Birds of a Feather
The Lost Art of Diplomacy
Both Sides Now
Shaking The Tree
Act Like You’ve Been Here Before
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Love the Lie
No Man’s Land – Part One
No Man’s Land – Part Two
The interesting thing with Counterpart is just how normalized its sci-fi elements are. There’s echoes of J.J. Abram’s sci-fi flick Fringe here, especially with the main plot line which involves a parallel-reality but at no time does Counterpart ever give off the impression it’s science fiction. Instead, this plays out much more like a slow-burn thriller, building the characters up for a climactic finish whilst fleshing both realities out in the process. In the driving seat for this methodically paced show is an inspired J.K. Simmons who proves the only person who can out-act himself is himself.
The story begins slowly, shrouded in mystery and numerous questions as we follow Harvey Silk (J.K. Simmons) on his daily routine in the secretive agency he works for. After an unfortunate incident, Harvey inadvertently winds up entangled in a big cover up and finds himself face to face with his double from a parallel reality. With the company keeping the gateway between worlds hidden from the public and a tension building between both realities, the 10 episodes see Harvey and his double trade places and grapple with a plot line involving powerful forces intent on disrupting the natural flow of both worlds. A deadly flu pandemic that’s wiped out 7% of the alternate reality’s population is the driving force for much of the tension here and with assassinations, a mole inside the agency and the risk of war breaking out, Counterpart has a lot going on. Although it’s not initially clear where this is leading to, as the series progresses the plot line becomes more complicated and emotionally charged before the climactic two-parter at the end of the season that sees this explode in a flurry of gunfire and action.
Whilst Counterpart may lack the wow-factor inherent with hard sci-fi including things like flying cars, robots and futuristic weaponry, it more than makes up for it with a story heavy in grounded realism, making it feel much more like an espionage spy thriller than a science fiction show. The interesting setting of Berlin helps with this too; it’s refreshing to see a different country other than America depicted for these sort of stories and Counterpart is all the stronger for it.
The interesting way Harvey has to try and adapt in both realities is fascinating to watch and could so easily have become difficult to discern which Harvey is which, especially as they jump into one another’s worlds. Thankfully, J.K. Simmon’s incredible performance as both Harveys is astonishingly well done. The subtle facial expressions, little mannerisms and dialect choices for both personas is really well fleshed out and much like James McAvoy’s performance in Split, you really get the feeling these are different characters rather than the same actor in two separate roles.
As the plot thickens and the seemingly insignificant supporting cast come to the foreground, Counterpart begins to answer the questions it raises whilst giving some much needed personality to these characters. Emotionally torn assassin Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), Harvey’s boss Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) and his wife Clare (Nazanin Boniadi) all become much more prominently featured in the plot line late on. Without giving away any spoilers, there’s another key character close to Harvey’s heart that also features heavily but that surprise is best left to your viewing experience. This shifting focus late on helps to really flesh out the other characters and avoid them feeling like one dimensional caricatures.
Whilst Counterpart’s idea of a parallel reality, right down to the gateway linking both sides, may not be completely original, Counterpart is very much a slow-paced thriller first and science fiction second. Unlike Fringe’s plot line that felt more fantastical, Counterpart revels in realism and character-driven tension instead. This interesting change in focus helps make Counterpart such a unique prospect and an inspired double-performance by J.K. Simmons is a scene stealing tour-de-force. With a second season already green lit, this one is well worth sticking with for the long term and could just be one of 2018’s best new shows.