• Counterpart is streaming now at SBS On Demand. (SBS On Demand)Source: SBS On Demand
Counterpart incorporates science with intertwined genres and dives into a pool of universal philosophical pondering to come up with a remarkable show that smacks of a cult series in the making.
Tanya Modini

2 Jul 2018 - 4:12 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2018 - 4:12 PM

In a world of double-crossing, and concealed identities and motivations, Counterpart has found an incredibly unique perspective. What if the spy you’ve been assigned with is actually yourself? He looks like you, he shares your memories, but he is from a parallel universe and you don’t know whether to trust him. It sounds like a concept that could only exist in television, but is this as fantastical as it seems?

Not according to the scientific theories surrounding multiverse theory which Counterpart deftly takes up and injects into an ingenious espionage thriller with a twist. Well, quite a few twists.

Multiverse theory is a bit of a head spinner. It has emerged out of widely accepted scientific theories such as quantum mechanics and relativity. It proposes that there are an indefinite number of universes in space of which ours is just one. Theories around the multiverse have been reckoned with by Stephen Hawking, enthusiastically endorsed by Max Tegmark and continue to incite contentious discussion among other cosmologists and physicists.

According to Tegmark, “the key question is not whether the multiverse exists but rather how many levels it has”. He argues that if space is infinite, and if we could travel far and fast enough into the infinite number of parallel universes he proposes exist, we could come face to face with our own doppelganger because “in infinite space, even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere.”

Whether you affirm your beliefs about parallel worlds or suspend your disbelief, there’s no doubt you’ll be absorbed in the multiple dimensions of Counterpart.

Parallel worlds collide

Set in Berlin in the aftermath of the Cold War, a new Cold War is occurring between two worlds that were once the same until about 30 years ago. Back then an experiment went terribly wrong and split our universe into two, Alfa and Prime, and a rift opened up between the two worlds. Most citizens don’t even know they are living in parallel worlds and high-level government clearance is needed to traverse “The Crossing” — a metaphysical Berlin Wall perhaps?

Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) seems a nice, relatively uninteresting kinda guy who works in a lowly, mundane role as a bureaucrat for a spy agency in Alfa. He’s been employed there for 30 years but is not really sure what they actually do. That is until his “other” Howard (also played by J.K. Simmons) arrives in Alfa from Prime. The two come face to face with each other and Howard Alfa’s world is upended on a grand scale. Doppelganger’s abound in Counterpart and are presented in a convincingly brilliant way, none more so than Simmons sublime portrayal of both Howards.

As Howard confronts himself, the series uses the platform of espionage with all of its infiltration and secrets to delve into compelling, existential questions about the nature of identity. Counterpart asks the questions — How would I react if I met another version of myself who had made different choices in life? What if I could see how those choices had changed my life? 

There’s a lot going on in Counterpart — as much as you want to look for actually. The more curious viewer will be absorbed in the minutiae of some shots where elaborate detail is tucked away waiting to be discovered by those who choose to hit the pause button. Counterpart creator, Justin Marks says he initially built the world of Counterpart with so much intricate detail that he could then “turn the lights off and give audiences a flashlight” to search for answers during the mysterious, slow reveal that is executed magnificently throughout the series.

The parallel of the game of Go

The black and white stones from the ancient game of Go are the primary feature in the stunning opening sequence of the series.  Every day before he goes to work, we see Howard playing Go with a friend at an outdoor cafe. Marks explains, “It is said that no two games of Go are ever the same, it speaks to just how fragile the nature of identity really is.” The black and white, the yin and yang, the choices and their consequences. It is a game where interconnectedness is key to success and parallels the existential themes in Counterpart along with the strategy and espionage going on between the two dimensions.


Counterpart is streaming now at SBS On Demand.

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