Since its premiere episode, Awake has been giving its audience reason to want to hold on to the two realities experienced by Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), and those reasons are largely that after being introduced to his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) and his son Rex (Dylan Minnette), we find that they are two pretty compelling reasons for a man to want to engage in a split existence. The two characters also serve as an example to how the mystery of the show works contrary to most: like Britten, the audience doesn’t necessarily want the fragile balance of his two lives to be unsettled.
However, in ‘That’s Not my Penguin,’ the toll of maintaining the two realities – or at least his existence in them – is beginning to show in Britten’s ability to handle some of the most menial tasks like ordering coffee and paying a phone bill. He’s even mixing up cases between his partners Freeman (Steve Harris) and Vega (Wilmer Valderama), which, after the mess that was almost made of his career in ‘Oregon,’ it’s clear that Britten’s dual realities bring a significant amount of negative along with the positive.
In telling fashion, Britten’s troubles, routines and reactions are recounted by a group of psychology students being led by Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong), as they examine a young schizophrenic by the name of Gabriel Wyath (Billy Lush). It seems Gabriel had masked his delusions so well, and for so long, that the real threat he posed went undiscovered until he nearly blew up a federal building. Also, like Britten, Gabriel is convinced that a loved one – in this case his sister – is still alive, being held in a secret underground facility. The truth is, however, that Gabriel’s sister was murdered four years ago.
Britten and Gabriel are soon introduced as the latter has wired the mental institution he’s been residing in to blow up. After a terse introduction, Britten finds himself approaching Gabriel inside the facility, to try and work the situation out. Walking the halls of a mental institution, we are forced to wonder if a place like this may be Britten’s future.
While most cop dramas would spend a great amount of time working on the aspect of the bomb and Gabriel, Awake is more interested in how these events are going to play out in some (if any) relation to the larger story of Michael Britten’s condition. To a certain degree, external forces that don’t immediately impact Britten’s ability to maintain or understand both realities are intended to remain on the sideline until brought forth explicitly. Things like the conspiracy involving Captain Harper (Laura Innes) or last week’s somewhat generic serial killer, Gemini, are largely unimportant until they serve a less ambiguous purpose – hence why the Harper situation has gone unmentioned since ‘The Little Guy.’
After being knocked unconscious by Gabriel and then shot full of ketamine, Britten jumps from the Hannah-verse into Rex-land, where (perhaps as a side effect of the drug) he’s practically oblivious to the fact that Rex’s girlfriend Emma (Daniela Bobadilla) spent the night, and (definitely as a ketamine side effect) he’s seeing a penguin everywhere he goes. Is insinuation here that Britten’s connection to either reality may be based somewhat on a physical level – meaning peril in one reality may not be readily escaped by jumping into the next?
Having dealt with another situation in which he and Rex are struggling to communicate, which once again asks a young woman (Hannah, Tara and now Emma) to act as mediator between the two, Britten hurries off to handle things with Gabriel. He awakes to find Dr. Lee looking him over, and giving him pointers on how best to deal with a telltale sign that Gabriel’s healthy mind is trying to communicate through layers of delusion – an example that has come up in reference to Britten with Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) in this episode.
Here, the implications are real, and what is most interesting is Britten’s response when confronted by what is essentially a textbook example of simptoms he’s currently experiencing. Instead of acting in a manner that acknowledges the truth, he chooses to lie; Britten once more places his efforts in perpetuating a fallacy – because, again, it’s one he can directly benefit from. At least that is what his therapists would have him think. But to Britten, what good is reality when all it brings is misery? Gabriel isn’t going to be set free whether he knows the truth about his sister or not, and like Gabe said, the effort to make those things appear, however imagined they are, is sometimes too much. So, as far as Britten is concerned, why not give Gabriel something to grant him a little peace?
Of course, Britten finds himself in a similar situation, one where the effort of sustaining his peace may cause him to surrender any semblance of control. And ignoring the advice of a Dr. Lee his mind had definitely fabricated may be a telling sign of where Britten’s mind is at.
Awake continues next Thursday with ‘Ricky’s Tacos’ @10pm on NBC.