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Series / Awake

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Dr. Evans: Well I can assure you, Detective Britten, this is not a dream.
Michael Britten: That's exactly what the other shrink said.

A high-concept cop drama premiering in February of 2012 in which Police Det. Michael Britten, played by Jason Isaacs, lives a double life in two separate realities after being in a car accident with his wife and son. In one reality, his wife Hannah (played by Laura Allen) survived the accident, but their son Rex (played by Dylan Minnette) did not. When he falls asleep, he goes into the second reality, where the exact opposite happened; Hannah died, but Rex did not. The show follows Britten going about his life in each reality, mourning for his wife, son, and both, in the two realities, as well as seeing two separate psychiatrists who have contrary opinions on the significance and psychological benefits of the "subconscious alternate reality" that he's created for himself.

While he's moving between these two worlds, Britten also has to deal with trying to solve crimes in the standard Cop Show procedural, with a different partner in each reality, and with the twist that the cases-of-the-week that they're working on are connected in ways that he doesn't always understand. It's up in the air which (if either) of the realities is a dream.

Despite exceptionally positive critical reviews, the series had poor ratings, and was cancelled after 13 episodes. Interviews like this offer additional wrap up and insight as to the series had it gone on. Thus far, it has not been released on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Note: Not to be confused with the 2007 movie Awake.

Awake contains examples of:

  • One Character, Multiple Lives: Main character Detective Britten suddenly begins switching between two universes every time he falls asleep after a car crash kills his wife in one universe and his son in the other. While his therapists in each universe try to convince him that the other universe is just a trauma-induced dream, he isn't so sure. Across the two lives, he begins to notice suspicious coincidences which he investigates seeking an explanation for what's happening to him which leads him to the heart of a dangerous conspiracy where he needs the time and information from both lives just to stay one step ahead of his enemies.
  • Acquitted Too Late: Green reality John Cooper is shot dead before Michael figures out he was framed. Red reality John Cooper is set free.
  • Actor Allusion: It isn't the first time B.D. Wong has played a psychologist.
  • Aesop: Occasionally crops up but mostly for Britten himself. For instance, in "Game Day", we find out that he's stopped caring about certain things like sports because in living in two worlds, he's seen the same situation play out in two different ways due to minor differences. His stance is thus "It doesn't really matter"; however, by the end of the episode, he realizes that while those minor differences may not matter in the long run, their ramifications can be pretty dramatic. A fact he realizes when... he considers when Rex got Emma pregnant.
  • All Just a Dream / Or Was It a Dream?: The main premise of the show. Throughout the series, psychiatrists of both realities vie to make Britten believe that only their reality is real. When he carries information (such as a location, description, or the appearance of someone not seen in a long time) from one reality to the next, he is frequently left unable to figure out in which reality he was first made aware of it, as that is most likely the "real world." And on the flip side, there are suggestions that both realities are possibly dreams since later in season 1, Britten begins having dream-like occurrences that both psychologists say might happen early in the season.
    • The end of the season seems to indicate that in addition to both realities, Michael is capable of experiencing actual dreams which appear to be real. However, the Word of God is that the theory that both realities are dreams is wrong, as noted in the interview linked to above.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Dr. Lee is probably Freudian based on how he interprets Michael's dreams. Dr. Evans treats his dreams very similarly, but is said to be a Jungian psychiatrist. Neither seem to be trying any modern cognitive or behavioral therapies, but he did apparently get sleeping medication from Dr. Evans.
  • Blessed with Suck: Regardless of the ability to move between worlds, he cannot actually make use of the information from these different worlds without eliciting some very strong negative responses from everyone around him.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Averted — Britten had told his wife about his experiences, until she told him to stop. However, at the end of the pilot she seems to be opening up to hearing about what's happening in his other reality.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the first episode, Britten says that he'd be willing to give up his sanity to be with his family again. This is what ends up happening by the end.
  • Da Chief: Britten's boss.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience / Color Motif: The "wife is alive" is the "red" reality and filmed primarily in warmer tones (yellowish incandescent light on the walls of the house, for example), while the "son is alive" is the "green" reality and uses cooler tones (ambient diffuse natural light inside the house). Also done in-universe as Britten uses red and green rubber bands to remind himself of which reality he's in at the moment. This is played in with in a scene where Britten loses track of his bracelet and the color tones become ambiguous. When he realizes which reality he's in, the next scene change is back to warm tones. And in the season/series finale when he arrives in a third reality where both Rex and Hannah are alive, it's white lighting and they're wearing mostly neutral outfits. Also in the finale when he speaks to himself, the red world is in an orange prison jumpsuit, while the green world version is in his typical blue suit.
  • Defective Detective: Britten clearly has trouble balancing his work in both universes, and it becomes increasingly clear to his partners and others that he is having trouble functioning.
  • Determinator: In the season finale, Michael is shot in the side and despite losing a lot of blood and receiving a crude patching up, he continues to tear his way through town in order to uncover the truth about his accident.
  • Dirty Cop: Michael's former partner robbed & murdered a drug dealer and sent another man to prison for it.
    • Harper, Hawkins, and Kessel also qualify as this.
  • Downer Ending / Bittersweet Ending / Happy Ending: All three! The red reality ends with a Downer Ending; Britten's probably going to be in prison for the rest of his life and the criminal who caused his son's death got away with it. The green reality has more of a Bittersweet Ending, in which he catches the criminal but has to stop believing in the red reality to make it happen. He then ends up in a third reality which seems to him to be a Happy Ending, but viewers could see it as one of the others.
  • Dream Reality Check: Michael tries to cut himself when he thinks he woke up in a reality with neither his wife nor son being alive. He feels the pain which would imply that he's awake. However, in the other reality, he is able to read verbatim a random passage from the US Constitution which would imply he's awake in that one.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • The show centers on how Michael's life would be different based on a possibly very small change in one event before the start of the show.
    • "Kate is Enough" shows how the eponymous character's life would be drastically different if her mother had pushed her just one more time to get through her grief over the death of her sister.
    • "Game Day" has a different homicide in each reality, depending on the outcome of a single field goal that determined a football game.
  • Framing Device: The pilot has Britten talking to two therapists in two separate realities.
  • Funny Schizophrenia: Inverted. Gabriel Wyath III's paranoid schizophrenia is played very seriously indeed, as he is portrayed as a dangerous yet extremely sympathetic character.
  • Gainax Ending: The season finale that the writers planned was meant to raise questions for Season Two, and there were no changes made when it was announced that the show was going to be canceled. This led to a seriously bizarre finale. In both realities, Britten is trying to prove that Hawkins caused the accident. In the Green reality, he succeeds, but in the Red reality Hawkins kills his former partner and frames Britten for it. All of the evidence that Britten found in the Green reality brings up dead ends in Red and he ends up getting caught and imprisoned. While in prison, he's told he has a visitor, who turns out to be...himself. After a brief conversation, a door swings open and Britten ends up walking down a deserted hallway, followed by his two therapists arguing over whether this is a breakthrough. At the end of the hall, he finds the Green reality, and it appears that Red was All Just a Dream. But then, while talking with his Green therapist about this breakthrough, she freezes in mid-sentence and another door swings open, leading him to a reality where both his wife and son are alive. Cue credits.
    • The Word of God is that the world with both Rex and Hannah alive is just a wish fulfillment fantasy "between" the two worlds, and it still must be either the Red or the Green reality that is real. The second season would have continued switching between the two, and Britten in Red would be where we left him - in jail, believed insane and framed for murder.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: This is played perfectly straight... except with adoption. By the time the pregnancy in question is known to the protagonists, it's five months along, too late for an abortion.
  • Heroic Dog: In both realities in "Oregon", dogs bark at Britten, leading him to a dead body in the green reality.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted, since the hacker of the encrypted file gives exponentially increasing time estimates based on the password length. There is still a mistake when the quick success is blamed on the shortness of the password ("tulip") and not on the fact that it is a regular word, which would succumb to a dictionary-based attack regardless of its length. (The way this worked crossed both worlds, getting the file name in Green, downloading and cracking it in Red, and then opening it again in Green with the known password. This tends to prove both worlds are real, or both hallucinations).
  • Hyper-Awareness: Britten seems to be getting a form of this. Unlike other instances, however, it's suggested that it's less him being super observant and more his subconscious pointing out things in his 'dreams'. Also, often times the information or insight he gets from it tends to pertain to something in the other reality causing him to appear spaced out a lot. This has not gone unnoticed by his partners.
  • I Reject Your Reality: A plot point. Each psychologist wants Britten to reject the other reality, while he himself is still unsure over which is real.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Gabriel Wyath in "That's Not My Penguin".
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Rex and Emma, on their very first time. Adding to the unlikeliness is that it's a Convenient Miscarriage in the other reality. In the world where Rex is dead, Emma's pregnancy causes major problems.
  • Magic Realism: Which if either reality is real or a dream is unsaid...
  • Mind Screw
  • Miscarriage of Justice: John Cooper was framed by Michael's ex-partner and busts out of jail (in the green reality) to prove his innocence.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Jason Isaacs already looks good in a suit and tie, but get him into something a little more comfortable. Such as nothing, at the start of "Nightswimming".
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown:
    • "That's Not My Penguin" has a small occurrence when Britten is caused to hit an extra day in the Green reality, and has hallucinations which follow him from reality to reality.
    • In "Say Hello To My Little Friend" Britten suddenly finds himself unable to move into the Green reality, and again experiencing hallucinations. This is so jarring that it causes his usually calm demeanor to fall apart in short order.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: "Ricky's Tacos" played this subtly for one victim, with an emphasis on Not Herself.
  • Sadistic Choice: Suggested by his psychiatrist in the pilot episode. His Take a Third Option was to sacrifice his own sanity to keep both alive.
  • Schrödinger's Reality: Even though Britten's life should have been exactly the same until it split at the accident, it isn't: Events before the accident that occured outside Britten's perception range may vary depending on the plot. Like Kate in "Kate is Enough" who had lived a drastically different life because of a decision her mother did or didn't take years ago. Also, whether or not Emma, Rex's girlfriend is pregnant varies - in the world where Rex lives, she miscarries. In the world where he dies, she doesn't. In both, she got pregnant just before the accident.
  • Shadow Archetype: Gabriel Wyath III is acknowledged by Britten as what he fears becoming: a man suffering from mental illness, who's lost everything due to his refusal to recognise the death of a loved one.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Mark Kermode, Simon Mayo, and listeners of their show. The following line from episode 4, "Kate Is Enough" was put in by Jason Isaacs after he was dared to put the words "teapot" and/or "ukulele" into his series on Kermode & Mayo's show on December 23rd (2012). Presumably as a result of his being constantly greeted on their show...
      Britten: He's not going to be playing the ukulele in heaven.
    • In the red-reality end of "Slack Water", Emma has been watching a marathon of The X-Files on cable while the Brittens were out.
  • Take a Third Option: The last scene of the series shows Britten ending up in a world where both Rex and Hannah are alive. This could be interpreted as the rest of the series being All Just a Dream, but Word of God states that it's just Britten digging himself deeper into delusion.
  • Take That!: In the green-reality segments of "Oregon", Detective Freeman, Britten's partner, disses the main guest character, an FBI profiler, by saying that profilers in general are just one step above psychics, among other things—a slap at shows like Criminal Minds. Mind you, his criticism of the profiling process is a fairly common one in real life, too, and has itself been addressed several times on Criminal Minds.
  • Terms of Endangerment: The Gemini Killer in "Oregon" refers to the FBI detective who has been following his case for years by her first name.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Britten has ongoing treatment with two different therapists in each reality, Dr Lee and Dr Evans, each of which are major characters in the series. The episode "That's Not My Penguin" is also set largely in a psychiatric hospital, and several therapists appear within.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Britten cannot remember what happened before the accident, implying he suffered some serious injury himself in the process. In the red reality, Dr. Lee notes that the report says his blood alcohol level was elevated, which could further justify this, even though Britten insists there is no way he can have been drinking.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: Happens occasionally and in some cases, it's the same person saying the same thing in both realities.
  • Unbelievable Source Plot: Detective Britten may not know which reality is real, but he is constantly noticing clues that are relevant in both worlds and uses that information to solve his cases but he cannot tell his partner or captain how he gets his information for fear he will be kicked off the force for psychological reasons.
  • Villainous BSoD: Harper is working to keep things under control frantically yet efficiently. Then what she's done catches up with her, and she breaks down. Briefly.
  • Wham Line: The last scene of "The Little Guy": an unspecified group set up Britten's car crash, they have (seemingly) sinister plans for him, and his boss is in on it.
    Captain Harper: It's under control.
  • Working the Same Case: In the preview, this happens. Due to the premise of the show however, Britten himself is working on the same case (or at least, a case involving similar culprits/victims) in each reality with each reality providing clues to reach the final confrontation in both.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Rex confesses to Tara, his tennis coach, that he wishes he still had his mother instead of his father.