‘Awake’ – ‘Ricky’s Tacos’: Red world, green card

A review of last night’s “Awake” coming up just as soon as I melt a dead body out of concrete…

As I mentioned on Monday, I never got around to reviewing “That’s Not My Penguin,” which was a really interesting episode that concentrated on one of the many questions raised by this show: Is our hero, in fact, crazy? Very compelling stuff, focusing on the emotions and psychology of Detective Britten.

“Ricky’s Tacos,” meanwhile, turned to a question we haven’t lingered on since the conspiracy scene at the end of episode two: Who caused the Britten family’s car accident, and why? And that, unfortunately, is one I’m not particularly invested in.

I did like the suggestion from both Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans that the conspiracy doesn’t really exist, and is just Britten’s mind telling him not to move to Oregon. We saw with last week’s episode, and again with the drive-through scene near the start of this one, that not everything Britten sees and hears in either world is guaranteed to be real. So even though we’re seeing a bunch of scenes where Captain Harper tries to talk the mysterious Carl out of killing Mike, it’s still at least a possibility that those scenes take place entirely in Mike’s head, even though he’s not present for them. (We have enough evidence of non-Mike scenes in green world to know that they’re not any kind of clue about which world is real.)

This episode at least devoted more time to establishing Harper as more than just a mysterious conspirator. As a commenter noted after my “The Little Guy” review, the show probably fumbled things by revealing both the existence of the conspiracy and Harper’s role in it so early, rather than letting us get to know her before smacking us in the gut with the discovery. Had the park bench scene taken place at the end of an episode like this where she’s so helpful and empathetic in the green world case, it could have been much more effective. (Though we’d have needed to move the warehouse story to the following episode at a minimum.)

But where “Awake” continues to be so effective – surprisingly so, given my tastes in TV drama these days – is as a police procedural that focuses more heavily on character than most of the CBS shows. Though the green world case telegraphed that the dad was a bad guy – Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters combined with a familiar guest star in Christopher Cousins (Ted Beneke from “Breaking Bad,” among other roles) – the interview scenes with both Tim(*) and the younger sister were strong, emotional scenes that didn’t just feel like they were about moving the story along. Ditto El Diablo’s confession in the red world case, which was the show’s latest instance of Britten coming face to face with another person living two lives (albeit never quite like he does).

(*) Played by Charley Koontz, aka Fat Neil on “Community.”

Given the ratings, I fear any discussion of a second season is moot. But if the show comes back – because Bob Greenblatt likes it, and/or as cannon fodder in the fall so the network doesn’t have to launch too many new shows at once – I’d like to think that Killen, Gordon and company recognize that the show can work just fine by focusing on Britten’s cases and his home life, with the question of what’s real always hanging out there but no huge mysteries beyond that.

What did everybody else think?