Sunday, March 11, 2018

REVIEW: 'Counterpart' - Howard, Emily Prime and Shaw Storm a Mysterious Compound in 'Love the Lie'

Starz's Counterpart - Episode 1.08 "Love the Lie"

The aftermath of the Indigo school discovery takes an emotional toll. Quayle grapples with his wife's new identity.

Counterpart has officially made the pivot from a very good show to a great show. That was clear from last week's stellar episode focusing almost entirely on Clare. But it's easy for a show to be great in an episode different from the norm of the season. It's another thing entirely to take that momentum and expand upon it so that the remainder of the season is just as combustive and entertaining. "Love the Lie" is another stellar episode of the show. It once again puts J.K. Simmons front and center. He has always delivered a commanding and compelling performance. But it's been a few weeks since Howard and his counterpart have interacted. In the beginning, they were pleasant and intrigued by how vastly different they were. And now, their reunion is defined by just how explosive and combative it is. They have both changed in a short amount of time. The clock is ticking for them to do some good and protect the world from destructive. The mission they are fighting has been in motion for years. They finally have solid intelligence on what's going on. That's a huge moment. But it's just as surprising and moving to see the Howards once again discuss their moral philosophies as it pertains to the secrets they keep. They have been living in each other's lives and making assumptions about what the other must be like when they are the ones living them. And now, they finally get to confront each other about the choices they've made and how the awareness of this entire situation is affecting their personal judgment. It's such a fun and brilliant showcase episode. Plus, it's one that remains very exciting and intense as well. Death still lingers over every single action of this show. But there's a sense of love and hope as well that has been remarkable to see.

The compound that Howard, Emily Prime and Shaw are storming is actually the Indigo school. That was a place the audience didn't really understand and see until last week's episode. This trio were investigating this place long before we had a sense of its importance. The show is very crafty and well thought out that way. It knew this discovery was coming and laid a solid foundation for it once it occurred. The previous episode brought things into focus here. This is where Clare learned all of the skills in order to assume her counterpart's identity. It's a program that Mira runs so passionately. And now, it is under attack. This secret mission has finally been discovered. Howard, Emily Prime and Shaw have no idea what they are walking into. They just see a group of people burning evidence. They have to strike now to salvage some of it in time. But it's an assault that does lead to numerous casualties. People die on both sides. For Shaw's men, it was a fate they accepted with the job even though they didn't know what this precise mission was. For Mira's students, it was presented as a choice. They could not be captured. As such, they were given the option to fight or kill themselves. Meanwhile, Mira made her escape without being caught. She lives on to fight another day because her mission isn't over yet. That's an ominous tease. But it's also thrilling to think that this raid wasn't a waste of time. There was only so much Mira and the students could do to cover up the purpose of this school. Emily Prime is soon able to figure everything out with the understanding that she needs to get a message to the other side to warn Howard Prime of what's coming. They may not like each other but they are the only allies they have in this war as well.

It's such a thrill to see that sit down between the Howards in the interface room. It's the only place at the crossing where they can have a face-to-face conversation. It's still tricky. They have to get the cameras turned off so that no one is listening in on what they have to say. Howard Prime is completely surprised by this message demanding a meeting. And yet, they both have the resources to make the meeting possible. Howard delivering the intelligence of the three spies who came over a few days ago happens very quickly. It's the only pressing business of real concern as well. The rest is completely personal. It's about how much they have changed because of these worlds as well as the amount of lying that has apparently separated the two. But it's also powerful to see just how similar the two of them are through their reactions. Howard Prime is proud of how far Howard has come. When they first met, Howard was nothing more than a lowly cog in the system who was blindly devoted to his wife despite the obvious secrets she was keeping. And now, he's arranging meetings and delivering vital information across two universes. He has come a long way. But the audience is fully aware of just how personal this has all hit Howard. We've seen his reaction to learning that Emily Prime is still alive and that they have a daughter, Anna. He's willing to confront Howard Prime about those lies. But it also comes with the perception that Howard has fallen in love with this life. The audience knows he hasn't because he's forced to work with a harder and colder Emily. This isn't the woman he is in love with even though they share the same face. He's not appreciative of all that Howard Prime has done for him. In fact, he's furious because his entire world has been destroyed because of this conflict.

But it's also important to note that Howard wasn't disillusioned about who his wife really was. Across this season, there has been a lot of talk about Emily. She was Howard's wife and worked as a source for Howard Prime. There have been numerous little reveals about her - like her affair and her possibly walking into traffic to cause her fateful accident. But the show hasn't spent any real time with Emily or her marriage with Howard. There have been different variations of that bond. Howard Prime had a relationship with Emily that is easy to infer. Howard and Emily Prime are working together now and things have already become quite personal. But it's surprising to see just how aware Howard was about his wife. He doesn't need to have a moment of hatred towards Howard Prime for walking in his life and completely ruining it like he did in his own life in the other world. Howard Prime is using these reveals as a way to attack his counterpart and get him to feel less confident in this dynamic. It's a way to disarm him so that he has an emotional response. He still ultimately produces that but it's a very different reaction than what Howard Prime was expecting. It's confirmation that Howard did know about Emily's affair because it wasn't the first time it happened. That is again a reveal that closely connects the lives of the two Emilys. They have both struggled in their marriages to Howard. The sole difference is that Howard has been willing to work on his marriage in a way that Howard Prime was not. As such, it's a devastating reveal to Howard Prime. He's still able to go about his way and complete his job. But it's such a thrilling and personal moment for the show as well. It puts the characters at the forefront of the story and makes this confrontation just as important as what will come next with the ongoing conspiracy.

Finally, there is the fallout to Quayle confronting Clare about being an impostor leaking his classified information. He knows just how compromised he has been for a long time. And now, he is reckoning with that. The walls are closing in on him. He acted irrationally in confronting Clare last week. It's smart of him to ensure that she isn't able to escape. He needs to decide what to do next. It's there where things become so morally compromising for him. This news getting out will destroy his entire career in the department. He is now fully aware of just how incompetent he has been and how he doesn't deserve his current position. He accepts that he was only promoted because of his family connection. He understands that's why Clare exploited him in the first place. But it's so complicated for him because she's saying all the right things. She's trying to win him over by saying the woman he fell in love with is actually still alive on the other side living a peaceful and quaint life. She's proclaiming her love for her daughter while exploiting just how dangerous it could be for anyone to learn that she is a byproduct of people from different universes. Moreover, Quayle is confronted by Aldrich who basically knows that Quayle is the mole. He looks at him under suspicion and delivers dire threats. He shares a story about having a personal relationship with his counterpart. He was willing to play him for intelligence until he was ready to defect to this world. He had to eliminate him as a result because having that information out there would only cast further suspicion around his own actions and loyalty to the agency. As such, it's a conflict that Aldrich understands all too well. And yet, he doesn't know what's going on with Quayle and Clare. He doesn't know how Quayle is compromised. And so, that leads to the very intriguing final twist of Quayle naming Howard Prime as the leak in the department. It's a way to keep things complicated heading into the final stretch of the season. It again proves just how dumb Quayle can be. But it's also just enough to prove that Howard Prime may be fighting this conspiracy all by himself because he's the only person on this side he trusts with the information he is currently carrying.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Love the Lie" was written by Amy Berg and directed by Alik Sakharov.
  • Baldwin is continuing to carry out her mission. She is killing the three targets Clare wants taken out so that her agents can replace them on this side. She successfully kills one of them. And yet, it's probably going to be a significant problem when Baldwin finishes this mission and tries to get in contact with Clare again. She is doing this for a reason. She wants to escape to a better life. But only Clare can give that to her now because she's the only one aware of the deal.
  • However, it seems like Baldwin has already found a life that she would like to enjoy and relax into. She has formed this quick connection with Greta. She is annoyed when Greta takes pictures of her while she sleeps. But she also trusts her enough to be intimate with her. Of course, it's also clear that Baldwin doesn't know how to act in a normal relationship. She is completely fine with breaking into Greta's apartment in the middle of the night.
  • Emily wakes up in the hospital and Howard Prime purposefully doesn't tell Howard about it. He rushes over to the hospital to see if Emily is once again the woman he once knew. She's not. She's still just making slow and small progress. It's much more meaningful that Emily's mother is now in town and ready to make a lasting commitment to her daughter's recovery.
  • The show made a big deal about Emily Prime giving Howard a gun right before they stormed this compound. It was ominous because it seemed like Howard would jeopardize the mission somehow because of that. And yet, nothing comes of that. The only major injury of importance is Shaw taking a bullet to the arm. Howard is mostly able to stay back and just see the devastation that has occurred throughout this building.
  • Of course, it's still a little curious that no one really suspects Howard of not being who he says he is. He has an emotional response to seeing the death of children. Emily Prime is there protecting him and looking out for him. But that nurturing doesn't seem suspicious to Shaw. Similarly, it's a little odd that Howard Prime doesn't ask Quayle about his wife when he needs him to set up this meeting in the interface room.
  • How do the agents from the Indigo school explain things to the guards at the crossing? Here, it is explained that the three agents traveled over to the other side as a diplomatic envoy. The guards still have their pictures and know they have one day left on their visas. But when they don't return, doesn't that raise red flags? What's the protocol then? Or does Pope have someone on the inside who gets rid of that evidence?