Summary: An episode that fine-tunes the format of the series and introduces new elements to Britten’s story.
** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**
The quick skinny on the episode.
Synopsis: When Britten and Bird are given the case of a murdered doctor in the Green Band World, Britten and Vega stumble upon the case of a homeless man with the same name killed in the Red Band World. As Hannah and Britten discover a secret Rex has been keeping, Britten tries to figure out what a “little guy” has to do with his two cases.
Full Recap: In the Green Band World (GBW), when Rex tells his father that the clothes he washed smell different, Britten takes some time in the Red Band World (RBW) to watch his wife use some fabric softener while doing the laundry, further illustrating what he found out on his last two cases that he can “borrow” knowledge to help him sort through issues in opposing realities. Dr. Evans (GBW) is excited about this prospect, suggesting it can be a valuable tool, while Dr. Lee (RBW) finds this very detrimental to Britten’s mental health.
In the GBW
The Medical Examiner alerts Britten and Bird to the death of a diabetic doctor named Bernard McKenzie who initially appeared to die by insulin overdose. The M.E. was able to find subtle traces of a drug that can be fatal that was laced into the insulin, declaring the case a homicide.
Meanwhile, Britten has tried to maintain a family dinner with Rex, something his son and wife did nightly when she was alive, but Rex is feeling the need to go hang out with his friends. The next night, Britten cooks a fajita dinner to sit down to but Rex and Cole made plans to go to the beach. Instead of the beach, the boys go to a storage unit to work on a motorcycle. Rex tries to convince Cole that when they’re done with the bike, they should secretly take it out to the Coachella festival. As Rex pushes for it, Cole tries figure out why when a girl from school shows up. Cole asks her if she’s planning to go to the festival and she answers in the affirmative. Rex and the girl go off for a walk.
A suspect is hauled in for the McKenzie murder, a former partner who was shoved out of their fertility practice after he found that McKenzie was doing some questionable practices. Britten notes that the man is rather large, picking up on a clue from the RBW, and believes the guy to be innocent. When they corroborate his alibi, Bird is concerned with Britten’s method.
After finding out that McKenzie’s clinic’s computer system was hacked and records were deleted, the trail leads to the young son of a paralegal whose regards were removed. The son, Sam, says that he was trying to get information about his father who died from cancer just after he was born. Britten asks how tall Sam is and he’s 5’5″. Bird calls Britten on his questioning about height and Britten gives him a story about a small window at the clinic that he thinks only a small person could have fit through.
Britten takes the recovered deleted files to the M.E. to see if he can make any sense of why these files were chosen. The M.E. discovers that all of them are genetically related and that McKenzie must have substituted his own sperm instead of the fathers’ in each case. Techs find incriminating evidence on Sam’s computer and Britten and Bird bring him in. He admits to the crime and says that he didn’t go to the cops because he felt that McKenzie would get off too easily. He also deleted the files so that the other families couldn’t find out the truth and ruin their lives.
Dr. Evans positively reinforces Britten’s method of using his subconscious to play out thoughts from his conscious mind to give him insight that helped solved the case. Britten is bothered by the fact that he wasn’t able to solve the case in the RBW, that he must have missed something. Evans reasons that he shifted his focus to Rex and the bike as means to strengthen the bonds in his life that are most important to him.
At home, Rex says he’s taking off to go to the beach with Cole. Britten reveals he knows about the motorcycle and Rex asks if he wants to see it. They go out front and Britten watches Rex ride the finished bike.
In the RBW
Britten brings home mail for Rex that was delivered to friend Cole’s house, including a sealed box. Insisting that they should open it, Britten makes Hannah uncomfortable. She describes how everything reminds her that he’s gone and she’s unsure how he doesn’t feel the same way. Britten explains that there are things that remind him of Rex, not the fact that he’s dead, and that they can still bring joy to their lives. Dr. Lee tries to get Britten to see that his “dream” of Rex being alive that gives him such an assured approach to Rex’s things in this world is pushing his wife away. Britten insists that his state gives him a unique perspective to focus on the important and appropriate things.
At work, the name “Bernard McKenzie” jumps out at Britten from a board of homicide victims with dead-end cases. Vega tells him that he was a homeless guy and there are no leads in the case, but Britten decides to work it. This McKenzie is black man with a list of prior convictions. Britten and Vega canvas the neighborhood to see if they can dig up new information, amidst Vega’s strong objections. They happen upon a man who witnessed the shooting but as they talk with him it becomes clear that the man has a mental illness. Vega dismisses the man but Britten writes down a valuable description of the assailant: “the little guy”.
Hannah opens Rex’s box and takes it over to Cole to ask about it. Inside is the camshaft for a motorcycle that Rex and Cole bought and were fixing up. Britten and Hannah had told Rex he couldn’t get a bike, so he would tell them that he and Cole were going down to the beach while they worked on the bike at a storage facility. As Cole tells Hannah that Rex was the one who really understood what he was doing while fixing up the bike, Hannah smiles and is excited by this part of her son that she hadn’t known. She tells Cole that he should finish the bike. She reveals this to Britten the next day, telling him about the beach lie.
Vega pulls another case for the partners to work on. When Britten argues that they are already working on a case – and brings in the homeless witness – he gets pulled into the Captain’s office. Captain Harper offers for Britten to move to a different department where he doesn’t have to deal with the tragedies of homicide. When he refuses, she orders him to get on the case that Vega pulled and give up the McKenzie case. He agrees and as he’s leaving, she asks him why he was looking at mugshots of short people. He explains the witness’s account.
With the case in GBW solved, Dr. Lee expresses concern about how he let his “dream” influence his investigation and that the subconscious is unreliable. At the station, a suspect in their new case is brought in for Britten and Vega to question. Britten offers for Vega to be lead interrogator. As he steps away from his desk, Captain Harper discovers that he’s still looking at mugshots of short people.
At home, Hannah brings Britten outside where Cole is sitting on the finished motorcycle. Cole asks if she wants to take it for a spin. Britten watches as Hannah rides the bike.
Elsewhere, in a park, Captain Harper meets with a mysterious man to talk about Britten. She stresses that she has everything under control with Britten but the man questions her ability. She says that she had it under control earlier before the mysterious man hired someone to kill Britten and took out his family instead. The man tells her they’ve got a good thing going and would like to protect it. As he goes to leave, she asks if the man he hired to create the car accident was a “little guy”. The man says yes.
The in-depth review.
While there was a significant depressive air about the pilot episode of Awake that might have turned some off to the series, there is a decidedly lighter and more focused aura to this second episode. The material isn’t lighter – and the plotting, though seeming somewhat simple, is quite intricate – but there is a stronger focus on the procedural aspect. In the same regard, they don’t neglect Detective Britten’s familial ties either. In fact, with the pacing and the structure, this actually forms a stronger sense of what the series will be than the pilot did.
It’s as if they reassessed their approach after completing the pilot and made some tweaks to make it a tad more accessible to a wider audience. One of those tweaks includes some transitions to help distinguish when Britten (Jason Isaacs) shifts to a different reality. It’s not used for every transition, which should keep the high intelligentsia from complaining too much about any amount of “dumbing down”, but does make clear moments that could conceivably trip people up enough to draw them out of the story.
Britten, himself, feels less broken, as if his declaration at the end of the pilot that he didn’t want to progress in his therapy was less an emotional exclamation than a solidifying revelation. He has a moment with Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong), the poo-pooing shrink in the RBW, where he states his purpose and motivation as a character, that his perspective allows him to hone in his focus and ask the “right” questions so that he’s able to help people. There’s a rule in film and television to show rather than tell, but in hearing him put this purpose into words, it actually soothes the ill feelings left from the procedural aspect of the pilot. There it felt like a gimmick and the way the two cases were connected felt too convenient. Here, the connections feel more relevant and organic, even though the cases couldn’t be more disparate.
Perhaps the best component of that is the fact that he didn’t solve one of the cases. This is a marvelous and clever choice on the part of the showrunners and writers. It deepens the circumstances and raises the stakes of the series as a whole. Instead of neatly wrapping everything up, it allows the world (or worlds, as it were) to breathe and live. By making it still relevant to Britten’s story, they don’t cheat the audience out of their care and time either. On top of it all, they institute a “mythology” in the show to hang the building action on instead of just the premise.
When talk began in the pilot about how the brass at the department was handling Britten in both worlds, one couldn’t help but feel there was something a bit more sinister than just simple care for one of their own. The reveal that Captain Harper (Laura Innes) is involved with some shady group that was attempting to kill Britten with the car accident doesn’t really come as a surprise. That doesn’t make it any less welcome. In one breath, it feels a bit old hat to throw in a shadow conspiracy; in another, it gives some direction to the story and allows Britten to have a narrative journey beyond trying to keep both realities alive while both shrinks seek to eventually take them away from him. I think I’ll go with the second breath for a while.
Particular notice should be given to the simple but effective story of Rex and the motorcycle that spans both worlds. Laura Allen does some nice work and its good to see them giving Hannah some moments to come to terms with her son’s death and heal. Playing the denial or grieving card would serve to make the character too one-note, so it’s refreshing to see them offer some color right up front. It’s also good to see how the Brittens’ marriage strengthened following their tragedy rather than offering TV’s upteen-millionth crumbling marriage. For the most part, it would appear they were a well-functioning family prior to the accident. Dylan Minnette is also given some lovely moments on his end and it’s nice to see a storyline with a teenager that feels age-specific and not sensationalized.
Kudos also to Steve Harris and Wilmer Valderrama for strong work playing opposite the baffling Britten. The different partners, though dealing with the same issues with his “intuition”, adds as perfect a contrast to the realities as the two shrinks. Valderrama, in particular, felt much more solid than he did in the pilot. It will be good getting to know both Bird and Vega better.
Awake more than fulfills on the promise of its premiere in its second episode. It serves as a refresh that not only strengthens and grows its premise but crystallizes the format.