Nineties romcom Sliding Doors swung around a central conceit that every minor decision has the potential to lead us down rapidly different paths. Infinite parallel worlds contain infinite possibilities of lives lived and roads taken and not taken. But what happens when two of these roads converge again, bringing you and the other you on a collision course? Could you even trust the you who you never became? These are questions we’ll never have to answer, but ones that become paramount for Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) in Counterpart.
We’re in a Berlin that has one major difference to our own. In 1987, East German scientists discovered a crossing point to a parallel world (called Prime) populated by counterparts of every person in our own world (Alpha). These two worlds have diverged dramatically ever since and relations have become strained. While most people in Alpha World remain unaware of the existence of Prime, assassins from the alternate world have started to pop up, rubbing out seemingly unconnected targets. Silk, a low-level worker in the UN agency that guards the crossing, is drawn into this conspiracy when his comatose wife Emily becomes a target, forcing him to work with his gruff Prime counterpart (also J.K. Simmons) to unravel the mystery.
While its premise blends spy thrillers and science fiction into a tasty Philip K Dick and John Le Carré smoothie, that doesn’t begin to get to heart of what makes Counterpart such a wonderful show. It’s a surprisingly emotional watch, as even peripheral characters and their motives develop gradually from opaque mysteries into relatable actions. It’s also incredibly twisty and dense, requiring immense concentration to keep abreast of events and allegiances. In an era of multiple screens and diminishing attention spans, the show’s refusal to make things easy for the audience is utterly commendable.
As you’d expect, J.K Simmons is phenomenal in his twin roles as both Howard Silks, one gentle and compassionate, the other hardened and brash. You can tell which is which just by the way Simmons carries himself. He’s surrounded by equally brilliant castmates, especially Olivia Williams as his wife Emily (comatose in one world, very much alive and difficult to trust in the other) and Sara Serraiocco as the elusive assassin Baldwin. The latter’s introduction in a hotel room is just one of the show’s exceptional, breath-taking set pieces. Season two lands on December 6th, so this weekend is your perfect opportunity to delve deep into Counterpart and catch up with one of the most under-watched and under-rated shows of 2018.