Welcome back to another episode of Law & Sleep Disorder! Following its fantastic pilot, NBC's Awake returned for Episode 2 with a lot of questions to answer about what direction it's going in as a series. After the first 40 minutes of "The Little Guy," we had a pretty good feeling that the series would succeed as an emotionally charged procedural with a twist, and were all aboard. But two minutes later, we found ourselves back at the station wondering where the series was headed.
For those first 40 minutes, "The Little Guy" proved that the strengths of the show overshadow its weaknesses. But those final few minutes with Harper (Laura Innes) and Mystery Man X sitting on a park bench exposing some giant cover-up are worrisome. That scene felt tacked on because it probably was. "The Little Guy" was all about studio notes making their way in, and the biggest Post-It was stuck on that final bit. Can't you just see NBC execs saying, "This is great and all, but can you add some conspiracy cover-up at the end of Episode 2 so that the audience knows where about to blow the roof off this joint? After all, we did pay all that money for Sophia from The Event to be in this, so we expect some dumbed-down mind-f***ery on top of your already intelligent mind-f***ery. Also, television viewers have the attention span of hyper-active guppies."
I understand that this is how television is made, and networks want shows to be big hits right out of the gate—so they're inclined to show their hand without actually showing their hand. But Awake is the closest thing network television has to art, and that final scene smacks of an executive telling creator Kyle Killen how to hold his paintbrush. I have little doubt that "The Little Guy" got NBC'd at the end there. Though I also have little proof, so take what I say with a generous helping of sodium chloride.
There's nothing wrong with the idea of two parties meeting on a park bench to tell us they know more about Michael's situation, but the timing wasn't optimal. At its core, Awake is about the emotional journey of a man coping with loss, and that's what made the pilot so brilliant. I felt great about Awake's future when Michael proudly watched both his wife and his son ride a motorcycle down the street. I was connected to Michael in that moment, and felt what he felt. But now I'm slightly concerned about Awake, because Harper and Mystery Man X had that clandestine pow-wow. Not only did it felt unnecessary, but it was an empathy boner killer. (Note to self: Start emo-core band called "Empathy Boner.")
I'm not saying the idea is bad. But optimistically thinking, there's plenty of time to unfurl the greater mystery. In its base form (which is already complex), Awake is strong enough on its own to survive—especially early on—without relying on big-picture plot revelations. Television isn't just about pacing individual episodes, it's about pacing seasons overall. I think "The Little Guy" would have been better if Awake had held those final moments for later in the season. Let us spend a few episodes getting used to the unique world Michael has created for himself before hitting us over the head with car-accident cover-ups.
Now that that's out of the way, what do we really think that conversation between Harper and MMX meant? Do they know about both of Michael's realities, or are they just talking about the car accident in this "red" reality? "Taking out his whole family?" Do they mean literally or figuratively, in the sense that one death destroyed his family unit? Things were intentionally left vague in order to illicit that "WTF" reaction, but it's the first seed of what Michael's overall goal in Season 1 is going to be: Find out what caused his car to fly off the road and sorta-kill his wife/son.
The episode also showed us that the two realities won't always lead to happy endings in Michael's casework. I'm not convinced that the cases are integral to the overall story, but I'm going to theorize because that final scene is leading me to believe that we haven't seen all of Awake's tricks. It was cool that he wasn't able to solve both cases and become a super cop in both realities, but I'm beginning to wonder if these standalone cases are really so standalone. Perhaps the case of Bernard McKenzie, the murdered homeless junkie, went unsolved (unlike his doctor counterpart in the "green" reality) because he's somehow involved in the bigger story? Like, maybe he witnessed "the little guy" commit the act that caused the car accident and needed to be "taken care of," and Michael's realities ARE trying to point him in the right direction to solve his ultimate case, the cause of his car accident? Michael didn't drop that line ("I'm still missing something in the other case, it didn't pay off") for nothing, and Harper really wanted Michael off the McKenzie case in the "red" reality for some reason. Whoa. I'm either on to something here or I'm a few thoughts away from wearing a straightjacket.
But once again, the strength of the episode was in the story of how Michael is coping with his situation, and his steely determination to not let go of his family and do what he can to repair the damage that has been done. Not only can both realities he lives in offer clues to police cases he's working, they can help him be a better father and a better husband to a wife and son who need him. The discovery that Rex was disobeying his parents and working on a motorcycle ended up working in so many different ways when it rightfully should have been cheese-ball hell. In the pilot, Rex was connecting to his mother through tennis, but Hannah has been in denial. We saw Hannah actively let go of her fear of being reminded of her son's existence, while simultaneously witnessing Rex and Michael have an all-too-rare father-son moment in the wake of the tragedy they share. And the final scene in that story, with Hannah riding her dead son's motorcycle and Rex getting his father's blessing was all about joyful progress. It was a bigger step for Hannah than it was for Rex, but an even bigger moment for the Brittens, who were back together again if only in Michael's heart. And ours.
"The Little Guy" didn't achieve the same level of excellence as the pilot, but I left the episode feeling much better about the future of the series because I feared so much could go wrong. The writers clearly know what the strong points of the show are, and will hopefully continue to give us the wonderful emotional moments that make Awake resonate with us long after we change the channel.
– Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), know your place! Vega was all kinds of feisty in this episode, when he should have been in awe of his much-more-seasoned partner. What a jerk. Dislike Vega.
– I didn't like the transition between realities that was added to help clear things up for viewers. Apparently one of the complaints about the pilot was that it was too confusing and difficult to follow. It's not that hard. The realities look completely different. I say lose those transitions because they take away from the experience.
– I was wondering if Awake would be able to have scenes that didn't feature Michael in them. But tonight we got (at least) three: Hannah and Rex's friend Cole, Rex and Cole, and Harper and Mystery Man. The idea here being that these realities exist even when Michael isn't around, so can either of them truly be an illusion?
– One thing I like about the procedural aspect of Awake is that, because the show is focused on the family element, there isn't a lot of time to spend on the cases—which gets them solved relatively quickly. Most procedurals spend a good chunk of time chasing bad leads, and Awake doesn't appear to have that problem.