February 18, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Counterpart”


Although its production studio MRC is seeking a stay of execution from another network or streaming service, it currently appears as though Starz’s Season 2 finale of COUNTERPART will be the last we see of the show, which is both a shame and less than a shock.  In an era where much of TV is absorbed with a second screen in hand, Counterpart demanded intense concentration, and its rewards were mostly measured and cerebral.  That proved not to be a recipe for wide success, as the ratings started low and never got higher.

Despite its failure to draw a mainstream audience, Counterpart was an often brilliant piece of work, masterfully executed by series creator Justin Marks and his writing team, as well as a remarkable cast headed by JK Simmons.  Marks had the striking idea of melding a story of espionage inspired by the split between East and West Berlin with low-tech science-fiction, depicting a Cold (and sometimes hot) War between two alternate Earths instead of two nations.  He then treated this fantabulous notion with absolute seriousness, carefully mapping out not just the narrative but character arcs that showcased the similarities and differences between different versions of the same people.  Counterpart, at its best, succeeded as both fantasy and a thriller of geopolitical and personal intrigue.

Season 2 was a bit tougher going than the first, in large part because Marks’s decision to widen the narrative world meant that the relatively sedate Howard Silk and his more violent other-Earth Howard Prime (Simmons) were less at the center of the storytelling.  This tack allowed for some fascinating broader takes on the two Earths, and also allowed more space for the rest of the main characters.  These included the wife (wives) of Howard, Emily and her Prime (Olivia Williams), as well as the unobservant intelligence officer Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd), whose Prime we also met in Season 2, and Peter’s wife Clare (Nazanin Boniadi), who turned out to be a deep-cover spy from the alternate Earth who’d murdered her our-Earth duplicate.  But by expanding the focus beyond Howard, the season lessened the emotional identification that comes with a star vehicle.

In addition, the one area where Counterpart fell short in Season 2 was in its Big Bad, the other-Earth terrorist Mira (Christianne Paul).  Despite a beefed-up backstory that introduced us to the Alpha version of her Prime father Yanek (played in the present-day by James Cromwell), who murdered Mira’s actual father after inadvertently creating the split between Earths, Mira’s motivations and plan were disappointingly straightforward for a narrative that consciously invoked John LeCarre.  (One of Season 2’s episodes was even titled “In From The Cold”.)   Our Earth’s great sin against its counterpart was introducing a flu virus that killed millions and held the other Earth back technologically, and Mira’s plot was simply to return the favor by having her agents spread the same disease here.  Evil, of course, but not in a particularly ingenious way.

The Season 2 finale, written by Marks and Staff Writer Maegan Houang, and directed by Charlotte Brandstrom, was unusually businesslike for a series that tended to enjoy its digressions, and with the exception of a final-scene twist, it functioned well enough as a series finale.  The two Howards and our Earth’s Emily, along with Peter and Clare and senior agent Naya Temple (Betty Gabriel, introduced this season), attempted to stop Mira’s plot, and although it cost Emily her life, she heroically got the crucial information to Howard Prime, who killed all of Mira’s agents in about a minute of screen time.  Howard Prime and other-Earth’s assassin Baldwin (Sara Seraiocco, underused in Season 2) went home as the borders closed, supposedly permanently, while Howard left his job in Intelligence, and Peter and Clare attempted to begin a more honest marriage.  The only kicker was that Mira’s final bitter joke was to infect Yanek with the virus, raising the possibility that our Earth would be engulfed by the disease.

As to which, we’re not likely ever to know.  Counterpart would have required some reshuffling and rebooting for a Season 3, but it would have been a pleasure to see Marks attempt it, and to watch this cast perform it.  Even in a world where television content seems to proliferate without limits, low ratings can defeat high quality.  Perhaps on another Earth, Counterpart has been renewed for the latest season in its long and profitable run.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."