This Counterpart review contains spoilers.
Counterpart Season 1 Episode 7
What are we to make of the latest episode of Counterpart? On the one hand, it laid bare the basic history and mechanisms of Project Indigo; on the other hand, it humanized Clare to such a degree that she’s neither entirely sympathetic nor completely vilified. The process she undergoes to become a sleeper agent is realistic in its avoidance of the Black Widow-style assassin-trained-since-birth scenario but in some ways also comes across as mundane because of its realism. So while her back story isn’t overly exciting, it’s enjoyable to watch unfold juxtaposed with Quayle’s birthday party, and we get many answers we’ve craved for weeks.
A timeline for the split worlds begins to take shape throughout the episode, confirming some ideas we already had and pinning down those we were uncertain about. The 1987 discovery of the Crossing, the 1996 swine flu epidemic, and all of the prohibitions accompanying the changes in the aftermath of the viral outbreak were both informative and motive reinforcing. While revenge for 7% of the world’s population dying seems too emotional a reason for such an extended spy game, we’ve been told that Indigo comprises only a handful of fanatics, which fits nicely with what we learn this week.
The Counterpart writers certainly ease us into the idea of the “School” we’ve heard mention of. Only when Spencer mentions he wears braces because his shadow does do we put two and two together to realize where they took young Clare after she lost her parents to the flu. In fact it all seems innocent enough until the doctors have to break Clare’s legs to match a skiing accident on our side. Whether Spencer was actually called up or simply removed as a distraction for Clare is anyone’s guess, but his use of the word “shadow” reminds us of the mysterious figure behind all this.
Unfortunately, the school never really rises above the status of propaganda machine or even brainwashing cult. Where one would expect spycraft, lock picking, and surveillance training, we see history films, indoctrination chants, and tests of memorization. Clare doesn’t have the Femme Nikita aura that Baldwin has (and likely she’s not supposed to), but it would have been nice to something beyond Clare’s teacher telling her, “It’s time to shed your past; grow a new one thick with anger,” as poetic as that is.
The juxtaposition of Clare’s back story with Quayle’s own investigations was well done, though. When Howard Prime admits to him that his wife could have been switched even before they met, we see the answer of exactly when the change was implemented as Clare is rushed quickly through her transition when the combination of her other’s Diplomacy father and Strategy fiance proves too tempting to pass up. The glimpses of Lambert (who creepily offers to help her with her virginity “problem”) and Pope help place those two characters in a clearer context in the grander scheme as well.
Quayle’s inability to keep a poker face at the party is both understandable and surprisingly weak-willed for someone accustomed to secrecy and deception. The impromptu quiz disguised as a toast was clumsy, but it allowed viewers to feel the tension of the moment and see the thoroughness of the School’s training as Clare passed the test with flying colors, even naming the score of a Saracens-Harlequins rugby game. And honestly, Quayle having the same pass code for both the safe and his phone cements his image as careless at best or incompetent at worst. Howard Prime is going to have a fit!
Because Quayle decided to confront his wife in the end, however, we get a glimpse of how this world may have changed Clare. As sympathetic as she may have appeared throughout the episode, she did kill her counterpart, and she’s likely as dedicated to her cause as she ever has been, but her attachment to her child as the one part of this life that’s wholly her own causes mixed feelings in the viewer. Is she trying to convince Peter she’s changed from the days when that cyanide pill was fresh, or is she playing him (implying the pill may be perfectly potent)? Not knowing is what makes this ending so much fun.
Taking time out from Howard’s story in this week’s Counterpart may have made this episode feel different in some ways, but the meticulous pacing, the gritty realism, and the narrative ambiguity are familiar to us by now. The revelations made about Project Indigo delivered satisfaction while the uncertainty about how we should feel about Clare left us unbalanced. As long as next week’s episode is thick with consequences, we’ll call this one a win, especially regarding Nazanin Boniadi’s brilliant portrayal of Clare, and wait for our heads to clear.