When NBC announced that Awake would only receive one 13-episode season, I’ll admit to being pretty disappointed. Awake is, in my opinion, the best drama to come out the 2011-12 season on television, and one of the finest NBC dramas in years. The pilot was one of the best examples of great television this year I can think of, and besides a few missteps, Awake has been compelling throughout its short run.
This led me to wonder what Awake would be like in a Michael Britten-like alternate reality where the show lasted five seasons, or 10, or even just one more year. Could Awake maintain this story for long and still be compelling? Is it better to have one great season and be remembered fondly, like shows such as Freaks and Geeks or Firefly, or start off great and fumble in later seasons to taint the entire series experience, like Family Guy or The Office have recently? With that in mind, it’s a good thing Awake ended when it did, with a satisfying ending, rather than dragging out an idea that never evolved much further post-pilot.
“Turtles All The Way Down” starts off where last week’s episode left off, with Michael arrested in the blue world and bleeding out in an alley in the red. In the blue world, Bird investigates the storage unit Britten warned him about and finds it filled with drugs. In the red, Hawkins finds the injured Michael, but Michael ends up escaping. Michael runs to Dr. Lee to patch him up, kidnaps him, breaks into the storage unit, which ends up being empty, and locks Dr. Lee in it. Michael calls Vega and tells him the only person they can trust is Harper, a bad idea as she’s the one person they absolutely can’t trust, especially since she shot her partner-in-crime-and-bed Kessler, in the blue world. The police come to arrest Michael, and when Harper visits him in jail, she receives a call that gives her away, after which Michael tries to strangle her.
After that, the shit hits the fan.
Michael gets ready to fall asleep in his cell, but is roused by a guard who says he has a guest, who turns out to be—dum dum dum!—the other Michael! (a reveal that would have been much better had it not been shown in last week’s sneak preview) We realize Michael is now in some sort of middle ground, as he sees both therapists battling over what Michael’s latest actions have meant. Once Michael tells the dueling docs to shut up, he walks into the hotel room in which Harper shot Kessler, being guided through what happened by a penguin suit-wearing Vega. After he gets the info he needs, he leaves the hotel to another scene, an empty restaurant where Hannah sits waiting for him. Michael finally realizes that the red world, the one where his wife survived, was the false one, as he kisses Hannah one last time and moves on.
Michael uses the evidence he has against Harper to get the cops to question her. He’s tied up all the loose ends, but now he knows that the world with Hannah is a dream he’s conceived. He goes to speak to Dr. Evans, who is proud of the steps he’s made, that he knows the reality from the dream. But that’s not what Michael he wants. He’s never wanted closure, or to lose either member of his family. He questions the realities that he’s created that have split his world into two. As Michael proceeds to question what could be and whether he could create another, better reality, Dr. Evans freezes—or more likely, the green, real world freezes. Her office door opens to Michael’s house, where he now wears no red or green band at all, and finds Rex in the kitchen waiting for him. Following Rex is Hannah, together as a perfect family, even though it’s not quite certain as to what circumstances have brought Michael back to his perfect family unit.
This ending is quite smart, given that it never truly clarifies if Michael was dreaming the whole time, or if Dr. Lee was right and that he was on the verge of completely snapping, which makes much more sense. Considering that this would have been the season finale even if the show had gotten picked up, it’s interesting to think where the show would have gone from here, but it absolutely feels best that this is the note the show decided to go out on.
I’m also grateful Awake decided to just go completely nuts with the last half of this episode. We’ve seen Michael slowly losing his mind more and more, and there’s evidence all around that by the end Michael has just gone flat out insane, like Dr. Lee predicted. Even though the show blatantly says “hey, the red world was a fake,” the show still keeps us in that same level of uncertainty it set up in the pilot. It’s also such a welcome change for a show to simply try something different, a rare move, especially on network television. Frankly, I haven’t had a “what the hell is going on?” moment like the last half of this episode since Lost was on the air.
Awake’s first and only season was a nice package of 13 episodes that didn’t need to go any further, and thankfully it didn’t. Once Awake arrives on Netflix and DVD, people will rush through in a matter of days and will say they enjoyed their experience with this short yet sweet treasure. It’s an example of quality, not quantity, that showed audiences the depth of Jason Isaacs and the creativity of Kyle Killen. It’s not a show that ever gained great ratings or a huge audience, but Awake will go down as a show that experimented, was brave in what it tried and went for something refreshing, and in television today, especially when it works as well as Awake did, that deserves to be rewarded and praised.