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The Penultimate Wake for 'Awake'
May 18, 2012  | By Eric Gould  | 6 comments

Last week we received the sad news of a soon-to-be dearly departed show: NBC's Awake has been canceled. We here at TVWW decided immediately, out of respect, to review the last two episodes, so here is the next-to-last wake for Awake...

Thursday's episode (May 17), "Two Birds," found Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) getting closer to uncovering the now-emerging conspiracy that the car crash that started the series was no accident. Britten lost his son in the wreck. Or his wife, depending in which waking life he finds himself.

There won't be a lot of spoilers here. Next week's de facto series finale — our third and final Awake wake — will give us the chance to discuss the plot points that have either wrapped up the mystery for us, or, like the hasty ending of AMC's Rubicon in 2010, kind of gave us closure, yet simultaneously kind of left us hanging.

To this point, we are still following, and rooting for, Detective Britten, who had been driving his family home when he lost control of his car and wrecked it. He awakened to find that his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) had survived the crash, but that his wife, Hanna (Laura Allen), had died. Awakening the next morning, his loved ones' fates were reversed: his wife had survived, but their son had died.

Each day, the two realities alternate. And all season, the question has been: Which of Britten's realities is the real one?

As has been the pattern all season, Detective Britten learns things in both lives that he uses to uncover more of the mysteries in each. Last night, in the the green-filtered time line in which his son has survived, Britten gets closer to the conspiracy, and learning the truth, through means of uncharacteristic force. In the red-filtered world where his wife has lived, he is the victim of violence, not the perpretator — but still unpeels similar layers of the story.

"Two Birds" was a brilliant, well-paced ballet between the two complicated realities, with Britten interacting with the same characters, but experiencing different outcomes. And aside from the mystery, it was another chance to showcase Isaacs, an intense actor playing a man struggling, yet steadfast, as his worlds split apart. Each scene in which he reassures his son or his wife about the other's loss has been a deep look into the undying love of a dedicated father and husband.

Awake began last night, as has each show, with Britten seeing his therapists: Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) in the green time-line, and Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong) in the red one. It's always been a somewhat curious aspect of the show's conceit that each of these therapists argue so stridently, and persuasively, that the other's world is false.
As the season (and series) comes to an end, both therapists independently maintain — in separate sessions that are presented in rapidly edited cross-cut fashion — that Britten's belief in a conspiracy is just one more sign, one more undeniable symptom, of his deep psychological split. They hammer home that Britten, in an attempt to cope with his loss, must fabricate an elaborate explanation such as a conspiracy simply to have the accident make sense to himself. Things he actually sees, they dismiss as not actually happening — or argue that he is as unreliable as a mistaken witness in one of his everyday police investigations.

In Thursday's episode, methinks they doth protest too much.

The best parts of Awake have been Britten's coping with his losses, and his refusal to accept the other world as false. He believes in both. The emerging police cover-up, and the conspiracy against him, have been secondary.

The two therapists, like Britten's assumed split realities, may very well turn out to be something else. The odds that the solution to this puzzle is a simple choice — that that one or the other lives must be true — are dwindling. There might be a third solution, one that explains Britten's split without negating half of it. And last night's parting shot, with him in custody in his own police station, may turn out to symbolize a prison of a different sort.

The previous week's episode, "Say Hello to My Little Friend," gave us an indication that Britten's experience looked, at times, like madness. And after the climax of this week's episode, NBC gave us a shocking, split-second reveal, during the preview clips, of the finale. We'll have to wait and see if this is mere misdirection, or if the last episode of Awake will indeed end with the revelation the preview suggests.

From the start, it was questionable how Awake could sustain the storyline of Britten being stuck between two realities for multiple seasons. Given the show's cancellation, that's no longer a problem. The issue now, instead, is: Will viewers get the final resolution we deserve? Or will we be left hanging, and half-dreaming, as with Rubicon?

Join us next week for the answers: the final, and third wake for Awake, when we put this great show, regrettably, to rest.


The finale of Awake will air next Thursday night, May 24.

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Jun 26, 2023   |  Reply
I just had to add that I find it fitting you compared it to Rubicon, my last great disappointment in cancellations. The glacial pace became one of my favorite things about Rubicon, aside from the amazingly talented director of photography. I'd watch anything on TV by him. (I need to find out his name).
Oh, and there was Terriers, it comes in right behind Rubicon in my opinion. Yet both of those shows were on cable TV. I can't account for viewers taste in television. Maybe it has to do with marketing? Maybe people were afraid to watch after being burned by Lost? A show I didn't care for. Hm....
May 20, 2012   |  Reply
Angela: Fearless Leader, David Bianculli, has written a few times this year on how some shows have slowed down to novelization styles. I'm a supporter of this, since it seems most shows feel like they have to move so fast, if you miss a couple of weeks, you're lost. "Rubicon" and "Terriers" both had that quality, and it kept me returning each week. But the market doesn't like slow, or a sense of literary depth. (That tends to work for miniseries.) "Terriers" suffered from extremely low ratings, (there were Youtube videos with bigger audiences) probably because people didn't want to wait around for the slower progress. But Donal Logue was great in that one.
May 21, 2012
I was anxiously waiting to read this review after I watched the latest episode. I think that more viewers would have been on board if they had been able to read your description about the show. Of course I'm biased. And I did sign a petition.
It feels good to me when someone like you takes a special interest in a show that is not getting the ratings it needs. I listened to a fascinating interview with Kyle Killen, the creator of Awake. If I can find it again I'll post it here though I'm sure it's buried under a million tweets by now. One of the things Kyle said about moving shows from Network to cable TV is that it's not as easy as it sounds, a lot of changes have to be made.

I'm thinking that Kyle Killen and Howard Gorden are the creators of this show. Is that correct title for them, or would they be called show runners, or producers? I want to get the lingo right while I continue to comment about Quality TV. Thank you in advance for answering my questions and writing the reviews
May 20, 2012   |  Reply
Well, we could have -- and should have -- written more about the show in the early stages. It needed early support. (The episode "That's Not My Penguin." was brilliant.) You're right on both -- a producer (usually the executive and series creator) is also the show runner. The distinction being is that a show runner usually has rank over a director, whereas in film, the director is the main authority. Killen is the show runner of the team.
May 21, 2012
Wish AMC would come in to save this thing. If the final episode fails to clear everything up, I will take that as a clue to its future, rather than a botched ending.

IMHO, it's the only show worth watching on the nets, and we, the people, are registering a very mediocre level of alertness to quality, OR the nets are proving once again that quality has zero value to them. Maybe it's both.
May 18, 2012   |  Reply
Casey: There are a number of online petitions going around, all asking NBC to reinstate the show. Here's one: http://www.change.org/petitions/a-wake-up-nbc

As far the exec's go, it's hard to think that simply because the show is complicated, that there is no support for it. "Lost" became convoluted, but held onto it's audience. It's most likely a ratings, economics thing. AMC cut "Rubicon" and probably does not have an appetite for another psychological drama steeped in quietude, but you are correct, that is the cable location for a resurrection if there is to be one. TNT took the last great NBC cast-off "Southland" so maybe there's hope there. --EG
May 18, 2012
I think we fans will come up with our own resolutions. No matter how it resolves on air.
May 18, 2012   |  Reply
If the finale doesn't resolve the dual-life mystery, I wish the writers would craft a feature film to deliver the whole scenario and "take us home." What are the chances?
May 18, 2012   |  Reply
The shows writers have delivered in consistent ways throughout the series, and I would be very disappointed if they did not deliver something tangible and satisfying for what they thought would be the season ending, not the series finale. We'll go into more detail next week on whether the show was written as a one-season idea or not. But either way, it's been great work. --EG
May 18, 2012
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