Awake 1.6 Review: "That's Not My Penguin"

By John Keegan and Henry Tran

awakereviewiconMichael's mental deterioration is accelerating at a rate that I never expected. At the very least, I thought he would grow more comfortable with the two worlds he inhabits before the rug is pulled out from under him. This episode proves that he is losing the grip he has on the situation. Being in a high-stress job like police detective doesn't help things.
I did like that the show throws the question of which world is the "real" world into flux, but I think the hostage scenario and the crisis the hostage-taker has fits way too neatly with what Michael is currently going through. The psychiatrists have also come to reinforce the themes of the episode through exposition too often. I understand the need to keep the audience oriented to what's going on at all times, but that audience is dwindling so it's probably better to tear the plot points the writers want to show in the time they have.

The parallels between Gabe, the schizophrenic hostage-taker, and Michael start from the beginning. Dr. Lee's students are describing Gabe's condition, but it applies to Michael as well. He goes through a routine to get things straight between the two realities. I would have thought the different wristbands were enough. Things get mixed up, though. It's the little things that seem to add up to something much larger being wrong. Michael mixes up coffee orders, crucial pieces of paper, and details between cases in each world. It would seem to indicate that the two realities are blending together so quickly that Michael can't keep up.

Awake-NBC-Thats-Not-My-Penguin-Episode-6-8-550x364Gabe conveniently drops into Michael's world, basically with the same mentality. Gabe insists that his sister is still alive, even though she died long ago and was buried in the ground. This is occurring in the Hannah World, and Michael's increasing hallucinations in that world made me question once again which world is real and which is a dream. The show plays around with that notion very well in this episode. It's not just that the penguin keeps showing up in odd places, but that everything else in the hostage situation after Gabe gave Michael the ketamine shot was also a hallucination. The consequence of Michael living in both worlds is that he just can't tell what is real and what is not. He isn't tethered to one world because he isn't firmly sure which is the true reality.

It's not what he wants because he wants to hang on to both realities for as long as possible. It's not a big surprise then that he chooses to perpetuate the lie to Gabe that his sister is still alive. The truth would devastate Gabe. This just fits in all too well with Michael's current state of mind. Perpetuating the lie is basically what he's been doing since the accident, rather than facing the truth. The truth would mean the collapse of one reality, and we already know he's willing to do whatever he can to hold on to both realities.

All of the drama is going on in the Hannah world, which makes the actions in the Rex world more low-key. Rex continues to build a relationship with his girlfriend, and I do like that the show is developing more characters outside of Michael's view. They haven't worked on a replacement for Hannah in that world, but that may come in the future. There should be different forms of conflict between Michael and Rex other than the fact that they can't connect in the absence of Hannah, though. That has been an overplayed point in this series by now.

Also, since Michael and Bird wasn't really working a case in the Rex world, the episode suffers from an imbalance in terms of editing when it goes between the hostage situation in the Hannah world (which left on a couple of cliffhangers during its run) and the mundane stuff that goes on in the Rex world. That balance between cases has not really been present since the pilot episode. The Rex world did yield the payoff for the episode in the form of the "That's Not My Penguin" storybook. It explains where the penguin hallucination came from, and is also another thing for Michael and Rex to bond over. That revelation worked for me because it was shown to me without an explanation for why it's there.

The exposition by the psychiatrists here felt like the writers had to underline what the themes of the episode were. Some of it was done elegantly, but much of it was really on-the-nose. The doctors are helping Michael as much as they can, but there's a sense that his psyche is a ticking bomb. How long before he is truly so far gone that the therapy sessions have no effect?

John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Awake.

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