The Starz original series Counterpart may air its series finale tonight (barring some eleventh hour network or streaming pickup elsewhere), but its power and importance is not to be forgotten. The two established seasons are finely crafted gems of television, where human nature is explored and the good in us and bad in all of us become a central focus.
Howard Silk (J. K. Simmons) lies at the heart of the series, on one side a low-level paper pusher while his other is a sure-footed killer. But in this second season, it’s Emily Silk (Olivia Williams) where the show finds something far grander in its message, uncovering the smaller details which make up the breaking off point of where one person ends and the other begins.
The differences between the two Emily’s comes down to circumstance. One thrives in the work while the other falls to substance abuse; one keeps the marriage while the other loses it. How two of the same person can split so monumentally is a test of the world they are part of, the lives of those around them along with their own.
They are products of their surroundings, products of worlds split at one point and while similar before, are no longer the same since. One side is riddled by a virus and technological setbacks compared to its other side; but in other ways it thrives, in its own way.
This is the same for its characters.
What one views as weak, is another person’s strength.
Emily Silk and Howard Silk both face their other near the end of each season in parallel, a mirror scene where the lies and cruelties exposed have left one of them broken by loss.
In the first season, the two Howard’s argue over how cruel and weak one another are. In the second season, Emily argues with her other over taking memories of her daughter from her and living a better life while stealing from hers on top of it.
But in both instances, it is the weak and the life not lived who are the more monumental in their humanity, who broke from the depths of deception to be better people. The more powerful characters are not the heroes; it’s the kind and those in pain who are the heroes of this story.
It’s in “Twin Cities” where the series finds its most important, and most personal, episode.
When we first see the Crossing, it’s a terrifying, cold affair. It’s concrete and imperfect in its many roadblocks and red light/green light starts and stops. The walkway far below feels like the walls will crush down upon those who walk through it.
“Twin Cities” makes the Crossing human. A simple act of humanity, Yanek (Samuel Roukin as the young version, James Cromwell as the older) trying to protect his family and defect, causes the Crossing to occur, and a world to split upon itself and become a mirror. Our minds, at the start of the show, thought big and lofty about how it possibly could have started.
But the series goes small and personal, and is all the better for it. Yanek’s self-preservation creates it, and his self-loathing and self-pity reflecting back on him in his double is what causes the rift and dissolution of trust.
The inability to trust your other, an exact copy of you, is such a rich and fascinating idea. The fears and weaknesses between each person is the same, and because of this, distrust is sewn from simply knowing yourself. It’s such an intimate idea, knowing to never trust yourself. Counterpart uses this on a grand stage of espionage and terrorism to make a greater point about humanity, how small moments can create the echoes of a generation.
But it’s also in how much you can trust someone you thought you knew. In Clare (Nazanin Boniadi), it’s the other infiltrating the other side in order to spy and prepare for retaliation at some point.
Clare becomes another incredible character for the second season, with her cover blown and teetering on the edge of her whole world collapsing. Boniadi plays Clare with a devastated loss, where the doctrine she ran by is no longer functional, and her shaky marriage to Peter (Harry Lloyd), now that he knows, provides the iciest character relationships on the show.
But by season’s end, it’s bizarrely the strongest and most tethered. It’s through losing one’s sense of self where Clare finds what she truly cares for: her family. It’s a rather beautiful comment on acceptance despite otherwise soul-crushing reservations, and both Boniadi and Lloyd play their final scene with a growing warmth, as the pieces are put back together.
It’s ideas like this which makes Counterpart so important. It’s asking questions like other seminal science fiction works have, and digging deep into the human condition.
Counterpart ends on a strong but devastating note, one which leaves nearly every major character without what they truly wanted. Many are likely to perish from the new virus, and there’s nothing to be done.
But it is a tit for tat the two sides have done to each other, through self-preservation and revenge in both instances. One hand washes the other. Neither hand will ever be clean, not after so much has happened. But in Counterpart, all that can be done is to live on.
The show will live on, too, hopefully to find an audience who appreciate the show as much as some of us have. If it’s to end here, it’s an ending to be proud of, one in spirit with the series and thoughtful in its execution.
Counterpart completes its run on STARZ on Sunday, February 17th at 8pm ET.