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Counterpart - The Crossing - Review: "What If John le Carré Wrote Sci-Fi?"

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Counterpart 1.01 "The Crossing" - Review:
Directed by Morten Tyldum & Written by Justin Marks

Alternate universes are always an interesting concept, whether it's taking characters that we already know and thrusting them into a universe that we don't (Star Trek: Discovery), or starting in an alternate universe in the first place (The Man in the High Castle), they have the potential to create a really fascinating story, and it's something that showrunner Justin Marks, screenwriter behind 2016's The Jungle Book and the upcoming Top Gun sequel doesn't shy away from tackling head on in the premiere of Starz' latest new drama, which was available to view on the network's website before debuting on television this weekend.

Our introduction into the world of Counterpart is through Howard Silk, played expertly by JK Simmons, as we navigate the Berlin that he knows. It turns out that Howard works at a bureaucratic machinery of a UN spy agency, and having just been passed over at a promotion as he tries to escape from the same position that he's been held in for 30 years in Interface, he must also deal with the fact that his beloved wife (Olivia Williams) is hurt, having been hit by a car and lying in a coma in hospital, helpless. He's bogged down with plenty of issues before we even throw the alternate Howard into the mix.

After starting with a fast paced action sequence before reverting to a slower pace, Counterpart's tone, atmosphere and feel reminds me a lot of Cold War inspired dramas like The Americans and Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy. With Berlin and the Cold War playing an important part as a backdrop to this show and all the clandestine secret-keeping going on, the whole thing is starting to feel like John le Carrés take on science-fiction, and it wouldn't be too surprising if at one point, George Smiley showed up out of nowhere bringing The Circus into play. If the show ever did a flashback episode to events that happened during the Cold War, Smiley would feel right at home.

It seems that during the Cold War, a breach between worlds was discovered and as a result the agency that Howard works for was set up to try and contain people crossing over and prevent it from becoming public knowledge. Very few people know it exists, and fewer still get to meet different versions of themselves. Howard himself shouldn't even have clearance to know about what's going on, but it turns out that the person who has just come through from the alternate reality is none other than a direct replica of him, and will only speak to one person - himself.

Naturally, this throws the Harold that we have just been introduced to out of sync and he's extremely confused, as would anyone be. The meeting's short and to the point, at least at first - and he doesn't get to spend a lot of time with the other Harold until he crosses over again, claiming that people from his Earth have begun targeting those that Harold knows and loves - and his wife is one of these targets, currently trapped and unable to move from the hospital. It's suggested that this is brought to the higher-ups, but the other Harold warns them that their higher-ups have been compromised, and he doesn't know who to trust, apart from maybe himself. He decides that the best course of action is for him to switch places with the Harold that we know, so he has a better chance of defending his wife from the bad guys, who in this case, is a young female assassin named Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco) who is more than capable of taking on any kind of opposition.

Before Harold Two heads out to stop the attack on Harold One's wife, Harold One and Harold Two get to spend some alone time with each other and a back and forth conversation starts. There are minor differences - Harold Two got promoted whilst Harold One never did, Harold One married his wife on his first date whilst Harold Two did not - and has a far less faithful history with her, and Harold Two isn't as keen on music. There's a whole lot of minor differences between them considering that for the most part, they all share the same memories, and it's interesting to explore what these two characters shared and what they didn't. One of the bigger differences between Harold One and Harold Two is that Harold Two's wife didn't get hit by a car, and is still up and walking.

The character revelations shared between both Harolds is one of the more effective moments of the episode and is among the many things why this show works as well as it does. They're handled so well, particularly by JK Simmons as an actor, who really excels here in portraying just how different the two versions of Harold actually are. These minor quirks and the contrast between the two of them helps shine the light on these characters, and we already know more about them than we do in some shows that have been going on for much longer than Counterpart. How they will continue to be affected by the meeting of themselves remains to be seen, but for now there's plenty of potential in the show.

Baldwin eventually, following oversights from both Harolds, is able to work out that Harold Two is actually Harold Two in disguise and not Harold One like he first appeared to be, prompting a frantic shootout in the hospital that marks Baldwin out to be an intriguing antagonist, and I hope that we get to spend more time with her character in the future beyond just in the combat sequences like this, especially given that she was able to escape alive. Serraiocco left a brief but badass impression, for sure.

Obviously the main focus was on Harold One and Two this week, as well as introducing the world that the show inhabits, but we also got to meet the man who rejected Harold One for a promotion, putting him down brutally by saying that if it was going to happen, it would happened in the thirty years that he's been working there. Like with Baldwin, we don't learn that much about Peter outside of his job, but it's also worth noting perhaps just in case you recognised him but couldn't place where - he's starred in Doctor Who and Manhattan in the past. Another familiar face cropped up in this episode too, Battlestar Galactica veteran Jamie Bamber - who played Eric, Howard's brother-in-law who both Howards can agree on disliking, as he's constantly clashing with Howard on how to handle Emily, preferring to bring her home to spend her days with her family rather than at the hospital.

Counterpart adopts the 'show, don't tell' approach, and as a result subtlety is its focus here and because of this it doesn't nearly feel as expository-heavy as most pilots do. The characters we meet are natural additions to the world and don't feel too out of place or unlikeable, and the mystery is very intriguing primarily because of how much we don't know at this stage. Whilst its slow pace may be an issue for some, Counterpart's promising start should give you a compelling reason to come back for more.

What did you think of The Crossing? Let me know in the comments below and check out the next episode this Sunday on Starz.

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