Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why the red 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. Lee is right: Rex died in the crash, and Britten is imagining the world where he survived.

The green world is clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy. In the real world, Britten has been given a new partner, Efram Vega, who's job is to spy on him for his superiors. In the dream world, Britten is still working with his old partner, "Bird" Freeman, whom he likes and trusts. In the real world, Britten's therapist is confrontational and unpleasant. In the dream world, Britten's therapist is kind and understanding. In the real 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. In the dream world, Rex deals with the trauma of his mother's death by taking up tennis under the tutelage of Hannah's pretty friend Tara.

The second episode, "The Little Guy," makes the wish-fulfillment nature of the green world even more obvious. In real life, Britten finds himself trying to find out who killed a homeless drug addict named Bernard Mackenzie. A loopy possible witness says he saw "a little guy" near Mackenzie after his death, and Britten spends the next couple of days in an ultimately futile effort to locate the little guy. In his dream world, Bernard Mackenzie is the name of a well-known fertility doctor, whose murder Britten is able to solve thanks to his obsession with how tall the various potential suspects are.

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," Britten's anxiety about an upcoming memorial being held for Rex starts his subconscious reconsidering a murder case he solved ten years before. A man named John Cooper was convicted of the murder of a drug dealer after his son died of a drug overdose, but Cooper has always insisted he was framed. In the dream world, Cooper breaks out of prison and kidnaps Rex. 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.

Since Britten himself refuses to believe that his dream world isn't real, he is convinced that Rex is really in danger of dying, and he sets out on a quixotic quest to "save" him. He visits the real Cooper in prison, who tells him that it was Mayhew who framed him. When Britten asks Cooper about the place in the desert where the dream-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 dream world, Britten is able to find Rex in time to save him.

Dr. Lee reminds Britten that Cooper's failure to make parole coincided with Rex's death, and that Britten's subconscious used the threat to the dream-Rex's life to force Britten to act in reality to right the wrong he had done to Cooper.

On the other hand . . .

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