How does 'Suits' hold up without Meghan Markle?

Kelly Lawler

Exit, Meghan Markle. Enter Katherine Heigl. 

USA's "Suits" lost a pair of pivotal cast members last season, one to the regular cycle of an acting career, the other to Buckingham Palace. 

At the end of the show's seventh season in April, Mike (Patrick J. Adams) and Rachel (Meghan Markle, now known as Duchess Meghan of Sussex) decided to leave their New York law firm  for one in Seattle focused on charitable causes.

But when "Suits" returns (Wednesday, 9 EDT/PDT) in the Season 8 premiere, the notoriously loquacious lawyers haven't skipped a beat. 

Katherine Heigl as Samantha Wheeler on "Suits."

The first episode is mostly concerned with the aftereffects of the firm's merger with Robert Zane's (Wendell Pierce), which includes a fight between him and Harvey (Gabriel Macht) for the role of managing partner and a round of layoffs that causes Louis (Rick Hoffman) to clash with Katrina (Amanda Schull).

The episode easily establishes Alex (Dule Hill), new character Sam (Katherine Heigl) and Katrina as the leads, replacing Mike and Rachel. Alex is Harvey's new right-hand man, fighting the way Mike did for seven years. Sam is the new face, a lieutenant of Zane's jockeying for her space in the new firm. And Katrina has an expanded role that covers more of Rachel's former turf, including a burgeoning friendship with Donna (Sarah Rafferty). 

Amanda Schull as Katrina Bennett and Sarah Rafferty as Donna Paulsen on "Suits."

"Suits" initially revolved around Mike and Rachel, their romance and their professional quests, but it has evolved into an ensemble about a top-tier law firm that's always in a fight. Even the revised opening credits acknowledge this, showing the many names that the firm has used. Without Mike and Rachel, "Suits" is much the same. Sure, their will-they-or-won't-they romance is gone, but they married, so the suspense is over.  

Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter and Dule Hill as Alex on "Suits."

Adding Heigl may prove to be a smart move, as the former "Grey's Anatomy" actress dusts off her soapier acting chops and mile-a-minute speech. The writers even introduce Sam while she's boxing, to establish that she's a "strong woman" ready to spar with the men at the center of "Suits." 

USA seemingly can't get enough of its top-rated series.  The network has a spin-off in the works starring Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson. The ease with which the writers let Mike and Rachel go and found personalities to replace them suggests "Suits" could go on for quite some time, provided fans are OK with seeing similar plots repeated with slightly different, but equally attractive people wearing the suits. 

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