The pilot episode of Counterpart introduced viewers to two versions of Howard Silk; one a no-nonsense field operative, the other a meek paper-pusher. The two men lead their lives in vastly different worlds and, last night, we got to see the Earth that Doppel-Howard hails from.
Episode two of Counterpart began on the series’ alternate Earth, showing a tense meeting between Doppel-Howard (J.K. Simmons) and the alternate Emily (Olivia Williams). She asks about his frequent trips crossing over to the original Earth and reveals that there’s a rendition order to bring him in. Two heavies in her service remove Doppel-Howard from the bar under duress with the clear intent to kill him. All we see next is two muzzle flashes inside the darkened car and Doppel-Howard calmly exiting the vehicle and walking away.
The scene shifts back to Doppel-Howard’s apartment, which is spartan, lacking any of the sentimental mementos seen in Main Howard’s place during episode one. He gets intel on female assassin Baldwin, specifically her real name. Doppel-Howard then meets with a man called Pope (Stephen Rea) in a church. Pope, who seems to be connected to the intelligence community in some way, runs down theories about whether the rendition order was official or a rogue assassination attempt, and tells Doppel-Howard he got him a 36-hour visa to the main reality.
Pope said that if the rendition order was official, then Doppel-Howard’s going to get locked up for murder. If nothing happens, then it’s an act of skullduggery that someone’s going to try and cover up. There’s a beat of tension and uncertainty when Doppel-Howard shows up at the crossing window but he’s allowed to go through with no fuss. Then the show cuts to a meeting with Emily and her superiors. “Why is personnel in this meeting?” she asks when told to recount last night’s events. Emily tries to spin and dissemble what she knows and doesn’t but gets forced to take time off while an investigation gets underway.
Main Howard is adjusting fitfully to his new job in Analysis on Main Earth, but he gets summoned to more dangerous work with his double. Along with the flinty operative Aldrich (Ulrich Thomsen), they meet in a theater and talk about Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), what exactly it is Doppel does, and their split existences. It’s divulged that the dimensional split happened 30 years ago and Doppel says he pulls defectors back to the split timeline. “There was one reality and it duplicated. No one really knows how. Well, maybe somebody knows but they’re not telling,” Doppel-Howard says.
Doppel-Howard’s learned that Baldwin’s real name is Nadia Fierro. That small bit of intel leads them to her Main Earth counterpart, a virtuoso violinist who comes off like a hard-drinking diva. Elsewhere, Baldwin tends to the nasty face injury from last episode and meets with a compatriot who tells her that Doppel-Howard has her name. The handler woman tells Baldwin that she needs to kill her other self “before they use her to get to you.” Baldwin insists that she and Nadia “share nothing” and that it’ll be easy to kill her. We get a few flashbacks to Nadia’s youth practicing in front of an aloof father and then, on the alt-Earth, we see alt-Emily with a male lover, with whom she talks about the sloppiness of the rendition investigation.
After an orchestra rehearsal, Doppel-Howard talks to Nadia in a bar, posing as the estranged dad of another musician. He uses sympathy to find out her backstory. We learn that Nadia’s dad was a failed artist, who died when she was 10. She uses the phrase “nothing but drink and anger” to describe him and says that “he left me his debt,” in the form of a dilapidated house outside the city. Main Howard and other agents go to Nadia’s apartment in the hopes of running Baldwin down. When Main Howard objects to invading Nadia’s privacy, he and Aldrich get into a testy exchange:
Main Howard: “I am not him. You may know him. You do not know me.”
Aldrich: “Do you really think you’re that different? Do you think I can’t look at you and know everything about him? Look at him and know everything about you? You share more than you think? I see everything.”
Baldwin lurks stealthily outside Nadia’s apartment and enters when Main Howard and the agents leave to go to the suburban house. She heads to the bar near the theater where she sees her other self for the first time. Baldwin calls in a kidnapping report to the cops and kills agents on watch, as Nadia discusses her past in a series of foster homes. She “tried on lives like dresses,” she says, adding that “you become who they want you to be and you lose yourself.” She concludes, “You cannot escape who you are.”
Then we get a flashback from before the split where young Nadia’s playing for money in the subway. Her dad is drinking nearby and falls onto tracks, injuring his leg so he can’t get up. He pleads with Nadia to get someone but she doesn’t help, coldly watching him get run over by a train. Back in the present, the cops come in response to Baldwin’s phone call. They extract Nadia, only to have Baldwin kill them. She aims the gun at Nadia but the painful emotions of their shared past make it so that she can’t kill her. Baldwin drags Nadia away into the theater and gets into a standoff with the operatives inside. Doppel-Howard yells that he needs her alive but Aldrich doesn’t care. Determined to try and do something good in the midst of all this chaos, Main Howard leaves the safety of a car outside and runs into the theater.
Inside, Baldwin sneers at Nadia from behind a mask: “Look at you, with your skin and your clothes. Everything is so perfect...” Baldwin shows her face to Nadia and Nadia laughs creepily, thinking she’s lost her mind:
Baldwin: “Do you know who I am?”
Nadia: “You’re my true face… You’re not real. You’re just a creature just sent to punish me.”
We then we see that Nadia cuts herself as a result of her trauma, as opposed to Baldwin who kills others. Things escalate, bullets start flying, and Main Howard runs on stage to try and stop Nadia from running into the line of fire. But an agent shoots her and Baldwin watches her other self die, then proceeds to get captured by cops.
Back at Main Howard’s apartment, a debrief gets tense. Having a “crosser” in custody of the other side is a disaster. Heated words fly and Main Howard punches Aldrich because of the seemingly innocent Nadia’s death. Doppel-Howard wants Main Howard to help him, talks up a transfer to the Strategy department of his Main Earth spy shop, and says he’s trying to help Doppel-Howard. Main Howard balks at all of this:
Doppel-Howard: “A few days ago, you were nothing. A flatliner, sleepwalking. Look at you now.”
Main Howard: “Do me a favor: stop trying to make me into your image.”
Back on alt-Earth Pope is back at church, with Emily this time. Pope asks her “how long have you known your ex-husband’s signal plan?” which means that she’s not supposed to meet with Pope in this way. Emily acts like she’s being framed and protests that she’s just trying to do her job to keep the peace. Pope needles her about substance abuse and then utters something ominous:
Pope: “Peace? I wonder when we’ve ever had peace. I wonder if there will ever come a reckoning for what they did to us. Times are changing. Scary to think how fragile this peace really is.”
Emily huffily walks out of the church and episode two cuts to credits.
We get a deeper sense of just how much Counterpart is going to play with the idea of divergence in this episode. On the main Earth, Emily is Howard’s wife, who he pines away for while she lingers in a coma. But, on alt-Earth, she’s alive and working for the same spy organization as Doppel-Howard. Their cranky exchanges—along with a hidden affair and allusions to substance abuse—suggest bad history between them. She may actually be trying to kill him or save him from danger, but the fact that we can’t quite tell yet is a sign of how messed-up things are on that side of the dimensional divide.
In last week’s debut episode, Doppel-Howard mentioned internal conflicts raging through the intelligence community on his side. This week, we get a glimpse of that tension when Emily gets called in to answer why men assigned to her were found dead. Then her meeting with Pope seeds even more confusion because he seems to be pulling strings in pursuit of a sinister agenda. There’s a lot of mystery being set up so far and my big hope is that Counterpart doesn’t spend too long playing coy with answers.
• I love how the two Howards’ sartorial similarities and differences are becoming a comedic window into how they’re alike and dissimilar.
• I’m also really into how Counterpart is knowingly invoking Cold War trappings and settings in a modern-day scifi story.
• If I recall correctly, Doppel-Howard said that his Emily was dead. The fact that she isn’t is a huge shock and calls into question just how honest Doppel-Howard is being with his Main Earth counterpart.