By Jamie Ruby
Not since Lost
has a show taken me on a journey that made me question the story at every turn. The complexity of Awake
is one of the best parts of the show, in my opinion. Through the whole season I was guessing and making theories about what was really going on; which reality was real, if any. At the end of the journey I'm still left with questions, though surprisingly still quite satisfied at the end.
at its heart is a serialized show. Being on network television, the series brought in the procedural elements to hopefully grab casual viewers so they could just jump in the series anywhere and not be lost. The overall story of Detective Michael Britten living in two realities and using each to get clues for cases in the other, really lent itself to be able to survive with those elements. The show, however, was always at its best when it delved into Britten's fractured mind. Awake
did garner a hard-core group of fans, however; perhaps if it had aired on cable television, it would have been enough.
It seems like anymore the networks, and the fans for that matter, are afraid to take on an intellectual and complex series. Networks have a hard time getting and keeping (live) viewers in the day and age of DVRs and onDemand. As much as many people still like serialized dramas, many of them are afraid of becoming invested in a show for fear of cancellation, which in turn hurts the ratings and it becomes a vicious circle. Myself, I am willing to take the risk and enjoy what the writers give us, even if it may not be a long journey. After all, I believe I am better for having seen one season of the show; I would have missed a brilliant mind-blowing drama if I had passed. And for what it's worth, I think Kyle Killen and company closed out Britten's chapter in a way that although makes me wish the series could keep going, I can accept the ending. That's a lot more than I can say about most series, even if they've had multiple seasons.
The series, not just the finale, delivered on multiple fronts, from an outstanding cast led by the talented Jason Isaacs, who not only played his emotional scenes beautifully, but also captured our attention with his fierce determination when chasing down leads (and looked good doing it), to the fabulous storytelling that kept us both enthralled and entertained, to even the stunning camera work and look of the series that kept both realities separate in our minds.
Thankfully the series culminated in a clever way that befit the rest of the edgy series. I only had to be midway into part one of the finale ("Two Birds") to know that it was going to be something special. Things were finally coming to a conclusion: Britten was putting together the pieces of who caused the accident that killed either his wife or son, and that getting rid of him was all about a heroin coverup and corrupt cops. The results were high action and I was waiting with bated breath to see what would happen.
In one reality, the green one, Britten shot the man who caused the car accident, Ed Hawkins, and was facing prison without proof of the cop's duplicity. In the other, Hawkins had shot and killed his ex-partner Detective "Bird" Freeman, and Britten was being blamed, was on the run, and was subsequently bleeding to death in the alley. Something had to give. At that point it looked like his only hope may have been Detective Vega. However, I think it was the preview of the finale episode that blew my mind the most - Britten in jail meeting...himself? I didn't know what to think at that point and my theories were getting turned on their heads.
So what did the final episode hold? Strange dreamlike sequences and another penguin for a start. You have to love the brilliance and guts of Killen and the writing team, they're not afraid to step out of the box.
Surprisingly, not too far into the final episode, "Turtles All the Way Down," Britten's situations are almost flipped: in the green universe he finds the proof he needed about Hawkins, helped in part by Captain Harper killing Carl Kessel and making it look like a suicide, so that all the blame would end with him. Britten is even given a commendation.
In the red universe, he is eventually captured and thrown in jail - with no one left believing in him, or at least willing to help him. So who would come to his rescue? Certainly not his therapist Dr. Lee. After Vega could no longer help, Britten could only trust himself - or a version of himself anyway. In walks Britten from the green universe; if he is even really there. At that point, much of the episode plays out like a dream. The two talk about the fact that Captain Harper was involved in the accident, which they need to prove.
"Red" Britten is ready to do what he can and ends up with his realities once again colliding, in a hallway, with both of his therapists together. As the two bicker about his possible breakthrough, Britten approaches and enters a door filled with white light. This is where things get even more bizarre. Vega, in a penguin suit, stands with Britten as they watch Harper kill Kessel in the hotel room, and see her break her heel, which is the evidence he needs for proof.
Britten is then suddenly in a deserted restaurant with his wife, Hannah. He is starting to process the fact that there is a good possiblity that the red universe is not real and he may not see his wife again if he catches Harper. She asks for one last kiss and after, the scene once again shifts. This time Britten is in his bedroom. He enters and lays down in the bed, on top of his other self, and they sort of "merge." When he awakens he is wearing a green wristband.
Britten's information about Harper's heel is good; he has found the proof he needs and IA takes her away.
As Britten later talks to Dr. Evans it seems that he may have to accept that his wife is dead and the red universe doesn't exist. But can he accept that? He has his own theory: what if everything has been a dream? Dr. Evans asks him what he expects to see when he wakes up next time. It's turtles all the way down. Then suddenly Evans freezes and the door to the office opens revealing his bedroom, which he enters.
Britten, suddenly in his pajamas, looks down and he has no wrist band. He walks to the kitchen, and before he can decide if he should panic, his son, Rex, walks in, and the audience is left assuming at first that the green universe was the real one - until his wife joins them. When asked if he is okay, Britten responds simply that he's "perfect."
Has the whole season has been a dream? Or maybe Britten's mind has simply created a third reality? Who says he can only live two lives - as Britten himself said to Dr. Evans earlier, no one knows what the rules are.
So what does it all mean? We may never know for sure. One definite possibility is that Britten's mind fractured again into a third reality where both Rex and Hannah live on, but it could have other interpretations, and as the end to the series, believing it was all a dream is a satisfactory end as well. For me, I may have loved the ending, but I still have questions.
In a first, Killen has promised on Twitter to answer questions; how much he will reveal is unknown. The Awake
finale was written in a way to be an end to the series if need be, or an end to just the season if the show was renewed. According to Killen, nothing was altered after the news of cancellation.
Regardless of what really happened, the episode was brilliant. From the music to the small touches that some people may not have noticed, such as when Britten was seeing people from both realities at once, and at the very end of the episode, the overall color tone of the show became neither yellow nor blue (it became almost a neutral white), to the out of the box bits like the viewing that a penguin suited Vega somehow gave to Britten of what the Captain did (gives a whole new meaning to "reality tv"), to the beautifully acted scenes where both Brittens talked and even eventually merged (quite literally). The writers delivered a worthy end to an unique series. I for one applaud them, and still will hold out hope that the show could still be optioned to another network or continue in another medium.