Counterpart Review: A Compelling Dual-World Mystery

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Those of you who just watched the series premiere of the new Starz series Counterpart have merely dipped your toes into the water of the thrilling series.

It's true, Counterpart Season 1 Episode 1, a sweet preview of what's to come ahead of the official January 21st premiere, offers an intriguing peek into the worlds inhabited by the Howard Silks.

But it only gets better, of that, I can attest.

Howard Prime from Counterpart

On the surface, Counterpart is exactly what it appears to be: a unique spy series made more compelling by the added layer of a secondary world that was created midway through the lives of characters through a failed experiment in Berlin.

Underneath it's an examination of who we are and how our decisions form the people we become both personally and on a global scale. With its top-notch cast and creative storytelling, it's the first must-watch program of 2018.

Of course, the series stars J.K. Simmons, and one of him is enough to level up just about anything. I've been a fan since he made one of the most disgusting characters in TV history more than the cretin he was as Vern Schillinger on OZ. 

Howard Silk Goes to Work - Counterpart

His resume has exploded since those days, but his talent has never faltered.

A master at his craft, he portrays the two Howards with ease, and one of the most enjoyable things about watching Counterpart is catching the moments when the two Howards, so distant in who they've become since the worlds separated, lean closer to the man they are at the genetic level.

Throughout most of what I've seen, it's Simmons who carries the burden of two characters and playing them continually and effectively. Still, there are moments as the two grow closer that I know Simmons' skills will come into play more fully as the two converge after getting to know one another better. I cannot wait.

The story is that after the worlds separated, nobody on this side (we have to pick one, and I've chosen the one most like ours to be "this" despite Starz calling the other Howard "Prime") knows anything about the divergence.

Baldwin from Counterpart

When an assassin comes to this side to kill Howard's wife, that changes for the sweet, gentle man who loves his wife and his life just as it is.

We'll wonder along the way whether knowing or not knowing is better for us, and it's a topic that is covered in quite a lot of detail given the doppelganger situation. Those who work in the embassy on both sides have varying degrees of clearance and with their clearance comes their knowledge of the crossing.

With the crossing inside of a specific building, the vast, unfolding mystery at hand and teams working together and against one another in worlds filled with other selves, it's impossible for fans of Fringe not to see a similarity. As much as I don't like using the phrase, that's not a bad thing.

In fact, it only endears me to Counterpart even more. If you have been readers of TV Fanatic for any length of time, then you might know how desperately I enjoyed the two worlds on Fringe. That became the show for me, and Counterpart feels like a nod of love to that series as if someone might have been a fan, too.

Emily Silk on Counterpart

With the singular focus being on the counterparts and the mystery stemming from the worlds, it's like a dream come true. 

The additional cast, including Olivia Williams as the Howards wives, Emily, and Harry Lloyd, Peter Quayle, both from another dearly departed show I loved, Manhattan, rounds up some of the most intelligent and thought-provoking television I've lost in recent years and offers improvements.

For the most part, you spend your time watching Counterpart as if you are Howard, not the cool, slick Howard Prime who knows what to do and can turn a bad situation to his advantage on a dime, but the kind man who left life slip through his fingers while loved his wife.

You'll be wondering what in the hell is going on, but there are clues dropped along the way to figure out pieces of the puzzle -- once you figure out what should be on the face of the puzzle.

Peter Quayle - Counterpart

Beyond the spy games -- a fun and mystifying spy arc is set into motion from the get-go -- comes the interpersonal dynamics, which are just as provocative. 

Those questions you have about the single day in your life and what might have changed if you had made a different decision are prevalent in the minds of these characters because they can, in some cases, see the results.

Sure, they don't get to choose the day everything changed, but it's fascinating nonetheless. In Simmons' hands, it's marvelous watching the two Howards struggle with how they can possibly be so different and still have begun life as the same man, sharing so many of the same memories and genetic dispositions.

Sara Serraiocco, the young actress who plays Baldwin, is also stunning as we get to know how she became an assassin. She reminds me a lot of a slightly younger Natalie Portman, and I can't help but imagine she would have done as well in The Professional.

Did the premiere whet your whistle for more of Counterpart? Will you be tuning in for the series when it begins its full series run on January 21, 2018?

Hit the comments and share your thoughts.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Counterpart Quotes

I have a new book. 'You, you, only you exist.'

Howard

Howard, why do you think I brought you in on this? For your great tactical skill, your great knowledge of this whole fuckin' thing? I need to pretend to be you, take Baldwin out myself.

OHoward