'Awake' creator answers burning questions

awake-2

Image Credit: Jim Fiscus/NBC

Fans of NBC’s Awake have now had time to process the series finale (watch it below) and form their own theories about where the show would have gone had there been a second season. We asked creator Kyle Killen to weigh in. Here are 10 things you need to know:

1. There really was an accident, this wasn’t all a dream. Some fans saw the final scene — Britten (Jason Isaacs) seeing both Rex and Hannah in the house — and mistook it as a copout ending revealing the detective had dreamt the entire 13 episodes. “The idea that we’re saying nothing happened, this is St. Elsewhere, was something we actively fought against. You can still hate the finale, you just can’t say that that’s what it did. It’s just wrong and can actually be disproven watching the last four minutes,” Killen says. The show was always conceived as the way that one particular man dealt with grief that he was completely unprepared to handle. “That’s how the season ended — while he’s able to see his wife and child together, if you take a step back, what it really represents is a further fracturing of his psyche,” he says. “You understand that you don’t see your partner in a penguin suit in any version of reality — that grew directly out of the red world in which Hannah is alive [seemingly] revealing itself to be a dream. He just can’t accept that, and then [in the conversation with Dr. Evans] backs into the idea of, Wait, what if I fell asleep in my cell and then everything that happened after that was a dream? What if for the first time I had dream-like dreams in between being awake and being asleep? Once he does that, it’s almost as if his brain seizes that moment and creates precisely the thing that psychologically he’s dying for — and that is a moment with everyone together.”

2. And to be clear, Britten was not in a coma, dreaming both worlds. A popular theory in the comments section of our finale react was that Britten was the one injured in the car accident, and he’s in a coma and dreaming these separate worlds in which he tries to piece together what happened that night as his wife and son visit him in the hospital. “I’ve seen really compelling arguments that people have made stringing together little bits throughout the season. I can’t say that in season 4, that wouldn’t have become a really compelling way to look at things. But we never approached it that way, that he was in a coma and dreaming both worlds,” Killen says. “He was absolutely a man who had survived a car accident and lost one or the other of the people closest to him and created another world to correct that damage. That was 100 percent the rules of the game as far as we were concerned.”

3. Though most fans interpreted the season finale as confirming the green world was real — meaning Rex survived the accident — it was never meant to end the debate. The finale was written and filmed before the show’s cancellation. “I don’t know how the show could have gone on if the fundamental thing that made it work was taken away,” Killen says. He believes you can make the argument that the world in which wife Hannah survived — the red world — was the real one with just as much vigor. “Look at the state that Britten is in [there]. He’s lost. The woman who destroyed his family has gotten away with it. He’s in prison and he seems to have no hope of getting out of there. He’s essentially indicted himself with his own behavior. So if ever there were a place where you could reach a low that would cause you to create through a psychic break a world in which you do solve all the problems, and you do get the bad guy, and everything does turn out okay… I would think that would be an argument for the red world actually being real and requiring the green world as a dream to make going on seem possible. We, at least internally, made sure we could argue it both ways because going forward, we didn’t intend to have that mystery sewn up in this episode.”

4. Killen hadn’t committed to how the series would ultimately end. The show’s producers all had their own pet theories, but nothing was written in stone. “Most people felt like the red world was more likely to be real, just from a logical basis that the death of a child is something that’s out-of-order with nature and much more difficult to deal with than the death of a spouse. It felt like the death of a child is one that you might create a world to undo. So it felt a little bit like the balance was tipped in the red world’s favor, but we constantly adjusted that. One of the things we talked about was if ultimately the green world with his son was real and the red world was his imagination, was it that he couldn’t let his wife go until he’d psychologically worked out something that was unresolved with Hannah? There were arguments for why he simply could not let go of one or the other. We didn’t feel it was necessary to decide which one was his imagination now. We didn’t have a big sitdown and say, ‘This is what Rosebud means.’ We just didn’t approach it that way.”

What was their approach then? “There’s a great interview with [Breaking Bad creator] Vince Gilligan where he talks about the second season being the only one where they knew everything going in — they had an iron-clad idea of exactly what happened. And it was the most difficult because you were constantly hamstrung by plans you made long ago and you didn’t leave yourself open to discovering anything. It made it debatable whether that season is any more or less satisfying than the others,” Killen says. “I think they’ve done magical work in the third and fourth seasons where they did not take that approach. They knew where they were going, but they didn’t know necessarily how they were going to get there. That’s the model that we tried to use…. And where we were going with season 2 wasn’t about which [world] was real, it was about them both being real to him, and they’re going in very different directions, so how is he going to go on with them separating so dramatically.”

5. Season 2 would have involved the dream-like arena where both Rex and Hannah lived, but it wouldn’t have been a third reality. “You still would have had red and you still would have had green,” Killen says.”We left ourselves open to the possibility that [producers/writers plotting out season 2] would have had a really interesting pitch for what to do with that third space, and whether there was an ongoing narrative we wanted to tell there or whether we wanted to use it as simply a surreal dream space that we could access when we wanted to and how we wanted to that let us bring other weirder elements into the show that we’d always wanted to try.” He suspects it would have been the latter. “Twin Peaks being a show that was very close to my heart and a seminal thing in my childhood, the third space was sort of our Black Lodge. It was a place where almost anything could have happened. What happened initially was he found himself in his house with his wife and his child, but there were a lot of other places we would have taken that dream space. I don’t know that it would have always been that linear or happy. I think it would have been a place where he had a lot less control than he thought.”

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