I have been meaning to write about Counterpart for some time. The spy thriller from Starz starring J.K. Simmons has been on air since December, though I only learned about after reading up on Berlin Station. Like that show Counterpart is set in Berlin – with filming also taking place in L.A. At first I didn’t know what to make of this show. J.K. Simmons is a wonderful actor but aged 63 and wearing a cap in the trailer I almost wrote this off as a slow-moving drama.
After watching the first two episodes I was wrong about that – Counterpart is intriguing, speculative, violent and I hunger for more. The series is produced by Justin Marks – whom I know from absolutely nothing. It also stars Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer), Ulrich Thomsen and Stephen Rea. However, the cast is further extended by several lesser known actors and I will discuss those below.
Counterpart is based on a speculative ‘what if’. What if, due to a freak accident, two parallel universes could communicate with each other. What if this accident allowed people to travel to the other universe – even meet their doppelganger. That is the gimmick Counterpart is based on. Middle-aged bureaucratic nobody Howard Silk is suddenly pulled in to an investigation because his other self – from the parallel universe – demanded it. I use the word gimmick because it is no more than a simple premise, used to kick start the pilot episode.
A tale of two Howard’s and one J.K. Simmons
Instead Counterpart uses the premise of two nearly identical parallel universes for a much deeper narrative. What if these universes where in a cold war? What if one side blamed the other for a devastation caused by disease and is hell-bent on revenge. The result is a cold war. Our Howard Silk works for a spy agency that deals with the other universe. Travel to the other universe is through the basement of the building – a place still scorched by the accident that occurred 30 years ago.
Because of the passage of time and diverging events the two Howard Silk’s could not be more apart. Our Howard is timid, afraid to ask for promotion but sees the good in people. The other Howard became a spy instead of a bureaucrat and is not afraid to get into people’s faces. J.K. Simmons does a marvelous job at depicting these two characters. By the sixth episode things have come to a head. Their Howard, or the ‘other’ Howard have swapped places with ‘our’ Howard in order to spend time here to uncover a plot. Complications arise when they run into people they know.
I mentioned in the introduction that there is more to the cast than just the big names. Besides Howard Silk the second significant character is Baldwin, an assassin posted in our universe by the other side. Baldwin is played by Sara Serraiocco in what I consider to be a breakthrough role. During the first two episode she is tasked with killing her ‘other’ self. Evidently the ‘other’ side does that as a precaution. We see how she attempts to carry out her duty but ultimately can’t get herself to do it. The consequences of this kick the series into higher gear. Baldwin is a likable, but a difficult character to understand. She reminds me a lot of Lisbeth Salander. By the sixth episode she has had enough of being betrayed by her own side and by her handler Clare.
The cast if further enlarged by Nazanin Boniadi who plays Clare. Lotte Verbeek who plays Ringleader – the head of a death squad of sorts. In fact Lotte Verbeek’s role is increasing every week. Just when I thought this show already has enough femme fatales. Counterpart reveals many layers to the plot and of the characters as it heads quickly to its season one finale. One such instance is the storyline of Peter Quayle and Aldrich as they attempt to find a mole in the spy agency tasked with covering the existence of parallel universes.
By the sixth episode it adorns to Quayle that it could be wife – Clare. If Clare does work for the other side then has she been replaced by the ‘other’ Clare? Is ‘our’ Clare dead? That is the cliffhanger on which the sixth episodes ends. I definitely think you should check out Counterpart if shows such as Berlin Station, 24 and Lost interest you. I also watch because it takes place in Berlin. Counterpart can at times be a violent show and it does contain nudity. But it is used to further the plot and does not dominate as it does with Game of Thrones.