Counterpart‘s doubly delicious spy games resume this Sunday at 9/8c, when Starz’s sci-fi tinged espionage drama opens Season 2.
During the series’ freshman run, Howard Silk (played by J.K. Simmons), a low-level wonk at the Office of Interchange in Berlin, was introduced to his “other” — the Howard Silk from a top-secret parallel world. A stone-cold, highly skilled spy, Howard “Prime” had covertly traveled to our side to track an assassin named Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), then stuck around to complete his mission. The kindly, meek Howard in turn had to take his dickish doppelganger’s place over there, where he was able to “reunite” with Emily (Olivia Williams), the wife who on this side until recently had been in a coma after an attempt on her life.
As Season 1 drew to a close, Howard Alpha’s superior, Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd), came to realize that his wife Clare (Nazanin Boniadi) was actually from the other side, and was acting as a mole for those who wish our world harm. Things then reached a fever pitch when the death of an operative at the exact middle of the Crossing that connects the worlds led to a shutting down of the passage, trapping each Howard on the wrong side.
TVLine invited Counterpart creator Justin Marks and fellow executive producer Jordan Horowitz to preview their plan for a well-warranted encore.
TVLINE | Remind me, did you go into this with a two-season order from go? Or did you have to earn a proper renewal?
JUSTIN MARKS | No, we had a two-season order at the beginning. That allowed us certain luxuries when it comes to how we are able to plan the first 20 episodes of the show, which has been really nice.
TVLINE | How important is that, when it comes to building and really committing to this world and vision you wanted to create?
MARKS | It’s huge. It allows us to tell the story the way I like to tell the story, which is slowly, with a fair amount of intention. Where we don’t turn over cards unless we really mean for them to be turned over. When you get into the sort of “traditional” television structure and you’re vying for survival after every episode, it forces a certain “kitchen sink” way of making a show, which is in a lot of ways very contrary to how I, at least, like to watch television.
TVLINE | What would you say the theme of Season 2 is, versus whatever Season 1’s might have been?
MARKS | Season 1, as we started to explore ideas of identity and “What if?,” was about this idea of, “Can you escape who you are?” Season 2 is much more about both worlds juxtaposed against each other. If were to sum it up in one word, it would be competition. Or war, for that matter, because that’s really what is now brimming as the events of Season 1 wound to a close. This is the beginning of the prophesy that Pope spoke to in the first season and that a lot of characters have alluded to, which is this idea that there can only be one in the end. We call it “the Highlander notion,” this idea that when two equal worlds, two equal identities are confronted with one another, they will fight for their own survival and only one can take up that vacuum. Coexistence is not a possibility. Now that may not be true, but that is definitely the terms that are set at the beginning of the season.
TVLINE | In the Season 2 premiere, an old videotape is shown where a man first meets his other. And what did those two guys do? They kind of just lunged at each other.
MARKS | Innately, this sort of Darwinian instinct came out of them and turned them into animals. That speaks to a lot of what we’re going to see. I’m very interested in, and we explore a lot of, some of the earlier days, how things might have looked way back when — and how things might have gotten the way they are.
TVLINE | I was going to ask if we might get a bit more archival footage of the early days, like when the Crossing was first constructed, stuff like that.
MARKS | I will avoid spoilers, except to say “Yes.”
TVLINE | What I found interesting watching the first episode is that because of timing — and because of the world being what the world is anymore — you stumbled into these immigration parallels, where others are being rounded up and locked up.
MARKS | Yeah, yeah. No coincidence there. But yes, I mean we definitely are a show that deals with themes of borders, and diplomacy, and walls. And it’s impossible to tell a story in this day and age without opening a window and letting a little reality in. It’s not a current reality any more than it’s always been a reality in the last 100, 200 years, you know? We just keep moving in circles.
TVLINE | Given how the agency is now on the lookout for others, it seems to raise the stakes for Howard Prime. Working for the Office of Interchange, he’s exactly the kind of person they’re looking for.
MARKS | Last season, we were really into the circumstances that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall — the time in Berlin in 1961 when diplomacy was beginning to fall apart, and the wall was built. This season, we did a lot of time researching elements of the Red Scare, an enemy who could be in our midst. The idea that you can’t trust the person next to you, that everyone’s looking over their shoulder. What does it mean to exist within that world? And that’s an allegory as true as time. It’s gone back a long time, and those feelings of paranoia exist and will probably continue to exist into the future.
TVLINE | People may not recall that Peter’s wife, Clare, and Howard Prime never met. What do you want to tease about that first encounter?
MARKS | Let’s just say that I think Clare and Quayle and Howard Prime have a surprising amount in common when you consider the fact that they all knew each other’s secrets. Even though they were working against each other, they’re also very much bound together. It’s like a trefoil that links them closely. That becomes really fun because it means that we’re not drawing the lines so clearly. Loyalty isn’t simply about which side you’re playing for.
TVLINE | Plus each one of them, of course, thinks that they’re holding on to the biggest secret, that they’ve got the leverage.
MARKS | [Laughs] Yeah. Exactly.
TVLINE | What is life like for the Quayles? That marriage has become extremely interesting.
JORDAN HOROWITZ | That’s a great example of using the genre elements of the show to really amplify some of the very traditional dramatic elements of the character work. In many ways, their marriage is just a broken marriage. In other shows, you see people who stay together for a kid, even though things aren’t working out. As a result of the genre aspect of this show, and all of the dramatic tension that that creates between them, we’re really able to explore what it is to have that kind of broken marriage but do it in a way that has real stakes to it.
TVLINE | How would you describe the journey that Emily Alpha is on this season? Olivia Williams’ fans pretty much only got “one of her” last season.
MARKS | Yeah, yeah — poor Olivia had to spend half her season in the hospital bed. Way back when, when there wasn’t even a first season yet and we were talking about the second season, the network said, “If the first season is all about the Howards, where does it go from there?” And I said, “The second season is all about the Emily we never knew.” And we’ve always been moving towards that.
We revealed some secrets about her in Season 1; Season 2 doubles down on that in a big way. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of who Emily Alpha really was. And what we have that’s really interesting, that only our show can do, which Olivia’s so wonderful at exploring, is both Emily Prime on the other side and Emily Alpha who’s now come awake on our side are both chasing down the same woman, which is this woman who Emily Alpha used to be. So there’s almost a third Emily in the show. And it’s really integral to the story, what Emily has learned; that’s why Indigo tried to silence her in the first place. And now we’re going to find out what it was.
TVLINE | And because, like you said, you don’t need to operate at the fast clip that a traditional show does, I love the fact that Emily Alpha doesn’t just spring out of bed and she’s right as rain, back to her old self. You can spend some time with her being kind of broken.
MARKS | Yeah, she’s recovering. We did a lot of research into the different mental states of brain damage, and what it would cause. We always wanted to wield some kind of medical or scientific reality with a lot of the things we do in this show, even when it comes to the Crossing, and one of the things that became the most interesting out of the research was the way that one who lacks certain aspects of her short-term memory can find it hard to trust people. Given what our show is about, that was really interesting. Is [her paranoia because of] the brain damage, or is it an instinct of the spy business that’s coming out? That’s one of the things we begin to go deeper on.
TVLINE | Temple, played by Betty Gabriel (Get Out), seems like she’ll definitely be a force to be reckoned with, even if she’s not knocking down any doors just yet.
MARKS | Just yet. Betty is dream casting for that role and we’re so happy to have her. The idea of Temple, from the beginning, was this person who comes in not from the sort of network on the inside — the old Cold War/old boys’ network that Aldrich belongs to – but as a person who was on the outside of it entirely. She knew nothing about the Crossing until she is read in, in the opening scene of this season. And because of that, she has no loyalties. She has no blind spots. There are things that Temple is able to piece together this season in 30 seconds, that it might have taken another character 10 episodes to figure out, and that’s one of the things I love. She’s like a hawk waiting to dive in on her victims.
TVLINE | Can you tell me if we’re going to meet any other “others” this season?
MARKS | I so want to tell you the answer to that, because the answer is yes. And I want so badly to tell you whom, because there are some really great ones coming up this year. But I will be quiet, until at least the end of Episode 3.
TVLINE | We don’t see Baldwin in the premiere. When do we resume her story?
HOROWITZ | I don’t went to get into spoilers, but she will be back. She’s a great example of someone from Season 1 who very early on we weren’t even sure she would stick around, but then some people in the writers room, Justin included, loved where her story was going. And then we fell in love with her as an actress as well as a character. In other shows, Baldwin as a foil probably would have been gone very quickly and passed the baton to the big villain. But we kept her around because we really liked the heart and soul of the character. It worked very well with one of the big tenets of the show, which is telling very authentic and real character stories thru a genre lens.
TVLINE | If “being stuck” is almost a sub-theme for Season 2, is she stuck in ways?
HOROWITZ | She is. At the end of Season 1, she was stuck on our side, searching for identity, and that quest continues in 2.
TVLINE | Lastly, are there any other new characters we should watch for?
MARKS | I wouldn’t call her a new character, but certainly someone who we already scratched the surface with last year, is Mira (played by Christiane Paul). Alexander Pope was a very big presence in the first season, and he loomed quite large. But he was nothing compared to Mira, the woman who runs the Indigo school, who’s really been doing all this from the very, very beginning. You only got a glimpse of her, but in the second season, she’s a central figure.