Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'Counterpart' - Quayle Gets Assistance with His Investigation of the Attack on the Office in 'Inside Out'

Starz's Counterpart - Episode 2.01 "Inside Out"

While hiding in Howard's life, Howard Prime must avoid detection at home and at the OI. Quayle and Clare struggle to adjust to their new arrangement.

Counterpart was one of the best dramas of the past year in television. It had a strong first season at the start of 2018. It's wonderful that it had a fast turnaround to get the second season airing on Starz in the same calendar year. It's remarkable actually. Of course, this premiere still requires the audience to remember a fair amount of what happened at the conclusion of the first season. This show has always excellently blended a number of different genres to create something completely unique. However, it can get lost in the spycraft and conspiracy of it all too. The first season had an explosive ending with the attack that was carried out against the Office of Interchange in the Alpha world. It was devastating. Howard Prime and Peter Quayle were only a few of the survivors. They understood what happened as well. The Prime world had launched a program that would train people from a young age to eventually replace their counterparts so that they can go unnoticed throughout the building. It's what allowed everything to happen so quickly and in a devastating way too. It was the beginning shots of a war that has been cold for the past thirty years. Everything is now coming to fruition. It grew even more intense with the decision to close the borders between the worlds. That meant that everyone is currently stuck in the reality where they are at the moment. That means Howard and his counterpart are stuck having to pretend to be the other. Howard Prime actually has to commit more fully now as well. Before, he wasn't interested in pretending to be the meeker and more loving version of himself. And now, he has to in order to go unnoticed as the management of this division wants to get to the bottom of what happened. It continues to be eery to see management as nothing more than a computer with a representative speaking on their behalf. It means that there is a new cryptic and removed layer of this whole system. The people at the office have no idea who they are working for or what their agenda is in all of this. And yet, they must follow the orders given to them. It's still weird and impersonal. But that's the tone the show is going for. It may seem distant and cold. But it also is so intriguing because it further fleshes out the world for these characters.

"Inside Out" spends its entire running time in the Alpha world. It only focuses on that set of characters. It's catching up on how they are following the devastating attack. The office is locking down completely. They are adding new layers of security and precautions. They hope to discover whomever may still be working for this conspiracy from the other side. They don't know if the three spies were the only ones who have infiltrated the organization. Of course, the audience knows better. Clare is the infamous Shadow who appears to be the mastermind behind this entire operation. Quayle is trusting of her to a point. He knows exactly who she is now. He has that clarity. He is allowing her to roam free because of his love for his daughter. He doesn't want her to become an experiment because she was born from two different worlds. There's no telling what people will want from her once that is exposed. Sure, he takes ownership of her as well. He wants it to be known that she belongs to the Alpha world. She can never be taken over to the Prime side because that's not the world she understands and knows. She has experienced her entire life here. He doesn't quite know what Clare's ultimate ambition is in this grand plan. However, he continues to help her. They have an agreement where he won't compromise her actions as long as she protects his job. He has even more importance now because he is championed as the hero agent who took down Shadow. Of course, Aldrich wasn't the mole operating within the organization. As such, Quayle doesn't deserve this attention and appreciation. In fact, this hour highlights how he continues to fail upward. He continues to be a young white man whom the world will continue to bend over for and support. He wants to be exposed. He's not a good agent at all. He's only barely hanging on by a thread. And yet, his actions may only be revealed in death because of the recording he makes detailing his deceit and his wife's true identity. That may be locked away for now. But it's bound to come out at some point this season.

Moreover, the show introduces a new player into this world with Betty Gabriel's Naya Temple. She is an FBI agent who is read in on the reality of a parallel universe and the war that has just erupted. She is brought into the office to help Quayle with the investigation. She is known as a spy hunter who can find anyone who is trying to mislead the organization she works for. She is confused about this new world. However, she still has an aura of confidence as well. She is just getting acquainted with the world as it now exists. She has meaningful interactions with Quayle and Howard Prime. It also seems fitting that a woman of color will be the one to expose their intricate web of deceit in the hopes of protecting their own self-interests. Quayle and Howard Prime keep meeting in clandestine places trying to cover up everything that they've done. Howard Prime only agrees to this partnership because he wishes to keep Emily safe. That's his priority at the moment. Meanwhile, Quayle is freaking out about the need to keep his connection to the attack hidden. As such, he has to continue teasing the investigation with the idea of progress without disrupting too much of the plans. Quayle doesn't know if he can trust Clare at her word. The audience knows that she's lying. She is put in charge of the next stage of this war. She has to activate the next layer of sleeper agents. That's the mission given to her by Lambert. Right now, the Office of Interchange is trying to track down the ambassador from the Prime world. In fact, they are locking up anyone who came from the Prime world - even people who aren't here for nefarious reasons. They are locking everyone up because they don't trust anyone at being who they claim to be from the Prime world. That's a story that immediately ends in tragedy while proving that Clare can still get to people inside the office despite the added layer of security. As such, it may drive everyone even more insane trying to keep track of everything.

Howard Prime doesn't wish to concern himself with all of that though. He is just trying to help Emily get adjusted to her world once more. The series started with her in the hospital. It seemed unlikely that she would make a meaningful recovery. And yet, she has done exactly that. She has been released from the hospital now. She is interacting with Howard once more. However, this isn't the Howard that she married. That man is trapped on the other side. He's in a prison with no update given on his condition here. Of course, Emily isn't an innocent bystander in all of this either. She had a job at the Office of Interchange as well. She worked on the same floor where Howard Prime is now positioned. As such, they have the potential to talk about work in a way they never did before the accident. However, Howard Prime is choosing not to bring it up. He doesn't want to be too forceful and demanding because he knows that's not how Howard would be dealing with this situation. He would be loving and nurturing even though that may not be what Emily needs. That means this relationship is shaping into something completely different. Yes, Howard Prime is working Emily for information. He wants to know how much she remembers about her life before the accident. She was a source for Howard Prime as well. They had a meaningful relationship previous to the events of the series. However, she was also cheating on Howard and targeted by the Indigo program. She has importance. The key to that is probably locked away in her memory somewhere. Right now though, she doesn't recall the life that she had. She knows who Howard is. She appreciates him continuing to be there for her. However, she can't read and certain words still escape her. Her doctors are telling her that she has made miraculous progress. And yet, she doesn't feel like it. She feels like she is trapped in some stranger's life that she doesn't totally understand yet.

That's a very compelling idea that is introduced here as well. The show has been very provocative in showing how the slight deviations of life can transform a person into a completely different individual. Howard and his counterpart have so much in common. There are characteristics that flow through both of them. And yet, Howard Prime is more assertive and confident while Howard has been naive and trusting. The audience has already gotten to know Emily Prime as well. The first season revealed that she is no longer married to Howard Prime. In fact, her relationship with Ian Shaw is the reason why Howard is now locked away in some unknown location. And now, Olivia Williams is asked to portray a completely different woman. The first season offered glimpses at what Howard and Emily's life was like before all of this happened. There was the tease that the accident wasn't really an accident. There should be more clarity on that moving forward. However, it's clear that this Emily is haunted by the memories that are coming back to her. She recalls the woman she used to be but doesn't recognize her. She doesn't understand her design aesthetic in the apartment. She doesn't understand how she could have liked a specific picture or put a book from the library in a drawer. Of course, the book is the way that Howard Prime knows the codes in order to get into the office each day. However, he doesn't say that to her to comfort her in this moment of stress. Instead, she is left to understand this world completely on her own. That's fascinating because she is quickly morphing into a different person. She recognizes that she had an affair. But she is more intrigued by what her marriage to Howard is like now because he was the man caring for her throughout all of this. She sees a familiar world but there are some details that are just off. The audience understands it's because this isn't the Howard she has always known. It's still a Howard she knows though. As such, it may only become more difficult for her to rationalize what is real and what's not given everything she has experienced in this world.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Inside Out" was written by Erin Levy and directed by Charles Martin.
  • Baldwin is still in the Alpha world as well. However, she isn't seen in this hour at all. That's a notable absence. She was such a memorable and compelling character in the first season. It's still important to see what comes of her now that she will continue operating as a rogue agent. Her services can be bought. She may have more information about what's going on. And yet, none of those answers are immediately apparent.
  • Clare offers up a courier between worlds to Quayle in order to provide some sense of progress for his investigation. And yes, it does provide a clue as to where to find Lambert. However, he is killed in his cell before being able to give any more information. Clare also makes it known that she still has people on the inside who could slip that razor blade to him in the first place. As such, the season will continue to make the audience question who is from which world.
  • Naya isn't suspicious of Quayle or Howard Prime at the moment. She only interviews Howard Prime because of his unusual rise to his current position. Of course, it does seem rational to her as well because of the danger Emily was in and the need to bring him up to speed about what's going on in the world. However, she is still fully expecting him to be a source of information because of his relationship with Emily.
  • Messages were still coming through the Prime world before the border was shut down. As such, Clare is just now getting the message that she will be in charge of activating the next sleeper cells. She may not know everything that's going on in the Prime world and how the plans have changed. But she will still have to step up and obey orders. She continues to have all of the power. She makes that known to Howard Prime as well with an unexpected home visit.
  • The hour ends with a glimpse at what is going on with the other end of the conversations with management. It's a group of individuals discussing a matter amongst themselves. However, it's unclear exactly what they are talking about. Of course, they mention that Mira is dead. Now, that may not be accurate because she was one of the few people who survived the attack on the Indigo school. And yet, that was in the Prime world.