Last week’s phenomenal pilot for Awake set up the premise of the show: a man balancing between two different lives and struggling to connect the two. This week’s episode, “The Little Guy,” shows us how Awake will most likely work as a series. Besides the great moments with his wife and his son and his two therapists, Britten will seemingly deal with two separate crimes in both realities, connecting the links between the two and doing the best he can with the information he is given. On paper, this may sound like Awake is heading down the path of a police procedural, and it is to a point. Awake handles it in a beautiful way that is satisfying and doesn’t feel like something we’ve exactly seen before.
The cases in “The Little Guy” revolve around a man named Bernard MacKenzie. In one reality, he is a genetics doctor who mysteriously had his insulin switched with ingredients to induce a heart attack and kill him. In the other, MacKenzie is the name of a homeless man who had been arrested several times in the past but is now dead. Interestingly, the show never shows the faces of either MacKenzie, not even letting us know if they are supposed to be the same person or if they just share the same name.
In the reality where MacKenzie is a doctor, it turns out he had been switching out his own sperm when inseminating women for years and that one of the children born out of this heinous act murdered him in order to get justice. But what was fascinating about the other reality is that Britten doesn’t solve the case. There is no resolution, other than the fact that Britten trusts his rightfully worried partner more since Britten is basically running around taking advice from crazed homeless men. The fact that the show doesn’t wrap everything up and that there is an uncertainty and the way that Britten uses information from both realities to solve these cases make it much more interesting than your usual procedural. It’s also a nice choice that the show leads you to believe in the first episode that everything will be wrapped up with a nice little bow, then completely throws away that idea in the next.
Awake is also showing a great ability to show the impact of Britten’s decisions he makes throughout the realities, regardless of how small they are. The show starts with his son Rex telling his father that his laundry smells different. Britten then finds out in the other reality what his wife adds to the laundry and uses that information to fix his problem. It’s a sweet moment, showing that Britten just wants normalcy for his son. We also learn more about Rex through secrets from his parents. When he is dead, his parents find out that he has been building a motorcycle with his friend, but that it hasn’t been finished since Rex died. But the mother finding out more about her son helps her cope more with her loss. When Rex is alive, we see he is working on it with his friend, but seems to be ditching him for his lady friend Emma. Britten’s information that his son is working on a motorcycle adds to the bond he tries to have with his son, and the changes in both situations works very well here, even if it is shown in a pretty cheesy way.
The biggest flaw with “The Little Guy” though is the very end, in which Laura Innes’ character, the superior to Britten, has a meeting with a mysterious man. She is the one who made Britten see a therapist in the first place because of the accident, but her meeting with the unknown man sets up the possibility that there is more to the situation than meets the eye. From the sound of the meeting, the accident wasn’t exactly an accident, and Britten’s snooping around may be a problem for them in the future. Awake already has enough on its plate, but adding a conspiracy may not be what the show needs in addition to everything else. The idea that there is a much larger game going on here may work in the long run, but in this episode it feels like an unnecessary attempt at creating a show’s mythology.
The future of Awake really relies on how well it can handle this balancing act. The show knows how to keep all the plates spinning in a remarkable way, but how the show handles this revelation of a deeper conspiracy could make or break it. Awake is a drama that works because of its human elements, something it does well on a small and large scale and throwing this odd idea into the mix could be a mistake. But we will just have to see how that works in the long run. For right now Awake is still on track and retains its compelling nature, even with weird asides thrown in.