Awake – Episode 1-1 Review – “Sweet Dreams”

I checked out the first episode of Awake over the weekend (it aired Thursday), and I found it an intriguing enough pilot that I’ll definitely be watching a few more episodes.

Awake is about a man who gets into a nasty car accident with his wife and only child – a teenage son. From then on, his world splits into two: One in which his wife survived but his son died, and another in which his son survived but his wife did not. Every time he goes to sleep, he switches worlds, and he is completely unable to tell which/if one is a dream. Both are realities to him.

Different worlds, different rubber bands

Michael, the main character, is a cop. When we meet him, some time has passed and he’s back at work while attending required therapy sessions. In the world in which his wife is alive, he has a new, young partner (Fex from That 70s Show!) and a more argumentative shrink. In the world in which his son is alive, he has the same partner as he’s always had (Jess’s dad from Friday Night Lights!) and a more understanding, gentle shrink.

Michael has gotten to a place where he not only accepts his splintered life, but wants to keep it. He does not want to fix the situation he’s in, he does not want to figure out which one is reality and which one is a dream. He has buried his wife, he has buried his son. If he can live and see both of them, even though he’s seeing them like this, then that’s how he wants to live. It’s a fascinating way to approach the premise, and I think it gives Awake more emotional nuance than a simple panicked attempt to wake up.

One scene that really stood out for me was when Michael awoke one morning unable to tell which world he was in. He normally wears a colored rubber band on his wrist to indicate where he is, but that was gone. His wife was missing, as was his son. You could feel him experiencing the panicked terror of waking up in a world where he was the only one who’d survived the crash. He cut his own hand to try and wake up, before discovering that his wife had simply gone out and the rubber band had fallen off his wrist.

There are intriguing overlaps with Michael’s two worlds – in the first episode we saw him working on two different cases as a detective in each world, and details and clues would remain the same in each. There are also moral quandaries, like how much to tell his wife about what he “dreams” about their dead son, and romantic feelings he has for other women in the world in which his wife is dead.

The therapists play an important role in the show, as they’re both a means for exposition in a complicated story and a way for Michael to express his own thoughts on his dueling worlds. It’s interesting to see two professionals take very different approaches to his situation, even though each therapist truly, unequivocally believes that they are in the real world and the other is the dream.

As some reviewers have noted, this is not a show in which you should be checking your Twitter feed or washing the dishes as you watch. You should be alert (awake? ha! pun alert!) when you watch, or you won’t be able to appreciate the intricacies of the two universes the show has created. I recommend you check it out, and I’m interested to see how the series unfolds over the next several episodes.


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