After all of the much deserved hype, NBC’s ‘Awake’ premiered tonight with a gripping, pulse-pounding and heartbreaking series opener that will surely entice viewers to come back for more.
The beauty of ‘Awake’ is its ability to penetrate through the supposedly confusing premise of switching between alternate realities by maintaining its consistent focus on Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) and how he experiences both worlds. Thanks to director David Slade’s artistry, the show also gives several visual cues as to which world we are viewing at any given moment.
Hannah’s (Laura Allen) Red World is shown through rose-colored glasses; it is filmed in warm hues, giving each Red scene a slightly soft glow. Contrastingly, Rex’s (Dylan Minnette) Green World is presented in cool colors, almost as if a shadow is being cast over this world. This stylistic choice easily prevents viewers from getting lost in Britten’s scrambled psyche and stream-of-consciousness narrative. Keep this in mind when you read the recap below and continue looking for more colorful clues as the series progresses.
‘Awake’ jarringly opens in the midst of Britten’s car accident; their jeep hurls off of a cliff and violently tumbles down the hillside in the dark. Suddenly we hear Dr. John Lee’s (B. D. Wong) voice calmly trying to connect with Britten as he sees flashes of his son’s funeral. Britten does not want to discuss the accident or Rex’s death, so he shifts the focus onto his current case.
In the Red world, Britten meets up with his newly assigned “hand-holding” partner, Detective Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), at the scene of a cab driver’s murder at 611 Waverly. As the episode progresses, we learn their case centers on a master of disguise who kills cabbies in different costumes and then taunts the police by facing the street camera that captures each one of his murders. When he is not bust solving murders, Britten cherishes the time he spends with his wife.
He explains to Dr. Lee how she has redecorated the house, never visits Rex’s room, and wants to move out so they can start over. He tries to tell Hannah about his dreams of Rex, hoping to “build a bridge” between both worlds, so she can still feel connected to her son, but it only causes her more pain. Dr. Lee says that her reaction is normal and urges him to move on as well. Britten must process the loss of his son or else it might disrupt his career and overall well-being. But why would he want to let go when he can still spend time with his son?
Britten continues speaking about Rex, but this time he is talking to Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones). He says how his son started playing tennis because it makes him feel closer to his mother. Knowing we have entered the Green World, we are suddenly transported to Britten’s other case. Britten passes Officer Vega as he enters a house to join his long-time partner, Detective Isaiah Freeman (Steve Harris), in the kitchen. A husband and wife were stabbed to death in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong, but upon closer inspection, Britten realizes their daughter was kidnapped and this was actually a planned abduction. As Britten recounts the case, the scene interchanges between both psychiatrists. Both assure him that his current state is not a dream, both rationalize his need to create an alternate reality and both seem equally real.
In the Red World, Britten confronts the looming reality of how his job is in jeopardy. We learn his friend and former partner, Det. Freeman has been transferred to another department, but before leaving, he assured their chief that Britten is “fine.” However, Dr. Lee will be the ultimate judge in vying for Britten’s sanity and although he is brutally honest with his shrink, Britten realizes the risk in revealing the truth.
Over in the Green World, Det. Freeman chases a lead on a stolen car connected to the abduction, while Britten slips away for a couple hours to watch Rex’s tennis match. Britten sits with Tara (Michaela McManus), Rex’s coach and Hannah’s former doubles partner. Tara explains how tennis helps Rex miss his mom a little less and praises his promising talent. As Rex wins the match, we see how he grapples with his emotions; he falls to his knees, breaks into tears, and turns to Tara as a shoulder to cry on, instead of his father. At lunch, father and son unexpectedly begin bonding over ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ when Britten is abruptly pulled away by his case. Before Britten leaves, Rex hugs him and expresses his appreciation, thanks to a nudge from Tara.
The Green World case interestingly begins to overlap with the Red’s because evidence leads them to Waverly parking lot spaces 611 and 572. The kidnapper most likely drives a trailer and Waverly proves to be a crucial clue to Britten’s cabbie killer case.
Dr. Lee insists it is Britten’s subconscious creating a fictional abduction case in his dreams to help cope with Rex’s death. He bluntly reiterates that Rex is dead and his dreams are simply “echoing his pain,” a pain that his wife is struggling to overcome without the help of an alternate reality.
Britten and Hannah have a date night; she tells him she quit her job, she wants to go back to school, move away and move on with their lives. She even wants to have another child; in response, he tries to indirectly speak of Rex’s life in his dream, but it is too upsetting for her and he stops. He simply explains, “I feel better every time I open my eyes.”
He awakes in the Green World with Dr. Evans, who is trying to help figure out which world is real. She prints a copy of the Constitution and asks him to read a passage. She asks if he knows it by heart, which he does not. If he does not know it by heart, then he would not be able to recall it verbatim in a dream. This first bit of concrete, logical proof makes Britten question if Rex’s world is truly real.
Britten suddenly awakes again with no band on his wrist, he frantically calls out for Hannah and Rex, and then in an act of desperation he slices his palm with a blade, hoping the gash will waken him from this nightmare. His wife then appears and bandages his hand. He realizes the red band was in his bed; then Britten pulls himself together and gets back to his cabbie case.
It turns out Det. Vega’s first witness is the murderer, so Britten and Vega return to 611 Waverly to arrest the red-haired culprit. In a heated street chase, the killer doubles around Britten and right before he shoots Britten in the back, Vega takes the psychopath down. Britten discovers that when he wasn’t killing innocent cabbies, the creep was teaching math to 8th graders.
Crossing over to the Green World for the abduction case, Britten and Freeman have been canvassing areas for sex-offenders with trailers; drawing from his alternate life, Britten adds red-heads to their search to narrow down their suspect list and they zero in on their kidnapper. Britten is happy to have rescued the girl, but his partner remains skeptical about the random red-hair “hunch.”
Britten shares the news with Dr. Lee, but he only slaps Britten in the face with harsh reality. Since he is not being realistic, Lee reminds him of the accident report from the car crash. Britten’s blood alcohol level was elevated that night, even though he claims he had nothing to drink and insists he has no idea of what caused the crash. Dr. Lee crudely says Britten created a dream world to protect himself from his own guilt. Dr. Evans believes Dr. Lee has a point, but she kindly adds that Britten is more likely trying to piece together the clues to figure out what really happened that night. Dr. Lee worries about the panic and confusion he experiences by living in both worlds, cutting his hand is only the “tip of the iceberg.” Britten explains that after seeing both his wife and son live and die, he would do anything to bring them back.
Michael Britten will happily pay the price of his sanity to be with his wife and son; he has no desire to let either go. As the episode concludes, Hannah snuggles up with her husband in bed, knowing he will dream of Rex tonight, she simply says, “Tell him I love him.”
What do you think? Are you already a fan of the show? Do you have any theories or notice any clues as to which world is real? What do you think happened the night of the car crash? Share your thoughts below!
- Notice how the Green World is full of red color accents and vice a versa, i.e. Rex wears a red shirt in the beginning of his world and Hannah wears green, as both try to stay connected to each other.
- Do you think Dr. Evans’ Constitution trick already tips the scales over to the side of Green being reality?
- Excellent acting all around, especially Jason Isaacs.
- Did the show’s warm/cool colored aesthetic remind you of ‘Smallville’? The Green World can be compared to the chilling, blue tinted alternate worlds in Season 10’s “Luther” and “Kent,” in contrast to the show’s consistently bright, prime colored glow. Did you like the affect this style had on ‘Awake’?