Yesterday night I saw the last episode of NBC’s Awake. I suspect that Fox spoiled me by continuing to renew Fringe despite the ratings drama, and thus I hoped that NBC might do the same. But they simply could not chance a second season of the intriguingly psychological police drama.
I’ve briefly covered this before, but Awake is the story of detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), who recently suffered a car accident with his wife and son (Laura Allen and Dylan Minnette respectively). Each time he goes unconscious, be it sleep or otherwise, he wakes up in the “other world.” The two worlds are different enough; in one his wife survived but his son did not, and vice versa.
The differences do not end there. The world of his wife is tinged with an orange/red color, where he answers to psychologist John Lee played by BD Wong of Law & Order: SVU, and is partnered with rookie Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama).
The other world is a bluish green, where he has sessions with psychologist Judith Evans (Cherry Jones) and solves cases with long time partner and friend ‘Bird’ Freeman, played by Steve Harris. In both worlds he answers to Captain Harper (Laura Innes). But all characters exist, or have existed, in each of the realities.
The detective cases in one world always seemed to have unexplained details that related to the other. As Britten picks up on these details, it scares his partners and boss with his preternatural instincts for solving cases. Clues seemed to come out of no where. Cases get solved with speed that would put Sherlock Holmes to shame.
But all the while, there are details that make no sense to the case, building the clues in Britten’s mind. These bizarre and esoteric clues lead Britten to conspiratory discovers surrounding the night of his family’s car accident.
The show’s creators, upon finding out about the cancellation, attempted to end the show on a satisfying enough page. They did not have enough time to expand the story beyond a low level plot of a corrupt police drug operation. There was no conspiracy that explained Britten’s mental condition as I was first led to believe. That was completely his own doing. Instead, the show takes advantage of its twin psychologists to rationalize the unusual nature of Britten’s twin mindedness.
The plot aspects of each episode did not always make the greatest of sense. The alternate versions of certain suspects created confusion, sometimes without satisfactory reconciliation. I believe that even the show’s writers had a difficult time deciding how to best implement episode plots, and it showed.
But I enjoyed the well roundedness of each of Awake’s characters. No character annoyed me. Both the wife and son got considerable on screen time, and their irrationalities were rationalized by either Wong or Jones’ character. There was not time to really develop either of the partners Freeman or Vega, but their personalities and mannerisms worked well. I enjoyed Freeman’s concern for his partner and level headedness, and Vega mixed an excellent blend of rookism with common-sense regarding Britten’s antics.
The show’s conclusion was a rush to Britten’s metanoia. There were scenes of subtle, disturbing creepiness, such as when he spoke to his alternative self through a prison visit. The best scene had to be where Britten walked down the prison hall, while the two psychologists clashed and argued behind him.
Lee and Evans jabbed each other with their conflicting philosophies, like brain parents fighting over their child. Lee took on what could be described as paternal instincts, believing that Britten should have taken charge of his dreams and cast the other aside. The maternal Evans however, embraced and encouraged Britten, trying to let his mind naturally accept and heal itself. Given the second to last scenes of the show, it could be suggested that Lee’s denial of the otherworld was a desperate attempt to deny and save himself, a survivalistic instinct threatened by Britten’s fractured psyche.
The final scene of Awake hurt the show. Rather than embracing the blue/green world where his wife is dead, as hinted by a goodbye kiss between them, the creators decided to try and wish away the point of the entire show with, “It was all a dream! Your wife and son are just fine.”
Needless to say, such a whimsical approach to the ending kills the mood. As though the last twelve episodes did not matter in the least to the ending.
Despite this set back, I have to applaud the show’s overall innovation and originality. The show is technically a marketplace failure as it lasted only one season. Such first generation experiment often fail however. But the loss often creates artistic seeds from which new, better executed television can be developed, much like how Dark City inspired Inception.
Time will tell.