Awake is a great show with a broken format

Last night's episode confirmed it: Awake's format just won't work. According to the show's opening credits, there are two things that are supposed to happen in every episode: 1) Michael Britten visits two worlds, where either his wife or his son is dead. 2) In each of those two worlds, he starts investigating a case, and the cases in each universe turn out to be related somehow.

The show is doing a fine job of pulling off job #1, but it has not managed to pull off job #2 yet, and we're four episodes in. I'm honestly starting to think that this format is just too tough for a one-hour television show to manage. You can only fit in so much character development and processing, in two different realities, while also investigating two different crimes, each of which has to have twists and turns. It's not workable. The first episode had fairly forgettable crimes, and the second episode had the fertility doctor who has a favorite sperm donor close to hand, plus the murdered homeless guy. The third episode broke the pattern to have Rex kidnapped in one universe. And then there was last night.

Neither of the cases was interesting last night. I don't know how else to say this. There was the woman who apparently committed suicide on a boat, except that this is a cop show so of course she didn't, and then we learn that she had secret files about some super cutting-edge silicon process that her company was developing, which actually didn't work, so she was murdered to keep the venture capitalists from learning the truth. (That's life in startups for you.) And meanwhile, a druggie was killed by a druggie for drugs.

Even the usually fascinating family stuff was a bit weak this time around — Rex is acting out and generally being horrible, and meanwhile Hannah is just... there. They really need to give Hannah more of a role sometime soon, so this doesn't turn into just a father-son show in which the wife is incidentally not dead in some other timeline.

The big focus this week was actually Rex's former babysitter, Kate, who was at both crime scenes. (One as a witness, the other as the murderer.) Kate's life has gone way, way differently in the two realities: in one, she's a junkie and failed actress, and in the other she's an investment banker. I leave it to you to decide which of those paths is the healther. (Rimshot.) Anyway, Kate lost her sister in a freak surfing accident years ago — so she symbolizes both the fact that Hannah is doing better than Rex at handling grief (because Hannah's in the "investment banker" world, while Rex is in the "junkie" world.) In one world, Kate got over her grief and guilt over her sister's death, and in the other she didn't. This lets Michael know that he should keep reaching out to Rex.

More importantly, this might be the first hint we've seen of a divergence between the two worlds that definitely precedes Michael's traffic accident — Kate's surfing accident happened years ago, and her life took two very different courses in the two worlds afterwards. It's clearer than ever that these are not two "alternate timelines" in the classic sense — because there is not a single point of divergence or anything like that, but rather a bunch of random differences. Plus things continue to follow dream logic rather than real-world logic, with Kate showing up in both dreams at the same time, and weird coincidences manifesting. Best guess? Both worlds are dreams, and Michael is in some kind of in-between not-quite-waking realm where he's visiting two versions of his life. (But please, not Purgatory.)

All in all, Awake is still a pretty great show — but it's chosen a format that it cannot replicate every week. The fact that last night's episode was written by the show's creator, and even he could not pull it off, is a really bad sign. Time to ditch the "two police investigations per episode" formula, guys.