Sunday, May 27, 2018

Counterpart (Starz) (2017)

There is a fine line between dreams and reality, it's up to you to draw it. ~ B. Quilliam

Quotes like the above have always given the fiction writer reasons to create parallel universes. As any geek will know decisions are the catalysts in creating an alternate reality. Anyone not into fiction would see only a self-help advice. 

Counterpart is about 2 different earths living in a classic Cold War atmosphere. The doorway is even conveniently set in a German city – Berlin, considering the theme. A city that should have been one and the same but because of a decision somewhere, sometime, they’ve grown to be very different.


Just a Small Pinch of Science Fiction

What is science fiction about the series is only that another earth exists so it felt slow over a couple of episodes because of unmet expectations.

A doorway was created out of the Cold War; the type and nature of the experiment was never explicitly explored. The doorway itself isn’t a computer generated special effect piece but an actual set that looked like a cross between a Cold War border and a catacomb. 

Remove the parallel universe concept and the story can pass to some degree as one about East and West Berlin. I don’t even get the security benefit of a passport if in your destination another you exist. There are just too few details of the world that I can chew on.

Certainly having JK Simmons in the titular role of Howard Silk didn’t help arouse interest looking old and un-heroic. I had to wait it out. By the 3rd episode it gets interesting in the sense I understood it’s not about looks.


Fighting the Life you have not Lived

Howard Silk first meeting Howard Silk is the tone.

The crosser was more a field guy, confident, able to handle himself even in lethal situations. The native who met his counterpart crosser is a creature unsure of himself in the office setting. After a short look, the crosser looked disappointed seeing his counterpart was nowhere near his equal.

It’s not about looks or the differences between worlds; it’s more about the feeling about those differences, and often in relation to the counterparts.

The wife of Howard the office worker is a target so the crosser insisted on taking his place albeit with some revulsion. To stop an assassin he pretends to be an unlived version of himself.  

Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), the assassin, is my favorite with her the saddest looking eyes. Cold blooded, easy on the kill, her arc changed only when she saw her counterpart, an artist, who has the same eyes. They could have been the same person so how did they become different?

In this light JK Simmons has been great for the story if only because any romantic point of view has been set aside. Simmons has effectively carried the story by being 2 versions of the same man.

Is it about disunity as a society – one city/earth but two different paths? Or, about life decisions? I always wonder what the makers of the series are trying to talk about. It’s not like a Russian spy brainwashing an American into communism; characters see their other selves and something existential is stirred.

Counterpart is fascinating because every episode I flip the ways how to look at it: a war between two parties or a war of the self.

Consider that all the offices talked about are generic sounding like Interface, Strategy, Diplomacy, Housekeeping, and Management; I can’t help but think that it all sounds like the processes of the mind. So maybe it is about the self?

The Ending

I had to think about this many times over and the ending of Counterpart is sound. It is right for the story. It makes sense and allowed room for a season 2 which is reportedly already under production.

But for some reason there is a momentum killing quality about it. The best answer I can think of is having the wrong expectations that came with the concept for parallel earths. Maybe I was expecting something more grandiose and sci-fi; the ending was more akin to a Cold War story.



The best way to see all this is from the point of view of the counterparts; they all have played out compelling arcs, affected by lives they have not lived. Season 2 will definitely be worth the wait. Let’s see if there will be more world building or a further journey inward into the lives of the protagonists. 

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