Saturday, May 26, 2012

Awake's Last Episode - The Ending Explained (Spoilers!)

I will begin this with a warning. If you've not yet seen the last episode of Awake then stop reading RIGHT now as I'm about to spoil all sorts of things for you. I mean it, stop. Go watch it, then come back.

Ok, still with me?

Warning number two. This is my explanation for what the ending meant. It is not one I've got from the writers or from Awake's creator, Kyle Killen. This is just an opinion on what it all means. I've seen a lot of theories floating around (the red universe was a dream and green was real; he went insane in prison and everything after that was a hallucination, etc.) but this one makes the most sense to me (based upon what we seen).

I decided to colour code the character's names so we know which Universe (red/green) we are talking about when we discuss them. So, let's go...

Michael is in prison - having just found out that Harper is also involved in the conspiracy - and finds out that he's got a visitor that turns out to be Michael himself. In a conversation between the two, Michael tells Michael that "he has to be sure" if he wants to catch Harper and Michael replies that "he'll do anything."

Things take a turn for the even stranger as Michael wanders down a corridor, accompanied by his psychiatrists from both Universes, and steps through a locked door that that seems to contain blinding light. He finds himself in the motel room, along with Vega (dressed in a penguin suit) and watching as Harper murders Kessel (and leaves behind an incriminating piece of evidence - her shoe heel). He then visits Hannah in an empty restaurant and seemingly says goodbye to her before going to sleep and waking in the green universe.

Armed with the new information, Michael brings Harper down and then visits Dr. Evans to discuss what happened. She tries to persuade him that the red universe - the world with Hannah - was just a dream and that these events prove it. However, Dr. Evans then pauses in mid-speech and Michael steps through a door into a world where both Hannah and Rex are alive...

My theory is that the red universe was indeed a dream - but it was a dream inside the dream of the green universe.

Michael visiting Michael in prison forced him to accept that the red universe was a dream - and that the only way to catch Harper was to accept that the red universe was a dream (which meant saying goodbye to Hannah). The fact that the red universe was less real was hinted at throughout the season (it was in the red universe that he imagined Dr. Lee was with him during the siege at the mental institute; it was in the red universe that he was trapped and accompanied by an imaginary Detective Hawkins).

However, the green universe was not itself reality - the penguin hallucinations were a clue, but the real giveaway was in the final episode itself when Michael watched Harper kill Kessel. Michael had not witnessed this event - could not possibly have witnessed this event - so the only way that Michael could possibly have watched the replay of it was if this event had been created by himself in his green dream.

Michael has to abandon the red universe in order to catch Harper in the green universe; but he ends the season with the realisation that he is in a dream within a dream and - with the red universe gone - that allows him to step into a third dream, one in which both Hannah and Rex are still alive.

What exists outside the dream worlds? We don't know. Maybe Michael is in a coma after the accident and this is all part of his attempt to wake up. Unless Kyle Killen decides to explain, I guess we'll never know. But this makes sense to me - green was a dream, red was a dream inside that dream. And the season (and indeed series) ends with Michael being able to step into a third dream in which he had both the people that he loved most.

Awake was an awesome series and it is a terrible shame that NBC pulled the plug. It was intelligent, it made you work to keep up with it and it was immensely enjoyable. All involved should look back on this as a great piece of TV...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Following

While a lot of attention has been given to the new Eric Kripke and JJ Abrams show, Revolution, I have to admit to being quite interested to see what is delivered by this new offering by Fox: The Following, which has managed to snare Kevin Bacon for its lead role. The premise is essentially this:

The FBI estimates there are currently over 300 active serial killers in the United States. What would happen if these killers had a way of communicating and connecting with each other? What if they were able to work together and form alliances across the country? What if one brilliant psychotic serial killer was able to bring them all together and activate a following? (Fox press release)

The Following is scheduled to be part of Fox's 2012-2013 season and, if they do it right, it might just have the ingredients to become something I want to watch...

The show is created by Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries) and tells the story of a former FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) who is dragged out of retirement after nine years to attempt to recapture a serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who has escaped Death Row and begun a new killing spree.  Hardy knows Carroll better than anyone, is the one person who can get inside his mind and match his brilliance, but the capture of Carroll nine years ago took a lot out of Hardy - both mentally and physically. And, while Carroll begins to gather a band of serial killers to him, Hardy finds himself not even in a position to truly call the shots in the hunt for him...

Directed by Marcos Siega (The Vampire Diaries, Dexter), the show has a strong supporting cast including Maggie Grace (Twilight Saga, Lost), Natalie Zea (Justified, Californication), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Jeanne Goossen (Alcatraz) and Billy Brown (Dexter).

Check out the trailer below and see what you think:

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Musing on Believability and Fiction

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1817, coined the term suspension of disbelief - although in truth the concept behind the term is as old as fiction itself. After all, every time we sit down to watch a movie, or read a book, or tune in to our favourite television show, we suspend our disbelief and allow ourselves to temporarily forget, while we're engaged as a viewer or reader (or even player), that this is a work of fiction...

However, on occasion it feels that authors - in all mediums - try and take advantage of our kindness in this respect. "I want to believe" says the media consumer and so the author takes this as an excuse to stack up all manner of inconsistencies, plot holes, unrealistic behaviour and the like - all to the carrion cry of  "you've got to suspend your disbelief!"

I am a big believer in believability. Which isn't to say that I eschew anything that is not grounded in reality; not at all. But I do think Stephen King had it spot on when he said "Fiction is the truth inside the lie."

The best imaginative fiction realises this, it realises that in order to give the reader or viewer a reason to suspend their disbelief it needs to deliver them a world that is truthful, no matter how fantastical it might be. And by truthful, I mean that the world is internally consistent because - through that - it is possible to deliver something that is believable. When it comes to fantasy, for example, I am quite happy to accept all manner of magical goings-on; but I also want a world that is bound within its own set of rules. I don't need to know how magic works but I do need to see that the use of magic is consistent and that, even if I don't yet fully grasp the internal logic of the world, I know there is one.

The types of believability involved in the story world will vary depending upon the theme or genre. In fantasy, internal consistency is the key to developing a living, breathing world. In science fiction, there is - especially in hard SF - an expectation that the fantastical will be (or least, can be) rationalised.

At one end of the spectrum, there are books such as the Harry Potter series or the space operas of Iain M Banks - books with vastly colourful story worlds (or indeed Universes) that spend very little time explaining the mechanics but which deliver cohesive and consistent experiences. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the fantasy novels of Brandon Sanderson (who goes to great lengths to develop mechanics to explain how magic works and its limitations) or the hard SF of Stephen Baxter (chock full of more astrophysics than you can throw a stick at). But all of them succeed because their worlds are incredibly well thought out and their internal consistency is maintained to a high standard throughout.

It is perhaps most important to remember that the suspension of disbelief is a favour afforded to the author by the consumer of fiction; it is not a shield that can be levelled against any and all criticism. The consumer of fiction wants to believe. As writers, we just need to make sure that we reward that belief with worlds that are consistent and fully realised,  with characters whose motivations and behaviour make sense, with plots that are internally logical and which are not overly dependent upon coincidence and contrivance.

After all, the best fantastical fiction may create worlds that are far removed from our own but, in their own way, they can feel just as consistent and just as believable...

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Avengers - A Rebuttal

I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their opinion but, when I read Allen St. John's recent and rather scathing review of The Avengers at Forbes I just couldn't resist from offering the following rebuttal:

Sometimes it feels like reviewers, knowing that there are going to be fifteen gazillion glowing reviews of a particular film or book or album appearing online, come to the conclusion that the only way to ensure their particular review stands out is to swim steadfastly against the tide of opinion.

If one were feeling particularly pedantic then one could, perhaps, criticise The Avengers for a lack of character growth – although, to do so, would be to ignore the medium from which the film is drawn. After all, the episodic, long-term, nature of comics tends to require characters stay relatively static in this respect.

But to criticise The Avengers for not being fun? To accuse The Avengers of failing to excite? It gives the impression that Mr. St. John is being something of a curmudgeon. The Avengers I saw was crammed full of both excitement and fun and, from the reaction of the audience around me, I don’t think I was in the minority…

The Avengers scales heights that all previous superhero team movies (including those mentioned in his review such as X-Men and Fantastic Four) have not even aspired to. It is comic book mayhem and fun poured into the cinematic medium and given life. It is a movie that, like The Hulk himself, is a thundering juggernaut that resists any and all attempts to be slowed down. For newcomers, it is a film that makes comic book heroes cool again; for true comic book fans, it is veritable manna from heaven.

Whether it was merely an opinion put forth to gain attention, or whether Allen St. John genuinely found himself unmoved by the spectacle, I think it is an opinion that will very much be in the minority…

And, yes, I know I probably sound like a total fan boy :-) But I loved The Avengers... 

NBC - Please save Awake

This year on TV has been a little disappointing for me. I lost patience with The Mentalist due to the fact that the character rarely seems to genuinely grow and the Red John storyline has been eked out at a rate of one or two episodes a season. I tried watching Touch but found it too saccharine. Even Game of Thrones began in a somewhat fragmented fashion as it desperately tried to stitch together the many and varied threads it has spun out...

So, Awake came as something of a surprise. The premise was interesting - a cop (played by Jason Isaacs) is involved in a car accident but finds himself existing in two parallel realities that follow on from that accident. In one reality, his wife died in the crash and his son survived; in the other his wife survived but his son died. And against the backdrop of his confusion, he has to try and solve cases in both of these realities - with clues and coincidences criss-crossing and foreshadowing between both. Throw in a conspiracy that's being slowly revealed and you have a really intriguing show...

I admit, at times, it is not an easy watch - you need to concentrate to make sure that you keep track of which reality he's in at any particular moment - but it's a show that's worth concentrating on because, up until as far as I've watched (episode seven), it actually delivers.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I find it one of the most interesting shows currently on TV, it seems that its ratings are dropping week-by-week and it is looking more and more likely that NBC will pull the plug on it after season 1. Now, I really hope that is not the case and that the viewing figures pick up because when tripe such as Jersey Shore manages to pick up five or six million viewers a week it is a crying shame that intelligent drama such as Awake is on a downward ratings slide into oblivion.

All I can hope is that more people start tuning in and that the figures creep up a little, just enough that NBC can justify giving it a chance in a second season, hopefully in a better time slot (it doesn't help that it started mid-season and was pitched against The Mentalist). Because Awake is far too good a show to fall to wayside this early...

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Writing Update...

Well, after a particularly trying three days - in which I've been laboriously engaged in some rather tedious work - I finally have had a little time to myself to think creatively and to evaluate things.

I really enjoyed the 30 Day Writing Challenge and found that it provided me with real motivation to put all my other responsibilities to one side, at least on occasion, and just write - and, therefore, I don't really want to stop having that motivation, don't want to fall back into the way I was previously where I allowed my work and my responsibilities to subsume my creativity.

Therefore, after mulling the idea for quite some time, I've decided that I am going to use this blog as a means of sharing the work I'm doing on my novel. I don't think I'll publish it all here - would probably be a dreadful format for people to read it in - but I'll try and put the first draft of the first four of five chapters up here as they roll in. And then I'll provide updates on where things are at...and, if enough people enjoy reading it, maybe I'll think about the possibility of publication in some format or other beyond that...

The idea behind the novel is big and sprawling and (hopefully) epic. Sometimes the sheer scale and scope of what I imagine leaves me wondering how I can hope to do it justice but that effort has to start somewhere. And so it starts, properly, here.

If you want to read early snippets of material I've been working on, then you can find them here and here in two of my recent writing challenges.

Ok, I have an appointment with MS Word...