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 ..in the dream.
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.