‘Awake’ Recap (Season 1, Episode 11): One Life to Live
On this week’s Awake, Michael can’t get back to the green world, and the answer might be held by a mysterious stranger with a comically large chin..
While at a fair, Michael tries bungee jumping at Rex and Emma’s urging. But because of hie fear of heights, things start to get a bit foggy, and suddenly he falls off the platform. He wakes up in the red world and goes about his day there–with Hannah accompany Emma to an ultrasound, and with Vega he tries to track down a serial killer called Petrowski. He goes to bed expecting to wake up at the fair. But he doesn’t–he’s still in the red world the next day.
Michael demands that Dr. Lee help him get back to Rex, but Dr. Lee, of course, thinks of this as progress. Falling is a common way of transitioning out of a dream state, so it makes sense that his green world “delusions” would end like that. But the delusions aren’t over: as soon as Michael leaves his appointment, he begins hallucinating about a short man with a large chin.
Big Chin claims to hail form Michael’s imagination, and knows no more about why he’s there than Michael does–or even who he is. Michael speculates that he might be someone connected to the Petrowski case. But Petrowski’s co-workers and building owner don’t know anyone who fits Michael’s description of Big Chin, and Vega thinks Michael’s insane. Then, Michael collapses and has a flashback to his car accident, with Rex and Hannah singing Bohemian Rhapsody in the car.
When he wakes up, he makes Vega take him home–where he continues seeing Big Chin, just hanging around. The next day he’s still in the red world, and Big Chin is still there. Vega’s discovered that Petrowski had been staying with a friend from the Internet. While interviewing him, a signal from Big Chin leads Michael to a list of foreclosed homes that Petrowski stole from his friend. They find Petrowski at one of the vacant houses and bring him in for interrogation, but Michael nearly screws it up by asking Petrowski about Big Chin.
When Michael gets home he can’t find Big Chin. He wakes up, hoping to be in the green world, but he can find neither Hannah nor Rex. When he runs into Rex’s room, he finds Big Chin there and yells at him, trying to figure out who he is, until Hannah walks in.
Michael has to go meet with Emma’s father to try and smooth things over, but during the meeting he’s shaken by Big Chin’s distracting behavior, causing him to stutter and stammer and come off poorly. When it becomes clear that Big Chin is signaling that he’s seen something outside–namely, the real person he’s based on, Michael bolts out and chases after him, leaving Emma’s dad confused. Michael ends up causing an accident before collapsing again and flashing back to his own accident. When Michael wakes up he runs away.
Captain Harper’s mad at him about fleeing the accident, as Vega tells him, but Michael’s too busy with a police sketch artist creating a picture of Big Chin. Turns out it’s Ed Hawkins–Bird’s current partner in this world. Michael meets with Bird to discuss Ed, and when Ed arrives to get Bird, he identifies himself as the first person on the scene at Michael’s accident.
When Michael goes home, he flashes back to the accident again, this time remembering Ed Hawkins there with an oxygen mask for him. When he snaps back to consciousness, he suddenly believes that this is the real world, and the green world is not real, and all the grief over Rex that hasn’t hit him for six months suddenly hits him now. The next day at work, Harper informs him that he’s suspended, and tells him to grieve like he couldn’t before.
Michael visits Rex’s grave, where he once again sees the hallucination of Ed. But when he yells at it, it disappears. Later, he meets with Emma’s father to plead on her behalf once more, citing his own loss of his son and saying that Emma’s father should not let himself lose her. Joaquin later calls Emma.
That night, Michael finally takes off the red rubber band, accepting this world as reality. But when he goes to sleep, he has one more flashback to the night of the accident–remembering that Ed Hawkins ran his car off the road. Suddenly, he awakens in the green world again, overjoyed to see the son he thought lost, but convinced that Ed was trying to kill him. He calls Dr. Evans to talk it through.
This was clearly the best episode since the pilot, and while the case that dominated the first half ended up being kind of inconsequential, it was also strangely necessary in the way it allowed Britten to explore his frustrations with the absence of the green world and the presence of this mysterious man with a large chin.
It’s the first episode that’s really encouraged the viewer to engage fully with the question of what is real and what is not. Since the pilot Michael has remained complacent to act out his two lives regardless of reality or fantasy. You’d think that would be an impediment to a story like this, but the Awake writers are smart, and instead used that complacency to their advantage. They threatened the situation.
And this brought Michael to the point where he suddenly had to grieve over the loss of his son. This is a place the show neatly avoided by skipping Michael’s “origin story” in the pilot. This was a smart decision at the time, in a lot of ways, but it’s meant that Michael has always sort of lacked something as a character. Here, Jason Isaacs has finally rounded that out by giving us an opportunity to see Michael at his lowest. Now we really know what’s at stake when Michael makes the decision to live in two worlds. We see what happens to him when he can’t.
Interesting, too, the way the series over-relied on the green world in the early part of the season, only to aggressively push the red world on us as “reality” here. And to the show’s credit I almost bought it, that the red world was going to be Michael’s sole status quo for the remainder of the season, while we worked out the nature of the conspiracy against Michael. After all, the red world does seem to be the world where all of the conspiracy-related plots happen.
As for that, we’re clearly working toward some kind of closure with regard to why people on the police force wanted Michael dead. And you can bet it’s to do with Carl’s heroin. But it’s not clear how this ties into the two-worlds situation, if indeed it does at all. I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t, but I don’t know if that’s a connection the show intends to explore this season. I hope so, because word came out today that Awake isn’t getting another season (surprising no one), but even if we don’t get all the answers, that’ll be okay. Especially if the next two weeks live up to the standard set by this one.
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