Counterpart just finished its excellent first season with more of a whisper than a bang, if only because it followed weeks upon weeks of twists and turns and extraordinary character work (and a very violent penultimate episode). The finale episode did bring a few storylines to a close (or more specifically, certain characters to a close), but it also set up a host of tantalizing questions to explore in Season 2. Basically, exactly what a good finale should do. And Counterpart has not been anything except really good.
The creator of the Starz series, Justin Marks, spoke with both THR and NYT about that last episode, and about the dynamics of a series that is both about spies and about marriage, as well as upending gender norms (reminding one of another show about similar things … FX’s exceptional The Americans). One of the most fascinating parts of “No Man’s Land, Part 2,” too, was how much we see the two Howards — Alpha and Prime — starting to take on traits of the other. After the derision each had for the mistakes of their Other in that incredible J.K. Simmons vs J.K. Simmons scene a few episodes ago, we see how that the Howards are indeed being molded and changed by the circumstances of these different worlds — whether they mean to or not. Howard Alpha kills Alexander Pope as Howard Prime sweetly reads poetry to Emily, delivering flowers just like the opening scene of the series. Marks told THR,
The question is, where do they meet? Do they meet closer to Howard? Or do they meet closer to Howard Prime? So far, it’s unknown. We always saw this show as this Darwinian battle, and Pope even calls it that; it’s between two versions of the same self when it comes to the survival of the fittest. In some ways it’s two sides of the same soul that are fighting to occupy the same real estate and where they land is an anyone’s guests at the end of the first season, except to say that they’re closer together.
The finale also gave us an interesting twist in the relationship between Peter and Clare, where the car crash gave them a necessary alibi, proving that the hapless Peter was casting his lot with his family. His proof of loyalty allowed him to be put in charge of the Indigo investigation, where he can keep Clare safe. Marks spoke about how both characters are victims in this sham marriage, but that in Season 2, “Both of them have a lot to learn when it comes to finding a truth. But they are moving toward each other in a strange way. And the power dynamic continually shifts as it does in every marriage.”
As for Baldwin, we saw an unexpected team-up, or accord, reached between her and Howard Prime. Again, as Marks explains it, it’s a convergence. Neither character would have been amiable to this at the start of the season, but given what they’ve gone through (and their hopes for their futures), they are willing to make this deal and move on. The same is true for Peter and Howard Prime, who are both protecting their wives (of sorts), when really those wives are each more powerful than they are. As Marks told the NYT,
“The woman in the coma is in fact much more complex than any other character […] Both Emilys, those are job descriptions that are typically reserved for the George Smileys of the world, the James Bonds of the world […] The clichés that abound, they speak to a certain gender norm that we didn’t want the show to reflect.”
And now for perhaps the biggest question from the finale … who or what is Management?! Presented as identical boxes wielded by strange men, the garbled transmissions from on high were one of the most bizarre things the show has done yet. It felt a little like Twin Peaks and a little like Carnivale. One theory is, of course, that they are one and the same. Are they (or it) orchestrating the protection of these two worlds, or purposefully pitting them against one another? Perhaps tellingly, both came to the same conclusion regarding the assassin who reached No Man’s Land, the strongest connection yet to the show’s Cold War themes and allusions to Berlin’s “Checkpoint Charlie” of the early 1960s. Marks said to THR that,
“The answer is a lot more complex and it’s an answer that our second season really wraps its arms around: Who is management? What is their history? What is the history of the crossing and the history of the Office of Interchange? How did it really form in the first place and why? And how it developed over the decades. We understand why Indigo is driven toward some sense of revenge against our world. What we haven’t yet seen a lot of is how Indigo also came about and what its connection with management is. At the end of the first season, we wanted to introduce the idea of management in a way that wasn’t what we would otherwise expect because in the second season management is a kind of character of their own.”
I can’t wait! Counterpart started off a little bit of a slow burn, but became essential television over the course of this first season. It has built up complex personal and governmental dynamics in a world that is very sci-fi and yet never really feels that way. Simmons and the entire cast have done phenomenal work, and every twist has not only been surprising, but also perfectly natural once revealed. But now that the Crossing has been closed between the worlds, we’ll also see just how different — or even how potentially similar — Prime and Alpha will become.