Let’s Untangle Homecoming Season 2’s Unhappy Ending

PHoto: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Warning: spoilers ahead for the Homecoming season 2 finale.
The end is the beginning, or maybe the beginning is the end? Either way the Homecoming season 2 finale finally put this puzzle together, which is honestly, like one of those thousand piece colour gradient puzzles.
They do it by giving veteran Walter Cruz (Stephan James) the answers he's been searching for since taking part in the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a program that was supposed to help service members reintegrate into civilian life. In actuality, it was erasing targeted traumatic memories of veterans so they would reenlist.
While Walter does get a kind of sweet revenge — ironically, thanks to those memory-erasing berries — no one in the second season of Homecoming gets a happy ending.
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Episode 7 "Change" starts where the season began: lakeside. Janelle Monáe's Alex, who is pretending to be Jacqueline, but, as we already know, doesn't remember who she is after being injected with the Homecoming serum (it's complicated!), is in the rowboat. In the penultimate episode we learned that Walter was the man who did this to her. It was an accident, or more accurately self-defence since she was trying to stab him with the memory loss juice so he would forget about the complaint he filed against Geist, the parent company behind the Homecoming program.
The episode toggles between timelines, something the show did in the first season, too. The show based on a podcast was focused on Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), a Homecoming caseworker who treated Walter, and what she was trying to forget. Season 2 offers a bit of deja vu with its Memento-like storytelling, until this season pulls a switcheroo. It is not as much about Alex's journey to remember, as it is Walter's.
After Walter ran away in the premiere (and again in the finale), he drove to Geist headquarters looking for his file, which he hopes will finally fill in his memory gaps. Last season, Heidi attempted to save Walter from losing the memories of his deployment and ultimately losing himself. But in the end, she couldn't stop Walter from feeling like something is missing. An "ache," as he calls it, for something he just can't put his fingers on.
A theme throughout this season is powerful men trying to cover up for their mistakes. Alex's job is to make problems go away for wealthy businessmen like Leonard Geist (Chris Cooper), the founder of the Geist company, who didn't even know about the Homecoming program. Leonard's management style was hands off to say the least.
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He feels bad for what happened and plans to rip up the berries that ruined too many lives already. However, that decision is not out of the goodness of his heart, but as a way to cover up the mistakes his company made. The mistakes he made. He's just ridding himself of the evidence so he has plausible deniability.
Leonard only starts caring about the soldiers that Homecoming hurt after he loses his company to the Department of Defense, who have their own ideas for how to use those berries. (De-traumatising pigs so the bacon tastes better is one.) When Leonard gives Walter his file, he is doing what is right, and he thinks that is enough. He sees this whole experience as an imposition on him. What can he do, they've taken everything away from him? He is really interested in fighting, he'd rather fade away. “I’m old,” Leonard says.
Walter doesn't buy it. “You’re not old. You just got a shitty attitude," he says. There is a sense of duty to what Walter is doing, even if it is hard to approve of it.
Walter makes them drink the Kool-Aid, quite literally, since the Homecoming serum looks like the fruit punch sold by a man made of glass who bursts through walls instead of just using the door. It is eye for an eye; Geist took his memories so he must take theirs, too.
The finale gives new context to the events of the first episode. When we first hear Leonard's speech about the "giant" whose hunger is so big it will swallow everything up, it sounds like the words of a man suffering from psychosis. Later, we see that his talk of a flute-player was a nod to the pied piper who played his music to drive out the rats. Leonard's gift was his ability to bring in followers who were too interested in being part of the next big thing to care about the repercussions.
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This speech was Leonard's final warning to his workers who were so hungry for profits they never thought twice about blindly following him and now army official Francine Bunda (Joan Cusack). If someone, anyone too a moment to assess the situation, they might have questioned why they weren't toasting with champagne, but red juice. But they just drink it up until they all fall down. All except Alex, who still manages to remember what it felt like to forget. Not enough to stop them; she lets her girlfriend Audrey (Hong Chau) drink hers. “This is what we wanted,” Audrey, the newly crowned boss of Geist, says before throwing hers back.
To have them unknowingly ingest the serum is a cruel punishment and it's hard to know whether Leonard feels it was the right decision. He leaves the headquarters before the serum really takes hold, sparing himself from the carnage. Fitting, since he has a history of turning a blind eye to what his company does.
When he finds Bunda in the final moments before the serum takes hold, he begins to wrestle with what he has done. “I fucked things up pretty good,” he says. “This was the best I could come up with.” It’s unclear whether he believes this plan really was the best or just the easiest to pull off in the hours before the party. Maybe, he like his workers, was just happy to follow someone else's lead for once. Either way, he must now live with this decision that will leave them shells of their former selves. That's not what his intention was with the berries, but Leonard never really says what his big plans for the serum were.
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Walter must also deal with the fallout of his cruel actions, but he seems more prepared to do so. He's been hardened. Is that an effect of the serum too? He doesn't seem remorseful for what he has done. To be fair, no one other than Heidi showed any concerns for what they did to him and the other soldiers either.
Still, Alex chooses to stay with a passed out Audrey, who she barely knows and will wake up not knowing Alex or herself. “I just know what it’s like to wake up like that," she says. "Alone.” Has Walter forgotten that? Has Homecoming taken his humanity from him, too?
While Alex or Jacqueline or whoever she is now found empathy through this experience, Walter treated the poisoning of the Geist employees as if it was a mission. These people are just collateral damage, the toll of battle. Walter succeeded, though it's still unclear if he's won the war against Geist.
Either way, he gets to take his victory lap soundtracked by Nina Simone’s cover of “My Way," which sounds more tortured than Frank Sinatra's version ever could. This ending is bittersweet for Walter who didn't get back what he lost, he just took it away from someone else. He paid it forward in the worst way possible since these workers, like the soldiers, were drugged against their will for someone else's gain.
But Walter is not looking back, just forward. He cannot have his memories back, but he can share what he has learned with those who were also harmed by Homecoming and might not even realise it. He has the list of names of Heidi's other patients and as he drives off, it seems as if he is on another mission. Like Leonard, this is his way of making things right. Is it the best way of handling things? It’s hard to say, but he did it his way and the ability to have that freedom to choose might be enough of a victory for him.

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