The sheer realism of Clare’s backstory disturbs and distresses us on this week’s Counterpart roundtable!
Counterpart knocks us for a loop this week and we dive into the very realistic portrayal of Clare’s (Nazanin Boniadi) backstory. First her parents are killed by swine flu and then she’s sent to a boarding school. Nothing seems odd about this boarding school until Clare is pulled from her classroom and brought underground to a place where they break her legs because her “other” has had a skiing accident. What follows is approximately twenty years of indoctrination and brainwashing as a part of “Project Indigo”.
When Clare is ready she is sent to Alexander Pope to continue her surveillance of her other until she’s intimately familiar with every detail of her life. Eventually Clare kills her other and takes her place. Clare’s childhood is contrasted this episode with the present and Peter Quayle’s (Harry Lloyd) struggle as he realizes he’s been married to the mole for an indeterminate period of time. Despite a warning from Howard Prime (J.K. Simmons) Harry can’t keep the fact that he knows Clare is a mole under his hat and reveals himself too soon. Clare in turn reveals that their baby has finally tethered her to this life and that she let her cyanide pill go bad.
Is Clare telling the truth? What did our fan roundtable think of this episode? Without further ado:
Ashlee (@ashleedell): Fan of all things film and TV and writer at TV After Dark.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): Desirre loves wrangling her brain squirrel, podcasting, and writing. She also likes greeting brand new people.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): Shoshanna is an aspiring author and songwriter who loves yoga, tacos and good wit.
Mindy (@msy1168): Mindy is a cancer registrar, grandma and lover of twisty shows.
Kiddle (@kiddle): Lover of cats, photography and smart (or witty, or simply entertaining) television.
1. First things first: A Clare-centric episode! Thank goodness. How bad did you want it and were you satisfied with it?
Ashlee (@ashleedell): I didn’t know how much I needed a Clare-focused episode until now. I call it: The Secret Life Of Clare the Crazy Spy. Clare’s life is so mysterious and complex, and the dynamic the show just created by giving her backstory definitely changed how I felt about the show for the better. So, in short, yes!
Desirre (@desirreandrews): Frankly, I didn’t know I wanted it, but boy oh boy was I satisfied. It was like a four course meal and dessert. I could’ve used a serious drink afterward to round it out.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): I totally loved finally getting a glimpse into the long game from the other side. Things are finally a bit clearer about why the other side is doing what they’re doing.
Mindy (@msy1168): I was very satisfied with it. It explained a lot of things. I guess I didn’t realize how integral she was going to be to the plot.
Kiddle (@kiddle): I always like shows that reveal information which forms complex characters. It makes them so much less shallow, especially when they do unexpectedly dreadful stuff. Like murder their counterpart. It was really nice to get such a rich background. Odd to realize that “Toby” (Clare’s Dad) died of the flu…
2. Clare’s time in the school for orphans/training program for small spies: Talk about sinister. What were your reactions to this part of Clare’s past?
Ashlee (@ashleedell): I was definitely surprised to see Clare’s upbringing. She was trained to be an assassin from before she was even old enough to ride a rollercoaster, if they have amusement parks in Berlin on the Other Side that is. She lost her parents and only had someone breaking her legs and making her be like Prime Clare and was groomed from the moment her parents died. Her past was pretty unexpected but it connects the dots and makes sense why she is the way she is today.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): She absolutely got a raw deal. To be institutionalized, manipulated, abused, and trained to be her “other”. That’s some legendary gangster level sh*t! She might be the poster child for hurt people, hurt people.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): That was awesome and heartbreaking. They have taken an orphan and played on her sense of justice to manipulate her into becoming a revenge machine. Seriously cold-blooded stuff. The fact that she doesn’t get to have her own life and to live on her own terms (boyfriends, gestures, etc.) is so awful.
Mindy (@msy1168): Once I realized the lengths they were going to go to make the spies exactly like their “other” I was horrified. I mean, who could take a child to have their legs broken with so little emotion and who could break a child’s legs?
Kiddle (@kiddle): I felt two things. First, anger at the treatment of these children, but also shock at the level of planning. That’s an 18-20 year plan. Wonder what REALLY happened to Spencer…
3. Was anyone else suspicious of how Spencer was “sent to the other side”? Especially given that super kind freulein’s slap across the face?
Ashlee (@ashleedell): Yeah that was pretty weird. I was suspicious of it but at the same time if one thing looks a little bit suspicious it probably is. I’m sure we’ll find it a lot more about him in the weeks to come!
Desirre (@desirreandrews): I think they offed him because he and Clare had an affectionate connection. He was in the process of becoming her brother from another mother. Fraulein needs some karmic concussive therapy.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): Totally. Spencer became a problem so he was either sent away to another “training” school or…worse. I doubt he was “called up” to serve.
Mindy (@msy1168): Oh yeah, Clare is never going to see Spencer again. Those people are cold, calculating killers. They’d have no problem removing Spencer once they realized Clare was developing feelings for him.
Kiddle (@kiddle): I immediately thought they killed him, unless there happened to be another creepy school. But, it sure feels like Spencer died. I think Clare knew this, too.
4.Isn’t it the best when big dots are connected? Alexander Pope is running the project placing spies in our world! Give us your theories about what his motivations are.
Ashlee (@ashleedell): I think Alexander Pope definitely has some tricks to his sleeve and has some big alternative plan that’s going to unravel and be super chaotic. This is a limited series with only 3 episodes left and I have a feeling that there’s a lot we still don’t know about Pope. I thought it was part of a plan to eliminate everyone from the regular side that is not the Other Side, but that is a wild guess.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): I think he spread the influenza virus and planted blame on the primary world to breed angry revenge driven soldiers. Perhaps he has mother issues or an inferiority complex. He wants control and dare I say, ALL THE POWER.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): Super crazy theory: Perhaps Pope was part of the group that created the other world in the first place and his counterpart in the other world is trying to seek revenge or fix it?
Or it could simply be about power. His sleeper agent program could be designed to take advantage of the information exchange that we have seen takes place in Diplomacy. Basically, I wonder what Pope’s double does in the first world?
Mindy (@msy1168): Pope is still a mystery to me. I said last week he could be the “puppet master”. I still think he could be. Maybe he caused the split and is manipulating both worlds to see what happens.
Kiddle (@kiddle): Pope is like that gentle person that you catch ripping wings off of insects. It’s difficult to know what the big plan is. Right now, the prime motivator seems to be vengeance and an odd form of jealousy. Since this is a rogue group, clearly their objectives are not aligned with the regular folks interfacing with the prime side. Usually, when that happens it’s a “You can’t handle the truth,” scenario.
I find it interesting that alt-Howard seems to know Pope and the mission. Makes him a very powerful person. His failed relationship with Emily really altered his trajectory.
5. One of the best things about Counterpart is how the show can twist everything you feel for a character. Tell us if and how your feelings shifted for Clare during this episode.
Ashlee (@ashleedell): I was conflicted during the episode after hearing about Clare’s upbringing. However, present day Clare is insane and I’m confused at myself for feeling bad for her. To have to have your legs broken, consent to things you may not want to do as Clare has had to do leaves her would definitely give her an identity crisis. I do think she genuinely loves their baby and it’s probably the first and only person that Clare has been able to consider family since her parents died.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): I found myself feeling sorry for her because she was used from childhood to become the “other” Clare. I don’t know if I buy the pill has gone bad or that she loves having a family and being the “other” Clare. Like Soviet plants in the US during the Cold War, some likely converted to our way of life while during their spy work, but did it make them good? I don’t know. I think she has more game in her. Is it possible for someone designed by her inculcation in the secondary not be a sociopathic soldier?
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): For me, the best antagonists are those that are multi-dimensional, just like regular human beings. The insight we get into how Clare became who she is, and why she does what she does, helps to clarify her as a character. All of us develop from many different influences, and a lot depends on your perspective.
Mindy (@msy1168): My feelings about Clare didn’t shift too much. I still think she’s cold but being a mother myself, I could understand how having a baby might change her feelings about her original mission.
Kiddle (@kiddle): Prior to this because of her relationship with Baldwin, we knew she was an operative. I felt she was vaguely menacing. You have these sinister people, but who have this terrible past which turns them sympathetic. I want to believe that she really did change because of Spencer, but I just don’t know. I did feel bad for Alt Clare and all her wretched experiences, like having such an awful first sexual experience. The big question is likely did Prime plan to murder the alt planet like a neutron bomb simply to take all the resources? Or, is the Alt group an innocent victim that doesn’t believe in accidents…? Is Pope out for vengeance or wealth?
6. Oh, Quayle. Did anyone think for a moment he’d be able to play off not knowing that Clare was the mole? His ridiculous first date trap! Do you think Clare was fooled for a second?
Ashlee (@ashleedell): I think maybe at first Clare wasn’t suspicious of Quayle trying to play her. Maybe she got used to the idea of them together and started to actually like him. She is a spy after all though. I do give Quayle props for trying though. Well played.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): No he totally blew it. Rookie move. Isn’t he a mucky muck in the company? Apparently he missed “playing your poker face” class during training. He’s too weak to be given so much clearance and power. She clearly figured out that he knew and made a sympathetic cover story.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): Quayle is certainly a very weak man. He has many of the outward hallmarks of success: a handsome man in a respected position, with a lovely home, a beautiful wife and a new baby…and yet he screws around repeatedly and perhaps has such a high opinion of himself that he was utterly blind to the spy in his own room. It did not surprise me at all that he couldn’t follow through and play along. He has probably gotten what he wanted his whole life and can’t believe he’s been duped. So he plays the bratty baby. I think Clare knew immediately as soon as she saw the cigars Quayle had tried to hide in his desk. He couldn’t even do that well.
Mindy (@msy1168): Even if you thought Quayle could pull off keeping that secret, one look at his face told you otherwise. Every time he looked at Clare there was just such contempt! The more he drank, the more obvious it became. By the end of the party there was no doubt there would be a showdown.
Kiddle (@kiddle): I think she was suspicious before they even got to that point. I actually wanted to murder him during that entire pre-party, party, and post-party, because Clare could have been so useful! But, since Clare AND Peter are both in terrible positions, this could result in an interesting twist. She still could be playing Peter, who would believe her because of the baby. Complicated. So is she another layer of a mole? Or not? hmmm.
7. The big question is: Did you believe Clare when she said that it all went bad? Whose side do you think she’s on now?
Ashlee (@ashleedell): Clare messes with my feelings. Nazanin Boniadi who plays Clare is brilliant and makes Clare such a great character. I loved the end line when she said it all went bad and I did believe her. She is a complicated character and maybe at her heart is conscious of what she is trying to do but maybe feels it may not be worth it after all. I’m excited to explore her character more.
Desirre (@desirreandrews): Nopity, nope, nope. I don’t trust her as far as I can throw the cyanide pill. Her game has game. She’s still in it to win it for the secondary side, but she’s far too comfy in her cushy primary life.
Shoshanna (@pdxrosanoire): I believe Clare loves that baby, but I’m not convince she loves Quayle. She must know about his philandering. I couldn’t forgive that, but maybe she stays because those from the Other side are playing for the long game.
Mindy (@msy1168): Since Clare has continued to use her husband to gain information to pass back to her world, I don’t think she’s changed sides. She will say and do anything to protect her mission. I do think that she let her cyanide pill expire. If worst comes to worst, she could take the baby and run.
Kiddle (@kiddle): Well, Clare now has a child with a real chance at a complete, healthy, life. Although, who knows what she truly thinks about life outside of prime? But, based on her naming the child Spencer, I think there’s a higher chance she’ll at least not damage the world she’s in now. But, the programming is pretty deeply embedded.
Final Verdict: Counterpart paints a portrait of a plant and boy is she complicated.
This was the episode we were craving and some of our roundtable didn’t even know it! Clare has been a mystery from the very beginning and the episode was so compelling. The shock of the programming of the kids from such a young age made us realize that the other side is really playing a long game. We loved the gritty and realistic portrayal from that time in Clare’s life because it made the coldness of them breaking her legs even more cruel. Does this change our opinion about Clare? Well it certainly made her more dimensional than some vague sinister and cold presence.
Nobody is surprised that Quayle blew it so quickly. It’s just a continuation of his complete ineptitude at his spy game thus far. We’re also all so torn about whether or not Clare is still playing him or if she actually has human feelings about baby Spencer. Will baby Spencer give her kinder, more gentle feelings towards our world or will her programming win out? We’re really looking forward to seeing how that story plays out.
Turns out Clare is involved with Alexander Pope and he’s involved with Project Indigo. Despite learning about her altogether miserable life and programming on Prime we’re not convinced we trust her and her programming runs deep. What are the consequences going to be for her now that she’s burned and for Quayle now that he’s let it slip that he knows she’s a spy? We can’t wait to find out!
Counterpart airs on Sunday March 11th at 8 EST on Starz.