Through the litany of popular sci-fi/supernatural shows on TV, we are told over and over again that our decisions cause splinters of universes or realities to be created and that these alternate realities may resemble each other in all but the most subtle ways or they may be so different to be almost unrecognizable. What if an an event, the outcome of which we didn’t decide, causes the splintering of our reality into two separate but similar realities? For example, what you we were in an extreme car accident and where, as you lay unconscious, your world was split into one reality where your son survived but your wife didn’t and another reality where your wife survived but sadly, your teenage son did not make it out. Well, if you had this experience, your name would likely be Michael Britten and you would be the focus of the newest drama from NBC, Awake.
Awake follows the story of Michael Britten (played by Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs), a police detective six months removed from the aforementioned car accident and just getting back to work. The only hitch moving forward is that Britten is living two lives, one in which his son still alive and one in which its his wife; and he moves between them via going to sleep and waking up. It hasn’t been specified exactly but you get the impression that every time he goes to bed, the current reality is paused and the secondary reality is picked up wherever he left off last. Each reality can be easily referred to by its color, since that is how Britten keeps where he is straight: a green rubberband for his son’s reality and a red rubberband for his wife’s. Let’s pick it up from there.
Red Rubberband World.
In this world, Britten’s wife, Hannah (played by Laura Allen), survived the crash and she is trying to start moving on which is not necessarily in line with Michael’s wishes since to him, Rex (their son) isn’t really gone. Hannah is repainting the house, has quit her job, is looking to go back to school and wants to get the baby making process on. She is also totes not okay with Michael visiting their “dead” son in his dreams and gets kind of pissy when he makes up stories about “a colleague’s child” which is weak substitute for what Rex is up to in the other time line. Hannah is also something of a (former?) great tennis player. In one disturbing scene, Britten wakes up to find Hannah not next to him in bed and his Red Rubberband is missing. Fearing this is some kind of horrible third reality where everyone is dead, Britten takes a knife to his hand in order to force himself to … wake up? I guess? Of course, Hannah was just in another room and enters just in time to see the blood gush from his hand all over the floor. Oops, lets put a bandage on that. At the very end of the episode, Hannah asks Britten if he will see Rex tonight and when Britten says, yes, she asks that he say hello for her which shows that she is … coming around? Accepting her husband’s psychosis? Not sure what it means at this point.
At work, Britten’s long time partner, Detective Isaiah “Bird” Freeman (played by the awesome Steve Harris from The Practice) has been transferred to another precinct, presumably for saying that Britten is fine to the powers that be that are maybe looking to force him out to pasture? In his departure, Britten has been teamed with a newly minted detective, Detective Efrem Vega (played by
Handy Manny Wilmer Valderrama). Britten, trying to deal with altering realities and an angry and sad wife, has very little time to be nice or accommodating to new partner Vega and Vega has been getting questions about his partner’s behavior which he says he hasn’t answered … yet. Their case of the week (yeah, this will be a serialized procedural a la Person of Interest or Alcatraz) revolves around a dude randomly shooting cabbies and then mugging for security cameras which is okay because he’s in disguise. Ultimately, Vega kills the bad guy just as he’s about to take his shot at Britten in the back so maybe Britten will stop being a douche to the new guy?
The Shrink’s Couch. As part of his work reinstatement, Britten is under the care and treatment of Dr. John Lee (played by the really awesome BD Wong who was the recurring shrink/profiler Law & Order: SVU). Wong is sympathetic at first to Britten’s plight of split realities but as the episode wears on and it becomes obvious to Dr. Lee that Britten is kind of digging having the cake and eating it too, he becomes more caustic and aggressive in shouting down the existence of two realities at once. For Dr. Lee, this is reality and the Green Rubberband World is a dream or fantasy so snap out of it man, or else its going to cost you your life as your mind breaks down from lack of rejuvenative sleep. He points to the hand cutting from earlier in the episode as evidence that his mind is already tweaking. Dr. Lee also raises the issue that Britten’s file shows an elevated blood alcohol level on the night of the crash and isn’t this split reality really just his way of filtering his immense guilt over being responsible for his son’s death; look at the “fantasy” case you have, its about a missing child. A duh dummy! Its about as shouty as I imagine Dr. Lee will get and i should point out that Britten seems genuinely surprised at this alcohol aspect as he does not remember drinking that night at all. At the end of the episode, Britten makes it very clear that he will keep coming to these sessions as long as “they” make him but rest assured, he has no plans on making “progress.” Okay then!
Green Rubberband World.
In this world, Britten’s son, Rex (played by Dylan Minnette, who was Jack’s sideways son on LOST!), survived the opening car crash and is dealing with the loss of his mother/ trying to move on with his life by getting back into playing tennis, which he did as a youngster but gave up for football. Trying to be a good dad, Britten takes time away from work to go to his son’s latest tennis match which he wins, before having an emotional breakdown on the court which is all very moving. Acting as a mom substitute in this timeline is tennis coach, Tara (played by the very hot Michaela McManus also from Law & Order: SVU and more recently, The Vampire Diaries), who was also Rex’s “dead” mom’s tennis partner back in the day. With Tara’s help, Rex tries to reconnect with his dad and there is some healing going on there which needs it given the anger Rex probably feels towards his dad over being the driver in the accident that killed his mom and also, being a cop which requires significant attention away from home. I should also mention there is serious sexual chemistry between Britten and Tara so expect that storyline to wind up in bed.
At work, Britten’s partner is still Detective Bird (Efrem Vega is just a uniformed officer though we do see him) and there seems to be less of witch hunt for Britten’s badge than in the Red Rubberband World. Their case of the week is a missing child abducted from a parking garage and eventually found in an abandoned cabin in the woods. It will surprise no one that was watching to learn that the kidnapper was the same man as the cabbie shooter in the Red Rubberband World.
The Shrink’s Couch. Britten is seeing Dr. Judith Evans (played by Cherry Jones from 24) in this world and I guess its also for work purposes but they make no explicit mention to that fact whereas its drilled home in the Red Rubberband World. Again, this plays into there being much less tension over the fate of Britten continuing to work as a police officer in this world. whereas Dr. Lee is aggressive in his browbeating that his world is the real world, Dr. Evans is more cerebral in her approach, and genuinely more sympathetic in his plight. As to prove that her world is the real world, Dr. Evans has Britten read a randomly chosen section of the United States Constitution that he couldn’t possibly have memorized ergo, he can’t be dreaming this whole thing up. Suck on that Dr. Lee! To the alcohol aspect brought up by Dr. Lee in the Red Rubberband World, Dr. Evans is much more supportive of Britten’s denials that he drank at all on the night of the crash and hypothesizes that perhaps he has split his realities in order to discover what happened on the night of the crash. And there folks, is our mythology mystery to be unravelled. Thanks Dr. Evans! Its probably important to note that Britten is much more likely to talk with Dr. Evans about what he is going through in the Red Rubberband World and what Dr. Lee says than he is to share the Dr. Evans information and Green Rubberband World with Dr. Lee. This is no surprise given how they have set Dr. Lee and his reality as the hard ass, suck it up man, reality.
So, wow. Let’s unpack what we now know about the show. Awake is one of the most intriguing premises I have ever seen on TV and unlike a show like, The River, which also has a great premise, Awake does not suffer for poor execution or get in its own way. Going through the episode, I ddidn’t see the “what happened on the night fo the crash” coming as a storyline and I was happy to be surprised. I like the idea of using the split worlds, and the related bleed throughs, to work on what exactly happened the night of the car accident (its interesting that Dr. Evans doesn’t seem to have evidence of a heightened blood alcohol level the night of the crash or else I think her approach to Britten’s revelation would have been different) and also to solve crime! Its like a superpower borne of a mental instability which is pretty original.
This show is, right now at least, about truth through examination of opposites. Look at the use of brightness and shadows in defining the world you are currently sitting in: Dr. Lee’s office is almost distractingly and blindingly bright while Dr. Evans’ office is dark and shadowed, you get the sense that it may be bright outside but sh has it so that’s it several degrees cooler on her couch. or the personalities and tone of the worlds. The Red Rubberband World has a “witch hunt” vibe to it, Britten is not safe in this world: his wife is looking to make him move, his job is looking for his badge, his therapist is being anything but gently therapeutic. The green Rubberband World is the exact opposite: Britten still has his long time partner, he still has his son, he maybe has a h9ot new love interest in Tara and his shrink is infinitely more understanding than Dr. Lee. Britten uses these two worlds as both attracting and repelling forces to squeeze out a truth, this week it was to solve both cases; in future episodes, if Dr. Evans is correct, it will be to make sense of what caused his car accident.
What I really think we are witnessing in the two worlds is a battle of Britten’s conscious and unconscious; Britten is his ego trying to reconcile his id (the Green Rubberband World) and the super ego (his Red Rubberband World) and trying to establish a real truth. According to Freud, the id is that part of our mind that is wild and ungoverned, the seeking of passions in satisfaction of the desire for pleasure and avoidance of tension. The super ego is our moralizing center which makes us feel shitty about ourselves in order to fit into societal norms and our ego is the part that organizes the masses and consciously moves us forward.
Applied to our show, Britten has lost his wife in the Green Rubberband World but he has his son, he has job security, he is able to take time off to root for his son in his tennis matches and maybe has a new lady friend in Tara. Things are going fairly alright for Michael Britten in the green Rubberband World and Dr. Evans is so understanding as to almost be an enabler. On the other hand, Britten’s Red Rubberband World is a cold cocking of negativity. He has this new partner that is wet behind the ears and is maybe looking to sell him out to the powers that be for his own advancement purposes, he has this shrink that is emotionally smacking him around with proof that he maybe is very directly responsible for the death of his son and he is slicing up his hand because his effing wife won’t stay in bed in the morning. In the Red Rubberband World, Michael Britten is teetering on breakdown and chaos and maybe that’s what he is supposed to be feeling given what he’s done?
I said it was interesting, I didn’t say it made a whole lot of sense … yet. Of course, they can all be dead and this is just Britten in a coma trying to keep it together before he slips off into the nether. Who knows. As with anything on NBC, I have a healthy skepticism about this show going forward but I am more than cautiously optimistic about Awake. There are only a few negatives here (Hannah being one of them, I just found her unlikeable and manic but maybe she was supposed to be that way) and I think Kyle Killen (the show’s creator) has the chops to keep the show together for some time. I f anything, his Tweets during broadcast are very funny.
Keep or Delete? Definite Keep!And I’ll be covering this show week to week so I hope to see you here so we can make sense of which world is the real world, if any, together!