Counterpart season 2 episode 1 review: faster-paced, deeper conspiracy
JK Simmons returns in Counterpart season 2. Spoilers ahead in our review of the first new episode...
This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Inside Out
Given the amount of chaos in the Counterpart season one finale, the season two premiere is admirably easy to follow, even given the new characters, altered circumstances, and enigmatic ending. Although we’ll apparently have to wait a little longer to revisit with Howard Alpha (and Baldwin for that matter), watching J.K. Simmons portray Howard Prime trying to imitate his meeker counterpart is incredibly impressive and entertaining. Between his barely restrained impatience with Emily and the keen perception both of Emily and former FBI Agent Naya Temple, it’s going to be fun to see Howard Prime squirm a bit at the start.
Temple’s recruitment is the first step towards broadening the scope of Counterpart, and her qualifications as a spy hunter whose unique skills are required by Alpha’s Management make her an interesting new character from the very start. Although her interview with Howard proceeds without too much scrutiny, the Section 2 agent’s discomfort is quite evident with Quayle. Betty Gabriel’s performance as Temple exudes quiet confidence, which has been a quality lacking under Quayle’s leadership, and her religious devotion adds a unique element to her character which may come into play as well.
And who knows what to make of Fancher? On the one hand, his trust in diplomacy may have been short-sighted last season, but now he seems to be the only one expressing reservations about imprisoning all known agents from the other side when the Crossing closed. Obviously, Fancher is incorrect about Aldrich being Shadow and about the threat being eliminated, but his moral objections combined with the mysterious motives of Management make it hard not to be in his corner somewhat.
Not that Clare is operating with impunity. Sure, she took out the two Alices (and her own henchmen for good measure) who were the first to use the term “Shadow” last season, but her tense detente with Peter shows she’s far from out of the woods herself. The fact that she gives into her husband’s demand for a bone to throw to his new partner is a clear indication of the difficult position she’s in, especially with Lambert pressuring her to activate the last sleeper cell as well. Somehow the marital manipulation, from Clare’s attempt at seduction to taking turns with the baby, is just as compelling as the spy games.
The question is: who killed Brandt, the scapegoat Clare and Lambert came up with? There’s still a lot we don’t know about Indigo’s operations in their enemies’ world, and the emergence of Management as a shadowy circle of names like Avalon, Keilberg, and Weza, hints at the larger iceberg under the tip we’ve been exposed to thus far. “We all know who’s behind this,” they say, but we sure don’t! The promise of learning more about this presumably older generation of people who were around when the Crossing opened is an intriguing prospect to say the least.
We also have the unfolding of an Emily we didn’t get to meet last season, and Olivia Williams is making this incarnation admirably distinct from her counterpart, although just as sharp. Despite having aphasia, she can sense that her imposter husband wants her to get better quicker, and it probably doesn’t help that he’s not cooking wonderful meals like real Howard Alpha used to. But the real message lies in Howard telling Emily about their first date and her saying, “I don’t remember that woman,” with Howard responding, “Then forget about her — and him.” There’s the sense that he wants more than just information from Emily; he wants a second chance with the woman he lost in his reality.
But of course, Clare has other designs on Emily as well, suggesting they could be friends — to what purpose we’ll have to wait and see, but as Peter points out to her this all can’t end well for any of them. Quayle may have caught a lucky break on the roulette wheel, but he’s right to give the winnings to the homeless man. His gambling success is an apt metaphor for the luck he had in dodging suspicion with no way to capitalise on his good fortune. His daughter, for whom he seeks protection in the end, is really all he has left to hope for.
And so the table is set for a faster-paced but significantly deeper conspiracy tale in this season of Counterpart. With continued excellent performances from the cast and a top notch entrance for new character, Temple, the show should easily grab its audience and pull them right back into the intrigue. The question remains: can Counterpart build its audience with this complex story in place even as it tweaks its narrative formula? As the season progresses, the revisiting of story arcs for Howard Alpha and Baldwin should give us a better idea of whether season two has truly upped the previous season’s game as this premiere seems to indicate.
Read our Counterpart season one recap here.