“Counterpart” delights in doppelgangers — so it only makes sense that its second-season return creates a double-whammy for viewers.
Fans of this byzantine sci-fi/spy thriller who muddled through its elaborate, twisty first season won’t be disappointed. All of the main players are back for Season 2, including star J.K. Simmons, and “Counterpart” (haltingly) pushes forward early on. But if you’re late to the party, you’ll need a spreadsheet — or a very keen sense of focus and concentration — to sort through its elaborate, concrete-thick plotline and galaxy of characters. It helps to have watched at least several episodes from Season 1, which aired last winter, but I’m afraid even that won’t preclude intermittent bouts of confusion in trying to track with what’s going on here. It’s a terrific premise that gets bogged down in a narrative morass.
“Counterpart” unfolds in modern-day Berlin, where, roughly 30 years before, scientists accidentally created a mirror-image world (cities, people etc.) accessible through a top-secret, heavily guarded underground portal (a staircase in a cobblestone tunnel leads to both worlds). In Season 1, drab Office of Interchange (OI) bureaucrat Howard Silk encountered his aggressive alter-ego from “the other side,” Howard Prime (Simmons in both roles), and was unwittingly dragged into a sinister plot pitting the two worlds against each other — and involving both versions of Howard’s wife, Emily (Olivia Williams). Still with me?
Season 2 picks up where Season 1 left off. With the portal between the two worlds slammed shut, the Howards, Silk and Prime, are stuck in each other’s universe while their governments bicker and fight deadly threats from within. (Howard Silk is now bearded, which helps tell him apart from Howard Prime.) Near the end of last season, OI’s senior director, Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd), discovered that his wife, Clare (Nazanin Boniadi), was actually her evil “other” sent from the mirror-image world to spy on Peter and feed information back to her handlers. Peter agreed to protect Clare’s secret for the sake of their baby daughter — but his loyalty is tested as that story arc continues to percolate. Other characters flit in and out; you’ll need a scorecard to keep track of who they are and why they’re important. It’s not easy, trust me.
Simmons, who won an Oscar as the drum teacher from hell in “Whiplash” (2015), distinguished himself on “Counterpart” last season by creating two subtly different versions of Howard, a remarkable acting feat since they often interacted with each other (courtesy of some nifty computer technology). His fine work continues in Season 2. And keep an eye out for Richard Schiff (Aaron Glassman on ABC’s “The Good Doctor”), who’s back as Clare’s father, Roland Fancher. Schiff isn’t on screen very often, but Fancher isn’t too far removed from Aaron Glassman. His sensitivity adds some warmth and humanity to an otherwise cold, sterile series.
“Counterpart” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Starz.
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