This Counterpart review contains spoilers.
Counterpart Episode 2
Viewers of Counterpart could be forgiven for sharing Howard Silk’s frustration in not being told what’s really going on in the series in these opening episodes, but the truth of the matter is, this show isn’t about to hold anyone’s hand as they get up to speed in the espionage game between parallel worlds. The appreciation is in the small details that are being given out now that the exposition of the premiere, such as it was, is over and done with. The action involved in tracking down a killer and preventing her from self murder (yes, that’s a thing) was more than enough to frame the thematic elements that continue to unfold, and that’s where the real genius of Counterpart lies.
Because, honestly, “Birds of a Feather,” and perhaps the series as a whole, can be boiled down to violinist Nadia Fierro’s single statement to Howard Prime about why she still played despite having an abusive father as her teacher: “We cannot escape who we are.” Not only does this offer a counterpoint to last week’s assertion by Howard Prime that a single decision can change everything, in spite of genetics or upbringing; it also provides a point of view for the examination of the shared life of the assassin we know as Baldwin and her virtuoso counterpart on this world.
Obviously, the operatives in Retrieval and Housekeeping believe a lot can be learned about a target by studying her double, and this turns out to be true. Watching the parallel investigations of Aldrich and Baldwin as they hopped from Nadia’s apartment to the doppelgängers’ shared childhood home and finally to the concert hall was as enjoyable as any cop show; better, in fact, because the small but infinitely important detail was saved for last: the fact that both Nadia and Baldwin watched their father die on the train tracks before the parallel worlds split.
One dealt with it by cutting herself, and the other became an assassin. Does that mean, as Aldrich asserts to mild-mannered Howard, that the two Silks are also the same underneath? They both chose to wear the same shirt, sure, but Howard’s gentle nature seems nothing like Howard Prime’s ruthless aggression, except perhaps when our Howard punches Aldrich, which was pretty damn satisfying. So which one is the real McCoy? Clearly, the writers want us to wonder if Howard is hiding a dark side or if Prime is a big softie underneath it all.
But it’s the details in the background that hint at larger problems that might be behind Baldwin’s list of targets. For example, what are we to make of the fact that churches in the Prime world are no longer used for worship or the fact that there are no skyscrapers in our Berlin and the computers are old whereas the cell phones are new? And why does the mysterious elder statesman, Pope, tell Emily Prime that he wonders “if there will ever be a reckoning for what they did to us”? These are the morsels that viewers of Counterpart hungrily devour as they try to piece together the puzzle while simultaneously enjoying the story.
We’re not even sure who’s on what side really. Emily Prime’s failed rendition order against her ex-husband (another interesting detail) appears to be directed by hidden hands, not by any deep animosity on her part. Howard Prime chastises Aldrich for the mistake of killing Nadia and letting Baldwin get arrested, but the Housekeeping man doesn’t appear as accommodating as Quayle. Even the involvement of Howard himself in Prime’s plan is fraught with conflict as the more clueless version implores his double to “stop trying to make me in your image.” Motives are entirely opaque at this point, as fun as the guessing might be.
Ultimately, we feel protective of our Howard. Just like Howard Prime wants to keep his dog away from the neighbor’s dog to keep them from fighting, we worry about poor Howard getting bloodied. The two neighboring worlds obviously harbor mysterious resentments, and all fans of Counterpart can hope for is that answers about why that animosity exists will be doled out bit by bit. It’s a game of Go, and no one knows who’s black and who’s white. How exciting!