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Series / Counterpart (2018)

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What the hell were you before me?
Howard Silk

Counterpart is a Science Fiction espionage drama which aired on Starz in the United States for two seasons, premiering in 2017. The executive producer of the show is Justin Marks.

J. K. Simmons stars as mild-mannered Howard Silk, a mid-level functionary within the Office of Interchange in Germany whose principal task, for the last thirty years, has been to carefully speak apparently nonsensical one-sentence fragments to another person, obtain a reply, and then having noted both down, pass them on to another part of the organization he's in. All that changes one day when his higher-ups tell him he's been personally requested in a top-secret meeting, and he discovers... himself. Only from another universe, and with a dire warning about a conspiracy afoot that could have widespread effects on both universes. This TV series explores some of the ramifications of discovering that there is, in fact a parallel world and universe which contains many of the same people as one's "home" world.

The series was cancelled by Starz after two seasons, but the production crew has expressed interest in other networks willing to give the show the backing to air a potential third season. However, Marks later announced that there will be no third season.

This series contains examples of:

  • Academy of Evil: The "School" of Project Indigo is considered a myth in the intelligence community. They raise children as perfect duplicates and spies to replace their others. If a child's other should break their leg, that child's leg is quickly broken to match exactly.
  • Alternate Universe:
    • The show's premise revolves around this. It is revealed that approximately thirty years before the events of the pilot, incautious experiments done in East Berlin - specifically dated to 1987 by the middle of the season - somehow duplicated the world and also punched a pathway between the two universes. Since then, the Office of Interchange, under UN aegis, has kept tight control over exit to and entry from the "other" world.
    • A major issue is in "Customs" as too often, people from one reality bring in an item to the other that can expose the existence of this alternate universe. A pair of customs agents are berated for almost allowing someone to bring in the latest album by the Prime universe's Prince...ignoring how he's dead in the Alpha universe.
  • Child Soldiers: A faction on Earth Prime it turns out raises orphans to be spies infiltrating Earth Alpha. They blame Earth Alpha for the flu epidemic which killed hundreds of millions in the past on their world, seeking revenge.
  • Doppelgänger: One of the reasons why the Office of Interchange keeps such a tight lid on the knowledge that a parallel universe exists is the brain-bending effect it has on people when they realize alternates of their own selves exist.
  • Flashback: Employed in the show to explore the past history of Baldwin/Nadia and Clare.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Several instances where Baldwin or mercenaries hired to conduct attacks against OI personnel on the Earth Alpha means that someone is secretly backing their actions. Howard Silk Prime is warned that Pope is among them as well as Lambert, the OI Prime ambassador.
    • Prime Howard informs the wife of an informant in Earth Alpha that the cleaners sent to dispose of his corpse has his teeth/fingers removed so that law enforcement can't use DNA technology to identify them. This gives an idea that a mole from Earth Prime would do the same, particularly how Clare from Earth Prime was inserted into Earth Alpha.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Even minor changes between worlds, such as a girl getting a cassette tape or not, have big repercussions. By the time of the series, the two worlds which had started identical are becoming very different.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • The opening credits show a document dated 28 October 2015 regarding a "defector", followed by a personnel record for a Philipp Kistler, and finally a section of a transcript of a debriefing between an interrogator named Janz and the aforementioned Kistler.
    • In "Birds of a Feather", the top right corner of a document can briefly be seen to show the date April 18, 2018, establishing the time period for the series.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Howard Prime has everything Howard Alpha wanted at the beginning of the series. He gets a crash course on how his counterpart became so ruthless.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Office of Interchange, the agency featured in the show.
  • Government Conspiracy: The Office of Interchange actively works to conceal evidence of its existence; its personnel often skirt the law and will evade the official police rather than risk exposure of the parallel universe.
  • Kill and Replace: In at least some cases, infiltrators from Earth Prime kill their alternates on Earth Alpha to replace them after studying the alternate minutely, with their loved ones' none the wiser. Clare Prime was one of these, it's revealed.
  • Lipstick Lesbian:
    • Though short-haired, Greta's sweet while having a feminine clothing style and manner. She dates Baldwin, a Butch Lesbian hitwoman (but she's unaware of her profession at first).
    • Baldwin's own counterpart Nadia was a lesbian too, but with a far more feminine style. Nadia wore her hair long with a blouse and skirt in her appearance on the show.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Butch Lesbian hitwoman Baldwin dates Lipstick Lesbian barista Greta (who was unaware of her profession at first).
  • Multinational Team: Being a UN agency, the OI has personnel coming from different countries who are stationed in Berlin.
  • Nice Guy: Howard Alpha is mild-mannered, pleasant, and rarely if ever shows anger. He even continues to extend courtesies to Howard Prime after the latter openly insults him in front of others.
  • Obliviously Evil: Implied in a lot of cases where counterparts try to kill each other. An entire movement is formed around the belief the two universes are doomed to destroy each other, despite the fact counterpart relationships span the spectrum of human interactions. Some kill each other out of envy or self hate. Some begrudgingly cooperate. Some get romantically involved.
  • The Peeping Tom: Clare Prime briefly watches on hidden cameras as her Alpha counterpart loses her virginity with Peter Quayle.
  • The Plague: It is slowly revealed over the arc of the first season that the Prime world experienced a bad pandemic (the "Munchen Virus", believed to have been introduced through pigs, necessitating mass abandonment of all pork products after culling the herds), lasting at least three years, to the point where the ingrained Western cultural custom of shaking hands has disappeared. "Malignant hyperthermia" exists in the Prime world, and may be more severe than in the Alpha world. Also, widespread UV hand sanitizers and mandatory health examinations prevail in the alternate world. Alternate OI security forces are also instructed to warn other personnel not to even make physical contact or otherwise to mitigate the risk of carrying a disease back to the Prime world. It forms the subplot of the 2nd season.
  • Police Are Useless: Any German police force trying to investigate with links to the alternate universe are suppressed. Justified since Earth OI agents are mandated to keep it a secret.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Howards Alpha and Prime lay one on each other in "Love the Lie"; Prime tells Alpha he's a loser for being so devoted to a wife who kept so many secrets from him (including adultery), while Alpha tells Prime how easy it was to repair Prime's relationships with his wife and daughter, simply by showing them a little attention and concern instead of being a self-centered Jerkass.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Most of the Alphas to most of the Primes.
    • Baldwin Alpha is a professional violinist, and Baldwin Prime is an assassin.
    • Prime Howard is an aggressive operative who racks up multiple kills onscreen. Alpha Howard is much more diplomatic, but also a doormat.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: And how. The inventor of the inter-dimensional gate insists the two dimensions are doomed to destroy each other, rather than the simple answer: “He’s a Jerkass, who wanted the life he no longer had.” Some of the counterparts get along so well, they appear to form romantic relationships. Weird philosophical debates aside, they’re actually pretty healthy, with no evidence to suggest anything destructive.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The temptation to replace a deceased loved one with their other is overwhelming.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The German police seeking Baldwin, a notorious assassin, believed that this was a man. Given this, she gets the drop on them as they didn't suspect that she's actually a woman.
  • Schizo Tech: The technological development of both the Alpha ("normal/actual") world (which can be thought of as something close to our real-world one) and the Prime ("alternate") one show uneven levels of progress. While the Offices of Interchange use outdated computer equipment for compatibility and security reasons, the Prime world has clam-shell phones alongside extremely advanced designer drugs, ultraviolet hand sanitizers, and superior agricultural technology. These differences result, in part, from a plague having killed millions in the Prime world, forcing a heightened focus on medicine and food quality.
  • Screw Yourself: The Lamberts from both sides have a rather... unusual relationship.
  • Secret War: Howard Silk Prime reveals that the governing authorities in his world are divided between relative moderates and hard-liners who are "more ideological", and it is the latter that are letting their battle spill over into the "normal" world; a very small minority in both worlds know of the true extent of the conflict. The root of the conflict and why it's spilling over at all is due to a faction of hard-liners blaming the Alpha (actual) world for a mass disease that afflicted the Prime (alternate) world some years before.
  • Serious Business: In the first episode, Howard is chastised for a "non-approved exchange," namely, pointing out that his co-worker had a spot on his tie. Not yet knowing the true nature of his duties, he's baffled that something so trivial could be important enough to bring up, and even (apparently) derail a promotion he'd hoped for.
  • Synthetic Plague: Many people on Earth Prime believe the Munchen virus that devastated them back in the 90s was artifically created on Earth Alpha before being released into their side. Because of this, a faction plotted vengeance by sending infiltrators over to murder their counterparts, take their places and then subvert Alpha's society from the inside. It's eventually revealed they're right, it was artificially created on Alpha, but left unclear if this had been deliberately or accidentally released to their side. In the series finale it's indicated they released a virus of their own on Earth Alpha in revenge.
  • SWAT Team: The SEKnote  is summoned to help Prime OI agents in a raid in "The Crossing".
  • Token Minority: Ian Shaw, who's a black Englishman, is the only man of color in the main cast.
  • Truth Serum: Howard Alpha is interrogated by Ian using a machine that can detect lies. As he honestly doesn't know the answers (they think he's Howard Prime), Ian concludes he's gotten better with deceiving it.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Clare Quayle, an olive-skinned woman who is of unknown ethnicity. She's the only woman of color in the main cast, played by Nazanin Boniadi, who's Iranian-English.
  • Wall Bang Her: Clare Prime has sex with a random German man up against a wall in order to lose her virginity.
  • What If?: The series. Two worlds, each with the exact same history up until 30 years before the series starts. Generally, most characters have a ‘counterpart’ who is similar.
    • Howard’s sub plot is that his counterpart is the polar opposite of him, and achieved some of the things Alpha Howard wants. The trade off is Prime Howard is significantly less relatable and more aggressive.
    • One Baldwin is an assassin, the other is a musician. The assassin sees her counterpart and experiences regret. The musician sees her counterpart and experiences fear of what she could have been.
    • Quayle Alpha warns Howard Alpha that people have become unhinged trying to catalog in minute detail the divergences between them and their counterparts. Quayle Prime is relatively sane given his obsessiveness over one football match in 1995, but do not touch his notebook or he will be very, very upset.
  • Wham Episode: So many that's it's really about how much wham-ness there is in a given episode.
    • "The Lost Art of Diplomacy" reveals that Alpha Emily was Howard Prime's source before being hit by a car in an apparent accident.
    • "Act Like You've Been Here Before" reveals that Clare, one of the primary conspirators featured up till then, is Quayle's wife, and through him is the leak in the OI Alpha offices.
    • "The Sincerest Form of Flattery" reveals that the original Clare was killed in an op led by Clare from Earth Prime in order to impersonate her.
    • "No Man's Land" shows the three Prime operatives slipping into their roles in preparation for a massacre at the Office of Interchange on the Alpha side. After this, the people in charge of the Alpha OI shut the doors to forbid further access to or from Prime.
    • "Outside In": Emily Alpha had visited the Prime world.
    • "Twin Cities": The seeds of the conflict between the Alpha and Prime Worlds started when the experiment in East Germany led to the death of Yanek Prime, who was killed after he tried to help his Alpha counterpart by swapping roles. This lead to the scientists in both worlds being forced to talk in secret via comms.
    • “No Strings Attached” reveals that Ian Shaw never existed and is a cover identity. “Ian” is actually named Wesley and is from the Alpha universe. His actual Prime counterpart died a long time ago during the flu.
    • "In from the Cold": Emily Alpha had even gone so far as to befriend Anna in the Prime world. Anna learns her parents are "spies." Emily Alpha realizes Howard Prime is not her husband (right after having sex with him). Clare tells Peter that Mira is planning to release a virus in Alpha, and they both go to Naya to reveal everything.
    • "You To You": Mira murders all of Management from both worlds and takes their place.
    • ""Better Angels": Both the Alpha and Prime verses were saved from another conflict and the instigators from both sides were disposed of. But Yanek was secretly exposed to the flu virus minutes before Mira allowed him to leave.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When the German police storm an apartment seeking assassin Baldwin, they find a frightened young woman hiding in the shower whom they assume to be a prostitute. Taking her out with them, it's revealed she is Baldwin, soon killing both cops and escaping.

Alternative Title(s): Counterpart