Awake creator Kyle Killen has offered more insights into the series finale, what that final scene may have signaled going forward, why the procedural element crowded out some of the more serial-driven elements, and much more.
The following contains MAJOR plot spoilers for the Awake season finale – continue at your own discretion!
In case you missed them earlier, here are some Awake insights from Killen during a finale web chat. Coming up, here’s what he had to say in a round of post-finale interviews, compiled below for your convenience:
On leaving the Awake ending up for interpretation, except for nixing the “it was all a dream” theories:
I’ve seen some really interesting [theories], and I wouldn’t say that anyone is wrong — except the people who are calling it a Dallas or a Newhart, any variation on “…and then he woke up.” That is absolutely not what we intended. If you watch the last few minutes again, I’m not sure what the argument for that [interpretation] even is. I suppose there’s the überpossibility that he’s in a coma and now having a third dream in the coma, but in no way should it be interpreted as, “He woke up and his family was fine. He’d just been having two nightmares.”
On the temptation to have Dr. Evans and Dr. Lee interact much sooner in the story:
That was constantly something that we wanted Britten to do. We wanted him to seek out the wrong therapist in the wrong world, and have to play with what his expectations for them would be. Those are the sort of things that bumped right into the dual procedural aspect of the show. The episodes that had all of those sorts of things – it became an either/or. You can’t waste just running into Dr. Evans in Dr. Lee world in the background of trying to solve a case. It was a story that demanded you play it out and take your time with it. In that portion of the season, we were headed in a more procedural direction, so we didn’t get to do a lot of those things, and those are places we would’ve loved to go in the future.
On whether Dr. Evans was right and the red world was the dream:
No, no, not at all. That’s not our intent, and ultimately not the argument we ended up making. I think there’s an equal argument to be made that red world is real. I think the two sides can totally continue to be flipped upside down and backwards. It would take a couple of episodes to work it all out, but I can assure you it was all on white boards and tested and tried, I can’t say everyone would get it, but it made sense to us. We reached a place where we were comfortable that if we had come back for a second season, we would have had a new set of toys in the sandbox, but that the sandbox still existed, and the shows could have existed in a similar vein to the way that it was in season one.
On Britten’s discovery leading to the final scene and the dream-within-a-dream concept:
Essentially, our take was, the episode was about reaching a place where, in order to get all the answers, to get everything that’s floating around in his head, to get to the fact that Harper was involved in the green world, to figure out how he can actually apprehend her, he seems to be forced to recognize that the red world is his imagination, that it exists for him to work these things out. He’s so caught up in what’s happening there, and the idea that he’s injured and he’s paying attention to a thousand things, that he’s not closing in on the clue that he would normally come to, that’s not happening this time. So the dream fractures, and he steps outside the dream and it literally becomes very dream-like, in order to deliver to him the answer that he seems to need in going back to the other world. When he gets to the green world, he has the information he needs to capture Harper, but it comes at the expense of being able to believe the red world is real.So when he’s in the final scene with Dr. Evans and she is explaining exactly that, he goes back into the same shell he’s been going into ever since this happened: he keeps talking himself into it, “There must be some way, some other explanation.” His explanation is, “Nothing that happened in the red world after I was sitting in my cell was real. That was a dream. If that world was real, there’s no reason I couldn’t have a dream.” And that’s exactly what happens. So he imagines that when he wakes up in the red world, he would still be in prison, and that’s what we would have played had we gone forward. Whether that’s because he’s really in prison, or because he’s so desperate to hold onto the idea that there is a red world where his wife exists that that’s where his dream continues — obviously, the last scene itself represents this idea that he believes there can be literal dreams, places between the two worlds. So if he was going to dream a third space, this is exactly what it would look like: a place where he had both his wife and his son, and that’s where we ended up.
On how the finale would have opened up a third, more ‘surreal’, space that the story would have explored going forward:
Going forward, I don’t think he would become a lucid dreamer, but in that moment it delivered something that his psyche had desperately wanted for a long time. For me, Twin Peaks was a seminal show, and what we started to miss from the red-versus-green [story] and the procedural crossover clues and the fact that they were both completely grounded and therefore impossible to tell apart, was that despite being a show where half of it took place in his imagination, we rarely got to play with any “fun” imaginary elements. This [finale] was always intended to open up a third space, a dream space, to introduce some of the more surreal elements.
On what they learned in the process of building a story trying to find the balance between serial and procedural:
I think what the show is when it’s most successful is less of a straight procedural. That’s always the holy grail, as we say in network television: it’s repeatable out of order, it has a satisfying wrap-up to the case, and so on and so forth. But I think in our show, it ended up feeling like just a guy with a magic trick that he did on a weekly basis. Ultimately, the show was at its best and its most compelling when it dealt with the nature of his situation and his personal life and issues and how they crossed over with his job as a result. So I think there are a few episodes where we pushed it in a pretty rote “two cases of the week” direction, and ultimately those were less satisfying for us creatively — I can’t speak for the audience — than things like we were able to do at the end of the season. The last three or four episodes represent what we were able to learn along the way and the direction we would have tried to go in subsequent seasons.
On what he’s learned about the network TV business from trying to essentially put serialized cable shows (Awake, Lone Star) on broadcast:
I think NBC’s fear was more or less having happen exactly what happened: the more you went away from the direct, straight procedural that was easily accessible and not particularly complicated from everybody — the more you veered from a “Mentalist” or “CSI” model — the more rabid the fans that you had would become, and yet that number would be dramatically smaller, which is precisely the formula for cable programming. On cable, you don’t need everybody; you just need the people you get to be super hardcore. I began thinking that I could do maybe my own spin on traditional network procedural. In the end, I’m a little less interested in cases of the week. I just feel like there might not be an incredible number of ways to reinvent that particular wheel. The stuff that this show offered, the design of the universe, had less to do with who stole what and who killed who, and more to do with this guy’s predicament, which is the one thing no ever detective character on television was facing. I think we became, ultimately, most interested in exploring that. The question is, would that have been a successful network show? And I think probably the numbers indicate it wouldn’t have. I have to judge the next idea when I get to it. I thought “Awake” could work on network; maybe it wouldn’t have worked on cable, either. It may have been a fundamentally flawed or not particularly interesting premise to begin with. But here we are.
Interesting interview. I think it’s clear that Killen is more attracted by the serialized stories and I agree with him that the procedural elements of Awake left less room for the intriguing character driven, serialized elements. I totally dig the Twin Peaks reference and looking back to episodes like “That’s Not My Penguin” (and the finale), I can see how the style of the story might have developed over time — that would have been great to see. Still, Awake will surely stand as a story well worth telling, with enough ambiguity to leave people speculating for some time, and enough resolution to not have people pulling their hair out in frustration.