Imagine the intimidating presence of JK Simmons (Whiplash) lurking on the screen almost in every moment. Now imagine there are two Simmons crowding the screen with menacing personas, both showcasing the actor’s unprecedented grittiness. That’s what Counterpart (created by The Jungle Book live-action’s writer, Justin Marks) is all about—a master-class from the actor in a uniformly brilliant dual performance.
In Counterpart, the odd start around three decades ago in Berlin when a scientist accidentally created a parallel universe with a gate connecting both worlds in a cellar. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, the loops between multiverses made complicated with inter-universe intrigues. But, unlike a similarly themed series, Dark, for instance, this story doesn’t concern with how scientific things work and it’s not interested in adding campy, let alone complicated, theories to make up the fiction part of sci-fi. Instead, the show embraces a tense espionage thriller trope to present its intriguing events and creatively crafted diplomacy conflicts between two so-close-yet-so-far universes.
The gatekeeper, literally and non-literally, is Simmons with ardent performance and assuring screen presence to keep the attention to him and not on the stumbling details in the background. The actor portrays Howard Silk—a gentle, elderly clerk living a straight life and loving his dying wife endlessly. His quiet life, however, breaks into pieces when he encounters a strange visitation from the parallel universe that he’s not aware of. The man who visits him is no other than Howard himself but from the other universe. The thing is, this Howard is unlike his version of himself and his other universe’s counterpart demands that the innocent Howard to work with him.
Counterpart’s narrative stops everyone in their tracks and demands the full attention from the first episode. The double Howard incident is only the beginning; but, it carries myriads of questions. What has happened during the three-decade span in each world that makes the first Howard and the second Howard a complete opposite of each other? The quiet Howard lives a mundane life; meanwhile, the other Howard is a spy-like agent with physical prowess and the gift of knowledge. Simmons’ portrayal of both characters is jaw-dropping. He appears innocent to the border of being lame in one scene; on another, he’s a beast. The range of his acting in each episode alone is more like a gift to the cramped show.
Each episode is around one-hour long but the pacing helps the show to find balance, especially when the narrative becomes too congested to digest. As in similar espionage thrillers, withholding information becomes an integral element of operation; Counterpart is also using the trick as an integral part of the narrative. Each episode reveals just enough information as breadcrumbs to follow and, at the same time, as shock factors. However, the larger picture is kept intact with elusive foreshadowing. Simmons’ fantabulous performance helps to keep the attention close to the narrative or, at least, to the sophistication of his two characters, as the story begins to take its true form.
Counterpart is an original single-camera series produced originally for Starz. The first season premiered on 10 December 2017 and ended on 1 April 2018; while the second season first aired on 9 December 2018 and aired its final episode on 17 February 2019. Starz has opted not to renew the series; but, the production company, Media Rights Capital, has been seeking a new home for the series to no avail by the time this article is published. The first season won Outstanding Main Title Design on the 70th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Mola TV holds exclusive streaming rights for the Indonesian market for both seasons.
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