AWAKE: Season Finale & Ending Explained


Awake‘s 13-episode first (and only) season came to a powerful conclusion in “Turtles All The Way Down”. But the finale left many scratching their heads and wondering what exactly happened. Here’s our take on the meaning of Awake and that final scene.

Note: The following article contains MAJOR plot spoilers for the Awake Season 1 finale!

The “Rules” Of Awake

There are several ‘rules’ by which Awake is governed. These rules outline the boundaries of Michael Britten’s worlds and help verify what can and probably can’t happen:

  • One of Michael Britten’s initial two worlds is a dream, the other is reality.
  • In one world Britten lost his wife, the other, his son.
  • Britten does not know which world is which.
  • Britten’s two worlds are color coded: one world is green, the other is red, to help the audience keep track of Britten. Britten also adheres to this system by using green and red rubber bands to differentiate between the two worlds: red for his wife Hannah’s world, green for his son Rex.
  • To shift between worlds Britten must fall asleep or lose consciousness.
  • Hallucinations can take place in both worlds.
  • Events in both worlds can take place at times when Britten is not physically present.
  • The crash happened in both worlds.
  • The other characters in the dream world are Britten’s subconscious constructs.
  • There are no rules 😉 the dream.
 Possible Scenarios

Now that we’ve established the ‘rules’ of Awake, let’s look at some possible answers for that cryptic final scene, and the overarching question of which world was real and which was the dream:

1.  Both the green and red worlds were complex dreams from which he finally awakes into reality.

2. Both the green and red worlds were complex dreams from which he falls further asleep into another dream.

3. Britten died in the crash and his soul was caught between two states (‘dreams’). Ultimately, he enters his ideal version of the ‘afterlife’ where he’s reunited with his family.

4. The red world was reality, the green world was a dream. Ultimately, he creates a third world (‘dream’) where his wife and son are both alive.

5. The green world was reality, the red world was a dream. Ultimately, he creates a third world (‘dream’) where his son and wife are both alive.

6. The red/green world were long dreams created by his mind prior to the crash actually happening in reality. Having seen what will happen, he can now use this information to avoid either course taking place.

Choice – Which One Is It?

Based on the aforementioned “rules of Awake“, options #4 and #5 appear to be the most likely.

I don’t think it really matters which of these two worlds was the dream and which was reality, since it didn’t matter to Britten. Also, as evidenced throughout the series, Britten is able to explain away any inconsistency or potential ‘glitch’ in either of his two worlds that would lead him viewing one as more real than the other.

If I had a gun to my head like our little friend then I might lean more towards the red world being ‘reality’, but again, like Britten I could probably talk myself around. With that said, the main take-away is that Britten created a new dream at the end.

Evidence / Walkthrough

So, we’re going with the notion that Britten constructed another dream where Hannah and Rex are alive. Here are some reasons why that makes sense:

  • “That’s Not My Penguin” illustrated Britten’s ability to manifest constructs into both worlds. An early marker for what was to come.
  • While locked up in the red world, Britten spirals into a dream and enters a kind of ‘inbetween place’ (like a dream-world nexus) where he meets with his green world counterpart who presents him with an idea on how to get Harper.
  • He observes details in the green world that he ‘consciously’ missed (but subconsciously stored), evidence that incriminates Captain Harper. Vega plays the role of the penguin, further reinforcing the significance of its earlier appearance.
  • Certainly we have to bear in mind the notion that Britten is creating his own truth, adjusting the dream to fit his agenda, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Plus, isn’t that the underlying point?

  • The next step for Britten is to commit to the green world, where he can still ‘win’, which means letting go of Hannah. Since he’s already inside dream’s ‘waiting room’, he’s able to manifest a construct of his wife and tenderly tells her “I have to get him, but I don’t want to leave you.” Of course, Britten is talking to himself in the guise of his wife.
  • Two things happen to represent that Britten is ready to move on: Jason Isaacs cries a single understated tear, and Britten’s subconscious gives him the affirmation to “go and get her” (the Captain).
  • Britten enters his green world where he puts Harper behind bars and manages not to kill her in the process, which is another huge statement of character, because it sure looked like he would have killed her in the red world if not for an intervention.
  • With his name and family redeemed, Britten has one final chat with Dr. Evans. He realizes that he doesn’t have closure. He notes that he normally feels resolution when untangling other peoples mysteries, but he doest feel that here. He’s essentially saying is that he’s still ‘awake’ inside what might as well be a dream, and he comes to the conclusion that “it doesn’t matter.”
  • While this may seem like a defeatist attitude, it’s in-line with his ethos. He chose the green, but either way he loses someone he loves. However, since there are no time machines in the rules of Awake, he stumbles on another possibility: what if there are no rules in the dream?
  • Life may only move in one direction, according to Dr. Evans, but Britten realises that he can make it move sideways by coming out of his shell and making another ‘turtle’.
  • Britten’s perception of the red world’s reality had been damaged, so this sabotage makes the two worlds feel as real as each other once again. “Sabotage” might not be the right word given the positive results, but he certainly pushed the validity of his green prison.
  • He stops Cherry Jones on an “If you could..” and just does it; creates a dream that rings more true to the word — a world where both his son and wife are alive.

It goes without saying that this is all open to interpretation. I think the final scene was wonderfully ambiguous but also satisfying to me personally. I may change my mind about exactly what happened as the finale digests, but like Britten I’m satisfied with this interpretation because ultimately, like most good mysteries, it’s about the journey and the experience of that journey.

At its heart, Awake is a much simpler story about a husband and father struggling to keep hold of the people he loves. Through this process, he finds guilt but seeks redemption. He’s even willing to become the villain in order to weed out the real bad forces that dictated his fate. But through all of this he realizes one simple thing – the ability to choose, and moreover, the necessity of choosing.

The notion that everyone is sometimes asleep even when we think we’re awake is also poignant one. While the story doesn’t provide an actual answer for which reality is which or where this new world of Britten’s leads, I don’t think it should — after all, it’s about choice.

Within all of that I think the story offered enough context and some fascinating high-concepts that informed the smaller, personal triumph of Detective Michael Britten.

Did you reach the same conclusions as us, or do you have a different take on Awake?

Also: we’ll probably do an Observations article for this episode at some point, as there are some other aspects that deserve their own page.

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  1. Ethan says

    I can’t remember if there was any evidence of the conspiracy in the red world or not. It would be an interesting twist if he was delusional in the red world.

    Like: Thumb up 0

  2. says

    It was either the pilot or the second episode which ended with red-world Harper having a clandestine meeting at a park bench.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  3. John says

    I too found the finale “wonderfully ambiguous” and open to interpretation. Besides trying to ponder which side was reality, and wondering if “..maybe HE died!” I did have one other thought. I was wondering if this could be a case of parallel universes. They were both “real”. Somehow, he goes back & forth… and as the 2 converged, could he have made the ‘jump’ to a 3rd parallel? I’m no expert, but for a long time there has been talk in science & fiction about such things. I’m just glad they did not drag it out as long as LOST just to have it end like many people suspected from the start it would- but were told by the producers early on- “Noo, they’re not dead”. Too many tangents & broken story lines in LOST> Glad “Awake” had a satisfying, yet ambiguous ending too.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  4. Sherr says

    I choose to think Michael woke up. Much as I dislike this as a resolution, it’s the only one that doesn’t require more answers and I’m weary of thinking about it. I turn to the ultimate surrealist, Edgar Allen Poe, for comfort:

    Take this kiss upon the brow!
    And, in parting from you now,
    Thus much let me avow-
    You are not wrong, who deem
    That my days have been a dream;
    Yet if hope has flown away
    In a night, or in a day,
    In a vision, or in none,
    Is it therefore the less gone?
    All that we see or seem
    Is but a dream within a dream.

    Like: Thumb up 6

  5. tvdiva says

    I really enjoyed the entire season of Awake and I was satisfied with the season/series finale. I would have loved to have seen a season 2 to see where the story would have gone. But that is not to be. So I am grateful for the wonderful storytelling we had.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  6. tomcert says

    I think that in reality both Rex and Hannah died in the accident because if you remember in the episode when we first learn that Harper and Kessel were involved she says ‘you took out his whole family’. At the very end he realises while talking to Dr Evans that he can create a third dream state because there are no rules and does so where both Rex and Hannah are alive.
    The only thing I struggle with is that if everything we see is a dream, are Harper and co truly brought to justice in reality?

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  7. marc daniel says

    ENDING IS CLEAR: GREEN IS REALITY. I thought the writers made it clear: 1. The female psychiatrist tells the male one that he doesn’t even exist. 2. Britten has a dinner with his [dead] wife where he says he finally has to say goodbye and let her go. 3. Britten from the red world crosses into the green world and ‘dissolves’ into green Britten, thereby ending the dream world of the red world. As he talks to the female psychiatrist about finally having realized that their world was the real one, he then decides it is fine to make up – or dream – his own world, if it can be ‘real’ to him. Therefore, he simply made a new and better dream to replace the red world, he now creates a new dream world where they are both alive. But, no, clearly reality is the green world with the female psychiatrist.

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    • Shawn says

      Actually it was the male shrink that said the female one didnt exsist. The female, said so now you are questioning my credentials? And the Male says you dont even exist so im not worried about your credentials at all.

      Like: Thumb up 3

  8. John says

    The ending to the series was to ambiguous, I feel like any situation could be possible. For a while when I was watching the show I considered that both his wife and son died in the accident and he developed schizophrenia in which both worlds are hulicinations in order to cope with the loss, and in the end he could not handle loosing one so his mind created a third world (as can happen with someone with multiple personality disorder, if a personality can not deal with a situation the mind resets and creates a new personality) in which both lived to deal with the loss. The sequence in which he see’s the captin murdering the other captin is his mind resting and attempting to make sence of the information presented. The decision to end this series was one of the worst NBC has had. It’s like the ending of lost, not many people knew what happened. If the show was better advertised it would have nowhere to go but up.

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    • Nick says

      II agree with your statement of Britten have schizophrenia and that he may have made the two worlds collide in order to exist, but he doesn’t have multiple personality disorder so that solution doesn’t “jive”

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  9. James says

    In addition to evidence that the green reality was reality, Dr. Jones makes Britten read word for word from a document she printed, while Dr. Lee never really does such a thing to try to prove that the red reality was, in fact, not a dream.

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    • Nick says

      Doctor Lee does however point out that the mind is a tricky and powerful tool. Even if he didn’t know the Declaration by heart, which who does, he more than likely saw it at some point in his life and the brain was just recalling. = possible solution not explanation

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  10. Tom says

    It was all a dream, created by the worries he has with his family.
    Last episode was him waking up from his ‘nightmare’.

    Like: Thumb up 3

  11. Paul says

    I just finished watching the series from beginning to end on Hulu. Just finished episode 13 a few minutes ago.

    Along and along I was thinking that maybe he was in a coma and piecing together possible eventualities – along with working out what happened to him – in his subconcious as he was making his way back to conciousness.

    In both the red and green worlds he would have lapses back and forth into the other, so it stands as possible that one morning he was lapsing back into deep memories of his coma-state processing and he snapped out of that back into his truly-real post-coma world where everyone actually did survive the crash.

    I’m a sucker for happy endings anyway.

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  12. Collin Cooper says

    Ok guys, you are all trying to make the ending more than it actually is, at the very end when he is with REX and WIFE, they both mention how he was in bed for longer than usual, now given the science behind dreams, a dream only lasts 10-20 minutes, even though when you are in the dream it seems longer, the other 8 or so hours you are just unconscious. Now, lets say Britten was actually dreaming all 8 or so hours, that dream would seem like weeks long, therefor the multiple days of his dream are explained. You people who say that Green is real, no, yes in the red world reality totally collapsed on itself, but lets not forget that how at the end of the green world the psychiatrist FROZE, and then some magical door opens, so GREEN AND RED ARE NOT REALITIES, they are all one big dream, and britten realizes there was never a car crash, never 2 different realities, no conspiracy, just one, long, nightmare. Now he is AWAKE at the end of the series with both of his loved ones alive.

    P.S. notice how when in his “3rd” dream as you guys would call it, rex is introduced as alive first, this was the writers trying to taunt you “Green World” believers, and when his wife walks in you “Green World” believers are just left there with no explanation on what just happened. well here you go ^^^^^^^^^ that is enough explanation for you.

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  13. says

    I agree with the guy above, it’s a really good explanation and I’ve read through all of them, it seems the most likely and the happiest too! 😛

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  14. Danny says

    Heres why Collin is wrong. Britten never wakes up normally to his family being alive, he simply walks from the Green world into his bedroom, the door to the Green world cryptically closes behind him and he walks downstairs…into the dream he created.

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    • Wesley Orion says

      Nope. The camera switches to show that he was just standing there. It was to suggest that he stood up out of a dream state.

      The reaction to his family is a hint that he is reacting strangely to them being there. IF Britten had made up a new dream world, he wouldn’t have been startled by the presence of both of them.

      Further evidence that both realities were a dream, was the ability for Britten to take details from each reality and use them to solve issues in the other world. For example, Britten would have never known he had a grandchild on the way if the Green world didn’t exist. Yet Britton takes the password from the Red world to the Green world. There are many examples of this through the series. BOTH REALITIES CAN’T BE REAL, HOWEVER, THEY BOTH CAN BE A DREAM. I’m not shouting, just that’s the major point.

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  15. TheCritic says

    I read Cooper’s comment and that made perfect sense then I scroll down to Danny’s comment which also makes perfect sense and makes Cooper’s comment invalid,this means that theres no way to know which one is real,this serious is so great,this is he first time a series made me think so hard and I still couldn’t find a answer,the truth is there is no answer

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  16. CertainDoubt says

    I think it’s enlightening to walk through the TV writer motives for each ending….

    1. Both are dreams, wakes to reality
    Conclusion: The third realm is a dream, because we can’t freeze time in reality. The series creator flat out says Michael doesn’t wake to reality (Google Kyle Killen’s interview on the finale). This would be a really simplistic/cheesy ending considering the good writing along the way.

    2. Both are dreams, falls into a deeper sleep
    Conclusion: This likely means he’s in a coma after the accident from which he never wakes. Under this scenario reality is never achieved, thus it can’t be disproved, however, the series creator dismissively called a coma an “uberposibility.”

    3. Died in crash, goes through purgatory and ultimately to heaven
    Conclusion: Like #2, this one never attempts to establish reality and thus can’t be disproved. This scenario is doubtful as I’m sure the writers were leaving room for a longer story arc.

    4. Red real, green dream, creates 3rd dream
    Conclusion: The title of the last episode, “turtles all the way down,” makes the red reality more likely. It implies a downward spiral from which Michael never recovers. His sanity cracks and he creates happier dreams within happier dreams to flee reality. This is the twisted ending for those who hate story lines tied into a neat bow.

    5. Green real, red dream, creates 3rd dream
    Conclusion: Everything ends on a happy note in this story line. He wins the day completely and finds a way to have his wife and son. This is the story line of happy endings that most viewers want to believe.

    6. Red/green are future-seeing dreams, awakes before crash
    Conclusion: In season two, this one would fizzle as it makes Michael far to all knowing and also eliminates the entire dual/triple dream plot line

    As you can see only scenarios 4 and 5 can easily extend the story arc and are thus by far the most likely. From a story perspective, it makes no sense to ever disprove either the green or red until the long story arc ends (read multiple seasons). The scenarios are left intentionally open and you can almost guarantee there are no indisputable clues toward a real reality laid out as of yet. Sorry detectives, writers have magical powers to get themselves out of any corner! :)

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    • barb Johnson says

      I think those possibilities are all accurate, however due to the season being cancelled it seems Collin and Wesley got it right.

      Wesley said it best when he said, “both can’t be reality, but they both can be a dream”. The reaction of his wife and son are a very real world reaction. In a dream Britton controlled, now that he knows the rules, they wouldn’t have been curious to Britton’s reaction to them being there.

      There are many ways the quitters could have spun it, and the director was probably a little pissed it was cancelled, so it doesn’t surprise me he would be ambiguous to the meaning of the finale.

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