Scarlett Johansson
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Fans of NBC’s Awake have now had time to process the series finale (watch it below) and form their own theories about where the show would have gone had there been a second season. We asked creator Kyle Killen to weigh in. Here are 10 things you need to know:

1. There really was an accident, this wasn’t all a dream. Some fans saw the final scene — Britten (Jason Isaacs) seeing both Rex and Hannah in the house — and mistook it as a copout ending revealing the detective had dreamt the entire 13 episodes. “The idea that we’re saying nothing happened, this is St. Elsewhere, was something we actively fought against. You can still hate the finale, you just can’t say that that’s what it did. It’s just wrong and can actually be disproven watching the last four minutes,” Killen says. The show was always conceived as the way that one particular man dealt with grief that he was completely unprepared to handle. “That’s how the season ended — while he’s able to see his wife and child together, if you take a step back, what it really represents is a further fracturing of his psyche,” he says. “You understand that you don’t see your partner in a penguin suit in any version of reality — that grew directly out of the red world in which Hannah is alive [seemingly] revealing itself to be a dream. He just can’t accept that, and then [in the conversation with Dr. Evans] backs into the idea of, Wait, what if I fell asleep in my cell and then everything that happened after that was a dream? What if for the first time I had dream-like dreams in between being awake and being asleep? Once he does that, it’s almost as if his brain seizes that moment and creates precisely the thing that psychologically he’s dying for — and that is a moment with everyone together.”

2. And to be clear, Britten was not in a coma, dreaming both worlds. A popular theory in the comments section of our finale react was that Britten was the one injured in the car accident, and he’s in a coma and dreaming these separate worlds in which he tries to piece together what happened that night as his wife and son visit him in the hospital. “I’ve seen really compelling arguments that people have made stringing together little bits throughout the season. I can’t say that in season 4, that wouldn’t have become a really compelling way to look at things. But we never approached it that way, that he was in a coma and dreaming both worlds,” Killen says. “He was absolutely a man who had survived a car accident and lost one or the other of the people closest to him and created another world to correct that damage. That was 100 percent the rules of the game as far as we were concerned.”

3. Though most fans interpreted the season finale as confirming the green world was real — meaning Rex survived the accident — it was never meant to end the debate. The finale was written and filmed before the show’s cancellation. “I don’t know how the show could have gone on if the fundamental thing that made it work was taken away,” Killen says. He believes you can make the argument that the world in which wife Hannah survived — the red world — was the real one with just as much vigor. “Look at the state that Britten is in [there]. He’s lost. The woman who destroyed his family has gotten away with it. He’s in prison and he seems to have no hope of getting out of there. He’s essentially indicted himself with his own behavior. So if ever there were a place where you could reach a low that would cause you to create through a psychic break a world in which you do solve all the problems, and you do get the bad guy, and everything does turn out okay… I would think that would be an argument for the red world actually being real and requiring the green world as a dream to make going on seem possible. We, at least internally, made sure we could argue it both ways because going forward, we didn’t intend to have that mystery sewn up in this episode.”

4. Killen hadn’t committed to how the series would ultimately end. The show’s producers all had their own pet theories, but nothing was written in stone. “Most people felt like the red world was more likely to be real, just from a logical basis that the death of a child is something that’s out-of-order with nature and much more difficult to deal with than the death of a spouse. It felt like the death of a child is one that you might create a world to undo. So it felt a little bit like the balance was tipped in the red world’s favor, but we constantly adjusted that. One of the things we talked about was if ultimately the green world with his son was real and the red world was his imagination, was it that he couldn’t let his wife go until he’d psychologically worked out something that was unresolved with Hannah? There were arguments for why he simply could not let go of one or the other. We didn’t feel it was necessary to decide which one was his imagination now. We didn’t have a big sitdown and say, ‘This is what Rosebud means.’ We just didn’t approach it that way.”

What was their approach then? “There’s a great interview with [Breaking Bad creator] Vince Gilligan where he talks about the second season being the only one where they knew everything going in — they had an iron-clad idea of exactly what happened. And it was the most difficult because you were constantly hamstrung by plans you made long ago and you didn’t leave yourself open to discovering anything. It made it debatable whether that season is any more or less satisfying than the others,” Killen says. “I think they’ve done magical work in the third and fourth seasons where they did not take that approach. They knew where they were going, but they didn’t know necessarily how they were going to get there. That’s the model that we tried to use…. And where we were going with season 2 wasn’t about which [world] was real, it was about them both being real to him, and they’re going in very different directions, so how is he going to go on with them separating so dramatically.”

5. Season 2 would have involved the dream-like arena where both Rex and Hannah lived, but it wouldn’t have been a third reality. “You still would have had red and you still would have had green,” Killen says.”We left ourselves open to the possibility that [producers/writers plotting out season 2] would have had a really interesting pitch for what to do with that third space, and whether there was an ongoing narrative we wanted to tell there or whether we wanted to use it as simply a surreal dream space that we could access when we wanted to and how we wanted to that let us bring other weirder elements into the show that we’d always wanted to try.” He suspects it would have been the latter. “Twin Peaks being a show that was very close to my heart and a seminal thing in my childhood, the third space was sort of our Black Lodge. It was a place where almost anything could have happened. What happened initially was he found himself in his house with his wife and his child, but there were a lot of other places we would have taken that dream space. I don’t know that it would have always been that linear or happy. I think it would have been a place where he had a lot less control than he thought.”

6. Britten would still have been in jail in the red world when season 2 began. “The discussion was always that that’s where he finds himself when he woke back up in red world. It would be as if all of the dream-like elements had in fact been a dream, and he’d closed his eyes just before the guard knocked on the door and told him he had a visitor [Harper], and we’d treat it as that was the moment he went to sleep. He would know that he’d caught Harper in the other world and that he seemed unable to do anything in red. Ultimately, he would have relied on Vega to help him extricate himself from that situation.”

Credit: Michael Desmond/NBC

7. While he was jailed and unable to live with Hannah in red world, he would have grown closer to Tara (Michaela McManus), Rex’s tennis coach, in green world. The role of Tara was envisioned from the start as a potential love interest for Britten, and though producers, especially Isaacs, wanted to go there, it didn’t feel right for season 1. “It always felt too soon and difficult to explain. If it’s about a man overcoming the loss of his wife, he’s only overcoming the loss for 12 hours a day. So most of us deal with that by not needing to get into another relationship. What ultimately was needed to really jump-start the alternate relationship was some sort of fracturing in the Hannah-Britten story. That’s exactly what you see us building to at the end of the season,” Killen says. “Once he’s imprisoned and he’s considered essentially a mad man and there’s not really a clear way out, we would have used that and Dr. Evans to really try to convince him that that was his imagination and there was a psychological reason that he was holding himself there. That would have opened the door enough for us to begin something with Tara. And then by the time the red world resolved itself and he was extricated from prison, without really meaning to, he would have gotten himself in two different relationships. By the time things were repaired with Hannah, he would have already begun a relationship with Tara because he had been leading himself to believe that Hannah wasn’t real and it was something that he needed to get over. By the time that flipped on him, he would have been a man divided. That was something we were really eager to explore in the second season.”

8. Britten is not a psychic detective. Some fans still wondered how Britten was able to connect things between worlds. “Looking at the [crime] scene, he’s sort of like an unconscious Sherlock Holmes. Where Sherlock Holmes would instantly see that there’s a piece of heel in the carpet, which means that Harper is the perpetrator, and everybody would say, ‘How do you know that?’ and he would walk them through it, Britten takes all that in unconsciously and then unwinds it in his dream. He’s basically building a narrative that explains the reality that he’s already seen,” Britten says. “That happened several times throughout the season. The story that you create draws your attention back to something that was in the scene originally. He didn’t psychically understand something that he’d never been exposed to before.” When he wakes up at Vega’s place in the red world hearing the sounds of heels walking, he’d already been to the motel room where Kessel was shot in the green world. “He’s already been to the scene of Kessel’s murder and he’s ostensibly observed that heel on the floor. But obviously when he gets to red world, he’s so mentally focused on survival and escape, that even though his brain keeps calling this detail to his attention, he’s ignoring it because he’s got much bigger problems to deal with.” (This would seem to be another point in favor of the green world being the real one, yes? At least in this hour.)

9. While Killen appreciates fans wanting to save the show, he’d rather they hope for Isaacs to receive an Emmy nomination. “It’d be difficult given the ratings that we had to justify [a pickup by another network],” Killen says. “The incredible support and enthusiasm from fans, if they wanted to use that energy for something, I would say it’s better spent trying to see that Jason is recognized. That’s a better campaign to wage. That’s something that I think they might actually be able to pull off.”

10. Killen, whose critical darling Lone Star was canceled by Fox after two episodes aired in 2010, has not been put off TV. “I’m developing some things to write this fall that can be canceled in future years,” he jokes. Those projects include ideas for both network and cable shows. “The last few years, maybe I was a little more cavalier about what you might be able to pull off on network. I think it’s getting really difficult to continue making that argument on the drama side. It feels like there’s becoming two very distinct camps,” he says. “So I think if I show up on network again, I would bring a more network-specific idea. If I have ideas that feel like they belong on cable, then I think at this point, I probably start to take them to cable.”

Read more:

Replay the ‘Awake’ finale live chat with Kyle Killen

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