So far, Awake works best when its procedural elements take on a sort of background essence while Britten concentrates more on Hannah and Rex. It also seems like when anyone other than Kyle Killen takes the writing lead, the episode turns out to be something more akin to an action thriller than a compelling drama about loss. We saw this with the less-than-stellar ‘Guilty‘ and here we see it again, but in a much more serviceable way with ‘Oregon.’
It’s not clear if this is intended to be some sort of subtle effect wherein one week Awake seriously focuses on the core concept of the series – that of the fractured psyche of Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) – and the next tells a sort of one-off tale that may or may not have implications regarding the two worlds in which Britten exists/has created. If that is the case, then having a serial killer who goes by the name of Gemini, as the focus of the episode, seems a little heavy-handed at first, but since we get so little time with Hannah (Laura Allen) and Rex (Dylan Minnette), it actually serves to be just a slightly inelegant way of reminding the viewer that, yes, Det. Britten is currently spending time in two different realities.
‘Oregon’ largely works because it successfully draws attention to its own clumsiness, and blames it on unique circumstance – which serves to temporarily undermine Britten’s authority as a detective, and ratchet up the suspense enough for there to be some satisfaction to the episode’s narrative.
The circumstance largely comes in the form of Britten casually stumbling upon a murder victim that matches the M.O. of the aforementioned serial killer Gemini. Apparently, Gemini was thought dead, shot by Agent Santoro (Megan Dodds) after she had been tracking him for over a decade. Now that Santoro is writing a book on her exploits, it’s only natural she feel threatened when Britten’s investigation might force her to write a different ending.
More importantly, though, Britten is dealing with Hannah’s desire to go to school in Oregon, which she had mentioned in the pilot episode, but given Britten’s circumstances of late, he failed to register her desire as anything too serious. While Hannah is out of town, Britten stumbles upon an estimate from Mountain Top Moving, which forces him to examine what it is that his wife wants, and how that may affect his other life with Rex. As with ‘Kate is Enough,’ Britten is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining these two realities he so desperately wants to be true. He learns that taking a passive role with his wife or son may result in losing them all over again.
While in therapy, both Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong) and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) see the idea of leaving Los Angeles with Hannah as a positive step in the right direction, yet both warn that the existence of these two worlds Britten finds himself between may hinge on the fact that its not too taxing to make them interchangeable. Living in Los Angeles and Portland, they caution, will likely cause the irreversible erosion of the false reality (if one of them really is a dream), until it no longer remains. To his credit, Britten remains as defiant about the realities as he did in the closing moments of the pilot, assuring his therapists that he’ll do whatever it takes to maintain both realities.
Meanwhile, hunting the Gemini killer proves remarkably easy, which the writer (Lisa Zwerling) again uses to her advantage by having the killer take note of this rather odd occurrence and apply it directly to an interest in Britten at the end of the episode. Once more the use of familiar icons and messages between the Hannah-verse and Rex-land play into Britten’s sleuthing, and while that’s beginning to feel like a stock element in every storyline, here it plays out differently – at least up to the point Gemini kidnaps Agent Santoro and nearly kills her before Britten and Freeman can intervene.
There’s a moment in ‘Oregon’ where Det. Freeman (Steve Harris), Britten’s Rex-land partner, comes clean about the particular unease he feels regarding Britten’s hunches by saying “Don’t pretend things are how they used to be.” That’s a telling sign for Britten’s character as much as it is for a series pushing forward into becoming a sustainable program. So far, we’ve been given the two faces of the same series: the by-the-numbers police procedural and the more compelling, but harder to define personal drama. Perhaps it was this episode’s Batman villain-like obsession with the number two, but Awake’s literal and figurative battle with duality seemed front-and-center.
On the plus side, it feels like those working on the show are figuring out ways to better marry the two, so that gives viewers reason enough to remain hopeful.
Awake returns next Thursday with ‘That’s Not My Penguin’ @10pm on NBC.