Good series are canceled all the time, and as Starz recently proved, that’s the case for its inter-dimensional spy series Counterpart. News that the series would be ending after season 2 came just ahead of the finale, leaving ‘Better Angles’ with the unenviable task of wrapping up the series’ main plot thread as much as possible, while also providing Howard and Howard Prime (J.K. Simmons) some sort of closure, as far as their respective fractured personal lives were concerned. The series had also developed Peter (Harry Lloyd) and Clare (Nazanin Boniadi) into two of its more complicated and fascinating characters, and that’s saying nothing of the two drastically different Emily’s played by Olivia Williams.
As such, the series is left with a hasty conclusion that muscles its way through to the end in workmanlike fashion, while also leaving the door open for more. It’s a bit of a long shot to think that Counterpart will be 2019’s version of The Expanse or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Though it’s one of the best shows on TV at the moment, the chances that anyone will launch a Save-Our-Show social media campaign or fly a banner over some imagined suitor’s headquarters is unlikely. That leaves its chances for survival largely in the hands of some deep-pocketed savior in the market for a smart, critically appreciated but low-rated series that happens to star an Academy Award winning actor and also boasts one of the best ensemble casts on TV. In other words, while stranger things have happened, fans of Counterpart will probably have to make do with ‘Better Angles’ being the series’ endpoint.
After last week’s terrific Emily and Emily Prime meeting, and the showdown in the train station that left Howard Prime and Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco) with a pair of high-value prisoners, Counterpart was at least set to bring the Mira (Christine Paul) story to a close. Much of the hour was headed toward the conclusion that was ultimately delivered. That is: Mira’s group of radicalized others would be stopped before they could spread a deadly flu virus, and Mira herself would face the consequences of her elaborate plot for revenge. The way most of the story plays out is efficient, as Howard’s swift attack on the would-be terrorists is as brief as it is brutal. But it’s Emily Prime’s meeting with Mira — with a late-game assist from Ian (Nicholas Pinnock) — that is perhaps the most satisfying, as Mira learns too late that turnabout is fair play.
Still, there’s so much going on throughout the hour and so much of it happens so quickly that the seams really do begin to show. Watching, you wonder whether or not the writing that the series was about to be canceled was indeed on the wall, and, as a result, series creator Justin Marks had to tinker a bit with the script in order to deliver as much of a conclusive ending as possible. As such, certain elements do feel hurried along for the sole purpose of providing closure where perhaps none was originally intended. It’s natural to speculate what could have been or what was originally meant to happen, simply because of how unexpected news of the series’ cancelation was, but that also detracts from the major events of the hour, such as Emily’s death after seemingly peacefully resolving a standoff with the lone non-flu carrying member of Mira’s entourage.
Credit to Marks and co-writer Maegan Houang who afford Howard and Emily a brief chance to confront one another about all the lies that had gone on between them for so long, and to acknowledge that although Emily felt as though she was no longer the woman she once was, Howard, too, had changed in a way that was potentially incompatible with the life he lived before. It’s tempting to think how the series might’ve explored this new dynamic between husband and wife, now that their secrets were out in the open, as this sort of exchange is, in essence, what Counterpart is ultimately about — the choices that define who a person is and how nothing stays the same forever — but instead, viewers will have to settle for Emily’s demise and Howard’s apparent retirement.
Strangely, it’s Howard Prime and Baldwin’s crossing over to the other side before the doors were sealed permanently (big question mark there) that delivers the ending that feels most appropriate, given the particulars of the characters involved. Besides, seeing a remorseful Howard Prime on his knees, accepting of his other’s wish to kill him in the wake of Emily’s death, is the sort of conclusion this show is best suited to offer. Simmons has always delivered two remarkably distinct performances and he’s at his best here as the two register the same grief and anger with incredibly nuanced differences. Howard Prime even looks physically different from his counterpart — not just stronger, but younger, and more vigorous somehow.
The downside, of course, is that some character arcs inevitably felt cut short. Ian, who had been given short shrift all season made the most of his limited screen time by ostensibly delivering Mira to Emily Prime. Unfortunately his and Emily's relationship was mostly swept under the rug this season, and though the revelation of who Ian really was and the circumstances that brought him to the crossing were fascinating, they also deserved to be explored as something more than the season’s D plot. Though Peter and Clare were given much more screen time overall in season 2, their ending here was similarly truncated. The exchange between Clare and Naya Temple (Betty Gabriel) more or less set up a third season, but it also felt too pat an ending for one of the show’s most complicated and fascinating character arcs.
Counterpart should have lived on to see season 3 (or more). That's particularly true given the revelation that Yanek (James Cromwell) had been infected by Mira and that her plan would more or less be carried out posthumously. It’s clear that the story between these two worlds is far from over, and that Marks and his writers’ room have ideas for where to go from here. With any luck that will happen, but in the more likely event this is the last anyone sees of Counterpart, ‘Better Angels’ makes for a serviceable if not entirely satisfying conclusion.
Counterpart seasons 1 & 2 are available on Starz.