This is an integral week for NBC’s most audacious drama, Awake. The pilot created a great deal of good will from critics and fans (who saw it) alike, but the true test of the show is determining whether it can maintain its dual world existence over the long run. So how’d it do?
Let’s bitch it out…
The second episode, ‘The Little Guy’ focuses much more explicitly on the police cases between the two worlds, which makes sense since the pilot spent so much time establishing the complicated premise. It’s still disappointing, however, that the familial connection is shoe-horned in a rather mundane story. While I’m certain that there is healing power in discovering that the person you grieve for was more than the sums of your impressions – in this case Rex (Dylan Minette) is/had been working on a motorcycle – I wasn’t connected to either motorcycle storyline. It is nice to see both Rex and wife Hannah (Laura Allen) slowly move out of the grief cycle by the episode’s end (no one wants to watch 12 weeks of people crying and curling up in the fetal position – this isn’t The Killing). The problem for me was that these stories have nowhere near the emotional pay-off that the family scenes did in the pilot. Whether that’s a testament to pilot director David Slade will be something we’ll have to consider next week when the series takes more solid shape.
So what else was going on? Let’s refer to our cheat sheet breakdown to keep this simpler:
- Son Rex
- Shrink Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones)
- Partner Detective Bird (Steve Harris)
In this world, Bird and Michael (Jason Isaacs) are investigating the death of a fertility doctor named Bernard Mackenzie. Although Mackenzie’s partner has motive for wanting him dead, Michael trusts his “intuition” (aka the ramblings of a homeless man from the Red world) that they are looking for a “little guy.” Enter Sam Harvinson (Brian R. Norris), a 5’5 boy conceived via in vitro at Mackenzie’s clinic who is seeking information about his father. In a shades-of-Fringe twist, it turns out that Mackenzie was using his own sperm for the fertility treatments, creating at minimum 15 other “family” members for Sam, who suddenly felt linked to a “monster.”
There are a number of cutesy little lines about feeling connected to family in Sam’s scenes that are meant to resonate with Michael’s relationship with Rex, but I found these too obvious. I much preferred the interplay with Michael and the shrinks. In Green, Dr. Evans proposes that Michael’s subconscious is helping him solve cases and strengthen the bonds with Rex by creating elaborate backstories and narratives. This contrasts nicely with Dr. Lee (BD Wong) on the Red side, who feels that Michael’s psyche is severely fractured and that it is incredibly problematic that he has been using information from both worlds to solve cases, which is poor policework. I appreciated that instead of continuing the trend from the pilot in which the shrinks mirror each other’s opinions, they’re starting to take on identities of their own through their respective theories.
- Wife Hannah
- Shrink Dr. John Lee
- Det. Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderamma)
Obviously Dr. Lee’s assessment is not only different from Dr. Evans, but it may have more of an impact on Michael’s future as a Detective. This episode introduces a key figure that we’re apt to see more of, Captain Harper (Laura Innes), the woman who promoted Vega to Detective so that he can keep an eye on Michael. There’s some nice conflict between Vega and Michael when the elder detective bitches out the newbie for challenging his approach, though we’ll need to wait a bit longer to see if this antagonistic working relationship is developed more.
Harper is the big question mark – and the element that will likely make or break the show moving forward – mostly because she now represents “the mythology” of the show. At the end of the episode, Harper discovers that Michael has not given up looking for a “little guy” involved in the murder of Bernard Mackenzie, who in Red is a homeless man. This prompts a meeting with an unnamed, non-descript man (Mark Harelik) in a park (Side Note: I liked the Godfather reference with Harper eating an orange as we learn protecting her prompted the death[s] of Michael’s family, making her inadvertently responsible for the hit). Harper insists that she is handling the situation and then something telling happens: she asks if the man hired to kill Michael’s family is a little guy. Not only does this tie into Michael’s case (since – despite the homeless guy eyewitness – the ‘little guy’ connection is never made in the Red world). This prompts non-descript guy to inquire if Michael “remembers”.
Remember huh? What is it that Michael discovered that led to a hit being taken out on him? Does this mean that the Red world is the “true” world since there are clearly references of actions that led to this fractured situation? Am I wrong for being less than taken with the story of the motorcycle, or does that just make me an emotional robot?
And most importantly, how does this mythology/arc bit sit with you? Do you prefer Awake as a more or less standalone in which Michael solves cases in parallel and tries to move his family beyond their grief? Or are you looking for answers about which world is real, how his situation came about, who is non-descript guy, what is Harper’s role in it, etc? Sound off in the comments below!
Awake airs Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC.