This review contains spoilers.
I’ve already lamented how limited the potential storylines for a show like Awake seem to be, and this week’s episode, Guilty, goes some way towards both confirming those problems and leading the series forwards. There’s a case of the week, of course, but this time the consequences are directly targeted at Michael’s family. Already having lost his son in one reality, the character is faced with losing him all over again when an escaped prisoner with an axe to grind attempts to prove his innocence.
The prisoner, apparently wrongly convicted of killing his son’s drug dealer and dying from kidney disease, is already doing pretty well in the eyes of the audience before he even gets to explain himself. The character is the sort of guest star used frequently on crime shows, as he automatically adds sympathy to the other side of the argument. Another shorthand tool, although a little less grating, is putting someone close to the protagonist in danger, this time Michael’s son, Rex.
The strong point of the episode, and something that hadn’t emerged before, was how much more compelling each episode would be focusing on just one case. Although things would cross over and link up in the first two episodes, anyone not living on an exclusive diet of police procedurals was bound to get mixed up. This time, Michael uses information gleaned from the other world to find Rex, effectively giving him twice as much time to solve the problem. It also means that, when the kidnapper is killed in one reality, he can still question him in the other.
Problems are also starting to bleed over, as his efforts to find information mean he can’t attend a service dedicated to his son. It’s an interesting concept, as his wife thinks he cares more about his job than their dead son, when really he’s trying to save said son all over again. What I’d really like to see is more cases that relate directly to Michael’s home life, but once you’ve played that card, it unfortunately can’t be used again. Now that they’ve involved his family in his job, how interesting can next week’s unrelated case be?
Another step in the right direction, and something that complicates the ‘which world is real’ dilemma, is hearing the viewpoints of both Rex and Hannah at various points. Rex, in particular, graduates past surly teenager and emerges as a character we might care about, given enough time and story to service his journey as well as his dad’s. I can’t help thinking that we might be better focusing on one reality a week, spending real time in each world and trying to figure out what’s going on as Michael does.
Structurally, Awake is still very odd. The therapy sessions haven’t changed, the wife and son still have no idea about each other, and Michael doesn’t seem to be taking any steps towards finding out what’s ‘wrong’ with him. There’s no forward momentum in terms of the central mystery, and history has taught us that ‘case of the week’ series work better when an underlying plot thread runs through the whole season. It’s only episode three, so let’s hope the show hasn’t reached a dead end quite yet.