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Meghan Markle’s pre-royal life and the television role that suited her

Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane in USA Network's

Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane in USA Network's SUITS -- Season: 4 . Credit: USA Network / Nigel Parry

Who is Rachel Zane (and why should you care)?

Well, where to begin? She’s smart, ambitious, loyal, kind. She’s biracial, also beautiful, resplendently attired (always). She works endless hours. She wanted to go to Harvard, never got in (long story.) She’s a paralegal, or was. Her father is a powerful attorney. She always wanted his respect. Daddy always considered her his “little girl.”

She loves Mike Ross, and Mike Ross loves her.

Viewers? Them, too, because Rachel, above all else, is lovable.

Fans of “Suits,” USA’s long-running legal drama, know Rachel well, of course. This little primer, however, isn’t for them but for the vast majority of viewers who have no idea who she is but do know the actress who plays her.

After all, Meghan Markle is suddenly one of the most famous women in the world. But in the unending and soon quite possibly unbearable crush of news coverage on the fiancee of Prince Harry, one little piece of her fascinating puzzle has been lost in the scrum. That would be Rachel.

In fact, Rachel made Markle famous before she was famous. Like any professional actor in Hollywood, Markle, 36, had a couple dozen bit roles over the years, including as a so-called “Golden Briefcase Girl” on “Deal or No Deal.” Then along came “Suits,” which launched in the summer of 2011 and quickly become one of cable TV’s biggest hits.

As fans also know, “Suits” is only superficially a “legal” drama, because just below that roiling, jargon-strewn surface, a dysfunctional family drama — metaphorically speaking — unfolds. If you were to consider each core cast person was a member of a real family, this might be the pecking order: Partner and a founder of law firm Pearson Specter Litt, Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), is the mother figure. Her partner, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), is the father one — loyal to Jessica, but also rebellious, wayward, willful and on occasion wanton. He chafes at her control, but would probably be lost without it. Then there are the “kids,” so to speak. Mike (Patrick J. Adams) is Gabriel’s protégé and wonder boy attorney whose deception — that he never went to law school or specifically to Harvard Law — was a core plot point for most of the series’ run. He could be considered the oldest son. COO of the firm, Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty), is responsible, tough, reasonable. You might consider her the middle child. Then, there’s Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman). Dear, nutty Louis — the kid bro who’s constantly yammering for attention because he’s just ... so ... darned insecure.

Finally, Rachel. She’s the “baby,” beloved by all but patronized by all, too.

Fans may disagree, but the first two seasons of “Suits” were its high-water mark. That’s when this show was one of the most sharply drawn — and best-acted — series on television. That was also before Mike and Rachel were romantically involved, before the other characters were actually nice. In the early days, in fact, they were a slimy pack of arrogant legal beagles who would steal from each other if given the chance, and on occasion did.

All except Rachel.

For that reason, Markle’s Rachel Zane has long been the most important character on “Suits” because she is — or back then was — the proxy for the average viewer. Her passion, idealism, honesty, and also her insecurity, disappointments and aloneness, made her human, above all relatable. We could see her beating heart. We sometimes wondered if the other characters even had hearts.

And so, farewell dear, lovable Rachel. Markle will leave the show by the end of the seventh season (which continues next year) and it’s hard to imagine how “Suits” can go on without her, or whether it should.

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