Season 1, Episode 4: “Both Sides Now”
Directed by Alik Sakharov
Written by Erin Levy
Counterpart Howard (J.K. Simmons) is staying in the first world, while the real Howard (Simmons) is headed for the Other Side.
There’s an elaborate system in place for the counterpart to send messages back across while he’s illegally switched with his other, on that side without the proper paperwork. Counterpart Howard slips a message to a man who, to onlookers, has fallen down, whom he helps back up. The message moves from one person to the next until it reaches its destination – a man who wipes down his room, then takes his gun before leaving.
Before the real Howard leaves he tries to tell his counterpart about his schedule, how he Andrei (Bernhard Forcher) “play Go” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where he gets coffee in the morning, so on. Doesn’t particularly interest the other Howard, he equates “losing your virginity” to the disappointment of meeting himself. With only hours left, the counterpart suggests they get to know one another by playing some cards. They talk about life while playing. They are diametrically opposite people.
Clare (Nazanin Boniadi) has gotten Baldwin (Sara Serraiocco) off to a safe place, though she wants to talk about what the police asked her during the interrogation. The assassin didn’t tell the cops anything. So, it’s clear that Clare isn’t just a friend, not even a partner, she’s involved with some larger organisation; she mentions that she’ll “talk to them about next steps.” Hmm, I wonder who this shadowy organisation could be, as well as what’s their endgame?
The real Howard worries he won’t do well on the Other Side, on top of leaving his counterpart in the first world. Although he knows it’s for the greater good of their whole situation, the implications everything has on the relationships between the counterpart worlds. Either way, counterpart Harold’s got people to help him in the Prime world.
Real Howard goes to the United Nations, where Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) explains a few things about germs over there, and he mentions that, should he be caught, then he’s essentially all alone; no help will come. Awfully ominous way to send him off. Will he be able to manage himself over there? We’re about to find out. Maybe he’ll unlock the part of him and his counterpart which is the same, perhaps he can find their common ground and become a bad ass.
Howard makes it over to the Prime world through security. He watches the city as they pass many different things, such as the many billboards about checking for illnesses, the frequent digital hand sanitisation stations along the street. Afterwards, Harold is brought to the apartment we saw earlier where the man left with his gun, Raash (Marco Khan) – the message was sent to him so that he would “take care” of real Howard, by simply locking him inside. Sneaky, sneaky.
Raash does come back with groceries. However, Anna (Sarah Bolger) shows up – Howard’s daughter on this Prime world. She says her mother Emily (Olivia Williams) is in the hospital. Whoa, this is really going to throw poor Howard into a bit of a mental tailspin.
In the first world at the UN, Quayle and Aldrich (Ulrich Thomsen) talk about Silk. At the same time counterpart Howard is playing his part, heading in to work like usual. He’s at his new post in Strategy Payroll. He’s filing time cards. The counterpart doesn’t like this; he chooses a “personal day.”
Claude Lambert (Guy Burnet) is the one Clare has gone to see, Mr. Ambassador. He tells Clare that the organisation wants the assassin removed from the project. Lots of shady shit going on behind the scenes. And Clare’s got a history with them; a deep, dark one.
Howard goes with his daughter to see Emily. He finds out that the counterpart Emily and Howard are not exactly together, too, and she’s with Ian Shaw (Nicholas Pinnock). Then again, Ian’s not happy to see him there, either. It’s a right mess over there, something for which Howard was not prepared. Things don’t look so hot for Emily now, as it appears like she’s overdosed, after already having issues. Needless to say she’s having a tough time with work.
In the first world, counterpart Howard has a friend from the Prime world who’s got an identity there – Heinrich (Bjorn Johnson). The two of them are old pals. The counterpart takes Quayle with him. The old friends sit for a drink to catch up. Mostly, Howard needs to know more about Alexander Pope (Stephen Rhea) and the people he’s involved with currently; they’ve been moving “illegals” across from one side to the next a long time, including the assassin, too. Seems that someone with “high clearance” at the UN’s been slipping info to Pope a long while, as well. This makes things all the more dangerous.
Must be difficult for Howard to be on the Other Side, where his wife can still speak, still walk, still breathe on her own. It’s interesting that counterpart Emily can see the “stagecraft” of Howard doesn’t match up to his counterpart, her ex-husband. She sees the whole setup and what her ex-husband is doing in the Prime world. Howard tells her he isn’t exactly kept up-to-date on the smaller details.
Clare needs to manipulate Baldwin more. She talks about seeing her own counterpart, and the choice of loneliness. She acts like she’s coming to the assassin in a friendly manner, confusing Baldwin into thinking it’s romantic. Despite what it looks like, it’s all just Clare pulling the assassin in closer, so that she won’t suspect when the hammer falls. Even if that means falling into bed.
When the two women finish making love Clare takes Baldwin’s gun, leaving her supposed lover defenceless for when a man comes in to kill the assassin in her sleep. Only problem for them is Baldwin needs no weapon, just the knife in the guy’s belt to stab him through the throat.
The juxtaposition of the two Howards is interesting, especially when we see the real Howard with Ana, whereas in the first world he and Emily didn’t get to have their daughter after a miscarriage. Eerily compelling to watch the similarities, and where the differences extend. Both Howards get a glimpse of the opposite world, why they became who they are, why they’re such vastly different men. It’s also a bittersweet way for the real Howard to get to experience time with his wife again, and to get the time he never had with the daughter who never was for him and Emily.
Just an utterly fascinating episode, this really took some of the themes and plots to a whole other level. There’s such an emotional involvement with the characters, I never expected that in the beginning. Simmons and Williams together are a revelation. Love the acting. Hopefully we get some more action soon, too! Great to see the real Howard is getting into the swing of things in the Prime world. This will bring more fun.
“Shaking the Tree” is up next.