'Counterpart' canceled: STARZ probably had valid reasons to axe Justin Marks's show, and we might know why
At its core the show managed to pull off a beautiful story about human endeavor, but it failed to look into matters that really concern a sci-fi
When talking about STARZ's recently canceled sci-fi show, 'Counterpart', let's just say it is a blend of a complicated plot that seems to be straight out of a John Le Carre novel, but lost its ground somewhere as it tried to wind up the story in a more H.G. Wells tone. With a mixture like that, even a show as great as 'Counterpart' can be easily miss with audiences.
Justin Marks' ambitious show deals with the existence of two versions of the same world, and in order to portray that we have a plethora of characters, most counterparts are either dead or are killed by the end of Season 2 (except a few, of course).
The show should be applauded for its strong storyline and its binaries. With an excellent cast that included J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd and Nazanin Boniadi, 'Counterpart' showed how a person can become when thrown into an identical yet starkly different world.
We have in the center of the plot a very docile and refined Howard Silk who literally had no idea about the existence of the two worlds until he meets his counterpart, who is exactly the opposite of the Howard we are introduced to. The two Howards were portrayed with utter precision by Simmons, who literally proved his skills by portraying two versions of one character.
On one hand, we saw Simmons sitting behind a desk, head down, and absolutely invisible to the world; on the other hand, we saw the same Simmons chasing a group of terrorists and not the least hesitant about killing people at point blank. While it can be said that the rest of the characters, too, have a similar feat of encountering their counterpart, it was only Howard who was an entirely developed character. The rest were presented as mere sidekicks. That shouldn't have happened in 'Counterpart' since it is a show that demands everything in binaries.
This could have been the show's strongest point, but in order to stick to its story in Season 2, somewhere, 'Counterpart' dragged itself for a very long time. It was almost as though the writers of the show couldn't decide if the story is about alternate dimensions wrapped into spy espionage or spy espionage set against two worlds.
Season 2 entirely did away with all the action sequences of Season 1, and suddenly took an extremely philosophical turn with the characters brooding over their past lives. Maybe, had the action sequences been there, the audience would have been satisfied in spite of the show's scientific flaws.
However, the biggest flaw of 'Counterpart' was its sheer reluctance to stick to the subject. Yes, the philosophy regarding two worlds finds prominence in several characters like Yanek (played by James Cromwell), Emily Silk (Williams), and Baldwin (played by Sara Serriaccio), but that is all it does.
Being a sci-fi show, it fails to execute a clear understanding of the science behind alternate dimensions. We do get a glimpse of the scientific angle, but only in the scenes where Yanek is seen working with the Management in finding out the difference between the two worlds. Other than that, there is barely any explanation as to how the two worlds are set apart.
We do not get to know how the other world came to exist in the first place, nor do we get to know of the microscopic differences that must have created such stark differences between individuals who are otherwise the same people. All we know is they behave differently under a similar situation.
Howard Alpha is more concerned when Emily Alpha takes a risky step but Howard Prime, although worried, prefers to take that risky step with her. But why do they react differently? As a sci-fi show, this question should have been answered first, but maybe that wasn't the plan. Whatever it is, at its core, 'Counterpart' is a thought-provoking show and it is quite unfortunate Starz isn't bringing it back.