Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why the green world is the real one


The most fascinating new show on NBC is "Awake," a show about a police detective named Michael Britten who wakes up from a traffic accident to find that his son Rex has been killed in the crash, then wakes up again to find that Rex is alive and it's his wife Hannah who was killed in the crash. Every time Britten goes to sleep in one world, he finds himself waking up in the other. To help himself keep things straight, Britten wears a red band on his wrist in the world where Hannah survived the crash, and a green one in the world where Rex did.

In each world, Britten's superiors make him go to a psychiatrist to deal with the trauma, and he tells both about his double life. Both psychiatrists insist that their own world is the real one, and the other one is a delusion that Britten has constructed. But there are actually four possible scenarios:

1. Both worlds are delusions. Britten is in a coma and is dreaming the whole thing.
2. Both worlds are real. The accident somehow allows Britten to experience two different possible outcomes.
3. Dr. Lee, the psychiatrist in the red world, is right. Rex really died in the crash, and the world where he survived is a delusion.
4. Dr. Evans, the psychiatrist in the green world, is right. Hannah really died in the crash, and the world where she survived is a delusion.

But four possible scenarios were too many for series creator Kyle Killen. In a recent interview, he stated that one of the worlds really is a dream, and one really is real. So, scenarios 1 and 2 are out, and viewers have a choice of 3 or 4.

So, which is the dream and which is reality? If you consider the psychology of the whole thing, it's obvious that Dr. Evans is right: Hannah died in the crash, and Britten is imagining the world where she survived.

The red world is clearly a cautionary tale, a way for Britten's subconscious to remind him how much worse his life could be. In the real world, Britten still has the support of his partner, "Bird" Freeman, whom he likes and trusts. In the dream world, Britten has been given a new partner, Efram Vega, who's job is to spy on him for his superiors. In the real world, Britten's therapist is kind and understanding. In the dream world, Britten's therapist is confrontational and unpleasant. In the real world, Rex deals with the trauma of his mother's death by taking up tennis under the tutelage of Hannah's pretty friend Tara. In the dream world, Hannah deals with the trauma of her son's death by turning Britten's world upside down, redecorating the house, and urging Britten to move to Oregon.

The second episode, "The Little Guy," makes the cautionary nature of the red world even more obvious. In real life, Britten investigates the murder of a well-known fertility doctor named Bernard Mackenzie. With subconscious hints provided by the dream world, Britten is able to solve Mackenzie's murder. In his dream world, Britten goes on a pointless quest to find the killer of a homeless drug addict, because the addict's name happens to be the same as Mackenzie's. He fails, and his co-workers fear that Britten's faltering grip on reality is impairing his work.

Still, even knowing which world is real and which is a dream, it's fascinating to watch the interplay between the two. In the most recent episode, "Guilty," a man named John Cooper breaks out of prison and kidnaps Rex. Britten had arrested Cooper ten years earlier for killing a drug dealer after Cooper's son died of a drug overdose, but Cooper has always insisted he was framed. Cooper contacts Britten and tells him that he has Rex imprisoned in the desert, and that Rex will die unless Britten finds proof that Cooper was innocent. Unfortunately, Britten's ex-partner Jim Mayhew kills Cooper before he can tell Britten who the real murderer was, thereby dooming Rex.

In his dream world, Britten visits Cooper in prison, and Cooper tells him that it was Mayhew who framed him. When Britten asks Cooper about the place in the desert where Rex is imprisoned, Cooper says he can tell Britten where it is, but refuses unless Britten finds proof that he's innocent. In desperation, Britten confronts Mayhew, and is able to get him to admit that he did in fact frame Cooper for the murder. In the real world, amazingly enough, the dream-Cooper's information leads Britten to an isolated shack in the desert where Rex is imprisoned, allowing him to save Rex.

Dr. Evans points out that Britten's subconscious is trying to relieve his guilt over Cooper's fate by letting him imagine a reality where he was able to free Cooper. But it was Mayhew, she reminds him, who framed Cooper, and who bears the guilt for Cooper's wrongful imprisonment and death.

On the other hand . . .

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