‘Awake’ Series Finale Review

Published 3 years ago by

Jason Isaacs Awake Turtles All the Way Down Awake Series Finale Review

While there was certainly disappointment in finding out that Awake wouldn’t see a second season, and would instead be looked at as a 13-episode miniseries, it would appear that the fate of the show – which has been bemoaned by so many – may help it to be remembered more fondly than if it were to continue.

This is not intended to be a slight on what has been a well acted, and frequently well-written series. The trouble is, however, that Awake - more often than not – focused on a sometimes bland procedural effort, rather than exploring the interesting and unique concepts it began with. More egregious, though, was the continued insistence to turn what initially started out as a thought-provoking exercise on the lengths one would go to overcome grief, into a frustrating and rather mundane conspiracy thriller. That thriller then ate up the last two hours of the series and told the audience nearly nothing about the story’s core character or his situation. Worse yet, Hannah (Laura Allen) and Rex (Dylan Minnette), the two characters arguably as important to the series as Jason Isaacs’ Det. Michael Britten, were relegated to becoming little more than footnotes as the program came to a close. The suggestion being: Maybe there just wasn’t any more story.

While there were some delicate, yet exciting intimations of malevolent forces at play in the series premiere, there was also the suggestion that the accident placing Det. Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) in a split reality had been caused by his own negligence. This was stirring and compelling stuff, which became undermined by not only the addition of an all-too-familiar conspiracy, but also by the fact that, at a certain point, what else did the audience really need to know?

The issue may simply be that the series premiere told too complete a story. It seemed like a set up to something larger, but really, it didn’t require anything beyond a brief analysis of the initial concepts laid out in that first hour. As suggested by the title of the final episode, some inquiries just become infinite regress. You can ask questions all you like, but that question will simply spawn another and another – a somewhat pleasant problem posed in the final moments of Awake, but we’ll save that for later.


The conspiracy involving Captain Harper (Laura Innes), Carl Kessel (Mark Harelik) and Det. Hawkins (Kevin Weisman) is just a bit of filler since it arguably has nothing to do with the core issue of the series. Watching Britten run around Los Angeles, trying to bring justice to a bunch of corrupt cops, isn’t what we initially signed on for, is it?  Ultimately, all it does is push Britten’s connection with Hannah and Rex – the one he’s been struggling all season to maintain – to the wayside; offering instead some cursory bit of retribution against individuals who have nothing to do with Britten’s desire to keep two realities in perfect working order. It’s fine to be curious as to the “why?” of Britten’s situation, but when sustaining the situation, rather than resolving it, is the key to the show, an unbalanced focus on the answer seriously dilutes the emotional impact of Awake’s original concept.

Jason Isaacs Awake Series Finale Awake Series Finale Review

For what it’s worth, ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ manages to swing back and end with a sequence of delightful and puzzling occurrences similar to the high points of ‘That’s Not My Penguin‘ and ‘Say Hello to My Little Friend.’ Those final moments spend a great deal of time focusing on doors being opened and truths being revealed; starting with the jailhouse chat Britten has with himself, which in turn leads him to witness Harper doing away with Kessel, and the clue that will guide him to the truth about her. It works well enough to briefly collapse the Hannah-verse, but even that revelation is just a convenient means by which Britten can eliminate the predicament of being in jail.

There are plenty of things to think about and discuss in the final moments, such as Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong) insisting that Britten’s sustained belief in the two realities will cause him to finally break – which, in the final denial of the Hannah-verse, may mean it was Britten warning himself about the very limits of his own psyche all along. Most telling, though, is when Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) believes Britten has finally achieved an enormous breakthrough regarding his acceptance of one true reality he begins questioning his need of such a thing. In the final moments of the series, Det. Michael Britten returns to the belief that keeping his family together – regardless the reality of it – is of the utmost importance. And although it was much too late for the series to tackle this notion, in the end, just getting back to the beginning may have been the hardest thing for Awake to do – perhaps it should be commended for just that.

Even though it was unable to reach the lofty ideals set forth in the pilot, Awake was never a program that struggled to entertain. From Kyle Killen to Jason Isaacs, the series earns high marks for everyone involved, and NBC, too – if for nothing else than airing all 13 episodes of its run. And so Awake ends with a final scene that will likely have its audience talking for some time – and that really is what the series was about: keeping something going long after it’s gone.


TAGS: Awake
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  1. I feel you are judging this finale a bit harshly. I am certain that season 2 would have been more of a look at Britten’s mind and the dynamics of his world. More of Hannah and Rex. You have to remember, this was shot long ago. This who finale was a build to something more for another season that we will never get the chance to see which is a real shame. While I agree Awake got lost in a procedural format, the last few episodes and the first few were great. I have not seen better TV in a while and if any show on network TV should be continued, it is Awake.

  2. Loved this show and now you’re telling me it is not coming back next season? At least it had a happy ending, although it was puzzling. Kind of like last summers show about the group of people living in a ghost town with only a Chinese restaurant for meals. It ended with more questions than it answered.
    Back to Awake: It was well written, thought provoking, good acting and decent character development.
    Again, the ending was puzzling. A new reality? A new dream? How is it that after all that happened both wife and son are alive? Did this go back to before the accident? What about characters that were killed in either reality? What was the purpose of the 2 realities – to help uncover a conspiracy in the department?

  3. I am a little disappointed that this is the end of Awake. However, I rather see it end now, than to go on forever without major plot changes. There are many unanswered questions, which is okay, we all have our own ideas of what really happen. Great show, I am glad I saw every episode.

  4. A secret was revealed in Awake.
    Known only to those who keep it.

    To lose the one you love, your true love,
    to accident or circumstance or both, to be
    permanently separated by time and space,
    makes all that is real afterward to be unreal.
    Denial and holding on seem altogether rational.

    You appear to have moved on. You have not.
    Secretly you have not let go. You cannot.
    You will never let go for you will not.

    You pretend and imagine a different reality.
    Because a feeling that you are somehow
    still together, no matter how fleeting,
    is the only reason left for living.

    • I am so confused, if it was all a dream I feel the show was not half as good as if it were about one reality and another. It would have been a perfect ending if he were to be in one dream or the other (well one dream and a reality)

      Other than that I loved the show, is there anychance it will get picked up by another network such as netflicks?

      Also I wonder if they wre wrote the finale when they found out it was being cancelled, we could have possibly seen somthing different other than this “clarifyig image” after another

      • Some of what was seen was a dream.
        Other of what was seen was hallucination.

        And there was the actual reality, some scenes
        where Britten was not present, like the scene
        with the conspirators where it was revealed
        that both his wife and son had been killed.

        Britten solved that case and that was
        shown unfolding through the two different
        interpretations of reality Britten experienced.

        The actual reality is a composite of each
        of the two realities Britten lives in his mind.

        Clues from both came together in the end to
        expose the killers and in the process his two
        realities merged where his wife and son “live”.

        • Thanks Robert for your comments, the only ones that actually grasped the reality of this series. As a pastor I have witnessed many different “realities” when it comes to dealing with the loss of one you love. Soem handle the situation just fine(?), and move on. Others never get over their loss, and hang on to the reality of their loved one for as long as they can. In my own mind I know that I would hold on to everything I could for the rest of my life, knowing that the one lost is always close by.

        • I just finished the show. Too bad they had to push the ending to Season 1 finale, just blame NBC for cancelling. At least they gave it some kind of closure.

          About the two realities, one word: Inception (a dream within a dream). That’s what I think happened.

    • That was truly beautiful. I wish someone has the sense to give the show a second chance.

  5. This was suppose to be a new reality i think and the fact that his condition was getting worse!!! they didn’t wrote this finale after they found out about cancellation so yeah it wasn’t suppose to end like this but i loved the ending.

  6. I loved every episode of Awake, thought it was amazing. I think that Michael was in a coma or something after the accident and the green and the red were both his imagination. Anyone think anything similar?

  7. Yes, what I gathered from the ending was that both worlds and all the episodes therein were one nights’ dreams in the _real world_. A truly cheesy ending to a fascinating show. It would have been much more satisfying if the writers had chosen one world to be real and for Britten to have suffered the loss of one or the other of his family.

    To distill a series down to the “it was all a dream” ending cheats the reader. This is why the dream ending is so viscerally hated by editors and readers (or viewers). The only one to have pulled this off well in recent memory was Bob Newhart, and it worked there only because the overall material was comedy and not drama.

    I will say that _Awake_ actually tore me away from watching _The Mentalist_ on a competing network. Back to Red John …

    • It wasn’t all a dream it was Britten going deeper into his condition. The therapist and the title of the episode both mention regression.

      • Hmm. Didn’t the son at the very end say something like, “Are you awake at last?” implying that he’d been sleeping longer than usual? That supports the “all a dream” hypothesis. I’m not certain I’d give the “turtles all the way down” remark that much value.

        If Britten was just regressing, it would devalue the contents of the rest of the season, as nothing that happened would have really happened and would have had any value.

        Anyway, that’s just my opinion, FWIW.

    • But it only worked on Newhart because it was a comedy and it made a mocking reference to his previous show.

      Just plain stupid for Awake. Though I suppose if was written as a season finale and not a series finale they might have been going somewhere with it.

  8. I was very disappointed with the ending. Like others I believed that it at least hinted that it was all a dream, but it seems that that was not the intention. Kyle Killen has given a few interviews explaining where Awake would’ve gone in Season 2 and it makes me feel better about the series. That’s great and makes me feel better about the series, but I wish he and Jason Isaacs hadn’t promised a fitting end, because that is not what viewers were given. After hearing Killen’s thoughts on where Season 2 would go I really wish we got to see it made.

  9. I think the key to understanding what was going on is the second to last scene when he’s talking with the therapist. They’re talking about the red reality and the possibility that he had a ‘dream’ within it. He says “Who knows the rules? Who’s to say…?”. She says “Detective, I’m afraid its just turtles all the way down. If you could–”. Immediately after the pause, he finds himself in a world where both his wife and son are alive, and they’re all together again.

    My interpretation of this is that the ‘dream’ inside the red reality wasn’t any more a dream than the red reality is. I think she was about to say something to the effect of “If you could just create a world where both your wife and son were alive, don’t you think you’d do that?” And lo and behold, he does.

    I think this is precisely where the show would have headed, exploring the idea that these experiences he’s having are malleable and fluid, and somehow he has the ability to see behind the curtain, as it were.

  10. To be honest I loved this show!!!!! It was amazing!!!!!! I enjoyed it every week and me and wife were debating ad creating different ideas every week. My final thought before going into the series finale was that he was possibly in a coma but to be honest idk what think anymore. I think that maybe it was all a dream but ten is Harper and Hawkins alive and still conspiring? Is it a new reality he created? Or did he somehow go back to before te accident because he did look stumbled when he saw the date on te newspaper? Even though they didn’t show the date. Idk. I like the open ending but I also don’t. All up to interpretation I guess.

  11. I was just wondering if anyone knows the song that was playing at the very end of the finale where he sees that Rex and Hannah are in the same place.

  12. Sorry to disappoint all you fans.. I enjoyed the show as well… The meaning is all in the title and the last phrase from the friendly “shrink.” From wiki read about the phrase…..

    The most widely known version appears in Stephen Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which starts:
    A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

    It basically means Detective Britten completely lies to himself to keep whatever reality of his family together. He is a true man of passion of love for his family with the hubris of not staying in reality of who died.

    My other thought is that he had died himself all along and this is his afterlife to come to peace with himself and find his family together once again… but it does not work with the writers thoughts of “turtles all the way down.”

  13. In my opinion, here would be the best ending to the show:

    While you are busy trying to decide which reality is real, which one seems off, looking for clues that point to the one that can only exist in his mind, etc. etc. The final episode should just throw a curve-ball and have the main character wake up in a hospital bed with both his wife and son by his side elated that he has awaken from his coma… So the final answer, neither reality in the show is real, they were both in his mind.

    I think that would have been a good twist for the end, but that’s just my opinion…

      • LOL, yah, or, when he waked up, he’s actually single and isn’t married and doesn’t have a kid, haha.

  14. Responding to WCRAFT: It appears that you were a great fan of the show just like I was. And the questions you pose are worth exploring if only in a dual reality. The truth is in my opinion, if you have been watching closely each week on each episode, the writers and producers of the show had no other choice but to pull the plug on expanding the story since they are likely to have been warned by the network executives that show was not showing the numbers they were hoping for.

    If you go back to the first few episode, the writers brilliantly gave us the set-up intertwined with a possible conspiracy… which kept the fans hooked to the show. In theory the story was developing with the objective of expanding to multiple seasons. But suddenly midway the 13 episodes, things started to change… as if the writers began to rush the storyline (which turned out to be the case).

    Ultimately, they had to pull the plug on the show, but I think that the writers and producers of the show figured out it would be best to do it with grace and respect to the fans. At the end I was left a bit disappointed with the ending… but looking at it now I understand why it ended this way. And the only real questions for me are: what if the show had gone for a second season? How different would it have been from the ending we saw? Maybe the answer lies in the alternate reality that we live in… where ever that is.

  15. I think it was written so that it would feel like an ending if it was cancelled, as of course it was. But I suspect that the inent was to have this be a third reality that would be explored in great detail. We’ll never know.

    What killed the “reality” of the show for me was so much of it happening outside Britten’s POV. If we’re supposed to be walking in his world with him then the writers shouldn’t be cheating and giving us more information. Or at least there should have been some explanation for it that would fit with the paramaters set by the two reality contex.

  16. honestly, I’m getting tired of the ambiguous ending. Its a cop out 77.7% of the time in my opinion. Loved the show the ending was OK just to bad it didn’t explain anything.

    Maybe they all died in the car wreck.

  17. Awake was a great show with a horrible time slot, I mean Friday nights at 10 pm is ridiculous. I don’t see why so many people have so many un-answered questions. The reason the show totally veered of course of the pilot is because the writers and creators knew the show was getting cancelled and decided to be kind enough to squeeze I. The ending they had in mInd when creating the show. The ending is extremely obvious Det Britten died in the car accident with his familly and before he could join them in the afterlife he must solve the mystery of his death. I didn’t see it coming until we started see both of his worlds having penguin suits and doors opening into dIfferent realities.

  18. Maybe it’s because I watched all the episodes back to back the past few weeks, but I loved this finale. To me, I felt as if he was in a coma and couldn’t pass on until his mind solved the puzzle. Once he unraveled the conspiracy, he crossed over to join his family in heaven…passing through the door represented a spirit’s door into the underworld. I could be completely wrong and if the show had a second season, I’d probably be way off. But since it’s over, my theory gets to be my ending.

    • you just repeated the same theory as Adam did right before you and called it your own. Clown

      • That’s the beauty of this type of ambiguous ending. More than one person can have the same experience and someone else could have a completely different view.

  19. i have just watched the finale of awake, it has sort of confused me in the sense of i dont really know whats been going on, hes been swapping between both worlds but then suddenly both are alive … does anyone understand this? maybe im just being stupid but i am really confused haha

  20. I thought/hoped from very early on in the series (when I heard that it wasn’t going to be renewed for a second series) that the best way to end this, though not nice, would be that both his wife and son had died in the accident and that both realities were dreams created by Britten … maybe showing him in a coma or in a pyschiatric ward … I enjoyed the series but found the ending too pat and Hollywood happy happy.