A blast from the past, and the possibility for progress, if Michael Britten wants it.
When Awake is at its best, it's focusing on the torrents of grief – and, consequently, healing – that comes after the loss of a loved one. This puts the show in a tricky spot, since it's never easy seeing people go through such a difficult time (even if they're fictional). It isn't that the rest of the show is bad, but Jason Isaacs and Laura Allen in particular have been so wonderful at breathing real life into the roles of the bereaved couple that that story almost seems more interesting than everything else that's going on. The central high-concept of the show is still a fascinating one, but the genuine human drama has turned out to be so much stronger.
The spector of grief does hang over a lot of what we see, though. When Britten's path crosses with Kate, a former babysitter for young Rex, he gets a view at someone else whose path was affected by loss. Kate in one reality is a successful investment banker, and in the other is a strung out junkie/failed actress. Kate lost her sister years earlier, and she either was able to heal from it and become inspired by the memory of a loved one, or it set her into a tailspin that she never recovered from.
What's odd about Awake is that no matter how emotionally taut the narrative is, the week-to-week investigations are rarely all that innovative. The show seems to be going on a tour of cop show clichés while exploring Britten's fractured consciousness. In "Oregon," the bulk of the running time goes to Britten chasing The Gemini Killer, a serial killer from the past who has restarted his murderous way. Eventually, Britten himself becomes the prime suspect (it turns out, the killer is just some guy who kind of looks like Britten in a dimly-lit room). Again, as cop show plots go, there is nothing groundbreaking here, but once again we see the two realities reflecting one another, providing clues that work out in the other. In this case, a coffee shop logo and moving company in the Hannah Reality lead to the arrest of the serial killer in the Rex reality. Awake is trying to avoid the trap of this device turning into a gimmick, and is doing so by having Britten's colleagues raise questions about how Britten always seems to figure out what to do and where to go next. Obviously, he can't tell them that he's figuring things out by visiting another reality, so he doesn't really have answers for anyone. He's going to have to figure out what to say, though, as the questions aren't going to go away.
The latest wrinkle to come along in Britten's life is the fact that the Gemini Killer, who is never caught in this episode, somehow knows pretty much everything about Britten, and learns even more by breaking into Dr. Evans' office. He knows that Britten can't tell what's real and what isn't, and he apparently sees Britten as a kindred spirit – someone else to look at the world "sideways."
As for the therapists, they feel there may be progress to be made soon enough. Hannah is considering law school in Portland, Oregon, which has Britten thinking about a change. This causes a bit of a crisis in Britten as he finds out that Hannah has already talked to a moving company, meaning that she's more serious about moving than he originally thought. He starts to wonder if Hannah is planning to leave him (Dr. Lee pretty much just tells him that she is), but finding the invoice for the moving company turns out to just be a clue to finding the killer in the Rex Reality. When they finally get to talking, Portland doesn't sound like such a bad idea to Britten (Hannah praises Britten's strength and wants to emulate it for herself, not realizing of course that to him, their son isn't really gone). The therapists both see this as an opportunity to get beyond this whole "two alternate realities" thing since the two worlds are almost identical. A major change in one could potentially snap Britten out of whatever's caused this split existence. If the Hannah Reality is the real one, then moving to another city could eliminate the other timeline. If the Rex Reality is real, then Dr. Evans posits that he's not going to be able to continue creating a whole other city in his dreams, and thus won't be able to continue his life there. It's good to see the two doctors finally agree on something. Britten, for his part, believes that both realities are real (or at least they're real enough to him that he doesn't want to rid himself of either), and is resolute in his conviction that he would be able to live in them simultaneously. After all, he doesn't have to grieve for a lost family member this way.
While Awake is on point with its emotionality, it's plotting is getting kind of haphazard. These two episodes, particularly, "Oregon," felt a bit disjointed, and it's getting so that plot contrivances are starting to steer the story a bit too much. While the slice-of-life style of storytelling was a virtue early on (it makes sense for us to only see what Britten himself experiences), it's getting so that things are too pat and events are occurring only because the plot needs them to. Acting wise, Jason Isaccs is excellent in his subtlety and intensity, while Laura Allen's Hannah continues to be a wonderful bright spot for the series. The screen sings when she's on there, and her winning presence is the best part of a very solid supporting cast.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch