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Major spoilers below for Counterpart's episode, titled "The Sincerest Form of Flattery."
In its first six episodes, Starz's Counterpart proved itself to be as magnificent, as dense and as unpredictable as any other TV show out there. And then came Episode 7, offering a full-length exploration of Clare Prime, who was revealed to be the OI's big mole in the previous ep's cliffhanger. "The Sincerest Form of Flattery" was like nothing else Counterpart has delivered, turning Clare from a bit-part villain into Counterpart's biggest lynchpin. I was lucky enough to talk about the episode at length with star Nazanin Boniadi, who shared why it was such an important installment.
I think, essentially, she's the main villain of the season. And to humanize her, you have to really understand where she comes from. Otherwise, to have a series regular that's an essential part of the show, and not to humanize her, I think there's no way for the audience to connect with a character that's one-dimensional. And she's anything but one-dimensional. She's very multi-faceted. . . . I think it's important that you get to know Clare to understand why the other side bears this grudge and resentment towards this side. Without knowing that, with the other side being very 'other' and foreign and villainous, and I don't think that's necessarily true.
Indeed! During the episode, Counterpart fans went back in time to Clare's childhood within the Indigo school's growing league of sleeper cells. We learned that the alt-Earth is grooming children to mirror the lives of their other iterations, for an eventual goal where the radicalized students engage in the deadliest form of identity theft. When normal-world Clare accidentally broke her legs as a youth, the Indigo head honcho Mira forced Clare Prime to get her own legs intentionally broken, which is just one of so many partially justifiable reasons for the orphan's rage over the conspiratorial claims that the flu that killed her parents (and millions of others) was the fault of the other world. (As a separate example, normal Clare's prolonged virginity
Homeland vet Nazanin Boniadi, who went out for the role based on the first three scripts and creator Justin Marks' promise that there was more to come, shared with me her thoughts about Clare's quasi-manufactured point of view, and went a little deeper into how her deeply disturbing upbringing was such that her so-called villainy can be up for debate.
It's a very dark role. Clare's gone through so much. She's essentially been radicalized and brainwashed. I view Indigo as a cult, you know, and she has no way of escaping that mentality. She's been shaped that way from a young age. She is a soldier for that cause. But I think the great thing about it -- there's a quote, 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' -- and I think she truly embodies that. She feels entirely justified in what she's doing, and I don't think she's doing it with malicious intent. She truly thinks this is the greatest good for the greatest number to wreak revenge on this world because of everything that they've done to the people on the other side. It's a very dark role, but it's very multi-faceted and so layered. Understanding her backstory and understanding the pain that she suffered through and the loss she suffered. And there's a great line by Mira, the head of Indigo who becomes her mentor and shapes her, where she says, and I'm paraphrasing, 'Let your skin grow thick with anger.' And that's what she's done. She's let all of that pain and suffering and loss, she's channeled all of that into this cause, and that's why she's so dedicated.
Since Clare is married to Peter, their dynamic will definitely go through some revisions in the coming weeks, and we're wondering if she will remain so loyal to the Indigo school. (Which, as it happens, has lost a good amount of paperwork to trashcan fires.) Or maybe she will manage to spin Peter's own domestic interests with her genuinely horrifying history.
One thing's for sure, though. Peter probably won't listen to a word Clare Prime says after he learns what happened to the actual woman he attempted to marry. Head over to the next page to hear what Nazanin Boniadi told us about that big Clare-killing-Clare scene.
One particularly distressing moment in "The Sincerest Form of Flattery" came when Clare Prime was called upon to take over her other's identity, which coincided with normal-world Clare ending her engagement with the unfaithful Peter. In order to save the situation from complete disaster, Clare Prime set up a faux burglary that ended in her strangling her less-tortured counterpart to death. During my talk with Nazanin Boniadi, I had to ask her what it was like to take part in that bizarre murder.
Oh my goodness, it was painful, both physically and emotionally. It's very dark. Nadia and Baldwin experienced the exact same childhood trauma; they both watched their father die. And Clare [Prime] and Clare Quayle did not experience the same childhood trauma, so you'll see a bigger difference. You'll see a heaviness carrying the trauma in the two Nadias, but you won't see the same pain and heaviness in the two versions of Clare. You'll see one who hasn't lost her parents, she hasn't experienced pain in the same way that the Clare from the other side has. And so the heaviness and the pain that you see, and the hatred that you see in Clare [Prime], really doesn't exist in Clare Quayle, the woman who was engaged to become Quayle's wife, who got prematurely killed.
Other than the few moments in her childhood where her sadness shone through, Clare Prime does not reveal her true emotional state very often, and that lack of adult anguish sometimes makes it easy to forget the hardships she's faced. However, after watching the feral ferocity on her face as she ended her other's life, I dare not again question the homicidal wrath lurking beneath Clare's surface.
Below, Nazanin Boniadi perfectly lays out how this episode, and the Clare murder scene in particular, showcase the brilliance behind Counterpart's dually conceived characters.
So yeah, essentially, in that scene I had to play one of them as this damsel in distress, and the other one as a hate-filled murderer. And they couldn't be more disconnected in that sense, and that's why you see the envy and that hatred that you see in Clare [Prime's} face as she kills her other. [She's] filled with envy and filled with, sort of, 'Your life could have been my life, but your side chose to kill my parents, and you stripped me of the childhood that you had.' And so it's filled with this revenge aspect that really didn't exist for the two Nadias. That trajectory is so different, and that's again another part that's fascinating where the Counterpart writers really are genius. Because every single character that has another, their relationship to that person is so different from any other relationship on the show. That's why in that moment it was so hard, physically very hard to put two people in the same scene; I played both of those roles, so you see some visual effects going on. But it's also somewhat traumatic to have to hatefully watch your other die, [to watch] essentially a part of yourself die.
We've grown accustomed to Counterpart episodes centering largely on J.K. Simmons' pair of Howards, and who can blame anyone for that, considering how fantastic he is? However, Simmons' talent is but one piece of Counterpart's magnificence and mystique, and if the Starz drama wants to dedicate more episodes to Nazanin Boniadi's Clare, or Emily Prime, or any of the other non-Howard characters, our eyes will remain glued to the screen.
With many more twists and turns to come -- Counterpart airs Sunday nights on Starz at 8:00 p.m. ET. And you can bet CinemaBlend will have more exclusives from our chat with Nazanin Boniadi on the way as well. In the meantime, check out our midseason premiere schedule to plan your upcoming primetime viewing.