Thursday, May 24, 2012

Awake TV Series Finale: The Ending Explained

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

You've been warned.

A few weeks back I guessed at the ending to NBC's now-cancelled TV show "Awake" -- and after watching the series finale, I got the premise sort of right but the execution completely wrong -- and to complicate issues, the writers made the ending a bit more ambiguous to leave it open to different interpretations.

I loved the series -- great acting, compelling storyline, episodes that made you think outside the box when it came to the standard procedural crime drama. I wish it was on for more seasons, but in terms of the story arc, the series finale tied up everything in a nice little bow.

So I implore you again if you want to watch the series STOP READING NOW. Last chance.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

Okay, let's dive in.

So reviewing my earlier piece, I revealed the 'Sixth Sense" theory in which Detective Michael Britten died, and wife and son were alive but in comas of their own. Like I said, half right. So here's the working two theories based on the finale:

Theory 1: It Was All A Dream, Wife and Son Are Fine, The Crash and Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred

This is a plausible theory but you have to ignore lots of clues to buy into this theory. More importantly, this is a cheesy ending with no emotional payoff at the end. A complete cop-out, if you will. However, the writers did leave this open to interpretation, so it can't be ruled out 100%. But based on the "rules of the game," there's a better explanation for it all.

The Explanation: Everyone Died In The Crash, The Dreams Were Britten's Purgatory, All Three Reunite On Their Way to Heaven, The Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred But Frankly It Doesn't Matter ... You've Been Had!

I applaud Kyle Killen and the other writers for creating some excellent MacGuffins. Starting with the title, we are proccupied with what is happening instead of why. More importantly, we are led to believe that solving the conspiracy and/or decoding his dreams is the key to figuring out the mystery.

When in reality, the conspiracy is meaningless -- because it was merely a means to an end -- a way for Britten to find resolution to what he really needed all along. 

And the big clues were laid out in the early episodes, plain as day.

Like I said, a brilliant stroke. 

Let's start off with the first big misdirection: Under the show's premise, we were led into thinking that either the wife was alive or that the son was alive. And therefore, one reality was real and one was not. But the psychologists set the "rules of the game" but it took the season finale to make it clear.

Rule 1a: Britten had to fully accept his wife was really dead and gone.
Rule 1b: Britten had to fully accept his son was really dead and gone.

So for Britten to find true "peace," this is what he would have to do. 

We fell into the same trap Britten did: Even though we witnessed a horrific car crash, we refused to believe what we saw with our own eyes: Everyone died -- including Britten (although this part you can't figure out until near the last few episodes).

In one episode, in which Britten blacks out in one "reality" and can't return to it, he inadvertently discovers that he can accept that his son is gone, if he wishes, and stop the dream. But he ultimately decides he doesn't want to, and thus returns.

As for the conspiracy, it probably happened in real life, and part of the healing process for Britten is to solve this final mystery of who killed his family (and himself). I say probably because there is no clue in his flashbacks that the accident occurred for any other reason than getting run off the road.

But this double-Inception in which Britten's mind in purgatory builds these complex worlds and vast conspiracy makes it easily plausible that he made it all up subconsciously to get to following Rule 1a and 1b. Basically his way of going through the stages of grief and ultimately to acceptance.

So how does the finale wrap all this up? Well, the first catharsis is when he finally accepts Rule 1a -- that is, the only way to fully accept the fact his wife was really dead and gone was to say good-bye to her in the midst of that reality (the one in which he's in jail) crumbling all around him. 

And he finally reaches an "aha!" moment in which he learns how to escape "reality" by being able to control and shape it with his mind. The psychologists who tried to effectively keep him in purgatory are Britten's real enemies.

So when Britten walks into the light -- symbolism for dying in that reality -- he is left with one reality -- that only his son is alive. And that solving the conspiracy will give him closure. It does not. Because again, solving mysteries have nothing to do with the rules of the game.

Britten finally figures this out when talking to his remaining shrink: We assume that he is left with this one reality ... but what if this too is a dream? At this point, he has two choices: Remain stuck with this unsatisfying reality for the rest of his life, or not accept it at all.

Because he remembers how he could control his dream in the previous reality, he just finally accepts that his son being alive is a complete falsehood, and literally pauses the dream and walks out the door. Inception-esque kung fu.

Rule 1c: Britten had to fully accept he's dead too, but can sleep and be at peace knowing that he solved the murder of his family and is reunited once again with wife and son.

This brings us to the final scene, in which Britten finds himself back at home, in a third "reality" -- and huzzah! He's reunited with both his wife and son.

My gut reaction was this: "You mean, he was dreaming all along and none of this happened? Total bullshit!"

But then I watched that final scene again, and cinematically, they set up a number of cues that make that interpretation, well, total bullshit.

1. You never see Britten wake up in bed. He is just there, like he just walked through the door. Pay close attention that as the door slams, he turns his head. It syncs up as the camera cuts, hinting that he never got into bed but had a magical change of clothing.
2. His son alludes to him being stuck in purgatory: "I was beginning to think you'd never get up."
3. His son alludes to going to heaven: "Are you going to drive me? Registration is at 9 am." An allusion to going to school, but we never saw any hint in his dreams that his son was going to college or a new school prior to the accident.
4. His wife makes an ironic comment: "Look at this, he lives." Even though Britten has fully accepted that his wife had died and said good bye to her in another dream.
5. The closing shot, in which Britten closes his eyes one last time.

And thus the rest is left up to you, the viewer. And this is why Awake was so fucking cool.

You can choose to have Britten "wake up" from this third dream, and visualize what his "new reality" really really is. But the last psychologist clearly warns you, if you take this route, "it's turtles all the way down." That is, for all you know, you and Britten will just wake up into another dream, after dream, after dream, and never break the cycle.

Sadly, that would have been the premise for season two. But thanks to NBC, no more dreams.

So the more satisfying conclusion to the series: Accept the rules and accept the fact that the whole family is really dead, and Britten and his family can rest in heaven forever and ever, amen.

As you can see I really got caught up in the series and am sad to see it go. But now that I understand the rules of the show ... "I'm perfect!"


  1. That a bomb ass show thanks for your explanation it helps but still leaves everything open lol

  2. Johnny AnonymousMay 25, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    Honestly, I was hoping that he would of woke up out of a coma with his family by his side, and some how figured out the corruption in his coma via some sort of quantum physics/multiple dimensions type scenario.

    I do enjoy the explanation though, it definitely resonated with my own.

    Also, check out the series "Touch" - it's got a awesome premise that I really enjoy as well.

    Thanks for the write up pal!

  3. Well explained and it's a shame to see a show so smart get canceled.

  4. The creator's answer is so deceiving.

  5. I must admit I want to believe it was a dream in a dream and that the family is back together. But this does beg the questions: Who will be his partner(s) at work? Is the Captain really a bad girl? Why can't it be like the Wizard of Oz and all the characters in his dreams are finally back in his Awake Life? Do not try and tell me Dorothy's visit to Oz was merely a dream, it clearly was not. Bob

  6. Check out this page. I'm leaning toward explanation #2.

  7. ENDING IS CLEAR: GREEN IS REALITY. I thought the writers made it clear: 1. The female psychiatrist tells the male one that he doesn’t even exist. 2. Britten has a dinner with his [dead] wife where he says he finally has to say goodbye and let her go. 3. Britten from the red world crosses into the green world and ‘dissolves’ into green Britten, thereby ending the dream world of the red world. As he talks to the female psychiatrist about finally having realized that their world was the real one, he then decides it is fine to make up – or dream – his own world, if it can be ‘real’ to him. Therefore, he simply made a new and better dream to replace the red world, he now creates a new dream world where they are both alive. But, no, clearly reality is the green world with the female psychiatrist.

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