Going by Psalm 127:2 (“God gives sleep to those He loves”) it’s hard to tell if God loves Michael Britten, the lead character of NBC’s new fantasy procedural “Awake”, a lot or not at all.
Jason Isaacs (best known to American audiences as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) plays a detective who survives a fatal car accident with his family and finds himself in two worlds. In one world his wife, Hannah (played by Laura Allen) died in the accident and his son, Rex (played by Dylan Minnette) survived. In the other world his son died and his wife survived. He commutes from one world to the other every time he goes to “sleep”.
Of course, it’s a challenge for Britten to remember which world he is in at any give time. So he wears a green rubber band around his wrist in one world, a red rubber band in the other. In one world he keeps his police partner (played by Steve Harris) and in another world he is assigned a new partner (played by Wilmer Valderrama) who seems to have been assigned to monitor Britten’s mental stability.
In both world, there is a growing suspicion that the traffic accident was not really an accident, but instead a part of a sinister conspiracy.
While every week Britten deals with two police cases (one in each world, usually related), the central mystery of the show (the “mythology” as current TV jargon goes) is which of the worlds is real and which is a dream? Or are both real? Or is Britten completely bonkers?
Not surprisingly, Britten is required to seek mental help in both worlds. In one he sees a psychiatrist played by BD Wong (“Law and Order: SVU”) who insists that Britten is creating a fantasy world for himself in which he can avoid dealing with the death of his son’s death and that the fantasy is dangerous and unhealthy.
In the other world, his psychiatrist played by Cherry Jones (“24) thinks Britten’s subconscious has constructed a fantasy in which his wife is alive, but can provide clues for dealing with the “real world”. She encourages him to explore his “dreams” but doesn’t believe they are real.
Britten is unwilling to give up either world, which would mean losing his wife or son. He finds that as he works as a detective, he finds clues in one world that help him to solve a case in the other. And he finds clues in his personal life in one world that help him deal with problems in his personal life in the other world.
Though there is a danger the links between cases in the two worlds might be at times contrived, the writing and acting in the series seems strong enough so far to carry off an admittedly challenging premise. Perhaps after two of NBC’s recent shots at quirky procedurals starring Brits (after “Journeyman” with a time-traveling Kevin McKidd and “Life” with millionaire Buddist Damian Lewis), the third will prove a charm.
As Christians, we too live in two worlds. We are a part of not only the physical world but also the world of the spirit. Ephesians 6:12 says that we deal not only with flesh and blood but spiritual forces. And like the hero of “Awake”, we are often told the other world is an illusion.
Materialists tell us that only the physical world exists. The New Atheists tell us that belief in the soul, a life beyond this one, in God is not just foolish, but dangerous. All that exists is flesh and bone, molecules and atoms.
The Gnostics opposed by the early church fathers as well as a variety of religious believers of the present, from Hindus to Christian scientists teach that the physical world is an illusion, only the spiritual is real. Therefore, actions of this world are of no real consequence.
But Christians must live in both worlds. The physical world, created by God, is real and our choices here matter. But the spiritual world is also real. We must live in both worlds, with choices we make in each dimension impacting our life in the other. Remaining awake to both worlds provides meaning, truth and fulfillment in both of our very real worlds.
(“Awake” plays on Thursday nights on NBC, 10 PM ET/9 PM CT. Older episodes are available on Hulu.)