If you tuned into the first episode of the new USA Network political drama Pearson as a Suits viewer, you probably realized fast enough that beyond the god-like presence of the fierce and regal Jessica Pearson, there isn’t much else the spin off has in common with the nine season legal drama. The show has a very dark undertone, from the pacing, its soundtrack and the aesthetics, to the writing and character interactions themselves. The show is very very dialogue based and in my humble opinion lacks an aspect of lightness as of now (even if it were just 2% of the show, since the context of it understandably does not allow for much more), but for a premiere episode of what will be storylines about a variety of highly relevant issues concerning Chicago and the US at large, the episode did deliver in the most important aspects for a pilot. The characters seem captivating and layered, Jessica Pearson is already becoming a more well rounded character than she had the luxury of being as the managing partner on Suits and the storyline was established thoroughly enough to allow those who had never seen its backdoor pilot (Suits, season 7 episode 16) to follow and understand the dynamics. As many characters on the show like to repeat, while Jessica was a high powered attorney and a well respected figure in NYC, she still has a lot to learn about how they do things in Chicago…. or maybe, Chicago can learn how to do things the Jessica Pearson way.
One of the most significant lines of Pearson’s backdoor pilot on Suits came when Jessica had already decided to take the job with Chicago’s Mayor Bobby Novak (played by Morgan Spector). Her partner Jeff warned her of the dirty politics and said “I just hope that you’re the first person in the world who can lie down with dogs and not come up with fleas”. The question of whether Jessica was going to really change the game in the windy city, for those marginalized in her community (like her aunt, for which she first took on the mayor’s office before getting disbarred by the city attorney), or if the scrupulously evil politics were going to change her is the question which appears to underline the conceptualization of the show and its first season.
While Jeff (portrayed by D.B. Woodside) already reacts with discontent to Jessica’s decision to work for a shady politician, people on the inside appear no more happy to see her in their sorts. The shady, has-the-mayor-in-his-loaded-pockets developer Pat McGann (Wayne Duvall) and youngest city attorney in the country Keri Allen (Bethany Joy Lenz) both despise her presence. The prior is worried that Novak’s plan to keep his enemy close (since Jessica threatened his re-election with her housing case in the backdoor pilot) will backfire and wants to neutralize her. The later fears Jessica could aim to occupy her space in the office and mess with the way she has ensured the city’s players work to serve the mayor. Both of their fears ensure that tension occurs… lots of tension, mean gazes and hating-of-guts. However, what I ended up most appreciating about the episode was exactly the dynamic between Keri and Jessica, both being complex, driven women in their own unique ways, while also struggling to make space for each other. Rather than it being a stereotypical there-is-only-place-for-one-woman storyline, it is rather focused on different sets of morals and understanding of what they should do with the power trusted upon them as part of the mayor’s office in a huge, corrupt city. They don’t clash because they are two women after the same thing, but because they are both smart individuals with opposing opinions. While Keri is committed to the idea of executing orders and ensuring the most objectively beneficial results for the mayor’s office are achieved, Jessica’s first act as Novak’s “fixer” already involves her stepping outside those lines and trying to achieve a sufficient result for both sides: the mayor and the marginalized she first fought for in Chicago. She succeeds this time, and goes over both Keri’s and Novak’s heads to bring a win-win to the table, but not without the later soon reminding her that she isn’t a managing partner of her own law firm anymore and the freedom she used to have to make whatever choice she thought was best won’t always be there. In fact, the flash forward to 8 weeks after that we see at the beginning of 1×01 already previews Jessica in what appears to be a very different, anticlimactic situation: destroying evidence of the Mayor’s criminal liability in a murder case and waiting to meet him in some dark, secluded area. The creeps are real.
Besides the complexity of Jessica and Keri’s relationship so far, as well as the back and forth the prior has with her estranged family (Chantel Riley and others), there are two additional relationships that the premiere teased to be significant and complicated within the show’s future storylines. First being Keri and Novak’s secret relationship and the second ensuing between Nick (played by Simon Kassiandes), the mayor’s hitman and Novak himself upon us finding out they are actually half-brothers. While young woman in power having an afair with her boss, a high powered dirty politician nonetheless, is treading dangerous waters within a show that’s striving to build an image of independent smart women, so far this romantic storyline hasn’t done anything to contradict that tone of empowerment. While Keri and Novak clearly have a complicated relationship, it is also clear that the power actually doesn’t just simply lay with whoever has the higher official title between them. In fact, a promo for one of the future episodes addresses the fact that Keri is responsible for the mayor’s rise to power. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Suits spin off if there was no story about infidelity. I am intrigued. Similarly, adding complexity to a stereotype, there are Bobby and Nick. Despite the fact that we were introduced to Nick as the mayor’s shady and powerful bully in the backdoor pilot , 1×01 showed that this persona of your typical politician’s hit man with zero conscience and strong authority is not really the case here. Rather, he is the family outcast, the brother Novak is trying to keep from the public, but also give space within his political circle – doing the most unofficial, secretive job of all nonetheless. And so from the first episode on, both Keri and Nick beg the question of what lengths Novak will go to to protect his secrets, and how Jessica will be able to play with the knowledge.
As if those two complicated relationships Novak has are not enough leverage, despite Jeff’s reluctance to support Jessica in her choice of people to work for, he is in the end the one who gives her the information she has been after. The mayor is involved in a killing and the there is evidence to support it. Which begs the ultimate question: why do we see Jessica destroying that evidence in the aforementioned flash forward? Did she succumb to the dirty politics she had been warned to keep at arm’s length, or is there more to the story? I for one hope it is the later. While, as a long long time Jessica fan, I am excited to see the show explore her thoroughly and play into the vulnerabilities and mistakes we only saw on Suits once a blue moon, I hope the show ultimately preserves her smarts and moral compass that made us fall in love with her in the first place.
All in all, Gina Torres as well as the rest of the cast deliver amazing performances and the writers offer a promise for complex character development and relationships. I think, whether you have watched Suits or not, it is worth giving this show a chance. If not for its intriguing dark undertones or the art that is Jessica Pearson, then for the variety of political issues the show will represent and cater to (as well as all the amazing women in this cast and the storylines they will portray, I am here for them).