Thursday, May 24, 2012

Awake TV Series Finale: The Ending Explained

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

You've been warned.

A few weeks back I guessed at the ending to NBC's now-cancelled TV show "Awake" -- and after watching the series finale, I got the premise sort of right but the execution completely wrong -- and to complicate issues, the writers made the ending a bit more ambiguous to leave it open to different interpretations.

I loved the series -- great acting, compelling storyline, episodes that made you think outside the box when it came to the standard procedural crime drama. I wish it was on for more seasons, but in terms of the story arc, the series finale tied up everything in a nice little bow.

So I implore you again if you want to watch the series STOP READING NOW. Last chance.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!!!

Okay, let's dive in.

So reviewing my earlier piece, I revealed the 'Sixth Sense" theory in which Detective Michael Britten died, and wife and son were alive but in comas of their own. Like I said, half right. So here's the working two theories based on the finale:

Theory 1: It Was All A Dream, Wife and Son Are Fine, The Crash and Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred

This is a plausible theory but you have to ignore lots of clues to buy into this theory. More importantly, this is a cheesy ending with no emotional payoff at the end. A complete cop-out, if you will. However, the writers did leave this open to interpretation, so it can't be ruled out 100%. But based on the "rules of the game," there's a better explanation for it all.

The Explanation: Everyone Died In The Crash, The Dreams Were Britten's Purgatory, All Three Reunite On Their Way to Heaven, The Conspiracy May or May Not Have Occurred But Frankly It Doesn't Matter ... You've Been Had!

I applaud Kyle Killen and the other writers for creating some excellent MacGuffins. Starting with the title, we are proccupied with what is happening instead of why. More importantly, we are led to believe that solving the conspiracy and/or decoding his dreams is the key to figuring out the mystery.

When in reality, the conspiracy is meaningless -- because it was merely a means to an end -- a way for Britten to find resolution to what he really needed all along. 

And the big clues were laid out in the early episodes, plain as day.

Like I said, a brilliant stroke. 

Let's start off with the first big misdirection: Under the show's premise, we were led into thinking that either the wife was alive or that the son was alive. And therefore, one reality was real and one was not. But the psychologists set the "rules of the game" but it took the season finale to make it clear.

Rule 1a: Britten had to fully accept his wife was really dead and gone.
Rule 1b: Britten had to fully accept his son was really dead and gone.

So for Britten to find true "peace," this is what he would have to do. 

We fell into the same trap Britten did: Even though we witnessed a horrific car crash, we refused to believe what we saw with our own eyes: Everyone died -- including Britten (although this part you can't figure out until near the last few episodes).

In one episode, in which Britten blacks out in one "reality" and can't return to it, he inadvertently discovers that he can accept that his son is gone, if he wishes, and stop the dream. But he ultimately decides he doesn't want to, and thus returns.

As for the conspiracy, it probably happened in real life, and part of the healing process for Britten is to solve this final mystery of who killed his family (and himself). I say probably because there is no clue in his flashbacks that the accident occurred for any other reason than getting run off the road.

But this double-Inception in which Britten's mind in purgatory builds these complex worlds and vast conspiracy makes it easily plausible that he made it all up subconsciously to get to following Rule 1a and 1b. Basically his way of going through the stages of grief and ultimately to acceptance.

So how does the finale wrap all this up? Well, the first catharsis is when he finally accepts Rule 1a -- that is, the only way to fully accept the fact his wife was really dead and gone was to say good-bye to her in the midst of that reality (the one in which he's in jail) crumbling all around him. 

And he finally reaches an "aha!" moment in which he learns how to escape "reality" by being able to control and shape it with his mind. The psychologists who tried to effectively keep him in purgatory are Britten's real enemies.

So when Britten walks into the light -- symbolism for dying in that reality -- he is left with one reality -- that only his son is alive. And that solving the conspiracy will give him closure. It does not. Because again, solving mysteries have nothing to do with the rules of the game.

Britten finally figures this out when talking to his remaining shrink: We assume that he is left with this one reality ... but what if this too is a dream? At this point, he has two choices: Remain stuck with this unsatisfying reality for the rest of his life, or not accept it at all.

Because he remembers how he could control his dream in the previous reality, he just finally accepts that his son being alive is a complete falsehood, and literally pauses the dream and walks out the door. Inception-esque kung fu.

Rule 1c: Britten had to fully accept he's dead too, but can sleep and be at peace knowing that he solved the murder of his family and is reunited once again with wife and son.

This brings us to the final scene, in which Britten finds himself back at home, in a third "reality" -- and huzzah! He's reunited with both his wife and son.

My gut reaction was this: "You mean, he was dreaming all along and none of this happened? Total bullshit!"

But then I watched that final scene again, and cinematically, they set up a number of cues that make that interpretation, well, total bullshit.

1. You never see Britten wake up in bed. He is just there, like he just walked through the door. Pay close attention that as the door slams, he turns his head. It syncs up as the camera cuts, hinting that he never got into bed but had a magical change of clothing.
2. His son alludes to him being stuck in purgatory: "I was beginning to think you'd never get up."
3. His son alludes to going to heaven: "Are you going to drive me? Registration is at 9 am." An allusion to going to school, but we never saw any hint in his dreams that his son was going to college or a new school prior to the accident.
4. His wife makes an ironic comment: "Look at this, he lives." Even though Britten has fully accepted that his wife had died and said good bye to her in another dream.
5. The closing shot, in which Britten closes his eyes one last time.

And thus the rest is left up to you, the viewer. And this is why Awake was so fucking cool.

You can choose to have Britten "wake up" from this third dream, and visualize what his "new reality" really really is. But the last psychologist clearly warns you, if you take this route, "it's turtles all the way down." That is, for all you know, you and Britten will just wake up into another dream, after dream, after dream, and never break the cycle.

Sadly, that would have been the premise for season two. But thanks to NBC, no more dreams.

So the more satisfying conclusion to the series: Accept the rules and accept the fact that the whole family is really dead, and Britten and his family can rest in heaven forever and ever, amen.

As you can see I really got caught up in the series and am sad to see it go. But now that I understand the rules of the show ... "I'm perfect!"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How I Think Awake Will End

This has nothing to do with mobile apps or UX, but I love the television show "Awake" and was bummed to hear it will be canceled.

For those who haven't watched it, I strongly encourage you to go to Hulu or use the power of Google to discover this detective mystery/fantasy/drama. For those who have, I'm sure you've got your own theory as to what the heck is going on.

If you're an avid "Awake" fan, don't read on unless you have watched the first 11 episodes and/or don't care about how the series may end. If I'm right about my theory, there'll be a ton of spoilage going on.

WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

So the premise of the show is truly unique: After a car accident, Detective Michael Britten now is experiencing two realities: One in which his wife died in the accident but his son survived, the other in which his wife survived and son died. 

When he falls asleep in one reality, he wakes up in another. As you can imagine, keeping track of what's happening in which reality is totally messing with Britten's head. To make things weirder, these realities share common as well as obscure links as he tries to solve crimes in these two realities. In many cases, a trivial event in one reality turns into a major crime-solving clue in the other reality.

The net result is that Britten has become a genius crime-solver who has to see two shrinks, both of which claim they exist in the "real" world, and who apparently never gets to sleep.

Furthermore, having his wife in one reality and his son in the other creates some crazy situations for his family (I'm keeping this part vague).

Honestly, the initial premise of the TV show sounds gimmicky, but it's executed flawlessly. The actor who plays Britten (Jason Isaacs) is perfect for the part.

2ND WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

So have you watched all 11 episodes yet? If you haven't, you really should stop reading this. Continue at your own peril.

So the whole premise for watching, ultimately, is to find out what the hell is really going on with Britten. And the obvious mystery: Which of the two realities is the "real" reality and which is just a dream?

This is what got me hooked into "Awake" -- trying to figure out his mystery. And although it took me 11 episodes, I think I figured it out. Read on if you want to know how (I think) "Awake" will end.

FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!
FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!
FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!

OK, so let's go crack the "Awake" code. Let's start this deductively, by first eliminating some of the more obvious and common theories.

Theory 1a: Wife Is Real, Son Is Dream
Theory 1b: Son Is Real, Wife Is Dream

The show would have you believe that it must be one of these theories. And while either scenario is technically plausible, from a storytelling viewpoint, neither is acceptable. Assuming the series gets a proper wrap-it-all-up ending, at the end at least half the storyline never existed if you accept one of these theories. It's the equivalent of a middle finger to the viewing audience: "Hey, we just got you emotionally invested in two worlds but we just made one up for the hell of it."

Also, it's too damn obvious of a conclusion. And as you watch the episodes, there are no hints dropped that make you think one is more of a dream than the other. There are better theories than this.

Theory 2a: Britten Is In a Coma, It's All A Dream (and Wife and Son Are Probably Alive)
Theory 2b: The Entire Family Is In a Coma, The Wife Is Sharing The Dream With Dad, and The Son Is Sharing a Second Dream With Dad

So for a while I came up with and believed Theory 2a for a while, mainly when Britten started seeing hallucinations as well as the fact that there was just way too much crossover going on between the two realities. And under this theory, I presumed that when Britten solves the mystery behind his car accident, or some other catharsis with his wife and son, he'd wake up in his hospital bed with his wife and son waiting for him. Happy ending and all.

That theory works ... but it has a nagging flaw. You see, a few episodes in the show totally breaks this paradigm by showing scenes WITHOUT Britten in them. So part of me was like, "well they have to tell the story somehow" but the other part of me was like "this totally destroys the theory." You don't dream unless you're in the dream.

So that lead me to Theory 2b to explain this discrepancy. The entire family is in a coma: Wife and Britten share this "mind-meld" while in a coma, and his son and Britten share a second "mind-meld" reality. So at some point, all three will wake up and hug each other, realizing that they shared some crazy X-Files-type paranormal dream state. Happy ending and all.

Theory 2b held up pretty well ... until episode 11 just destroyed it. And revealed the true secret to understanding the show.

FINAL WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!!! No Turning Back At This Point!!!

I don't know if the show's producers were aware the show might be canceled by the time they produced episode 11, but if they did, it makes sense. Episode 11 was a gamechanger because it introduced a boatload of new twists to the storyline, and finally spelled out what the endgame is for Britten.

And for better or worse, it gave away the show's secret by being too clever about it. But I suppose at this point, facing certain cancellation, there's no need to hold back the storyline any more.

So the major spoiler for episode 11 is this: The car crash was no accident; another police officer tried to kill him on purpose. Ostensibly to cover up another crime.

This revelation was revealed by an imaginary figure that pops into Britten's reality who just happens to look just like the police officer. Britten all of a sudden has a flashback that this guy tried to run him off the road, and remembered that he was at the accident site as well (pretending to help as a cop responding to the accident he caused).

There's a crucial scene where you see this bad cop look down at Britten, then look off camera (presumably to some unknown co-conspirator) and shaking his head "no" -- the implication is that bad cop failed to killed Britten and he's still alive.

If you thought that, you were dead wrong. Literally.

They repeat this scene several times in the episode, marking its importance. There are two crucial "aha" moments here. The first: It's clear that Britten survived the crash and was conscious when he saw this "bad cop" ... so why didn't he remember his face when he saw him again? The second is this: What if the "bad cop" shaking his head no means the OPPOSITE of what the show wants us to believe.

More fundamentally, what if "Awake" establishes a major red herring that would totally shock you once you realized how the show was really set up to be interpreted in a much different manner?

So once I took the show under this new theory, it all comes together in a neat package. Everything fits perfectly. So what is this theory?

The 'Sixth Sense' Theory: Britten Died In the Car Crash (Or Is In Purgatory), The Two Realities are HIS WIFE'S Coma Dream and HIS SON'S Coma Dream, and Britten Is a "Ghost" Who Drifts Between The Two Dreams

One of the things that nagged at me was how a detective like Britten, who doesn't seem to have a particularly creative mind, could create two highly detailed realities. This theory overcomes that issue.

Episode 11 really lays the groundwork for this theory. First off, it proves that imaginary people can travel from one reality to another. The show sets up the pretense that Britten is a "real" person ... but what if he's just a spirit capable of jumping into dreams?

But you ask, if Britten's dead, how the hell did he get into his wife's coma dream and his son's coma dream? Here's where "Sixth Sense" logic comes in handy. According to that movie, when dead people turn into ghosts, their spirits won't rest until they "fix" something wrong in the living world.

Britten solves mysteries; perhaps the thing he's supposed to "fix" (aside from his family relationships) is to solve HIS OWN murder. So he can rest in peace.

So when the "bad cop" shakes his head no, let's interpret that as "Britten didn't survive the crash" and that when we see Britten wide awake while his wife and son are knocked out, it's because in reality, he already died. That explains why he didn't remember seeing the "bad cop" before the car crash.

So if you can accept the idea that Britten is really a spirit, then it explains how he can enter and exit two different dreams without needing any sleep.

This also makes sense cinematically. They use a red filter for the wife and a blue filter for the son. While it's obviously done so you can tell which reality you're watching, it also aligns with the concept that these dreams could be separate entities.

Furthermore, the scenes without Britten now fit under this theory. If this is the wife's dream, then you'd expect to see scenes with just her in them. Same with the son.

So wait a sec ... so why all these mysteries? Is the wife and son actually dreaming them up? In the "Inception" sense, yes. They created the worlds these mysteries reside in. Britten is merely participating in them, projecting his mysteries, clues and presence to influence the coma-state dreams of his wife and son. While his wife and son never witness the crime-solving parts, they see when Britten is at home with them after solving those crimes.

So if the series is allowed to end neatly, I predict that the last episode will see Britten solving his own murder-by-car-crash, and transmitting enough information to his wife and son to give to Britten's detective partners to put all the baddies in jail once they awake from their comas.

It'll probably have some sort of cathartic moment when Britten realizes he's been dead all along, but before splitting the scene, say a proper farewell to his wife and son, so that when they wake up from their comas, they will be prepared to spend their lives without him. I also wouldn't be surprised if they name an important plot point in the show Michael in honor of dead ol' dad.

The final final scene would probably be at Michael's grave site, and at that point, the wife and son will share some comment that makes them realize that it wasn't just an ordinary dream, but that it was really Michael's spirit with them all along. Thus completing the blowing of the minds.

Thanks for reading this long-winded analysis of "Awake" -- I know it's dumb for a poorly rated show to take over my mind and blog like this, but what can I say ... I like solving a good mystery.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mobile websites vs. mobile apps

A good primer on whether to develop a native mobile app vs a mobile-friendly web site:

The Problems with Android Design

I preface this article by saying that Ice Cream Sandwich is great. The OS is not the problem.

The problem with Android is that Google makes it harder to deliver great design:

Take Eclipse, and compare it to XCode. Guess which dev tool lets you design pixel-perfect visual layouts faster and more easily. Hint: Not Eclipse.

Google should've standardized screen sizes, and it shouldn't have allowed carriers to tweak the OS. The more time you have to spend to support varying screen sizes and carrier quirks, the less time you have available to make the app design tight.

And Google shouldn't release new OS versions unless it can deliver day and date to all major carriers at the same time. I shouldn't have to wait six months to find out if my phone will get an ICS update or not.

And don't get me started with 9patch. Perhaps if Android standardized screen sizes they wouldn't need this mess of an app.

If XCode didn't exist, all this would be moot. But the benchmark has been set, and perhaps Google should spend a little more time making Eclipse a bit more design friendly.


If I didn't have an OtterBox I'd seriously consider getting this case.

Getting Answers

My favorite sources for looking up information:


iOS: Stack Overflow

Review: iPad Defender Case (for new iPad)

Just got the new iPad Defender case in the mail for my new iPad and installed it. First impression: A major improvement over the previous year's design (which I was a little disappointed with). They basically took everything good from the original and fixed all the problems I had from last year's case. The result is what I believe is the best-designed protective case on the market for heavy-duty users like me (an app developer who is often in the field).

What's fixed: The clear plastic protective screen is back -- no more adhesive screen stickers! The bezel is covered again so it's easier to grip. Much tighter and stronger rubber casing, so the thin edges and flaps lock in place better and are not prone to stretching. A much thicker case cover; the previous version had stress points that cracked and broke off. This is definitely more solid.

This is personal preference, but I never did get the reason why you needed a big back flap to dock the iPad. I just charge it with the cable. But it's gone now, so if you needed that big back flap, this new case won't work for you. But I never used it, so frankly I'm glad it's gone.

Finally, haven't given the sleep magnets a full test yet but adding them is a bonus. And I frequently use the stand + type incline prop, so I'm glad that feature remains the same.

My only concern is how this case might impact the new iPad's reported heat issues, but frankly if Apple says the temps are in spec, I'm not too worried about it just yet.

But overall, I think OtterBox hit a home run on this case - and iPad 2 owners, stay away from the previous gen case and make sure this is the one you pick up! Trust me on that.