Counterpart, in its first season, was a show about double lives and the secrets bubbling over set in a light sci-fi spy thriller. Two worlds with the same people but completely different in life trajectory is a concept with incredible possibility. Now in its second season, it begins with intriguing hints of the larger game at play above all of the characters’ heads, and how each is being moved across the chess board into their rightful roles and places. It’s still the solid show it was before, but building on its foundation to really drill down into who these characters are as their lives are uprooted.
J. K. Simmons plays two Howard Silks in two very different scenarios, taking the dual performance in an even more split direction. The Crossing now closed, the story finds both Howards at a heavy disadvantage: one is in a world full of paranoia and finger pointing, everyone a suspect; the other is a world of coercion, emotional pain and manipulation. The spy games are more consequential, and the show is smartly using the weight of the previous year to place the pressure on for results.
The performances from its ensemble continue to be excellent. Simmons plays Howard Alpha (the one now on the other side) with a defeated exhaustion, while Howard Prime (the one in the “original world”) prospers with a newfound lease on his previously failed marriage and the sussing out of the enemy becoming a new lease on life. It’s still one of the best roles on television, quiet and subtle in its delivery and giving Simmons a lot to work with. Olivia Williams proves to be more the catalyst in the opening hours, Emily tasked with finding the root cause of last season’s events. Williams plays both Emilys determined and frustrated as powers out of her control threaten to upend any progress. Emily is more interesting than last season and rivals Simmons now in being the heartbeat of the show.
Harry Lloyd’s Quayle and his relationship with Nazanin Boniadi’s Clare is one of the more fascinating aspects of the season, as it was last year. The eggshells both characters walk on with the pact they struck leads their characters down some routes which could prove very fruitful in the long-term for the show. Both Lloyd and Boniadi do their respective roles justice with fractured pain. Sara Serraiocco’s Nadia and Nicholas Pinnock’s Ian aren’t focused much in the opening three episodes, along with newcomer to the series Betty Gabriel, playing Naya Temple, who has come into Interchange to fix all of its issues. It’s a lot of set-up for the side characters, where surely the remainder of the season will use them wisely.
The production work is stellar, the unique sets and locations always shot beautifully. One particular location introduced in the third episode is fascinating both story-wise and how cold its presence feels. The writing continues to focus on character first and foremost, an especially strong aspect. While the first three can feel a little like wheel spinning as certain characters take longer to get where they need to, it’s in the quiet moments of characters speaking and reflecting where the show picks up its most momentum.
The second season starts with some lengthy table setting in the opening three episodes but still manages to add to an already impressive world where its great performers can live in duality with an espionage flair. There are larger implications, a more open and revealing way of showing the larger tale of what’s behind the curtain, but it’s still about these characters, its largest strength. The pain in their lives, the uncertainty, has left them all uncertain and bitter in a lot of cases, but their conviction in finding the truth and protecting their side says as much about them as their own diverged pasts. Counterpart returns with solid footing and continues to be one of the better shows on television.
Counterpart returns to Starz on December 9th. Three of the ten episodes were provided for review.