Binge-r #92: Counterpart + Ibiza
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Everyone has experienced a moment of doubt about the choices they’ve made in their life, pondering what could have turned out differently, but in the tremendous science-fiction thriller Counterpart that unease has a physical form and gripping ramifications. The assumptions Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) has about his place in the universe are upended the day he learns that the U.N. agency in Berlin he works for secretly oversees a portal into a parallel world, and that the latest person to come through it is a version of himself. There’s nothing like meeting a snarling, dismissive doppelganger to make you reconsider where you’re at.
Created by Justin Marks, Counterpart does a great job of swiftly bedding down the concept and teasing out the possibilities. It was an unknown experiment by East German scientists in 1987 that split one timeline into two, with the dual versions steadily diverging ever since despite their heavily guarded physical connection. Howard’s world, the Prime, is essentially ours, but even after three decades the changes in the other world, the Alpha, are fascinating. You see the other Berlin first depicted at the end of the initial episode, but it’s a jigsaw without end to fully understand it. “You can drive yourself crazy trying to chart it out,” Alpha Howard, a hardened spy, tells low-level bureaucrat Prime Howard.
The initial interaction between the two worlds is played out as a knotty, unforeseen espionage story. Berlin is the perfect setting, evoking the Cold War divide with a Le Carre-like precision as covert operations flourish beneath the official treaties and barbed diplomacy. But the plotting always hinges on the personal: Alpha Howard tells Prime Howard that an assassin has crossed over, the relentless Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco), whose kill list includes Prime Howard’s comatose wife, Emily (Olivia Williams), and from there the temporal connections illustrate the show’s exploration of duality. What do you say to the adult child you never had who is now estranged from your double?
As a veteran character actor Simmons delineates the two Howard’s with ease: it’s in the set of his shoulders, the frankness of his gaze, and the tone of his voice (if the twinned characters sound confusing when written about, it always makes sense on the screen). Like wavering magnets they’re drawn to each other and then forced apart – each Howard makes the other reconsider what they’ve previously done as the story unfolds with cold, coiled revelations. In a way Counterpart (which has a second season in production) is a successor to The Americans, another series where the surreptitious state intrigue and private lives couldn’t be separated. It literally is otherworldly, but in Counterpart the question of what if always has an answer.
>> Other Reading: Hopefully you’re already enjoying Killing Eve on ABC iview, which I recommended in BINGE-R #90. This week I wrote in depth about its serrated, unique pleasures for The Monthly [full review here]. For The Age I wrote about the solid Australian crime drama Mystery Road, which is also available in full on ABC iview [full review here].
Ibiza (Netflix, 2018, 94 minutes): Alex Richanbach’s film isn’t sure if it wants to be a wild girls trip comic misadventure or a modern romantic comedy, ultimately settling for alternating between the two. It makes for an episodic movie, but not without laughs as New York PR staffer Harper (the always great Gillian Jacobs) finds her business trip to Spain being crashed by two up for anything friends: Leah (Phoebe Robinson) and Nikki (Vanessa Bayer). Soon all three are getting high and throwing down dance sequences as Harper finds herself flirting with superstar DJ Leo West (Game of Thrones star Richard Madden). Ibiza has a better comic touch than last year’s similar Rough Night, leaving improv pockets throughout the plot that allow the nimble leads to riff on their characters’ ludicrous situations. It’s more sweetly subversive than raunchy, more a 30something fling than 20something abandon. The buzz is agreeably mellow.
Also New on Netflix: This is one of the shorter cuts of a much fought over and re-edited film, but in any finished form Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973, 102 minutes) is a great revisionist western starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson; if you must, Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016, 122 minutes) delivers all that you expect.
New on SBS On Demand: J.G. Ballard classic 1975 dystopian novel has perverse rhythms and an inert mood in Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of High-Rise (2015, 114 minutes), a microcosm of society’s collapse set in a brutalist tower populated by Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, and Jeremy Irons.
New on Stan: Richard Linklater goes back to 1980 for Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, 117 minutes), a raucous if slight take on college campus mores that spans three days and much male competition; the systematic crimes of American slavery are laid bare with chillingly intimate detail in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013, 135 minutes), with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Brad Pitt.
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