Did you ever see that movie Sliding Doors? You know, the one from 1998 starring a then partially tolerable Gwyneth Paltrow as a woman who lived two timelines based on whether or not she caught a train. I don't know if Awake's Detective Michael Britten ever saw the film or not, but he got the gist of it tonight in "Kate is Enough," another strong episode of the new NBC drama.
This particular installment, penned by series creator Kyle Killen, was originally scheduled to be the series' eighth episode. But it was bumped up to the Episode 4 slot just a few weeks ago because everyone behind the show thought it helped explain the series' philosophy better. And it did.
The story the writers want to tell with Awake is about more than just a cop who catches criminals by piecing together clues by jumping between two different realities (deep breath). It's about more than just a guy trying to determine which of the two realities he's created in his head after a tragic accident is real or figure out how to hold on to both realities so that he gets to scrape together a life where neither his son nor his wife died. It's about how living in both of these lives can make him a better husband, a better father, and a better person. He doesn't want to get well by stopping the madness. He just wants to improve his current situation and focus on things he may have overlooked before the accident.
Just as we watched Gwyneth's fake British accent stumble through two lives with very different results—one with a pretty decent outcome and one where she gets plowed by a car (oh, spoiler alert, sorry)—Michael bounced between realities in tonight's episode and saw Rex's old babysitter Kate (guest-star Brianna Brown) in two very different states. But instead of trying to help her out Quantum Leap- or Early Edition-style, Michael played surrogate to the audience and used the knowledge he gained in both worlds to improve his own life and those around him. This episode was all about personal choice and learning through experience, even if the experience wasn't your own.
The decision to move "Kate is Enough" up by several episodes changes the perception of what type of show Awake is. There were two interesting cases in this episode, but a few days from now I'm not going to remember them. Instead I'll remember the metaphysical implications of the lesson the episode taught. I'll remember Kate, both of her, telling the story of how her mother helped her cope with her sister's (sisters'?) death, and how one small difference can make a huge difference. And I'll remember Michael's face taking her stories in, registering what was going on without somehow having his head explode, and using that knowledge to make a difference in his own life. He knows he can't save everyone. He knows that he has to start with those close to him. And he's eerily comfortable—even thankful—about his situation. This is the Awake I really enjoy.
Last week we saw how the case-of-the-week intersected with Michael's personal life by hitting very close to home. This week, the cases were used to bring in a character who would have a personal effect on Michael. Though I still think the cases are the weakest part of Awake, the high quality of the cases in this episode showed that Awake can function with procedural elements. I still have questions regarding how they'll continue to be organically brought in, and I hope they eventually connect to Michael on a thematic level much like the cases on Fringe do. That's the only way I can realistically see serialized procedurals working in the long run. Rex can't get kidnapped again and Michael can't continue to run into old acquaintances involved in murders. But the cases can't be totally separate from each episode's bigger story, either. They have to add to it, and that's done through theme.
We're reached the four-episode test mark with Awake, and so far I'd say the series is doing a fantastic job with a difficult task. And there's still a large part of the story to tell.
– Brianna Brown, who played Kate, did an absolutely astounding job playing both versions of the character. You might remember her as the sexy escort from Homeland's early episodes. She's currently jockeying for a role in ABC's primetime soap Devious Maids.
– Fox's Touch, which aired an hour before Awake did tonight, attempted to get the same message across... but did so in a much clumsier, gag-me-with-a-spoon, Hallmark-card kind of way.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom