Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons is starring in a new sci-fi thriller called “Counterpart” on the premium Starz network. After just one episode I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to see where it goes. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, Simmons performance is already reason enough to check out the show.
He plays Howard Silk who is a rather timid bureaucrat who works for some UN agency in Germany. We aren’t really sure exactly what it is that he does. Part of his job involves going into a highly secured room where he faces another man behind a glass plate. They read some sort of coded messages back and forth between one another. At one point he notices the other man has a spot of food on his tie and points it out to him. Silk is later reprimanded by his bosses for having unapproved communication with the other man. The entire thing is very mysterious and enigmatic.
Silk is hoping that he has been approved for promotion but is highly disappointed when he finds out he has yet again been passed over despite his nearly 30 years of service to the agency.
We see that when he is not at work he spends all of his time at the hospital visiting his wife who has been in a coma for six weeks after a traffic accident. Each day he brings her fresh flowers and also drops off one flower at the nurse’s station in gratitude for their care. He spends time reading to her in hopes that she will awaken. He is visited by his brother-in-law with whom he obviously has an adversarial relationship. Her family wants her moved to London and to bar him from having anything to do with her continued care. The brother-in-law leaves him a power of attorney to sign but Silk refuses to sign it.
His world gets turned upside down when he is called into a meeting the topic of which he has no clue. In this meeting he is shocked to meet Howard Silk… a man who seems to be an exact duplicate of himself although with a completely different personality. While Silk 1 is a very timid, mild-mannered, dowdy kind of person, Silk 2 is confident, self-assured, in charge of everything that is going on around him. Silk 2 is from “the other side” although Silk 1 has no idea what that means. Apparently Silk 2 has important information that he is willing to trade. But he will need the help of Silk 1 to carry out his mission.
Silk 1 is totally clueless about the entire situation. Eventually it is explained to him and to us that approximately 30 years ago, East German scientists were performing some sort of secret experiment in the basement of this building. They ended up creating a passageway between our world and a parallel universe in which everything was 100% identical. However in the 30 years since that event, the history of the two worlds has diverged in significant ways. Silk 2 has been very ambitious and has worked his way up through the ranks of the agency to become a kind of diplomatic courier who has permission to travel between the two worlds carrying diplomatic pouches.
Silk 2 has uncovered a plot that there is an assassin from world 2 who has traveled to world 1 with a hit list of people that she plans to kill. One of them is Silk’s wife. Silk 2 tells Silk 1 that in his world, his wife 2 died of cancer two years ago. The rest of the first episode involves setting up a trap at the hospital to try to catch this assassin. Silk 2 takes the place of Silk 1 after hospital visit and although he is coached by Silk 1, important details were left out of the daily routine and the plan goes awry.
The significant differences between both Silk characters and the way that Simmons so distinctly portrays their personalities is compelling viewing. He is completely believable as both the mild-mannered bureaucrat and the hardened, action oriented superspy. The mystery surrounding these parallel worlds, the history behind this bizarre situation, and the conspiracy theories about what’s really going on are all very compelling as well. I can’t wait to see what happens next. There are 10 episodes scheduled this season and was green lit for 2 seasons from the very beginning. One of the frustrating things you find about such series when they appear on broadcast networks is that if they don’t find an immediate audience, the series can get canceled after just a few episodes. You are left hanging with lots of unresolved plot issues. It’s encouraging that the network made a commitment to 2 complete seasons from the very start.
This series gets a very strong “I like it” on my rating system. Highly recommended for sci-fi fans. Suggested viewing for anyone who enjoys good acting and mysterious storytelling.