The end of Awake

NBC’s new mind-bending, police procedural drama is already cancelled after only a 13-episode season. Is Awake worth watching as is?

Many genre fans have been poorly trained. We get so many great shows that don’t make it into a second season, and leave us hanging at the end, sometimes wishing that we’d never started watching in the first place, and more often, not willing to begin watching new shows until they finish at least two seasons for fear of it happening again. “Once bitten…” and all that.

So, here we’re left with Awake, a series that had a great start, and seemed to have a great following as well, but each episode saw a smaller audience draw, and by the time the show really started to pick up and get interesting, it was too late, the audience was gone, and Awake was dropped at the conclusion of the 13th episode.

Therein lay the weakness of the show. It simply moved too slowly towards the major conflict.

We started off with Detective Britten, a man living in two worlds. Ever since a tragic car accident, he’s been waking up each day in a world where only one other member of his small family survived, but who that is alternates day-to-day. One day it’s his wife and the next day it’s his son. The character is torn and emotional. He’s ultimately sympathetic in his plight. He recognizes that something is wrong. Only one of these worlds must be real, while the other is a dream, but for now he cannot tell which is which, and it allows him to have his whole family with him, though on odd terms.

The role of our divided protagonist is well played by Jason Issacs, who is surrounded by great talent who hit it off from the very first episode.

Unfortunately, for the first 8 episodes that’s all there really is. The drama in Britten’s life is all hidden, and, while relatable and well-written, it’s not exciting. The cases are very clever, and watching the detective use clues from both worlds to solve each case, and dodging questions about where his hunches come from, is fun, but no more special than all the other ‘quirky detective’ stories out there right now.

Near the end of the season however, after all the viewers had mostly given up, the show dives into its greater mystery, only vaguely hinted at previously: a conspiracy to kill Britten was the cause of the accident that broke apart his family and his mind. The final four episodes are spent tracking down and trying to bring to justice those responsible as Britten seems to become less and less stable, and his shifts between worlds become less predictable. The drama intensifies in the final two episodes as the audience realizes that he may only be able to be truly successful in one of the two worlds, and several times it feels like we’ve figured out which one is real. 

The pace reaches such an unnatural acceleration, it almost feels like the producers knew that there was a chance of cancellation, and so made versions of the last couple episodes which specifically rush to conclude the story.

And a conclusion we do get. The story comes to an incredibly rousing close with a rapid-fire series of revelations and increasingly twisted scenes. The end of the final episode is some of the most moving television I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m honestly not even sure where they could have taken the show after that ending. It seems to close the story off completely.

If you’ve held off from Awake because you weren’t willing to invest opening a show you could never close, let your fears be assuaged. If you’re one of those 4 million viewers who gave up on the show after the first few episodes failed to engage you, take my assurance that the plot picks up, and when it does, it won’t let you go.

There may never be more Awake, but what there is shouldn’t be missed.

The entirety of Awake is available on Amazon Instant video. The final five episodes are still available for free on the show’s website.