Awake S01E12: "Two Birds"
The opening sequence of "Two Birds," the penultimate episode of Awake's first and only season *sniff*, set a tone for the rest of the episode that seemed impossible to sustain. There was Michael Britten, who for so many episodes has played a man concerned only with keeping his family together—rather than with figuring out what pulled them apart—baring his teeth, ready to hunt down those responsible for his accident. The intensity of Jason Isaacs' performance, the gorgeous editing, and the swelling score all come together in an hour of the kind of television that rarely happens on major networks.
Indeed, "Two Birds" broke all the network rules, refusing to play it safe and really supporting the argument that Awake belongs on cable, where 90 percent of quality television resides. And it doesn't belong on just any cable network. It belongs on one of those cablest-of-cable channels that loves risky, daring shows with emotional cores that leave audiences breathless. I'm thinking FX or AMC with the latter preferred, as tonight's episode of Awake was every bit as intense as TV's current king of intensity, Breaking Bad.
This was Michael putting on his Heisenberg (HeisenBritten) face to hunt down Ed Hawkins, an apparition that appeared last week both in his mind, via hallucinations, and in foggy memories. And the reason Michael's transformation from kooky, unhinged dad to vigilante badge-less supercop worked so well is that we WANTED him to kick ass so badly because we've seen how much he's lost and how much his current condition has taken a toll on him. So when we saw Michael sneak up to Hawkins' house in the early going, we shuddered when he flashed the eyes of a cold-blooded killer. But dammit if I wasn't rooting for him to cave Hawkins' face in with a lead pipe.
Instead, Michael had a gun. And when he took a page out of John Reese's book and shot Hawkins in the leg, we all jumped. This was an action there was no turning back from for Michael. One struggle later and Hawkins lay dead on the ground, killed before he could give Michael the password to a file that contained incriminating evidence about a storage locker the conspirators were using to stash heroin. Shit just got so real that I had to check the bottoms of my shoes.
And if a murder in self-defense, a disintegrating conspiracy, and revenge-fueled rage weren't enough, Awake added a little reminder that it's also a show about two realities when Bird knocked out Michael and sent him over to Hannah's reality. But this time Michael didn't panic. Instead he used his gift/curse to his advantage and picked up right where he left off. We got to see how this dual-reality thing can really be used, and it's brilliant. Using knowledge from one side to skip a step in his investigation in the other side, Michael almost achieved superhero status. In that way it set a path that Michael (and the audience) followed, but it presented so many obstacles from the outside world living in its single, boring reality.
So there was Michael, dodging bullets and jumping back and forth between realities in the most thrilling password-cracking sequence I've ever seen on television, and he eventually landed in the office of Captain Harper. Bird was sent to check out the storage locker the drugs had been moved to in order to blow the lid off the conspiracy, and I wasn't feeling too good about Bird's chances given that Harper was right there to set a trap. As for Michael, well, he had to sit this one out and watch from a holding cell, unaware that he was trapped in the clutches of the very same people he was trying to destroy.
What stood out to me about this episode was its pacing. From the moment "Two Birds" began to the final shot of Michael peeping out the window of a holding skill, blinking was not an option. This was a masterfully written and produced episode of television that was engaging enough on its own but also left plenty to anticipate going into next week's finale.
Throughout the course of the season we've seen Michael's condition treated in myriad ways. Sometimes it's a blessing that allows him to see both his wife and his son and hang on to a sense of normalcy. At others, it threatens to take them away and turn whatever's left of his life into a crumbling mess. The real trick to Awake this season was showing the weight of both sides of Michael's condition, yet turning Michael into a hero by having him take advantage of it. When Awake was first announced (back when it was called REM), that word "potential" instantly joined the discussion. But Awake has done what too few new shows ever have: It's seen a concept all the way through potential and then some.
– R.I.P. Bird-stache! Poor guy got caught in the middle of a conspiracy and killed by his current partner because of his former partner. He's going to have trust issues in heaven.
– If Michael solves the conspiracy in one reality, does he still have to solve it in the other reality?
– And to think, we have yet to learn WHY this is happening to Michael. Next week's episode should be jam-packed.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom