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.
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.