[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the “Counterpart” Season 1, Episode 6, “Act Like You’ve Been Here Before.”]
When a show starts off establishing a world with an entire parallel existence, there aren’t many other places to go to shock an audience. But at the end of Episode 6 of “Counterpart,” the show delivered its most seismic twist so far.
An hour that saw the brutal end of jovial undercover Alpha butcher shop owner Heinrich, the true identity of Alexander Pope’s man on the inside, and some creative use of pangrams also brought the series’ most mysterious character into focus. Turns out that Clare, the middle-class supermarket shopper also doubling as an envoy for Baldwin the assassin, is actually the wife of Peter Quayle, Director of Strategy for the series’ inter-reality spy agency.
In the waning moments of the season’s sixth hour, Quayle (Harry Lloyd) finally puts the pieces together, realizing that the search for the mole inside Strategy has led him the one person he never suspected. Earlier in the episode, when Peter tells Howard Prime “I’ll be inviting this mole into my house,” he was more right than he could have anticipated.
It was a moment that Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Clare, didn’t even know would happen when she accepted the part.
“When I took the job, I only had three scripts. They had the ten scripts, but I wasn’t given them before I took the job. I remember reading them and I said to Justin, ‘I’m not in the first episode. Who is this girl? Because she doesn’t seem very relevant,'” Boniadi told IndieWire. “It was really my trust in Justin, when he said, ‘Trust me, Naz — she’s going to be an essential part of this story,’ which made me sign on. And he was absolutely right.”
“Counterpart” creator Justin Marks acknowledges how tricky the journey to that Clare reveal was. But, for him, it was part of maximizing the effect of the reveal.
“You can imagine how hard it is for Naz, who’s such a central part of the show — and wait ’til you see where it goes from that point — to be deliberately hidden for the first six episodes, because we really want that twist to just get you to your core,” Marks said. “It’s the big moment when you realize that now we’ve introduced all the pieces to the game board, for the season at least. Now it’s just about how does that untangle itself.”
Boniadi had to wait even longer than just a few hours of screen time to find a part like Clare after previous stints on “Homeland” and “Scandal.” For her, this newfound spot on the “Counterpart” center stage is the culmination of a very patient series of career choices.
“You don’t come across material like this. I waited three years since ‘Homeland’ to be on TV, to find the right project. I was fortunate enough after ‘Homeland’ to be sent a lot of scripts. To wait to get to do this one is so fulfilling,” Boniadi said. “The second half of the season is where she comes into her own and people understand the importance of the character in the grand scheme of things.”
That reward comes along with a character that gets to utilize the dual nature of the series in a very particular way.
“It’s unlike any character I’ve played before, because essentially, she is a villain. But I like to think of her as a femme fatale from the film noir world. She’s not one-dimensional at all. She feels very justified in her mission. She’s on a mission from the Other Side. She’s determined to carry out this mission,” Boniadi said. “As they say, ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ And I feel like you have to balance those two. She isn’t just a straight-up villain. She has so many colors.”
As for the actor who had to sell that climactic moment in the study, Lloyd was grateful that Peter Quayle’s realization was far more than just a simple, dumbfounded look. Both he and Boniadi saluted Jennifer Getzinger with helping them through the process.
“It became very technical. I’ve got these three documents that are photocopied, got the original there. It was all about how you best explain this,” Lloyd said. “The triangular mug was a stroke of genius. The cameras roll and it’s good to be concentrating on that, so you don’t feel like, ‘The whole season is gonna pivot on this reaction. Go, Harry!'”
After he had a chance to see the scene in context, Lloyd also gave a tip of the hat to composer Jeff Russo.
“It was music that really got me. When you’re in it, you don’t even think about that. Those strings, there’s something about that I think really ties it together,” Lloyd said.
As far as finding the right time for this lightbulb moment to happen, Marks explained that it came about after being freed from the burden of frontloading Season 1 with every bit of vital information.
“You have to do it slowly and not just hit every twist in the first episode. That’s of course the luxury of longform cable television,” Marks said. “We really wanted to do it in a slow-burn fashion because I always feel like, especially within genre, that if you get audiences addicted to hard drugs, then no one wants a good glass of wine.”
So now that the audience has a fuller picture of the season-long scheme, where does “Counterpart” go from here? Marks explained that this is far from the last we’ve seen of Clare.
“Episode 7 is all about her and is a really fun episode,” Marks said.
“It’s a wonderful exploration of how Clare got there, set against that birthday party. It’s just crackling,” Lloyd said. “And then you’re into 8, 9, 10. It’s the final act of the movie, all shit’s going down.”
“Counterpart” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.