This review contains spoilers.
1.12 Two Birds & 1.13 Turtles All the Way Down
In the bloodbath of this year’s cancellation announcements, Awake was the show that almost everyone wanted to see beat the odds. The ratings had been poor, but the critical reaction had been unusually strong, and there was every chance that more viewers would find the series during its hiatus period. Alas, we’ll never know if Britten and his dysfunctional family would have thrived during their second outing, because this is our lot. Surprisingly, the writers have managed to craft, whether by accident or on purpose, a fitting series finale that leaves enough doors open (quite literally) to allow us to wonder what would have come next.
The first hour of the two-parter (originally meant to be shown together) sees Michael unravel pretty spectacularly. Convinced that the revelations he had last week are true, he sets off to catch Ed Hawkins in an attempt at revenge. He does this in both worlds, as we’re introduced to two equally dishevelled Brittens in duel therapy sessions, but the results of each investigation are vastly different. These disparities bleed into the second hour, and are a big help when trying to resolve the conflict between realities.
As can be deduced from the title, the first hour centres on Britten’s relationship with Bird, his partner in the green world and Hawkins’ partner in the red. Trusting him more than anyone, especially sweet, helpful Vega, it makes perfect sense for Michael to turn to his old friend, as well as offering a suitable payoff for the character most suspicious of Britten’s impending madness. When he tracks down Hawkins in the green world, Bird walks in on him having ‘accidently’ shot him dead, but considers his story before taking him back to the station. In the red world, however, Hawkins ends up killing Bird before Britten can get there, and our hero receives a bullet wound for his troubles.
Staggering down the street before passing out, the loss of blood wakes Britten up to the green world, where his theories are fast being investigated. The trouble is, back on the other side, the world believes that Bird was murdered by Britten; a theory Harper is more than willing to play up. You have to feel sorry for Vega, the innocent of the show, when he jumps to his partner defence. Not only is he shot down, but is eventually convinced of Michael’s insanity himself, quickly coerced into selling him out. This first episode, though effectively just a set-up for things to come, is hugely entertaining, and grants my season-long wish for our protagonist to show a little desperation.
The second episode opens with Harper murdering Carl Kessel, revealing to us that all along she had been the mastermind behind the scheme. We still don’t know why the crash caused Michael’s worlds to ‘fracture’ (or who’s actually dead), but at least this season finale resolves the central mystery behind the crash itself. Harper, Kessel, and Hawkins had been involved in illegal drug activity, and they attempted to off Michael when he got too close to finding out. All three participants get their comeuppance in one or both worlds by the end, and it’s an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion for the show to offer within just 13 episodes.
But with all that out of the way, we were all wondering just how Kyle Killen et al would wrap up the spit world story thread. Well, the writers offer us no answers and every answer as, for viewers aware that this is the end, it’s natural to seek out an answer for yourself that makes sense in relation to everything we’ve already seen. While red-world Michael languishes in jail, he gets an unexpected visitor. When he sits down and sees his own green-world reflection, it’s one of the most thrilling moments of the show, and what follows mirrors shows like Lost in their most revelatory moments.
Is the green-world Michael time-travelling? We don’t know, as everything from this point is left deliberately ambiguous. Red Michael walks through a dream world with bickering therapists (both Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans), dinner with the wife and Vega in a penguin costume. Finally, after saying goodbye to Hannah, Michael finds himself sleeping. He steps inside the sleeping version of himself and wakes up to a world with no green or red filter, one we’re supposed to believe is the reality he’s been searching for. The world is formerly green and, armed with the incriminating information against Harper, Michael gets justice.
But as he sits with Dr. Evans and discusses the complications between the two worlds (he hasn’t yet gone to sleep), he recounts how real the red world had seemed, obeying all the rules of nature, gravity and logic. Just as he’s talking, however, Dr. Evans is paused, and he realises that this may not be real either. It’s a thrillingly creepy moment, as those rules of logic are no longer being obeyed, and Britten walks through a just opened door in the corner back to his bedroom. A third world has appeared, and this one contains Britten, Hannah and Rex all alive and well. Is he dead? In a coma? Or manipulating his realities to suit his desires? We’ll never know, but surely the fun is in wondering?
I won’t waste any more time complaining about how much better Awake could have been, but I, as a fan, am thoroughly satisfied by the ending the show was given. Would three realities have been interesting to watch Britten navigate? Yes of course, but as a thirteen episode story about a man straddling two worlds, this is a fitting and uplifting finale for his character.
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