As the show opens, he's taken over the gender discrimination class-action suit from Rachel's father Robert, deposing Sloane Moseley again, which irritates Harvey and Mike. Harvey gets even angrier when Hardman (still wonderfully, sleazily played by David Costabile) hands him a subpoena for a wrongful termination lawsuit against Pearson Hardman by Monica Eton, the woman Hardman was having an affair with while he was embezzling from the firm.
Our hero figures he'll just shoot the case down with a list of Hardman's misgivings, but Harvey then finds out that he and Jessica can't discuss them in court, because of a confidentiality agreement Jessica signed when Hardman left the firm. Jessica orders Harvey to walk Hardman out, which gives the two plenty of time to insult each other. Hardman mentions how Harvey hasn't been made name partner yet, saying that it's a sign of Jessica's lack of trust in him, to which Harvey replies, "She trusted me to kick your ass. Twice."
"What the hell were you thinking?" Harvey asks of Jessica, and says they ought to settle Monica's lawsuit. He also wants to know why she didn't tell him about the confidentiality agreement. She retorts that Hardman is just trying to get into his head, "and I'm trusting you to beat him again now."
Elsewhere, Mike visits Rachel's office and asks for her help on something "a little more personal." She's busy with an application to Harvard and she's a little wound up about it. She insists that if she doesn't go to Harvard, she can't work at Pearson Hardman. Louis approaches Donna for help, too, wanting to get on the Eton case to get his revenge against Hardman. Louis blames himself, at least a little, for the current situation, and says "Revenge is the best revenge." That deserves a T-shirt.
After hours, Mike catches up with Harvey and tries to convince him of potential strategies in the Eton case, but Harvey points out that Mike isn't even assigned to that case, and declines his help. He goes to see the judge and have a hypothetical conversation, asking what might happen if they had a sealed hearing about tossing the confidentiality agreement. It quickly dawns on him that Hardman has already spoken to the judge himself. Hardman is several steps ahead of everyone already.
Jessica shows up at the Zane house to see Robert. She encourages him to get rid of Hardman while he still can, trying to indirectly tell him about the other man's misgivings so that she doesn't violate the confidentiality agreement to the tune of a cool fifteen million dollars. He's not interested.
The next day, Hardman arrives for Jessica's deposition to find Donna working the front desk. She claims she's supposed to "personally escort him to the conference room," but in actuality, she leads him to his former office, where she slaps him and calls him something very unflattering for planting the memo that got her fired. Then she hits him again for implying things about her relationship with Harvey. Way to go, Donna!
In the deposition Hardman's tactic is to bait Jessica into breaching that expensive confidentiality agreement. He then wants to make an issue of Jessica's personal life, saying that "she's always been married to her job, and she wants her female associates to be equally committed." That spiel causes Jessica and Harvey to walk out of the deposition, with Hardman still insulting Jessica all the way to the door.
Jessica doesn't want to talk about it later, and wants to know what took Harvey so long to step in on her behalf. "I'm your lawyer, not your husband," Harvey tells her, pointing out that she can't be the named defendant in a gender discrimination suit when they're got a class-action on the same subject. She leaves and he takes a swing at Hardman's name on the wall. Their relationship is clearly strained.
Rachel and Mike see the transcript of Jessica's deposition, and when Mike sees the insults hurled in Jessica's direction, he blames himself. "I have to use this," he decides. "If I don't fix this, there might not be a Pearson Hardman."
The next day he catches up to Monica and says he's "trying to take responsibility" for starting the entire situation. She's bitter and vengeful, calling him an "attack dog," saying Jessica sent him, and refusing to look at the copy of the transcript he's got in his hands. Later on, Louis is surprised to see her at the firm for her own deposition, and it's really awkward between them.
Mike, meanwhile, tells Jessica to get Monica to admit that her affair was with Daniel, because they were both dismissed, which means it wasn't a gender issue. He even hands her a line of questioning. This ballsy idea gets him immediately assigned to Monica's deposition. Unfortunately, when Mike tries to go down that road, Hardman shuts him down. Monica further says that she was sexually harassed by Louis, and makes it sound like he was stalking her. She adds that "any number of people knew," including Harvey. Clearly, Monica's as remorseless as her lawyer.
In the men's room Harvey approaches Hardman about a settlement, but Hardman isn't interested in one. He never was. Why is it all the great scenes in this show take place in the restroom? "Allison Holt, Robert Zane both came after you, and now you have forty-five cases you can't afford," Hardman says. "Any way you slice it, I'm going to bleed you dry."
Louis visits Harvey in his office. "He's using Monica the same way that he used me," he explains, and literally begs to get on the case, but Harvey has to break his heart, showing him a copy of Monica's deposition transcript which includes her accusations against him. Louis is actually shaking after that.
The next morning, Jessica is waiting for Harvey, who calls her "out of control." When Mike walks into the office, Jessica tells them both that Mike's questions were good, just being asked of the wrong person. She, Harvey and Monica get Hardman to say on the record that he had an affair with Monica. "Nobody's going to care about what I did," he boasts, but that's before Louis gets into the elevator with him, stops the elevator, and finally lets him have it. His tirade ends with the awesome lines, "You ever do anything to me ever again, you ever so much as tell me the incorrect time, I'll kill you. I'll rip your smug face off your fat neck, and I'll kill you." Gold star for Rick Hoffman, ladies and gentlemen.
Mike approaches Monica again, and she admits that the point of her lawsuit is to stick it to Jessica. He brings up the suit they have against the food company, and that she's doing damage to that cause as well, not just Pearson Hardman. He hands her the files and walks away. Back at the office, Harvey tells Jessica about this meeting, and presents her with Monica's signed settlement agreement. He convinces her that signing it herself is beating Hardman again.
Oh, and Rachel's going to Harvard, which is great news for her but bad for Mike, complete with sad piano music.
Donna asks Harvey about the damage done to the Pearson Hardman sign in the hallway, and he admits that he hit it. She admits that she hit Hardman, twice. While they're laughing over that, Jessica arrives, says she has a date, and tells Harvey to "take that damn name down."
Jessica's "date" involves handing Hardman's deposition to Robert Zane, cluing him in without violating her pricey agreement. Furthermore, she wants to settle the class-action cases and get that previously discussed merger done. But now he's cynical, saying that since they have Pearson Hardman on the ropes, his firm will just "pick up the pieces" when her firm folds. Ominous blackout.
"He's Back" pulls the fairly commonplace move of bringing back an old villain, but it works better for Suits than it does for many shows, for a number of reasons. For one, the performance of David Costabile is and always has been in "love to hate" territory. Raise your hand if you've wanted to punch Daniel Hardman in the face. Or if you cheered when Donna slapped him. Thought so.
Another reason this doesn't come off as cliched is because the writers have made it a real challenge. Everything the characters first think of to do - everything the audience might think of and then some - doesn't pan out. For the first half of the show, Hardman looks smarter than everyone else. Viewers really have to wonder how things are going to go, and the natural questions raised are addressed in the script, like Harvey pointing out that the firm is suing one company for the same thing they're now defending themselves against.
That points to another reason that Suits stands out, even amongst USA's field of excellent original series. The plots and character development on this show unfold in such a way that it feels less like episodic television. Were it humanly possible, you could watch the series like an overlong movie or TV miniseries. These episodes fit together that well. They dig into storylines rather than wrapping things up in a neat bow at the end of forty-odd minutes, and the performances in them are consistently excellent across the board. This episode might largely be about Jessica and Harvey, but some of the best moments came from Donna and Louis, too.
"He's Back," then, is a perfect example of something that gets overlooked in television. Shows seem to try too hard to surprise the audience, whether it's a cliffhanger ending, a "shocking" character death, or a revelation out of nowhere. But that doesn't necessarily make for good TV. You can have excellent television even if you see something - like the return of Daniel Hardman - coming from a mile away. When you've got great writing and acting, that's more than enough to be truly entertained.
And now, a word from our network: the storyline in this episode of Suits is part of USA's "Characters Unite Month," a drive to combat hate and discrimination, and encourage open dialogue about issues like bullying, homophobia and gender equality. A number of USA stars, including Suits' own Gina Torres and Sarah Rafferty, have recorded PSA spots in support of the initiative. To watch those videos, and find out more about "Characters Unite Month," you can visit the Characters Unite homepage.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.