Counterpart: Michael's Take
#1
Counterpart ran for 2 seasons on the Starz cable network channel. I recently watched both seasons on Amazon Prime. I guess it may be available on other streaming services.

The show is highly rated on IMDB, which an aggregate score of 8.1 from over 22,000 votes.

LINK: Counterpart (TV Series 2017–2019) - IMDb

J.K. Simmons leads a cast of regulars including Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Boniadi, John Funk, Sara Seralocco, and Nicholas Pinnock. The semi-regular cast was quite large.

Although Counterpart is an ensemble show, J.K. Simmons is the star who pulls it all together. From what I understand, Starz ordered 2 seasons with an option to pick up more. However, they were unhappy with the demographics, saying the show's audience was "too male". That shouldn't surprise anyone who is familiar with Starz' business model because they're cultivating a mostly female audience.

LINK: Starz CEO on Female Audience Push: "It's The Right Thing to Do" | Hollywood Reporter

Counterpart is a science fiction thriller. It employs mature themes in the storylines and so is not suitable for young children. Some people may be put off by the scenes revealing partial nudity and intimacy but they are usually short and not very frequent. There are also a few same-sex relationships although they are not central to the show's premise.

Each season consists of 10 episodes between 45 and 55 minutes long.

THE PREMISE OF THE SHOW

In 1987 a secret laboratory in East Berlin experiences an accident. You don't learn the details of the accident for several episodes. Basically, what I would describe as a Quantum Event occurs and the entire Earth is duplicated within moments. The original Earth (designated "Alpha") doesn't notice a thing. The duplicate Earth (designated "Prime") also seems oblivious to what happened.

Everything on the Prime Earth replicates everything on the Alpha Earth. It's like all of Earth's molecules split at some quantum level and duplicated themselves. The Prime Earth slips into or forms its own pocket dimension. The show doesn't dwell on the implications of this idea but I'll say something below.

A few people - the original group of scientists - are aware of the Quantum Event and they (with their Earth Prime counterparts) establish a secret program to study the phenomenon. Both groups of scientists exchange information with each other and they crossover between the worlds through a point of contact underneath the building that houses their project.

THE SHOW'S PLOT LINE

The audience's point of view begins with Earth Alpha in the Office, the building that houses the United Nations agency ("The Office of Interchange"). Security is extremely high. Many people now work for the U.N.-funded project but their roles are compartmentalized. Although everyone involved with the program is "read in" to the situation (they know about the dual Earths), few of them know what is actualy going on.

J.K. Simmons plays Howard Silk, a career bureacrat who has been trapped in a job working for the "Interface" team. Every day he dresses in special clothes and walks into an assigned booth along the barrier between the two worlds. Another person, similarly dressed, enters another booth on the opposite site. They are separated by what appears to be bullet-proof glass and speak through some kind of intercom system.

Howard and his co-workers exchange coded messages with their counterparts. The Interface workers mark their scripts to indicate how their counterparts responded to them. They then leave the booths and hand in their coded exchange scripts. Another department interprets the coded messages.

Howard's wife Emily (Olivia Williams) is in a hospital. She is in a coma and every night after work he visits the hospital and reads to her. She was injured a few weeks prior to the start of the show when a car hit her as she was crossing the street. The doctors don't know if she'll recover.

Howard has a hostile relationship with Emily's family, who opposed their marriage. Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) guest-stars as Emily's brother, Eric. Eric and Emily's mother want Howard to give up custody of Emily so they can take her back to London. He hesitates on the decision.

Things start to heat up quickly when the Howard Silk from Earth Prime crosses over to investigate a highly sensitive matter. He works for Section Two, a secretive group that most of Earth Prime's project members know nothing about. They are spies trained to infiltrate Earth Alpha and do whatever needs to be done to advance Earth Prime's interests. Howard Silk (Prime) is a trained killer.

An assassin (Sara Seralocco) has been sent by someone on Earth Alpha to kill a list of people on Earth Prime. Emily is on her list. Howard Prime intervenes at the hospital and saves Emily's life.

As the bodies pile up Earth Alpha's Office of Interchange begins to mobilize its counter-intelligence group, Strategy. Howard Silk (Alpha) had applied for promotion to Strategy many times through the years but was always denied. But once Strategy Alpha's leadership becomes aware of Howard Prime, Howard Prime negotiates to have Howard Alpha promoted to Strategy.

WHAT IS GOING ON?

The show follows several characters through their experiences in both worlds. Over the course of the two seasons we see dual points of view for:

Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons)
Emily Silk (Olivia Williams)
Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) - Deputy Director in charge of Strategy on Earth Alpha

A few other characters and their counterparts are shown but the two most important characters (as far as the showing following alternate points of view in both worlds) are Howard and Emily.

People who crossover from one world to the next must travel by visa. Both worlds have embassies in the other world. The ambassadores and their staffs live permanently in the embassies but must be granted special permission to travel anyway. They must travel with an escort provided by the local Office.

Both worlds send spies across on temporary visas. Some of the spies overstay their visas and vanish into the woodwork. It's never clear how many Alphan spies slip into Earth Prime unnoticed. The 2 seasons focus on events in Earth Alpha, where a rogue element from Earth Prime has been planting their own agents for years.

As it turns out, there is corruption in both Offices and infiltration in both Offices. Neither agency fully trusts the other. They conduct negotiations over every incident, settling claims almost like insurance companies settling claims in court.

Peter Quayle (Alpha) is married to Clare (Nazanin Boniadi), whose father is Roland Rancher (Richard Schiff), head of Earth Alpha's Diplomacy team.

Both offices open investigations into unauthorized crossovers. Howard Prime runs afoul of his side's priorities and they order him to return home, telling him that his travel privileges have been suspended indefinitely. To continue his investigation, Howard Prime convinces Howard Alpha to trade places with him. Everyone who knows Howard Silk Prime on his side is afraid of him and thinks he's a terrible person, so it's relatively easy for Howard Alpha to slip into his shoes.

The story follows the contractor (Baldwin) from kill to kill, and as she meets agents from her side or random people. It follows Howard Silk Prime as he waits for the next attempt on Emily's life and tries to figure out what is going on and who he can trust. It follows Howard Silk Alpha as he wanders through Earth Prime and various people with hidden agendas make contact with him. It follows Peter Quayle as he tries to make sense of the growing body count. And it follows Emily Silk Prime as she investigates the situation from her side.

THIS IS A CHARACTER-DRIVEN DRAMA

The science isn't very important to the story. When the audience finally learns (in the second season) what the original experiment was and how the Quantum Event happened, it's in an unexpected context. The origin story explains everything you need to know about what is happening, but none of it is obvious. The writers cleverly used the truth as a red herring.

Some of the minor characters behave inexplicably. I found myself thinking, "S/he should know not to do this" and so on. Almost anyone assigned to guard duty is incompetent. I think the writers' intention was to imply that these armed guards are not accustomed to shootouts. Everything is done in so much secrecy that murders and gunbattles are highly unusual events.

A few of the characters - especially Howard Silk Prime and Baldwin - are exceptionally violent and possess superior skills. You expect them to win in almost every situation, although they don't always come out on top. But they both play crucial roles in the whole situation and therefore their survival is plausible.

Everyone's loyalty is suspect. Not only are some leaders in both Offices corrupt, people switch sides either to stay alive or for personal reasons. The changes in political alignment can be jarring but they do (usually) make sense.

But there is a subtler theme, a subtext running throughout the story. People question what is going on and their own roles in the unfolding Evil Plan (as well as in how their agencies respond to the situation). The writers make almost everyone who gets at least 3 lines of dialog seem like a person worth caring about, no matter how despicable their actions.

There are some classic bad guys but there are a lot of good guys who are manipulated, used, or coerced to do things they don't want to do.

The real agendas are drawn from classic spy thriller drama. The people making the decisions (called Management on both sides) are mysterious, remote masters who communicate with their agencies through special interfaces. By the time the reasons for their secrecy are revealed, the audience should have seen what the core problem is.

And the problem is one of psychology. How will you react if you meet your counterpart, someone who has all your memories up to a certain point in the past, and whose life is almost a mirror copy of your own?

People are forbidden to interact with their counterparts or to meddle in each other's lives, but the temptation is so strong many people cannot help but break the rules. And that is where the core conflict becomes so complicated. The two Howards must exchange places so they can unravel the mystery, stop the Evil Plan, and save two worlds.

The question is, can they do it?

THE SHOW ENDS ON A CLIFFhANGER

On the one hand, as I watched the final episode, it felt to me the writers had prepared for the (almost inevitable) decision by Starz not to continue the show into a 3rd season. Many loose ends are tied up neatly.

But the final scene is a head-smacking moment that clearly sets up a problem for a third season. I think it would have been a great story line.

As it is, the ending is ambiguous enough to be dissatisfying to many people. It's not clear who really wins, although I'd say that everyone who cares about what is right and fair has an opportunity. Where the writers would have gone with the show is anyone's guess. I know there is at least one fan wiki for the show but I haven't read through it. I don't know if the writers have revealed what they would have done next.

I'm really disappointed that no other network seemed interested in picking up the show. It would have done well, in my opinion.

Counterpart was filmed in Germany, which is a real treat for people in the United States. You get to see German landscape and people acting normally from an American perspective - in the sense that the show is produced as if it was done in the USA (or Canada) with an American cast. Many of the characters only speak in German, although there are subtitles when their dialog is important. You get a strong feel for an otherworldliness from both sides.

THE SCIENCE IS POORLY FLESHED OUT

The Quantum Event is interesting but it's not central to the show, not in the same way that Star Trek needs warp drive, transporters, and shields every week. The division of the world into two worlds is a given fact and the characters live with that reality. But even though the two agencies are studying what unfolds, you don't see their scientific or clinical analysis of the situation. Everythng is handled as a police-procedural or spy thriller show would.

What are the limits of the Quantum Event? How far did the duplication extend?

If Earth Prime were to launch a spaceship, would it cross back into the Alpha universe?

Did the Quantum Event extend outward from the point of origin into the rest of the universe, pushing dual realties foward like a spherical wave?

According to current quantum theory, that's not an improbable thing.

Scientists speculate that the universe we know could be remade by a similar Quantum Event called a False Vacuum Decay, in which the relatively low level of energy dispersed throughout the universe is re-calibrated to an even lower state. If such an event happened, it would expand outward from its source point as a bubble or spherical wave, changing everything in its path. The universe we know would eventually cease to exist (and so would we when the wave touched us).

Crossing from one Earth to the other is as simple as walking from one side of a room to another. The show reveals it can happen in two places - and thus by implication it might happen in other places. What happens if an airplane flies over one of the agency buildings in just the right direction? They don't address that question. I guess the United Nations got the airspace restricted, but that's never mentioned in the show. It could be, however, that the two dimensions are touching each other in a very small region and that maybe several hundred feet above and below the event line there is no way to crossover.

Anyway, I thought the show was really interesting. It's intense, gritty, and quite inventive. It takes the whole "alternate reality" concept to a new level for science fiction, and that's something in itself. But the fact they decided to make this a character-driven story rather than a plot-driven story makes it even more interesting. I don't know how many character-driven shows attract such a strong male demographic, but I doubt there are that many.

I don't know why the show didn't appeal to Starz' preferred audience demographic. Maybe there was too much violence. Maybe it was too brutal. Maybe most women who watch Starz just found it boring.

I'm only sorry the show wasn't picked up elsewhere. J.K. Simmons is an amazing actor, but Olivia Williams and Harry Lloyd give him a run for his money. When you finally see Peter Quayle's counterpart, you'll be shocked at how different he is from Peter Quayle Alpha.
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#2
One more point.

I believe the writers chose "Alpha" and "Prime" as the designates for the alternate worlds for a specific reason.

In mathematics, an alpha is the first of its kind. I don't know if that is also the case in quantum theory or mechanics, but I suspect so. Of course, that is because Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet.

Also in mathematics, the prime of a number is its first derivative value. So Earth Prime is the derivative of Earth Alpha, the first Earth. But for these designations in the show's subtitles, you wouldn't be able to tell which Earth came first.

And, technically, neither really came first. They both share a common past. It's just that they split off from each other and diverged when the orginal experiment burst out of its controls.
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