Mandi Bierly
March 02, 2012 AT 07:20 PM EST

NBC’s Awake, starring Jason Isaacs as a cop who lives two realities after a car crash (one in which he lost his wife, one in which he lost his son) and can’t tell which life is a dream, premiered last night. (Check out Ken Tucker’s review.) Let’s just go ahead and assume that if you saw the show, you’re hooked, and cut right to the chase: Which reality do you think is real? Which reality do you want to be real? We’ll take both to a vote below, but first, let’s break it down:


Therapist treating Det. Michael Britten (Isaacs): Dr. Lee, played by B.D. Wong, who’s best known for his role as a forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler on Law & Order: SVU. If this is the dream, that is brilliant casting. In the premiere, Lee made some fairly good arguments as to why this reality was the real one: For starters, when clues became relevant in the cases Britten was working in each reality, Lee asked him which crime occurred first: the one in this reality. So what if he was aware of those details in the other reality first — even if he didn’t actively note them in this one, his subconscious could have, and manifested them in that dream so he’d become aware of them in this reality. Also, look at the crime he was working in the reality/dream in which his son lived: a missing child. To shield himself from the guilt he feels over his son’s death — the report shows his blood alcohol level was raised that night, when he was driving, even though he denies drinking (conspiracy!) — he created the dream in which his boy still alive (and in which he could save another child), Lee says. A counterargument, Dr. Lee: Look at the crime in your reality: Cab drivers are being killed. Perhaps that’s dreaming Britten’s way of saying it should have been him who died, and not his son?

Partner: Det. Efrem Vega (That ’70s Show‘s Wilmer Valderrama). In this reality, he’s assigned a rookie as a new partner because the department wants someone to watch Britten and report back. (We thought it was to make sure he’s fit for duty, but maybe it’s because someone’s worried he’ll try to figure out the cause of the accident.) Vega, who admitted to Britten he’s been asked questions about whether he speaks of dreams, seems to have his back: He’s already saved his life, shooting the cabbie killer who had the drop on Britten, and claiming he’s told the higher-ups nothing about his behavior.

Future problem: If the color scheme in the premiere continues — warm yellow tones in this reality, cold blue tones in the other — the promo after last night’s premiere showed Britten’s captain (ER‘s Laura Innes) talking to someone about the guy that he’d “used for the accident” and assuring him that she was having Britten monitored to see if he was remembering that night.


Therapist treating Det. Michael Britten (Isaacs): Dr. Evans, played by 24‘s Cherry Jones. Though both therapists insist their reality is real, Evans is less confrontational than Lee, who thinks it’s dangerous for Britten’s mind to be working that hard to build a detailed alternate reality when it should be at rest. So is she less pushy because Britten is more likely to create a therapist who is less insistent that he choose a reality now — which he refuses to do (because the show would be over!) — or because a real therapist would work his problem more slowly to keep Britten talking? Perhaps it’s because we met Lee first that Evans was on the defensive this episode. She printed out the U.S. Constitution (I want her printer — so fast!) and had Britten pick a random graph and read aloud. If her reality was a dream, she said, how could he do that when he hasn’t memorized the entire Constitution? Counterargument, Dr. Evans: That doesn’t mean his mind couldn’t have recited the couple of lines he does know, if this is a dream. Also, my dreams have featured entire originals songs before (most recently, one Bryan Adams sang to me in my office while waiting for Prince William to speak at Ted Kennedy’s televised funeral — I have no idea), and I can’t freestyle when I’m awake. The mind has a magical way of filling in the gaps in dreams. It’s Evans’ contention that Britten’s created the other reality because it’ll help him figure out what happened the night of the accident.

Partner: Det. Isaiah “Bird” Freeman (The Practice‘s Steve Harris). In this reality, Vega is still a uniformed cop, which, of course, is more believable. But what about those lines Freeman said to Britten after they saved the missing girl, whose parents had been killed? Britten said he knew the suspect had red hair because of a hunch (not because the killer in the other reality had red hair). “Been a cop for 20 years. Only seen hunches on TV,” Freeman said. Is that a point for the other reality then? And this: “Remember when you used to think that ‘solved’ and ‘fixed’ meant the same thing?” Does that go back to what Dr. Lee said: Britten solved the missing child case in this dream to fix the problem of missing his son in reality? Or, is that line just a reminder that solving the mystery of which reality is real won’t “fix” Britten? If he knows the truth, he’ll still be a broken man.

Future problem: That promo also showed his son Rex getting kidnapped. Dr. Lee, I’m sure, will say this is another example of Britten feeling guilty for his son’s death and creating a dream in which he tortures himself with the idea of losing him but can save him this time. If this is reality, however, maybe Rex was kidnapped to distract Britten from thinking about the accident and further unhinge him. Perhaps the other reality is a dream in which his captain is having him monitored because his subconscious suspects the crash was no accident. He’s using that dream to work out clues about that night, not just his current cases. Or, maybe Britten’s luck does just suck that bad, and his son is kidnapped shortly after his wife is killed because Britten is working a dangerous unrelated case…

Your turn. Vote in the polls, and share your theories in the comments section. I’m for whichever reality has Isaacs baring his biceps and forearms more. With his wife alive, there’s the possibility of sex scenes, especially if she wants to get pregnant. (Is that the real her wanting to have another child to replace Rex, or Britten feeling guilty about dreaming a scenario in which his son, who actually survived, didn’t?) But with his son alive, it seems they’ll go running together, which means the occasional T-shirt instead of all button-downs all the time. (Though, he does roll up those sleeves… )

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Read more:

‘Awake’ premiere review: Did the show put you to sleep, or intrigue you?

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