Counterpart's excellent first season landed the sci-fi espionage thriller at No. 9 on TV Guide's Best Shows of 2018, and now the highly anticipated second season is right around the corner. The Starz drama, which stars J.K. Simmons in dual roles and follows a war brewing between two parallel universes, finally returns Sunday, Dec. 9. And if you thought the first season did an excellent job of balancing its high concept with character-driven narratives, you're in for a treat in Season 2.
After the attack on the Alpha world by Indigo's sleeper cell led to the closing of the Crossing between the Prime World and the Alpha World, the two Howards (Simmons) are stranded in each other's worlds at the outset of Season 2. As Howard Prime takes on his other's life -- going to his job every day and living at home with Emily (Olivia Williams), newly awakened from her coma -- Howard Alpha finds himself locked in a mysterious black site known as Echo, cut off from everyone he knows. As the season progresses, both men will find themselves becoming increasingly like the other.
"If we're going to sort of sum up the key question or statement [or] theme about the two Howards this year, [it] is that they are going to discover where they meet as characters," says creator and executive producer Justin Marks. "And when they discover where they meet, the question is: Is there room for two of them? And that's something that we've been winding up since the very first moment they were on-screen together. And I'm really excited to show... which side that coin lands on at the end of our season."
Honestly, that's just the beginning. Here's everything you need to know before Season 2 premieres.
Answers are coming... eventually. A major piece of the Counterpart puzzle revolves around the Prime world's belief that a flu epidemic that killed millions was actually a biological attack by the Alpha world. According to Marks, we will eventually find out the truth because the "story depends on knowing the truth in a lot of ways," but it remains unclear whether those answers are coming in Season 2 or beyond.
Still, there is at least one important question that will almost certainly get answered this season, and it is perhaps the most important question of all: What was the moment -- or series of moments -- that caused the two versions of Howard to diverge so completely and become the people they are today?
"[Executive producer] Jordan [Horowitz] and I knew that moment long before we even began the show," says Marks, "and J.K. has long known that moment and has sort of based his whole performance off of it. I think it's safe to say that Season 2 really does kind of get at exactly what that is, because it's key to understanding Howard."
We're going to learn a lot more about Management. At the end of Season 1, we were introduced to the mysterious Management -- well, we learned they do not directly interact with the Office of Interchange but use cameras and communicate only through people designated to speak on their behalf. And when the show returns, we're going to be learning much, much more about the people behind those cameras and how they came to be. "Season 2 is [about] Management in a lot of ways," says Marks, who notes that the upcoming season is really about understanding "what motivates the voices behind that camera and why it all relates to our main characters."
"We really start to see [the show] come to life more as you get into the upper echelon of Management and see the ways they see the world," adds Horowitz.
Emily will struggle with identity in the wake of her coma. First of all, it's safe to say that if there's a standout performance in Season 2, it's Olivia Williams as Emily. And it doesn't matter which Emily we're talking about because Emily Alpha and Emily Prime are equally complex and fascinating individuals and Season 2 does marvelous things with both of them. But because it would be rude to actually spoil those things, let's just that the issues Emily Alpha will face after waking up from her coma will only continue to grow as she attempts to reconcile the woman she used to be with the woman she is now. Is that vague enough for you?
We'll be seeing more of Howard Prime's daughter Anna (Sarah Bolger). And she's going to play an important role. "Without realizing it, Anna is sitting on a key bit of information that is really going to turn the Howard and Emily relationship dynamic upside down. She's the key in a lot of ways," teases Marks.
Clare is going to be torn in two directions this season. After Quayle (Harry Lloyd) chose his family over his job at the end of Season 1, Clare (Nazanin Boniadi) will face similar dilemmas in Season 2. "She has to make a choice, essentially, by the end of the season. Does she choose her family? Does she choose the cause?" Boniadi says. "I think so much of the season has to do with each character choosing, making a choice. For Quayle, it's a choice between his family and his work. And for [my character Clare], it's a choice between my family or my cause, the thing that I've been brainwashed and indoctrinated all my life to believe is my only goal in life. I have to figure out if that's what I really want to stick to or if family is more important to me, and that struggle is really her journey in Season 2."
There are a couple of new characters who are going to make life difficult for some. James Cromwell is joining the series as Yanek, the warden of the black site where Howard Alpha finds himself at the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, Betty Gabriel will play Naya Temple, a former FBI investigator brought in to suss out Shadow, aka Clare, and get to the bottom of the sleeper cells in the Alpha world. And she's going to cause a lot of issues for some of our favorite characters in the process.
"She's kind of stepped into the role her predecessor Aldrich (Ulrich Thomsen) had in the first season until he met his bitter end," explains Marks. "And unlike Aldrich, Temple is a woman who can see a lie on its face much more quickly because she's not as entrenched in the world as the other characters. So I think it's safe to say that from the very first episode she's beginning to peel back some of Quayle's inconsistencies. And I think she has an ability to in 30 seconds to figure out what would take another character 1o episodes to learn."
Although she's "there to handle some business and get to the bottom of things," as Gabriel puts it, she's also not a machine. "I hope what I accomplish is that she is very much this person who gets what she wants through her humanity and through her ability to connect with people," she tells TV Guide of the character, who's also a devout Muslim and sees faith as her ally.
Counterpart's second season premieres Sunday, Dec. 9 at 9/8c on Starz.
Additional reporting by Megan Vick