Fans have now had two days to digest the events of the season (now series) finale of the incredibly inventive drama Awake. Since the episode was shot before producers knew the show was canceled, the final act naturally raises just as many questions as it answers. Series creator Kyle Killen sat down with EW.com again today to explain his intentions with the finale's ending scenes, and give fans a taste of what season two might have brought us. Spoiler warning: If you haven't watched the finale of Awake yet, you may want to hold off on reading further.
Q. Did the final scenes mean that the whole series had been a dream Britten was having? "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. 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. 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."
Q. Is the fan theory that Britten was the one really hurt in the car accident, and the whole series took place inside Britten's comatose mind correct? "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. 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."
Q. Was the series finale meant to confirm that the green world (where Rex survived) was the real one all along? "I don’t know how the show could have gone on if the fundamental thing that made it work was taken away. Look at the state that Britten is in in red world. 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."
Q. Does Killen know how the series would have ultimately ended? "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.”
Q. Would the world Britten visits at the end of the series (where the whole family is together) have been a third reality in season two? "You still would have had red and you still would have had green. 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. 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."
Q. Would Britten still be in jail when he wakes up in red world in season two? "The discussion was always that that’s where he finds himself when he woke back up in red world. It would be as if all of the dream-like elements had in fact been a dream, and he’d closed his eyes just before the guard knocked on the door and told him he had a visitor [Harper], and we’d treat it as that was the moment he went to sleep. He would know that he’d caught Harper in the other world and that he seemed unable to do anything in red. Ultimately, he would have relied on Vega to help him extricate himself from that situation."
Q. Was the character of Tara, Rex's tennis coach, intended to be a potential love interest for Britten in green world? "It always felt too soon and difficult to explain for season one. If it’s about a man overcoming the loss of his wife, he’s only overcoming the loss for 12 hours a day. So most of us deal with that by not needing to get into another relationship. What ultimately was needed to really jump-start the alternate relationship was some sort of fracturing in the Hannah-Britten story. That’s exactly what you see us building to at the end of the season. Once he’s imprisoned and he’s considered essentially a mad man and there’s not really a clear way out, we would have used that and Dr. Evans to really try to convince him that that was his imagination and there was a psychological reason that he was holding himself there. That would have opened the door enough for us to begin something with Tara. And then by the time the red world resolved itself and he was extricated from prison, without really meaning to, he would have gotten himself in two different relationships. By the time things were repaired with Hannah, he would have already begun a relationship with Tara because he had been leading himself to believe that Hannah wasn’t real and it was something that he needed to get over. By the time that flipped on him, he would have been a man divided. That was something we were really eager to explore in the second season."
Q. Does Britten have any supernatural powers that enable him to connect seemingly random details in one world to an ongoing case in the other? "Looking at the [crime] scene, he’s sort of like an unconscious Sherlock Holmes. Where Sherlock Holmes would instantly see that there’s a piece of heel in the carpet, which means that Harper is the perpetrator, and everybody would say, ‘How do you know that?’ and he would walk them through it, Britten takes all that in unconsciously and then unwinds it in his dream. He’s basically building a narrative that explains the reality that he’s already seen. That happened several times throughout the season. The story that you create draws your attention back to something that was in the scene originally. He didn’t psychically understand something that he’d never been exposed to before. He’s already been to the scene of Kessel’s murder and he’s ostensibly observed that heel on the floor. But obviously when he gets to red world, he’s so mentally focused on survival and escape, that even though his brain keeps calling this detail to his attention, he’s ignoring it because he’s got much bigger problems to deal with."
Q. Is there any chance the show continues elsewhere? "It’d be difficult given the ratings that we had to justify [a pickup by another network]. The incredible support and enthusiasm from fans, if they wanted to use that energy for something, I would say it’s better spent trying to see that Jason is recognized. That’s a better campaign to wage. That’s something that I think they might actually be able to pull off."
Q. Finally, has doing two straight one season and done shows (Awake and FOX's Lone Star) put Killen off developing new concepts for TV? "I’m developing some things to write this fall that can be canceled in future years. :laughs: Those projects include ideas for both network and cable shows. The last few years, maybe I was a little more cavalier about what you might be able to pull off on network. I think it’s getting really difficult to continue making that argument on the drama side. It feels like there’s becoming two very distinct camps. So I think if I show up on network again, I would bring a more network-specific idea. If I have ideas that feel like they belong on cable, then I think at this point, I probably start to take them to cable."
Do these responses increase your understanding of Awake's finale? Do you think Awake would have been canceled if it had aired on a cable channel like USA or AMC?