Season 1, Episode 7: “The Sincerest Form of Flattery”
Directed by Alik Sakharov
Written by Gianna Sobol
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Act Like You’ve Been Here Before” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Love the Lie” – click here
We see a young Clare (Lara Decaro), obviously during the epidemic on the Other Side in 1997. She’s orphaned now, both her parents taken by the flu. She had to go to an orphanage, of course, and there she must “shed the skin” of her past, somehow learn to move on from the “finality” of death. She met another boy, Spencer, which was the first clue about her own “shadow.”
This is not exactly a typical orphanage. You see, this is a place we’ve heard of already, or at least that we’ve heard about. This is the breeding ground of Indigo. One day, Clare’s taken to a surgical room. She’s told that they have to break her legs, as well as the fact she must stay conscious. Afterwards, she’s shown pictures of herself, of memories she cannot remember. This is the moment Clare discovered the existence of the Prime World; or, so she thought. They tell her that they’re the real world, not the other way around. Not just that, those at Indigo blame that world for the epidemic. It’s a cruel, horrible lie. All preparing Clare to grow up, essentially, as an assassin. Just one of the man Indigo agents grown/groomed for war.
Poor Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) is left reeling after just figuring out that something’s afoot in his own house. Worse, it’s on his birthday, so he’s got to play the part of the normal husband. He sends Clare out under the pretence of needing cigars, and has Howard Prime (J.K. Simmons) come over to check the place out, see what exactly’s going on. When Howard has a look around, he finds cyanide pills in the medicine cabinet.
We get more glimpses into the past of Clare on the Other Side. She was then being further trained to mimic her Other, and much more. She’s treated terribly, both physically and emotionally. Because imagine how shut down emotionally she had to be to go over to the First World where she became a totally other person to hide herself in plain sight.
Peter’s telling Howard all about his wife, unable to believe that Clare could be the sort of person they’ve been trying to find, the mole digging into the United Nations. Even worse than that, it’s been through him that she’s been stealing the documents, so he’s not just “compromised,” he’s feeling guilty. On top of that, Howard Prime wants him to “play the game” and try to use this to their advantage, for the time being.
Back to November 2013. Clare was teaching at the Indigo school. She tells them about the First World, the flu, “the Crossing” and when it was discovered. We’re able to find out more about the epidemic and the flu itself – it was spread through swine, which is the reason why they don’t eat pork there any longer. Soon, Clare gets word that her Other is getting married to a man in Strategy at the UN. This is a huge opportunity. But this means she must pretend to love someone, it isn’t just pretending to be another person. Complicated. After all this, she meets Alexander Pope (Stephen Rhea), who’s got her situated as part of a supposed “diplomatic envoy.” This will get her to the First World, then she’s all by herself. When she’s across she meets Ambassador Claude Lambert (Guy Burnet), who’ll be a go-between for them; he’s one greasy lad. Oh, and Clare’s cyanide pill(s)? A “means of escape” should she get caught behind enemy lines.
Thus began Clare’s surveillance of her Other, learning to talk exactly like her, move like her, converse with people like her, and so on. Odd to watch someone peer into the life of someone who is their exact replica, a voyeur into their own life in some strange way. Then having to indoctrinate herself into loving this man she’s never met, plus watch her Other and Peter make love together in their most intimate moment. Things are complicated by the fact Clare is a virgin. Oh, my. She goes out and gets drunk at a bar, fucks a random man to get it over with prior to taking place of her Other.
Everything’s well juxtaposed with Peter’s birthday party, as the birthday boy has to stand there smiling, playing the loving, unsuspecting husband. Moreover, he’s not sure if his father-in-law, Roland (Richard Schiff), is in on it, though I highly doubt he knows a thing about it; sad in its own right. It’s a slightly comical, troubling mess to watch. Quayle does the only thing he can think to do: get drunk. The evening gets a bit awkward when he makes a toast, testing his wife’s memories about their relationship. She manages to answer enough questions, though her husband is unravelling badly.
While Clare was watching her Other, she sees Peter do something stupid prompting her Other to call off the wedding. Except Indigo wants to keep going ahead with the plan. Clare is tasked to “patch it up.” They don’t want to pass over the chance to have a deputy director at the UN. Not to mention she’d be considered useless to them if their operation is spoiled. Everyone’s expendable when there’s two of you.
That leaves Clare with one option: take over the identity of her Other. She has two men break into the apartment. But the Other fights back. This forces Clare to kill her Other with her bare hands. Imagine dying, seeing your own face above you, killing you. Jesus, that’s wildly terrifying. Following that, the lads take the corpse to remove “teeth and fingers” while Clare gets them to beat her. She heads back to her fake life, acting as if it was all a break in.
When Peter’s birthday party is over, Clare starts figuring out her cover may be blown. On both sides, it’s quite a tense night at home. Peter cannot resist but push against the wound. He’s not so good at trying to keep things under wraps. He outright calls Clare on the imitation act: “Where did she end and you begin? Did I ever even fuck my real wife?” He drags her into the bathroom and tells her take the cyanide. However, she claims it’s expired, that she has fallen in love after all these years. It could certainly be true, especially after they had a child together. Or, is it merely the years of having her humanity drained by Indigo and faking her identity that’s allowing her to keep fooling Peter?
Counterpart‘s been aces since day one. All the same, this episode has fixed it in the pantheon of truly great television series’ out there currently. Amazingly written, and the acting takes it up a further notch alongside all the solid filmmaking for TV that’s going on behind the camera.
“Love the Lie” – one of Howard Prime’s bits of advice – is next time.