Awake, First, Only and Last Season

An ironic name, given its audience...

An ironic name, given its audience…

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.

Adeptus Astartes Psychology

I’ve never been a huge fan of calling them Space Marines.

When I call them Space Marines, I sometimes think of the various other kinds of space marines out there, from the movie Aliens or Starcraft. Ordinary humans with lots of equipment and training and scars. Tough, meaty guys with the HOO-RAH attitude who frequently get massacred. 40k Space Marines are just something else entirely.

I prefer the term Adeptus Astartes.

We want YOU! ... In our cross hairs.

We want YOU! ... In our cross hairs.

Astartes are a much more awesome term having originated from the goddess of war, fertility and sexuality, Astarte. Which is meaningful for the first two points and ironic on the third. They are masters of war, create new Space Marines through their gene seed and are pretty much asexual.

That last point may have been meant to kick Sigmund Freud to the curb. It’s not that the writers of the Black Library’s stories are afraid of sex; it has occasionally found a place in the stories like those of Ciaphas Cain and parts of the Horus Heresy. But sex is just not a motivation for a Space Marine.

My history teacher back in high school, an amazing man some claimed to be crazy, once told us that the four most powerful motivators of people. My mind added a fifth, and I can’t remember which were the original four he mentioned. But they are power, sex, violence, fear and money.

We’ve already struck out sex. Money doesn’t matter either. It’s possible that power motivates Space Marines to an extent, but they rarely occupy the planets they take for long, rarely seem to ‘move in’ and hold onto a planet for longer than they have too. Fear is taken away by the Imperial decree, “And they shall know no fear.”

So I suppose that leaves violence and violence alone.

They are, after all, warriors. Men who have done away with the usual limitations of mankind, such as age, the need to procreate. They survive conditions that would kill most men, can eat, drink and breath things we cannot. They do not know fear.

They aren’t human, not anymore anyway. So much is taken away that what is left is magnified. You could claim that the big guns and armor and compensating for something with a wink and nudge, and you’d be right. They are compensating for the fact they’re only vaguely human.

They have, on my levels, outgrown what it means to be mortal. And have ventured, but do not cross, into the realm of the immortal. You can talk about all the neat toys like the bolters and power armor. You can discuss the great genetic gifts they’ve received. But repeatedly, we are told that what separates a Space Marine from a man is that they are an idea of humanity transcended, that their faith is their shield and hatred their weapon.

Transcendence. Think about that for a moment.

A major theme of science fiction, fantasy and everything in between is what it means to not be human. To either rise above human or to never have been at all. To be either an alien species or something distantly related to humanity, turned down a different evolutionary path (of which someone is quick to declare another besides humanity the superior race), or technologically advanced. In real life, transcendence is a major issue in most religions, as each attempts to answer the question of what happens to our conscience when we die.

Astartes are ultimate in the fact that they touch on so many of these things, all at once. There is the genetic manipulation of their DNA through the introduction of gene-seed organs. There are technological augmentations, such as the ports of the black carapace, augmented limbs and the power armor. And yes, there is even a fervent religious element to it as well, as they become the Emperor’s ‘Angels of Death.’

It’s a curious thing then that they reject the cult of the Emperor as a god, with the view that he was an extraordinary man. Yet, so much of their day is spent in prayer and ritual. The original material on this was taken down from the GW site, but remains available. Even stripped of a central monotheistic figure, Astartes remain diligent in their observation of chapter tradition.

When you strip a man of his manhood and replace it with the gifts of a demi-god, there is only a fraction of his humanity that is left over. And what’s left becomes intense and quintessential. It turns him into something more pure. The difference between a human and an Astartes is akin to that of men and angels; when surrounded, as they often are in the 40k universe, a man may have no where to go. He may have no choice but to die. But an angel can rise.

Or… as I’ll discuss later, an angel can fall.