moment. After all that she’d been thinking about, to then have Mike and Louis mess with her mind too, well, it was inevitable. The question then was would this be it, the moment we’d all been waiting for, or would the writers chicken out?
We sadly all know the answer………
The Darvey Delaying Tactics Really Begin
It’s talked about quite a lot amongst fans that the writers keep finding excuses not to put Donna and Harvey together romantically. I agree that this is true, but my problem with it is that up until recently I thought it could be justified by the narrative, due to the points I’ve mentioned. There was a point, however, when the writers’ reluctance to go down this path seemed frustratingly clear and that point for me was the end of season seven.
Personally, I loved 7.11 – 7.15. This run of 7B contained two of the strongest episodes of the series in general for me (7.11 and 7.13) and the added Darvey factor was a bonus added to already strong episodes. Yet, what makes this period of the show so frustrating for fans hoping for a Darvey ending is that even cynical fans like me, who’ve suffered through such shipping hells before, started to think this was it. The final countdown!
What was in their way?! Harvey was a better man, Donna was now his professional equal in the eyes of the wider world, there was no Mike drama to distract them and the show’s only couple was leaving. Add to that Harvey giving up his relationship for Donna, before even knowing if she’d come back, the reminder of his “someone special” chat with his mother and it all felt right, not just from a potentially biased fan’s perspective, but from a narrative one too! Hell, we even had Scottie pointlessly brought back to effectively hit Harvey over the head with the fact that he’ll never make a relationship work because of his feelings for Donna! We may all “see what we want to see” but there’s no other way to see that scene!
Yet, despite gazing across the aisle at each other, after walking down it arm in arm and dancing cheek to cheek, season seven ended with no real progress. Sure, the arguments that they are just friends are diminishing (who dances that close with their friend?!), but fans still saw nothing significant happen! I admit that I was very disappointed. I felt tricked. I’d moved from my cynical stance to an optimistic one and been stood up! The fact Mike and Rachel’s swan song also didn’t give them the goodbye they deserved was just the bitter icing on the already disappointing cake.
It was the right time for Darvey to be explored, alongside the other changes about to happen at the firm and not having the courage to let that storyline finally flourish will always seem a mistake to me.
…….which brings us to……….
Season 8 so far – Did the Darvey narrative lose its way?
I’m a realist most of the time and having seen the Darvey dodge so clearly at the end of 7B and with season eight, particularly the first half, effectively being a reset for the show, I’d begrudgingly accepted that Donna and Harvey becoming a couple was about as likely in 8A as Louis and Robert Zane hooking up!
I told myself that would be acceptable, provided the narrative path already walked by these characters held. No repeat of the horrors of 7.01 please! Images of the series starting with Harvey in bed with Esther had crossed my mind, but it seemed nuts. The Agard hell had served a purpose. His next relationship had to be with Donna. The end.
I know many dislike 8A and feel there wasn’t enough Darvey content after 7B’s promise. However, when it didn’t happen then, I wasn’t expecting miracles from 8A and I still enjoy watching Suits for multiple characters. An episode isn’t terrible for me just because Donna and Harvey don’t have scenes together. The new dynamics were fun, Samantha was a great addition and we were able to see how Mike’s absence truly affected Harvey, now he has a more well-rounded personality. Harvey caring about the cleaning staff? Season one Harvey would be shocked!
Therefore, for me, 8A started surprisingly well. As for Donna and Harvey? They were working together at times, but also separately and Donna was able to grow in confidence in her new role, while interestingly, Harvey struggled to deal with the new world order and his place. As he seemed to struggle, Donna seemed to thrive, which was an interesting shift to watch. They also seemed to be in a good place again and arguably they were both in the right place for a relationship with each other. At long last. Plus they were both single!
By 8.05, the flirting had even returned. We’d had jokes about pulling pigtails, stealing food, but then Harvey raised the stakes. Friends don’t think of each other when they’re alone like that, Harvey……..Actually friends don’t have kinky sexual histories to think about in the first place! Had I been wrong on the no Darvey development in 8A?! Had I reverted to being too cynical?!
And then came to the next glaring Darvey dodge by the writers…… Harvey’s brother’s marital breakdown.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it as content. Domestic Harvey is a huge draw for me and Gabriel really nails those scenes. The episode even ended with Harvey acknowledging a weakness to Donna, but being okay about it. Hello character development! It was so satisfying to see and was a highlight of 8A in my opinion.
……and here comes the But!
However, what followed for the rest of the season from a Donna and Harvey perspective, for me anyway, was nothing more than a slamming on of the brakes, when the train had barely started to pick up speed.
We went from the flirting and the sort of talk a married couple would have, to…….Harvey being a total douchebag. Yes, I’m talking about the moment when he threw in Donna’s face the she was only in her role because he put her there.
This was where the rush-job on Donna’s ascendency at the firm came back to bite the writers, as I suppose he was right – technically she is only COO because he agreed to it. It wasn’t a natural progression, as it would be from junior associate to partner, or senior partner to managing partner. It wasn’t a role she’d have likely been given elsewhere either, but the fact also remains that Harvey wouldn’t have given the COO role to her had she not asked for it! Had she not demanded more recognition for her contribution to the firm, he’d have never thought to move her from outside his office! That’s what made my blood start to boil at his words. He’s lucky she didn’t slap him and although COO is still the wrong choice in my view, Donna had earned a career step up. Plus, there was nowhere else to really take her character if she stayed where she was and as Sarah Rafferty has said herself, in the world we’re in, we must be championing women in positions of power and value their contributions.
For all of those reasons, I was infuriated by the way the writers now seemed to be writing Harvey. He’d come so far and this comment felt more like season 3 / 4 Harvey than the man he’d seemed to become since then and the whole story strand felt shoe-horned in to find a way to push them back apart. With no real obstacles int he way of Darvey, having him act in a way that, at this point in the narrative, felt so out of character, screamed cowardice to me. Sure, he’s frustrated at all the change and feeling unsure of his place, but disrespecting Donna in that way? That’s not the Harvey we’d seen after 6.13 and it infuriated me!
Now I’m all for angst. I love angst, so I’m not against that at all. Had the writing team chosen to pursue this storyline choice in earnest for the rest of 8A, having Darvey griping at each other, building to fireworks, or setting the scene for an emotional showdown in 8B, I’d have been thrilled! I thought that was what they were doing. We saw a shift from the flirting and innuendo, to Harvey lashing out due to his own struggles to deal with his place in the new firm and Donna carrying anger and resentment as a result, perhaps added to the pain she had already recently suffered when he asked Stu to offer her that job. Sure, he ultimately chose her, but I bet that action still cut deep down. That had to be what they were thinking……..
Yet, what really drove me mad was that this tension seemed to be dropped by the mid-season finale. Donna’s anger wasn’t addressed and we didn’t see much interaction between them after that argument. That makes sense if you’re giving space to let those resentments (and the confused feelings never properly dealt with by these two EVER) build up to something.
Yet, how did 8.10 end? Donna and Harvey arm in arm, off for drinks, while she calls him pretty?! Really?! Had 8.05 been the mid-season closer then sure, but it wasn’t! Since then Darvey had not been in a buddy buddy place at all and that whole last scene felt tacked on as a carrot to Darvey fans. It was totally wrong based on the narrative we’d been watching develop over 8A.
…….which leaves me to the future………
8B – Will they? Won’t they? This needs to be the time to move this storyline forward
I’ve already posted my hopes (and fears) for season 8B in a separate post, but when it comes to Darvey, it’s hard to know what will happen.
We know Donna’s going to start a new relationship with Thomas Kessler. Absurdly, having dodged the two biggest natural points to put Harvey and Donna together so far, this storyline isn’t a strange choice. In fact I’m rather pleased about it.
Am I crazy? Maybe, but although I do think Harvey is emotionally ready for a relationship with Donna (even if he doesn’t realise it yet), having missed the 7.16 boat and after Harvey’s crass, disrespectful comments about her career, he’s now got work to do to make it up to Donna. Say sorry and mean it, Harvey. You are the man who can do that now.
Also, let’s not forget, Donna did make a move. She kissed him! She then went to his office to discuss that moment. He shut it down, made her promise it wouldn’t happen again AND said he didn’t want more! Sure, she said she felt nothing, but anyone would say that to save face in that situation! So, combine that with his latest insult and of course she should be looking elsewhere for love!
If Donna were my best friend and I’d watched her go through all of this over 13 years with a man as emotionally unreliable as Harvey, then of course I’d encourage her to find someone lovely to date! From her perspective, Harvey has made clear he is not a romantic option, so it’s right she takes a chance to find happiness when it presents itself. Not to mention the fact that we’ve never seen her in a proper relationship on screen. All we’ve had is the brief dalliance with Stephen (that she thought was short term, even before his shady side was revealed) and a flashback to better times with Mark (no, I don’t count his “be my mistress” offer as a love interest plot line). Hell, we never even met Mitchell! So, I’m excited for the arrival of Mr Kessler and seeing a new side of Donna’s life outside the office and how that affects her at work too.
Oh and of course, we had the “Harvey’s moving on, what will Donna do?” plot, so I’m hardly surprised that they are now going for a role reversal scenario. It’s predictable, but I’m all for Harvey getting a taste of Donna settling down with another man. Not a criminal lying to her, or a man who doesn’t respect her enough to leave his wife before making a move, but a man who I hope is decent, respectable, successful and who is proud to show the world how special she is. Now THAT’s a real threat to Harvey! That’s someone who should make him sweat!
So, are we heading to another season finale where all the set up will be in place ready for an endgame, as we seemed to be in season seven? If Harvey properly apologises for his mistakes then all he needs to do is make a move. Let her know how you feel, you idiot. Take a risk. The ball’s firmly in your court and if 8B is truly mirroring 7A, then will we see Harvey taking the same action as Donna did in 7.10? Is it time he has to know too? For me, it has to be, if there’s any justice, or indeed any logic to the show’s narrative. If it isn’t, I fear that the writers are at risk of writing these characters in to a corner that will be impossible to write them out of! They risk them seeming so ridiculous that we all give up!
Yet, this is Suits after all. We have Scottie back in 8B, even though I think 7.15 was an ideal ending for her. Is she back to reinforce her last message to him, or is she going to be back running after Harvey? If the show has longer to run and they are looking for more Darvey dodges, then maybe. Do I think 8B and its season finale need to build to Darvey and kick start a new phase of their relationship at long last? YES! OF COURSE! Especially if season nine is to be the last season. In my view, 8B is vital.
Will it happen? All I can say for sure is that, with Suits and Darvey, literally (and scarily for fans), anything could happen. This isn’t made any easier by Aaron Korsh’s continual comments about how he has no plan for their endgame either way. I find that hard to believe. We’re eight seasons in now and the show doesn’t seem likely to run and run, so surely he has some idea of where all of this is heading. Not to mention the fact that, when you step back on really look at the way the show has been written, there are so much that points to them being together. We’ve had direct parallels between them and Mike and Rachel’s relationship, we’ve had practically every other character allude to them being more than friends, we’ve had declarations of love, or to people being the love of their life and we’ve had so much jealousy. But it doesn’t mean……..YES. YES IT DOES!
All we fans can do, is continue to believe that they’ll get there in the end. That has to be the plan, just one no one will ever admit to. It’s the only narrative ending that makes sense after all of this. Just please writers, please give us more than a resolution in the last five minutes of the series finale. That would just be mean! Buckle up, Darvey fans. On 23rd January the rollercoaster continues!
Blimey, that took longer than I expected! Is anyone still there?! If you are, thanks for reading! I’ll be back with my Suits reviews once it’s back on our screens.
Suits season 8 retunes on Wednesday 23rd January in the US and Canada and on Thursday 24th January via Netflix in the UK.