Last week’s standalone episode of Counterpart was not only the most compelling hour of the series to date, but a long-needed opportunity to remind viewers of the stakes and reenergize the show. In learning how the Crossing was opened up, we also learned of the original sin that forever tainted the experiment, when the two Yaneks made a decision that set their destinies — and the destinies of the two worlds — on much different courses. From there, we could understand how the surviving Yanek arrived at the conclusion that the Crossing had to be shut down. We could also understand how the devastating pandemic was released and ultimately how a radical organization like Indigo could rationalize its deception and violence.
The one plot carryover from last week’s episode to “No Strings Attached” is the reunion of Yanek and Mira — daughter of the other (dead) Yanek, head of the Indigo school, mother of dragons, et al. — and their insistence, via purloined electronic suitcase, that management meet their demand to shut down the Crossing permanently. And while the action does trigger some movement in the form of an ambassador with a message for “the fourth floor” about management from both worlds meeting up, the momentum stops cold. Save for this little plot thread, there’s almost nothing from episode six that carries over into episode seven. In other words, we’re back to business as usual.
It doesn’t help that the episode is framed by Ian Shaw, the show’s least interesting character, getting inserted into the action. We first got to know Ian as Emily Prime’s lover in the first season, but his role has never been clear throughout the run of the show. He’s an OI operator and enforcer of some kind, often the tip of the spear whenever gunplay is necessary — he led the assault on the Indigo school last season — but his motives have been as cloudy as his relationships to the other characters. “No Strings Attached” fills in some backstory: Ten years earlier, Ian was living as Wesley Pierce in the Alpha world, but a tragic set of circumstances has him living the rogue’s life as Ian in the Prime world, a sad shell of his former self. “This job will kill you and everyone you hold dear,” he’s told. And his signature mirthlessness would seem to bear that out.
The episode does much better when it shifts the focus back to Clare, who’d been fading a bit since last season’s superb seventh episode, “The Sincerest Form of Flattery,” explained her adoption and radicalization in the Indigo program. (As an aside, it’s no coincidence that the three best episodes of the show have all centered on a single character: From the first season, “Both Sides Now,” when the two Howards swap lives, and “The Sincerest Form of Flattery,” where we see how Clare was raised for ruthlessness, and from this season, “Twin Cities,” about Yanek’s role in opening the Crossing.) It’s been difficult to track Clare’s thinking in the episodes since, because ever since Quayle and Howard Prime opted not to turn her in, her fate has been tied up with theirs.
The Clare of season one had been the ultimate true believer, a star student of the Indigo school hell-bent on avenging the deaths of her parents by taking it out on the Alpha world. But since learning that her parents didn’t die from the pandemic and that she was recruited based on lies, Clare’s loyalties have lied in the same murky place where those of many characters on the show do. The reemergence of Spencer, her childhood friend and current Indigo cell leader, has stirred up old feelings within her. She may not be that true believer any longer, but her attraction to Spencer remains the one authentic emotion from her childhood and it’s exerting a pull on her that goes beyond ideology. At the same time, she has the other Spencer, her little girl, to worry about, especially now that Quayle has come under suspicion at OI and quit his job. He wants her and the baby to skip town. Quayle and the older Spencer are both offering Clare a fresh start at a new life, unburdened by organizational debts to either Indigo or OI. It’s not an obvious choice.
Where all of these events leave poor Howard Silk is a question he’s asking himself, though in the immediate future he’ll have to recover from a gunshot wound. His experience in the Prime world has stiffened his spine a little and perhaps made him properly suspicious of his counterpart’s reasons for bringing him into his life. “I’m done being everybody’s prisoner,” he declares, before a confusing shootout leaves him wounded. It’s remarkable — and not in a great way, frankly — how much Counterpart has evolved past the draw of J.K. Simmons in dual roles and rendered him no more or less relevant than a half dozen other major characters and their counterparts. Freed from Echo, Howard is now out looking for a purpose and trying to figure out who he is.
Join the club.
• Great to see the fine character actor Richard Schiff assuming a more substantial role here as Clare’s father and OI muckety-muck, who has swiftly fallen out of love with the son-in-law who owes his ascendence in OI to him. Schiff’s Roland Fancher doesn’t know the shocking truth that his real daughter Clare was killed by her counterpart, but he carries himself with an arrogant certitude anyway.
• Emily Silk continues to try to piece together memories to figure out who she was before the coma. She’s now in the lonely position of knowing that her friends and allies are gone, but not realizing that her Howard is not the one standing in front of her.
• “What if we’re not really the heroes?” is the question Clare poses to Spencer, who still fervently believes in the mission. Counterpart is a show that likes to bring characters to that place where their sense of purpose is upended and they have to figure out who they really are and what they believe.
• Naya doesn’t know everything that’s going on, but her insight about OI seems correct. She tells the board not to think of themselves as having foxes in the henhouse. Instead, she says, “You are living in a henhouse built by foxes.” OI is thoroughly compromised, just as the entire two-worlds experiment is compromised.