This Counterpart review contains spoilers.
Counterpart Season 1 Episode 5
Even as the Howards slow things down this week to examine each other’s lives from their own perspectives, the answers start trickling in for the deeper mysteries in Counterpart. As the show starts taking on aspects of The Americans, complete with sleeper agents and unfortunate civilians caught in the crossfire, there’s a sense that a major confrontation is coming, and Howard, Emily, and even Baldwin may end up in a position that’s as unexpected for them as it is for the audience. But once again, the careful pacing and suspenseful storytelling continues to be top notch.
Sharp-eyed viewers who spotted Lotte Verbeek (Agent Carter, The Blacklist) in an earlier episode when Quayle was visiting his father-in-law in Diplomacy knew the actress wouldn’t be wasted in such a small guest spot, and sure enough she shows up in the opening sequence with two other operatives to take up residence in a safehouse of sorts, no doubt preparing for an op. Her reverence for Clare is possibly the most intriguing detail of this new story arc, as is the cryptic statement Verbeek’s character utters: “She talks about you all the time.” Who’s “she?”
The fact that Baldwin is watching Clare as she visits the safehouse to speak to the new players foreshadows a possible turn for the assassin who is portrayed as having failed her mission. Could these operatives be the members of Project Indigo mentioned elsewhere in this episode? Verbeek’s character mentions that Clare was “in the class ahead of theirs,” which seems to indicate they were raised in the “school” that comes up in several different conversations. It’s a great way to allow the viewers to piece the puzzle together themselves.
But the details of Project Indigo come from a wonderfully unexpected source. Who thought Aldrich would have hidden depths with a pair of counterparts hidden away in a safehouse of his own? Just as Howard Prime’s friend Heinrich mentions the School, Alice is able to elucidate for the Strategy men the danger if the rumors about Shadow, a Prime agent working within their organization, are true. Meanwhile, the similarities between the two Alices as they deride their husband’s cooking skills provide an entertaining twist to the scene.
Perhaps we should have known that Andrei, Howard’s Go partner, was more than just a fellow hospital visitor, but Howard Prime’s discovery that he was merely a civilian who got involved with Emily months before her accident was definitely a surprise. It seems that even the supposedly strong relationship between the Silks on this side is susceptible to certain inevitable tendencies of character, an ongoing theme of Counterpart. Plus this interaction mirrors nicely what’s going on between Emily Prime and the more gentle Howard on the other side.
In fact, when Emily Prime tells Howard, “I can tell by the way you look at me that you hold her in high regard,” it’s also a reminder to the audience that nothing can come of this, even if Howard wants to improve family relations in Prime’s world. They do share key information with each other about Pope, Lambert, and the flu epidemic that not only wiped out 7% of the world’s population but also made Anna sick as a child, a factor that played into Emily Prime’s addiction. It’s all very subtly informative both for the viewers, who wanted more information about the plague that may be central to the conspiracy’s motivation, and for Emily Prime and Howard, who needed to know more about what they’re up against.
It does in fact appear as though the conspirators are fanatics who think our side deliberately caused the viral outbreak in their world, according to Aldrich’s insider, Alice. We can now no doubt look forward to Quayle seeking to root out this mysterious “Shadow” within his department. We might also anticipate more success for Howard in forging ties with Anna than with Emily Prime, but what will happen when the two Howards return to their own lives? Seems to be a dangerous proposition for all parties involved.
The underlying danger in Counterpart is always lurking in the background no matter how meticulous and careful the pacing of the story is, and that’s why even slower character moments work so well. Whether we’re watching a waitress flirt with Baldwin or hearing the stony Aldrich referred to as “Mousey,” it’s these details that enrich the characters while we wait for the whole thing to blow up in their faces just as, bit by bit, all of the reasons behind the impending conflict are revealed. As a result, the flow from week to week slowly but inevitably moves forward, pulling us along helplessly in its current.