Featured Characters: Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen
In fairness, there are countless compelling fictional relationships that leave a mark, but Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen are something else entirely. Since Suits began in 2011, no couple has managed to encapsulate loyalty quite as they do. And that loyalty is the beating heart of their relationship.
While the series was airing live, viewers didn’t have the certainty of an endgame. In fact, their slow burn is so effective that creator Aaron Korsh made us believe it was all in their heads. Yet, it wasn’t because, from their very first interaction to the last, it is painfully unmistakable that if they aren’t together, neither can have a lasting romantic relationship because their partnership is too strong. Workplace romances need to look at Harvey and Donna as the trope’s pinnacle. (What’s most surprising about their dynamic is that it isn’t written by a woman.) Still, in the end, they prevail, step by step, instructing viewers on what it means to love someone, come hell or high water.
Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen: Come Hell or High Water
Whatever tagline encompasses through thick and thin seamlessly describes Harvey and Donna (Darvey, as the fans call them). While most lasting relationships are built from loyalty, these two take it up multiple notches. When viewers initially see their interactions, the banter is enough to showcase their potential, but it isn’t until Season 2, Episode 7, “Sucker Punch,” that it becomes abundantly clear that there’s something more—and it’s deeper than any of them can fathom. The result of the gripping mock trial leads to the infamous, “I can’t be me without you,” but not before Louis Litt pushes every boundary with “Do you love him?” explicitly aimed at Donna on the stand.
The heightened emotions during the trial are one thing, but the calm after the fact affirms that Harvey Specter needs Donna Paulsen more than any other person. It’s in that moment where it becomes a promise, but still, the universe tests them again seasons later, when unsettling fear forces Donna into a state of vulnerability, doubting if Harvey will indeed protect her. Season 4, Episode 15, “Intent,” prompts Harvey’s next best confession, “I told you I’d never let anything happen to you. And I won’t.” Yet, it doesn’t stop there because he allows himself to be vulnerable again, admitting, “The thought of you going to prison makes me want to drop to my knees.” It’s this sentiment that further cements that a man like Harvey Specter, New York’s best closer, perhaps the smoothest man to walk the streets, allows himself to crumble.
There’s perhaps nothing more challenging for a man like Harvey, who harbors innumerable demons and crosses due to his past, to admit how terrified he is of losing someone. (And to think, this was only Season 4.) Nevertheless, as much as he’s someone who cares, despite acting as if he doesn’t, these moments make it abundantly clear that there’s no one he cares about more than Donna Paulsen. While she’s more candidly steadfast to him, Harvey’s innate need to consistently protect her against anyone and anything is where the tension simmers. It’s guttural and so achingly deep that if anything happened to her, the man would unquestionably drop dead on the spot.
Again, many—many couples are like this. Yet, in these moments, Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen aren’t even together. They’re risking their lives, careers, and everything in between for what, a partner? An employee? A best friend? No, they risk it all because long before they realize, while they stand stubbornly on the denial aisle they’re residing, Harvey and Donna are fighting for their whole damn world. In this case, the word “everything” doesn’t come close to summing up what they mean to each other because it feels too small. Time and time again, they prove that there is nothing they won’t do to protect the other, and there’s no barrier they won’t cross if necessary. These quiet beats of vulnerability make their slow burn much more exhilarating. They keep trying to move away from those feelings, disavowing them further and faster, only to continue scattering pieces of themselves in the other’s orbit for safekeeping.
The Unparalleled, Unwavering, Unquestionable Loyalty
As hard as it is for Harvey to be vulnerable, it’s a little easier for Donna—at least where he’s concerned. Her love for Harvey runs so deep that she’s willing to put everything she feels aside to be by his side consistently. Sometimes, it isn’t even the right thing to do, yet what makes Suits fantastic as a series is that Donna isn’t a doormat. Donna Paulsen knows her worth, and she knows what she deserves. She knows who she is and what she’s capable of. And, perhaps, most importantly, she knows that she’s irreplaceable. Yet, because of her innate loyalty and unceasing love for him, she gives and gives everything she has, even when Harvey hides in the shadows behind his monsters.
Again, amid uncertainties of will they/won’t they, it all boils down to the fact that no one would be able to look at their partner knowing that there’s someone else in this world they are more loyal and devoted to. It’s ultimately why each of their partners was constantly threatened by the other because such care and dedication should be reserved solely for one’s significant other. You could love a friend with all your heart and soul, but few would genuinely go to the lengths Harvey and Donna do if there are others in their lives they need to care for.
For almost nine seasons, Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen tip-toe around their feelings for one another while simultaneously doing everything in their power to ensure they’re always around each other, protecting and loving one another through all their actions. Further, throughout the years, their love for one another consistently simmers, coming to an agonizingly perfect rumble in the form of their official first kiss. A kiss that’s so achingly palpable that it actualizes the unseen feelings into something magnetically tangible. The idea seldom exists for all couples, but Harvey and Donna aren’t just any couple. We know as much.
“Anyone else loses faith in me; it doesn’t matter. With you, it’s different,” Harvey once tells Donna, and different it is—everything is different. It’s vulnerable and brave and so beautifully rewarding when their happy ending comes because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, they’re going to last. Credit where credit is due, for nine seasons, Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty, were the perfect scene partners. These characters wouldn’t be as nuanced without the love and attention the actors pour into all their scenes—individually and together.
The characters’ most vulnerable moments are often with each other, and while the words would say one thing, the performances would add all the bubbling emotions underneath to show the audience everything they don’t utter aloud. We knew Harvey loved Donna long before he said the words because Macht would consistently show every ounce of the character’s longing—Harvey’s inability to allow himself to feel and all the turmoil occurring within, the performances would highlight. Without understanding, Harvey was pushing it all down, one day at a time, until everything he bottled up resulted in an explosion in the form of a panic attack.
For a couple whose story spans nine years, encapsulating it all in a deep dive would require nine more pages—maybe even nine times nine times nine. (No, that’s not a typo.) There’s colossal ground to cover with where they begin and where we leave them, happily married, promising each other forever and every beautiful thing that comes with that. We meet these characters at the height of their sizzling banter, joking about already being married to leaving them lighter and more unrestrained because together, they could undo all the damage cast on them while healing from the heartaches that follow them around. We leave them in a place where they’re more open—more vulnerable, so stupidly tender it’s too much to even look at them at times. We leave them dancing toward their perfect middle, where they’ll tread toward the best days of their lives together, continuing to adore one another so vehemently they’ll consistently try to find places to store and preserve their love in.
Few couples genuinely go down in TV history, but if such a book is ever written decades from now, Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen are guaranteed a spot in it. There is no workplace romance with as much give and take in equal measures—a perfectly imperfect love in the form of a tapestry of all the best and worst parts of them, interweaving together to create an undying partnership that’s healing, wholesome, hot, and everything in between.