J K Simmons Delivers Emmy-Worthy Performances in Starz Series, Counterpart

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Counterpart Season 1

There's a wall in Berlin that separates it from Berlin. It's not the wall you're thinking of, but it's still symbolic of the cold war that sets the stage for the fascinating science fiction series, COUNTERPART.

Several years ago, an experiment went wrong, and suddenly where there was once one dimension there were now two, each of them identical up to that point in time, and now able to diverge in minute ways, each change cascading into more, like the flap of butterfly wings contributing to the hurricane. The bridge between these two Earths is below the building that is now a United Nations outpost, run by an organization that exists to keep the other dimension a secret, while controlling immigration between the sides, carrying out diplomatic gestures, and engaging in espionage.

Enter Howard Silk (JK SIMMONS), a low-level, hapless employee who's a simple cog in the lowest levels of the machine. He has no idea about the agency he works for, and no clue about the other world. Not, that is, until he meets Howard Silk -- a ruthless, hardened spy from the other world who's investigating a conspiracy that crosses both worlds. Suddenly, Howard is drawn into two worlds he knows nothing about, as his own world suddenly reveals itself to have secrets and lies that were intimately close to him yet hidden from him his whole life.

The second Howard is in pursuit of an assassin from his world (SARA SERRAIOCCO), who is targeting marks in our world. As the investigation deepens, both Howards learn just how far the conspiracy reaches. Assisted by the first Howard's superiors, Peter (HARRY LLOYD) and Aldrich (ULRICH THOMSEN), our protagonists learn that there is almost nobody they can trust -- not even each other, as the second Howard lies to the first about the death of his wife, Emily (OLIVIA WILLIAMS), who herself is an agent on the other world.

Not an actor is wasted in this series, with everyone turning in compelling performances, from RICHARD SCHIFF (THE GOOD DOCTOR) as Director of Diplomacy Roland Fancher, to STEPHEN REA as the enigmatic puppet-master, Alexander Pope. But it's truly Simmons who deserves an Emmy nod for his dual role as Howard Silk. The characters may look the same, but they are so different in not just their actions but their demeanor, and Simmons makes it instantly apparent to the audience which Howard he is portraying at any given moment with just a look or a gesture.

COUNTERPART is a new and intriguing twist on the spy genre. There's the science fiction bent to it involving the other dimension, but there are none of the science fiction effects one might expect, which keeps that aspect of the series extremely low key. There are no wavy fields of light, no alien thrumming noises. Travel between the two worlds is a simple walk down a hallway to another door.

The series makes some interesting statement on how life could be different, all based on the accumulation of little choices. But it also makes an understated commentary on our own societal self-loathing, insofar as we make an amazing discovery where we can encounter our own selves -- and immediately put up barriers to keep ourselves away from ourselves. It's completely engrossing and eminently binge-worthy material.

The complete first season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0