Counterpart returns on Starz with all the spy thriller we love and none of the slow burn we didn’t
It’s no secret we’re big fans of another series on Starz. So we started to think, “Well what else do they have to offer?” Enter Counterpart, part sci-fi, part spy thriller drama. The series stars Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons as Howard Silk as well as a uniformly excellent supporting cast of spies. From Starz:
At the Office of Interchange, those who have high enough access, safeguard a crossing into a parallel dimension not unlike our own. And if their world is like ours, who are we over there? Are we better? Are we different?
Intriguing premise for a show! We enjoyed season 1 but a lot of shows suffer in quality from season one to two. Does Counterpart suffer from the sophomore slump?
What if you haven’t seen season 1?
We enjoyed season one of Counterpart. The show built slowly but that’s not surprising for a show that needs to build not just one but two complete worlds. The writing was good and delivered some twists even TV junkies like us never saw coming. Nevertheless without moment to moment action, as the first half of the series built one wondered if the show was worth it.
The short answer? Yes. The acting in Counterpart season 1 alone made it worth the watch. J.K Simmons was top notch but that’s something you would expect. Howard Alpha’s interactions with Howard Prime were both poignant and a study in character acting. But we also were by really blown away by Nazanin Boniadi as the duplicitous double agent Clare. Boniadi’s “Shadow” and Project Indigo participant’s callous gaze was chilling. And there’s even more excite in season two as James Cromwell joins the series and Olivia Williams’ Emily, fresh from her season 1 coma, takes a dual role as well.
The world itself that Justin Marks builds is equally intriguing. Each respective world, Alpha and Prime, is boldly drawn in lines that are steeped in a Cold War mythology that is at once fascinating and bizarre. Things are recorded on tape, but people walk around with iPhones. The bureaucratic buildings that control the crossings do a lot to continue that theming as well.
Before we tackle what we thought of Season 2 we’ve got a piece of advice: Binge Counterpart Season 1 on Starz first. There’s a lot going on in Season 1 and it took almost the entire first episode of the second season for us to really get our bearings again. It’s a spy thriller after all! You’ve got a few things to sort out between aliases, Project Indigo, and that whole alternate universe thing. (Plus it’s quite good!)
Counterpart season 2: Sharp as a knife in your back
Critics of Counterpart‘s first season didn’t like the slow burn. The show wasn’t building just one world they were building two. Multiverse shows aren’t easy to do and they’re a lot harder when you’ve got a limited number of episodes. But because Counterpart spent so much time building two separate worlds in season one all the payoff is a tight season two. There’s a drive from plot point to plot point that creates some heart pounding television.
That tightness and focus on action is both a blessing and a curse. With the border between the words closed Howard Alpha and Prime are trapped in their respective worlds and unable to interact. Despite losing that core relationship the show doubles down on the “others” in the multiverse which provides its own payoff. There’s a plethora of “others” in the second season (even down to the intriguing idea of sex with yourself). Season 2 leans on theses “doubles” in each individual world so that the themes of our individual choices impacting our lives is really slammed home.
Whereas J.K. Simmons did most of the “others” heavy lifting of season 1, Olivia Williams comes front and center here in season 2. After Emily Silk Alpha awakens from her coma one of the greatest mysteries for both her and Emily Prime in the other world is: Who exactly is she? Also making a big impact in her debut in the season is Betty Gabriel as Naya Temple, a woman in the Alpha world tasked with rooting out remaining Prime agents..
Final Verdict: Even if we don’t always know what’s going on, we’re happy to be confused in Counterpart season 2.
In the episodes we screened season 2 built problems on top of problems at a breakneck pace. If season 1 was for big twists, season 2 seems to be for big mysteries. The big question is: Will these mysteries pay off? When a show is a complex multiverse spy thriller full of double agents with secret identities that may or may not have a multiverse twin, assassins, secret projects, management we only see through a strange, creepy 1970’s box, creepy spy training schools and secret prisons it’s hard to keep all those balls in the air. Season 1 of Counterpart was engrossing enough to lose yourself in it and not overly scrutinize things. Thus far, so is season 2.
Counterpart Season 2 begins this Sunday, 12/9 on Starz at 9 PM EST