Sunday, April 1, 2018

REVIEW: 'Counterpart' - The Office Tries to Find a Diplomatic Way to Respond to the Attack in 'No Man's Land, Part Two'

Starz's Counterpart - Episode 1.10 "No Man's Land, Part Two"

A crisis at the O.I. leaves both Howards stranded.

Counterpart really nailed the conclusion of its first season. This two-part finale was a fantastic culmination of the story that occurred this year. It proved that Counterpart was the best new show of the year so far. That's very impressive. I was unable to cover the penultimate hour due to personal reasons. But it was such an intense hour that brought the guests' plan to fruition. It was so intense. It proved just how different this trio's mission was from Clare's. Clare was implanted in this world with the intention of living in her cover identity for a long time. She had to carefully observe every little detail about her counterpart. But with this trio, they didn't have anything to do with the deaths of their others. Instead, they just had to step into their lives for one day. It's the day that would completely ignite war between the two worlds. After years of planning, this conspiracy is finally ready to take action that makes everyone step up and take notice. It's no longer a secret what's been going on and who is running this secret cabal of conspirators. But that knowledge doesn't make diplomacy any easier. It was such a perilous and ominous moment when the last remaining attacker from the other world lands in the neutral zone. It's the place in between worlds where no one has a claim on him. No one can go in there to retrieve him without setting the stage for a whole new conflict. It's such an intense plot point that fuels a ton of this finale. The chaos and destruction occurred in the penultimate episode. The ramifications of that action ripple out in this finale. There is still plenty of death as the show sets the stage for the next season. But it's also just so compelling to watch on a personal level as everyone's lives change dramatically because of this attack. It completely redefines alliances while allowing for a number of really shocking moments as well.

It also shows just how much is still unknown about this agency that controls the crossing. So much has been teased about the management of this operation. They operate on the fourth floor and are completely mysterious. There hasn't been a character who represents their interests so far. And yet, they need to make their presence known here because of the chaos that erupts in the office. They come down for a full briefing from the entire department. But it's in that moment that it becomes clear that this corporate structure is so secretive. Only one person comes to this meeting on both sides. That individual pulls out a device that allows him to be the interface for management. He is the one listening in on the discussion happening between the floors. He's telling the characters we've seen before what their faceless bosses believe. It proves that this entire system is built upon discretion and secrecy. No one truly knows who they work for. That still allows the potential for there to be a familiar face running both of these agencies in the world. This is the first time that Quayle and Emily have presented their intelligence to management. It's a system that Roland already understands. He knows the role he plays in this world. He sees the importance in diplomacy. But he's also looking for support because he was clearly kept alive for a reason. This isn't the end game of Pope's plan for making this world suffer. This is just the beginning which proves to be a very tricky situation for everything to navigate. Management believes they make the best decision based on the information made available. And yet, there is so much being kept from them that has the potential to keep things really chaotic and complicated in the future.

And so, the attacker is just allowed to die in the crossing. He dies in the neutral territory. Neither side is willing to make a claim on the body. They both know the potential consequences of such an action. Roland wants to interrogate him to further understand this plot to undermine their government and world. But he doesn't want it to be seen as their further declaration of war. He doesn't want to ignite this conflict any further - which leaves him in a murky neutral zone as well. Meanwhile, Dwyer isn't even fully aware of what happened on the other side when he first attempts to make a statement about peaceful resolution. His side doesn't want to claim the body because they don't want to be seen as officially condoning this action - and thus declaring the war. Both sides want the balance of power to remain exactly the same. It just further proves how one group of radicals can completely alter the perception of this conflict. They are willing to start war that no one else wants because they blame the other world for the disease that wiped out the majority of the population. The official government doesn't believe that. But that government has been infiltrated and made corrupt. Emily Prime doesn't know who she can trust. She has worked alongside Howard and Shaw. And now, she has to plead her case to management. She knows just how delicate the situation is and wants action to rid the department of these radicals. But the official response is tepid for now. That means the man dies in the neutral zone while Roland makes the decision to close his side of the crossing to prevent anyone from coming over or leaving. That's a decisive action that means everyone will be stuck in the current worlds they are in. But that shutdown of co-existence could prove quite destructive in its own way. This side has to be focused on cleaning up this mess and replenishing its ranks. That might take awhile because they aren't sure who they can trust - especially since the man leading the charge is knowingly working with his sleeper agent wife.

Quayle and Clare survive the car crash that happened while the attack at the office was going on. Clare sees it as a smart strategy on Quayle's part because of the alibi it creates for them. It's easy for them to say that they were in the midst of a heated argument when Quayle lost control of the car. They were both wearing their seat belts. It doesn't explain the reckless driving of how fast he was going while avoiding red lights. But it presents a reasonable alibi for now. The amount of people who know that Clare is the mole is really small. Quayle only trusted Howard Prime with that knowledge and then immediately betrayed him. He did so in order to maintain his own career. Clare has been working him hard. She is trying to get him to believe that their marriage actually developed into something real. The love they both have for their daughter is genuine. That has to be enough. Right now, Clare is targeted because Howard Prime told Aldrich and Cyrus about her true allegiance. And yet, that won't be an ongoing threat any longer. Clare kills Cyrus when he comes for her. She is able to have a nice meaningful conversation with her mother about needing to pretend that her marriage is happy and it eventually will be. Then, she is rewarded by Quayle coming home and embracing her after seeing the man she has killed. That shows that they are now truly in this together. He listens to what she has to say. He proves his worth at the office and is put in charge of the search for the mole. As such, the two of them can craft the narrative of what this side believes. Meanwhile, Aldrich is eliminated as a threat because he goes after Emily. It's an action in order to get Howard Prime to stay in the country. He needs all of the intelligence he has about what happened. In the process, he threatens the one woman he cares about. That means Howard Prime is completely okay with paying off Baldwin to ignore her orders to kill Emily and instead kill Aldrich. The money helps but she holds a personal grudge against Aldrich because he killed Nadia. That makes this such a sweet moment that is poetic in how it brings everything to a satisfying conclusion for everyone.

But the most engaging thematic story has to be the Howards slowly becoming the other. In the premiere, Howard and his prime counterpart couldn't be any more different. There was some connective tissue but Howard was presented as the lowly cog blindly devoted to his wife while Howard Prime was the badass in charge of his own department who wasn't loyal to anyone. And now, their lives are so much more nuanced than that. When they were forced to pretend to be each other in their daily lives, they couldn't do it. Howard Prime couldn't work a desk job while Howard didn't know how to be intimidating while demanding information. This season has forced both of them to change. It's made Howard Prime see that he still does care about certain personal relationships and that he doesn't understand the world as well as he thinks he does. Meanwhile, Howard has realized that he has the capability of being just as cold and ruthless if he is willing to turn his emotions off. Howard has had enough of this world. He is ready to get back to his normal existence. That's all that he cares about. He just wants to be by Emily's side reading to her. He is willing to make a deal with Pope in order to live that reality again. That's such an intense moment though because it's Howard making a deal with his enemy. Pope is the man who orchestrated all of this. He built the network that the conspiracy operated in. The plan in motion is his design. And now, it's so surprising that he is killed by Howard. He kills him in self defense. Howard doesn't want to be a mole feeding information to these agents. But Pope has no use for him otherwise. He's expendable. And then, the show proves that's not the case at all. Howard is very important to the overall story of the series. He's the one who can push the narrative forward. He cares about this glimpse of an alternate life he could have had. But he's devoted to the one he had. That's what makes it so tragic when he is treated exactly like his counterpart in the end. He is abandoning his family and disappearing to some unknown place to pay for the crimes he's committed. Meanwhile, Howard Prime realizes that he enjoys the life Howard has made for himself. As such, he feels the need to protect Emily no matter what. He makes a deal with both Baldwin and Quayle to remove the price on her head. That's a huge deal considering the amount of information she still holds. But right now, all that matters to Howard Prime is sitting in that hospital room reading to her. He does so a little reluctantly. And yet, this is also exactly where he wants to be because he cares about what happens to this woman. He feels a connection to her that must be cherished. So, he understands this life better than before even though he is still capable of orchestrating the assassinations of multiple people he was just working with. And he'll keep his job at the office. So, this conflict is far from over and will keep both Howards engaged - even though they are far removed from it right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "No Man's Land, Part Two" was written by Gianna Sobol & Justin Britt-Gibson and directed by Jennifer Getzinger.
  • The show puts in the appropriate steps to make it believable that this kind of attack doesn't make global news. Three people launching a deliberate attack on a government office should be a big deal. But here, Roland is able to handle it all by saying that it was a lone gunman from the office who went insane because of the work he was doing. It's a familiar narrative. And yet, it's one that is still easy to push to make this all just disappear into the background.
  • Roland is able to give Quayle his appreciation for the first time as well. He notes that Quayle told him to draw out the negotiations for Baldwin earlier in the season and he didn't listen to him. He now understands that Quayle has been investigating how the organization has been compromised. As such, he looks to him for support and guidance on what to do next. It's a position Quayle has always wanted and will crave keeping.
  • Baldwin desperately wanted to enjoy the happiness she could have in a life lived with Greta. And yet, she was never able to open up and be honest with her. She is an assassin who still has a job to complete. She is recognizable in this world as Nadia. All of that comes crashing down here as Greta doesn't want anything to do with this stranger in her life. It's heartbreaking but still allows things to be satisfying when Baldwin kills Aldrich.
  • Shaw is the one who stumbles on Howard right after he killed Pope. He was there to bring Pope in for his role in this grand conspiracy. Instead, he has to be content with ensuring that he'll never see the face of the man who has caused him so much personal anguish. He was waiting so long for Emily Prime to trust him with the truth. He would do anything for her. And yet, seeing her reaction to this news about Howard is all he needs to know that he should walk away.
  • The show was picked up by Starz with a two season order. As such, this season was able to arc things out knowing that there would be more story to tell. And yet, it's so rewarding to get a sense of completion at the end of things. It wraps everything up nicely while ensuring the conflict will continue in the future. Production has already begun on the new episodes - with a couple of casting announcements already being released. So hopefully, the new season will return in the same time frame in 2019.