R29 Binge Club: Amazon's Homecoming Recaps

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Homecoming, Amazon’s newest bingeable series, is Julia Roberts first major foray into television — and it does not disappoint. Directed by Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) and written by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, the series was originally released as a Gimlet Media podcast under the same name, and also attracted big names like Catherine Keener, in Roberts' role, Oscar Isaac, as the unassuming patient, and David Schwimmer, as the maniacal boss.
Like Serial, S-Town, and many other addictive podcasts, the series became a sensation. However, unlike the aforementioned notable podcasts, Homecoming sounded like a cinematic experience, instead of a reported news piece. The slow, deliberate twists and turns of the original Homecoming are brought to life in the television series in ten 26-minute episodes, an easily deliverable quick snack — or full feast — for the hungry viewer.
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The show, led by Roberts as Heidi Bergman, primarily takes place at The Homecoming Transitional Support Center, where a group of men, fresh out of the military, are reintegrating into civilian life. Heidi’s job, as a caseworker there, is to act as a therapist to the men, and extract information about their lives to help them move forward in the real world. But as Heidi gets closer to one of her new patients, Walter Cruz (Stephan James), her perspective on the program begins to shift. The story is told in two timelines: the first, at Homecoming, and the second, at a waterside town Heidi relocates to a mysterious amount of years after she leaves the program. Suspicious things start to happen in Heidi’s life, all of which suggests that maybe a homecoming isn’t the best idea after all...
Now that you’re curious, let’s begin.
Ep.1 “Mandatory”
It’s too irresistible to not quote Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” when a show about a man trying to be reintroduced into the real world while bonding with his isolated therapist opens with a shot of two goldfish gulping around an otherwise sparse aquarium.
We're just two lost souls, Swimming in a fish bowl…
It’s totally the mood at this bleak, strange place that we learn to be The Homecoming Transitional Support Center. Immediately (remember, with these short of episodes, the plot’s going to move quickly), we meet our two lost souls — I mean, characters.
“You like fish?” 26-year-old Walter Cruz, fresh off his third tour in the Middle East, asks as he gestures towards the glass box.
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“Not especially, but I’ve decided it’s soothing,” Heidi replies.
“I feel kind of soothed,” he says, agreeing.
Heidi seems like a kind therapist, and Walter seems like a nice guy. It’s April 10, 2018, week 1, session 1 of Walter’s time here at Homecoming. Heidi continues to introduce the novice to the program, explaining that he is now, voluntarily, part of their reintegration process. “It is a safe space to process your military experience and re-familiarize yourself in a monitored environment,” she tells him. He looks excited.
And, just like that, with a quick alteration of camera perspective we’re at the waterfront restaurant, Fat Morgan’s diner. (The change in perspective, from full-frame, 16:9 aspect ratio to a tightened square iPhone videoesque one is made to represent the change in Heidi's mental state, as well as the shift in time.) Heidi is no longer in a sleek business outfit; she’s wearing a dirty apron and a plastic name tag. A well-dressed and serious-looking customer is waiting for her in her section. He introduces himself to her as Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), an employee of General Inspector at the Department of Defense. He’s there to investigate a complaint about the program.
Now, we’re back in Heidi’s office, continuing that introductory conversation with Walter. She’s explaining the only things that are “mandatory” for him while at Homecoming: workshops, meetings with her, and meals with the other guys. (Mandatory is also the title of the premiere episode.) Walter nods. He’s down. He’s totally receptive to the program, and eager to get back to a life outside the military. He’s ready to recover and move on from whatever trauma he experienced or witnessed while serving in the army. He even uses the word “compliant” to describe his demeanor, which takes Heidi off-guard. She doesn’t explain her reaction, but she appears, at first, uncomfortable with just how open Walter is to all this. But she's also excited, too, and we learn in the next scene, once Walter leaves, that’s it’s because he will be a great case study for her, and her boss, to work with.
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And now, her boss: Colin (Bobby Cannavale), in his usual character as a Grade-A asshole, who is at a “new laboratory” monitoring the production of the some sort of pharmaceutical when she calls Heidi. As soon as Heidi asks if the "medication" will remain the same, Colin freaks out at the M-word. He also apologizes about the state of the facility (which he hopes lives up to his “hip, but masculine” aesthetic request), and reminds — or rather, demands — she needs to get "granular" when questioning the men. The more information she can get out of the guys, the better. Why? We really don’t know. But the guys seem to trust Heidi (as we saw with Walter), and Heidi seems nice. Colin, however, is pushy, intense, and mansplain-y. We’ll have to watch out for him.
We also catch a glimpse of the Big Boys in charge of Homecoming: Geist Initiative. Their name appears on a sign when Heidi walks around the premise on the phone with Colin. No one’s mentioned the name yet, but I bet it’s written at the top of Thomas’ notebook later down the line in the other timeline.
Finally, we see a glimpse of Heidi off-the-clock, which is actually just a continuation of Heidi on-the-clock. We learn that while she’s good at her job, she’s not great at her home life. We meet Heidi’s needy boyfriend, Anthony (Dermot Mulroney), who is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. He is so inspired by Heidi’s success at Geist Initiative with Homecoming that he wants to make a total career change, too, but she seems extremely resistant to his compliments and desire to be with her. In fact, she seems sort of repulsed by him. Their interaction ends with her chugging her glass of wine, and avoiding his eye contact.
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Back at Homecoming, we get a glimpse at the kind of workshops the guys are sitting through. They don’t look too weird or too painful, but they are a little demeaning. Leading the workshop is the passive-aggressive Craig (Alex Karpovsky), whose intentions seem pure even if he seems bland. We also meet a few of the other guys in the program with Walter, including Rainey (Rafi Gavron), who is in the fourth week of the program, and Shrier (Jeremy Allen White ), who served with Walter.
Rainey struggles to nail the practice interview Craig is putting on because he has difficulty remembering the other skills he’s learned with the program over the past few weeks. He resists the idea of acclimating with the program, and a fist fight breaks out. Walter is one of the guys involved in the fight, and after he admits he’s afraid of losing his temper and his anger in a session with Heidi. He often fantasizes about hurting himself he tells her. Specifically, he imagines hitting his head on the corner of a desk in his room. Heidi also learns he has trouble sleeping and suggests he room with Shrier for a few nights to assist with the transition.
Then, we’re back at Fat Morgan’s, and Thomas is asking Heidi about her time at Homecoming again. She says she was a “counselor” there, despite referring to herself a “caseworker” earlier in the episode, and struggles to recall when she left the program (four years ago? Five?). One thing she is sure of? That she quit to come home to take care of her mother, Ellen Bergman (Sissy Spacek). As Thomas grills her with more questions (“Were the men there voluntarily?”, “Were they allowed to leave?”), Heidi finally admits she doesn’t remember anything about her time there — not even Walter Cruz.
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What have we found? The same old fears. Wish you were here...
Ep. 2, “Pineapple”
Is this Suspiria Lite? If the clues that this show was about to get a little creepy and lonely weren’t there for you in the premiere, then get ready, because this ominous soundtrack and intro is setting the tone for the rest of the season.
It’s meal time at Homecoming, one of the three mandatory elements of the program. Walter sits with Shrier, who is fiddling with a harmonica, as the camera pans to the plate of food in front of them — a pile of juicy, canned pineapple with a green garnish. This episode, as one may guess, is called “Pineapple.”
For those familiar with the podcast-version of the series, it’s time for the tragic story of Titanic Rising — you’ve been expecting this. After observing that one of the fish seems to be sick (Walter tells Heidi she is feeding it too much food), Walter tells the funny, and sad, story of Benjy and Lesky, two soldiers and friends in his and Shrier’s unit. Benjy, a tiny guy, was obsessed with Titanic. He watched it every night in their quarters, which meant they all heard the 3-hour long James Cameron movie every night, too. So one day, Lesky, the trickster of the group, decided to spin a tale. He (backed by Walter, Shrier, and a few of the other guys), asks Benjy if he’s ever seen the sequel to the film, Titanic Rising. Benjy calls bullshit, saying there’s 100% not a sequel to his favorite movie of all time, but Lesky insists. It’s “ten times as good,” and an indie production, so difficult to find. The original cast is in it, and it features a ton of sex, and even a mafia subplot. It sounds insane, but the guys eventually fully convince Benjy that the movie exists. The gag is up only after Lesky dies after driving over an IED (improvised explosive device). A few weeks after his death, when Benjy brings up the movie, the guys all tell him it was a fucking joke. Walter finishes the story, and Heidi asks for a little more information about the events he witnessed. He refrains from answering but is still receptive to their conversation. It’s implied that he witnessed the explosion, based on the shot of bloody, broken glasses that is shown as if it’s a memory he’s trying to shake. And with that, session 2 is over. We now know that Walter’s witnessed a scarring event involving a friend, and so has Shrier.
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In addition to seeing a therapist, Walter and the guys also have physicals with an in-house doctor who takes their vitals. He asks them if they ever feel fatigued after eating or drinking, or experience numbness in their legs while running — peculiar questions, but no alarm bells are going off yet. On Walter’s way out of the room, he runs into Shrier who teases Walter for having a slight crush on Heidi. (He isn’t wrong.)
And then, enter the pineapples again. It’s mandatory dinnertime, and Shrier drops his big conspiracy: “We only think we are in Florida because that is what they told us,” he says. The pineapple cobbler they are served every night? A lame Florida-themed dessert. The palm trees outside their windows? Planted (literally and figuratively). The signs that say “Welcome to Florida”? Fake. Walter rolls his eyes, but Shrier also reveals he hasn’t been taking his prescribed pills each night. Shrier thinks things are fucked up, and that everyone around them is lying, and that they are actually trapped inside this facility.
It escalates when Shrier implies that he has good instincts, unlike Walter, (could Lesky’s death have been prevented?), and he thinks it’s suspicious that all these people want to help them. He stands on a table and screams: “Who here thinks we are in Florida? Who here thinks any of this is fucking real?”
What is real is Thomas’ frustration after speaking with Heidi at Fat Morgans. He’s working on a case that involves Walter, Shrier, and Lesky. While looking over paperwork, we see that the Homecoming Transitional Support Center was indeed in Tampa, and that Walter was discharged from the program for “Misconduct/Violence” on May 15, one month and five days after his first meeting with Heidi. (We still don’t know exactly what year we are in this current Thomas-Heidi timeline because Heidi can’t remember when she left her job — either 2022 or 2023.) Thomas then calls Walter’s mom and tells her that he is following up on a complaint, but she tells him to stop right there. “I need to go,” she says, offering zero assistance until the name “Heidi Bergman” is brought up. She starts getting upset, and implies that Heidi should know full well who her son is. Then, she hangs up. Another dead end for our man with the weird connecting glasses.
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While Thomas struggles to find a lead on the complaint that Walter may have been kept against his will at Homecoming, Heidi heads home to eat dinner on the couch with her mother, Ellen, who is hands down the best character on the show so far. Ellen has some thoughts on her daughter’s current status as diner waitress: she wishes she was back at her fancy job. During their heated conversation, we learn that Heidi has no idea why she left her job. Ellen insists that it’s not because her mother fell and hurt her hip, like Heidi told Thomas. That event happened months after Heidi came back to her hometown. Ellen herself has no idea why her daughter came back to town. Something’s fishy.
Can we take a moment to appreciate Thomas’ boss, Pam (Brooke Bloom)? She’s leading a team for the General Inspector at the D.O.D. and she’s breastfeeding her kid, all the while telling Thomas to get his case, and his shit, together. Elevate it or leave it she says after the most he can report back to her is that Heidi is “oddly vague.” Based on Pam’s exasperated expression, he’s going to drop it.
Colin calls Heidi and expresses his concern about Shrier’s outburst, but Heidi tells him not to overreact. Colin demands Walter be moved back to his own room and out of Shrier’s. Shrier’s a week 4 patient, and Colin feels that they are “so close to getting what we want, we can’t have this guy contaminating the whole project.” But if what they want is for Shrier to be a happy, balanced, successful member of the real world, then he isn’t close at all. After hanging up on Heidi, Colin emerges from a wooded area onto a golf course, crashing a session between a group of older white men (let’s assume they’re Bad). He’s thrilled to finally meet Mr. Heidl (Kristof Konrad), a guy we know nothing about...yet.
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Back in Homecoming, Walter is moving out of Shrier’s room while Craig observes, anxiously. “It’s cool, alright?,” Walter tells Shrier of their forced separation, before Craig locks Shrier in his room. Alone.
Ep. 3, “Optics“
Click. Click. Click. Thomas’ nervous highlighter clicking is getting more intense. He can’t decide if he has done a thorough enough investigation to drop the case yet. He decides to go down one more rabbit hole and look up Heidi’s file at Geist Emergent Group. He finds a number, #452, that leads him to a box of evidence which could be the key. He goes to find the box with all the answers in the massive, dimly-lit storage room. (The show is getting progressively more and more Hitchcockian, and I like it.) Instead of a box with answers, he’s met with an entire wall of boxes labeled 452. There’s more to this case that meets the eye. The optics, as the episode title promises, have changed.
At Homecoming, Walter is determined to prove to Shrier that they are not being held hostage and have the right to leave. Walter asks a secretary at the front desk of the center if he and his friend can head to town to grab a beer, when she nervously gets up to “get a form” for them to fill out. Weirded out by her response to a simple request, Shrier steals a set of keys to a van so that he and Walter can investigate where they really are, to whom they’re really reporting, and what’s really going on. On their drive, they pass empty parking lots and discover that no radio channels work. They’re completely isolated until a mini van aggressively passes them on the dark, empty road. The car has Florida plates, and Walter’s instantly comforted. That’s when Shrier shares his real revelation — this is all fake. He’s seen it been done before. Shrier reminds Walter that they both trained at an outpost in Arizona that was made to exactly replicate a North African village, from the decor to the roads to the smells. It’s been done to them before, and it’s happening, he believes, to them again. The only issue is that Shrier and Walter were being trained for combat in Arizona. But here, in fake-real Florida, what could they possibly be training for?
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The two finally reach a barren town and see a mysterious man approach them. Shrier tackles him, until he realizes it’s just an old security guard standing his ground inside the retirement community the two men just accidentally broke into.
Cut to the next day: Walter thinks it’s all funny and is actually pleased with the experience: it proved that Shrier is wrong. They are in Florida, and now they can both relax and accept the help being given to them. Heidi is less enthusiastic. She asks if Walter feels like he needs to take care of Shrier, implying that his friend is more a burden than a blessing. Walter says no, and explains what’s really like to be close to someone, like really close. He has a whole road trip analogy (that ends up being extremely flirtatious and good) to describe what it feels like to spend hours and hours and hours with someone (like Shrier on duty, or like a significant other on a road trip). The resulting relationship status isn’t a burden — it’s a bond.
As Heidi starts to get closer to Walter (maybe even a little unprofessionally), she starts to pull further and further away from Anthony. After one tense argument, she finally screams: “We’re done, get your shit out of my bathroom. And get your forks.” But as one man exits, another enters, and Colin’s on the phone with another potentially dangerous request. He wants Heidi to cut Shrier from the program, calling him a “classic week 5 burn-out” with bad “results.” Heidi is concerned about the “effects” of cutting a patient off from the program will have. Apparently, protocol for the program is set up to prevent people from being withdrawn at this stage. Heidi reminds Colin the consequences of pulling someone off the medication (panic attacks, hallucinations), and that they’ve seen them before (has Homecoming hurt other patients?)
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As Heidi resists on Shreir’s behalf, Colin ups the ante and suggests Walter be removed the program, too. Heidi, on the defensive, pushes back and points out that getting rid of Walter would be a real missed opportunity, “optically”-speaking. He’s a perfect case study, and fully dedicated to the program. Colin, who is missing his daughter’s birthday party to chastise Heidi on the phone, then suggests they start to double the medication being administered. This guy is such a wild card.
Heidi brings him back to reality, and expresses her deep concern in overmedicating the clients. Too much of this unknown medicine, which we learn is being distributed nightly in food with the actual pills as a placebo distraction, could lead to confusion, loss of skills, and extensive impairment. In this conversation, (which ends with Walter staying at the facility, and the dosage remaining the same) it becomes clear that Shrier isn’t wrong to be scared. He should be paranoid about the people he’s trusting with his life — it’s just not clear what Homecoming’s end game is.
Now, back in the future, Heidi is on an awkward date with Anthony, her now-ex of four or five years. The conversation starts out casual, but then steers towards Heidi’s lack of memory about her final weeks at Homecoming, not in their relationship. The state of Heidi’s current memory is worse than we, or even she, realized. She doesn’t even remember her boss, crazy Colin. Miles away, Thomas is still hunched over the 452 boxes, when he finally finds the treasure trove he needs. Heidi and Walter were terminated on the same day.
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What happened on May 15, four years ago? And why hasn’t Colin’s named popped up at all yet? He’s obviously to blame if something bad happened.
Ep. 4 “Redwood“
A blood-red berry pulled from a tropical jungle, taken to a laboratory, pulverized, and then melted into an ominous vial. Meet: our mystery medicine that is erasing people’s memory.
Also erased from this episode is Shrier. He’s been removed from the program, and all his stuff is being put in trash bags — even his harmonica. Walter’s mad, but he’s also sad. His best friend is gone, supposedly to be with his “family,” yet the staff of the facility is throwing away all his personal belongings. Heidi distracts Walter from these (correct) paranoid thoughts, and starts a session with him that turns into a conversation about Lesky’s death. Turns out, Walter blames himself for it. He saw Lesky’s body after the explosion and is haunted by the memory. Part of him wants to stop thinking about the moments before and after Lesky’s death, but another part of him likes getting to revisit the memory of his friend. With Shrier gone, he says, that’s one less connection to it.
Oh, Walter, if only you knew how many more missed connections are headed your way.
Back at Heidi’s mom’s house, after her failed date with Anthony, Heidi’s ready to revisit some of her lost memories. She finds a box of clothes and documents. One piece of paper in particular is alarming to Heidi: a patient form from her stay in the hospital. She’s doesn’t remember it at all, but she does find an old phone that could lead her to more uncovered memories.
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We meet Walter’s mom, who is worried about her son and the lack of privacy he has to talk to her while at Homecoming. She’s weirded out that he can’t have a phone, and that he’s living in an isolated area with no real outside contact.
Thomas finally made his way to Geist, clic eyewear readers and all, where he is met by Colin, who is still very much in the deception game. He tells Thomas he isn’t familiar with Homecoming, or Walter Cruz, or Heidi Bergman. Thomas tels Colin his theory that Walter’s misconduct for violence may have resulted in Heidi’s hospitalization. After getting no help from Colin, Thomas reveals he’s been in contact with the Walter and Heidi — Colin’s nervous.
After seeing how upset Walter was, Heidi goes to his room to give him Shrier’s harmonica. There, she spots a map of California with a road trip plotted out, inspired by their earlier road trip conversation. He tells Heidi that he’s actually done most of the road trip before his deployment. In a dinky little car, he drove all the way from Valdosta, GA, to Yellowstone Park in California, only for his car to die right when he pulled up to the ranger station to go inside. Instead of completing the trip, he took a bus ride back home, and went to war immediately after. War, he tells Heidi, was nothing like he imagined. He felt hot, scary, and pointless. The two hug — we all felt that hug — and Heidi leaves his room, looking torn. Craig spots her (he also spotted her stealing the harmonica from storage to give to Walter).
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Heidi explains to her Fat Morgan’s co-worker Dara (Frankie Shaw) that she has found a phone from her previous job. She shows her that almost every call is to the same guy: Colin, the old boss she can’t remember. Dara convinces her to call Colin, and he answers on the third ring. At the sounds of Heidi’s voice — his first time hearing it in four years — he hangs up and nearly passes out. It used to be only Colin could elicit fear on the phone. Oh, how the tables have turned — if only Heidi knew she finally held the upper hand in all this.
Ep. 5, “ Helping“
Heidi and Walter’s relationship is moving from clinical to playful. She’s puts on makeup to impress him, and he glues all her supplies to her desk to make her laugh. They’re disarming each other in subtle ways, and becoming more public about their (still wholly unacted upon) affections towards each other.
Whoa — Thomas had more aces up his sleeve than we realized. He’s located Shrier, who is a shell of a former self. His demeanor, his physical abilities, his speech patterns, are all slow, painful, and quite upsetting to watch. “Can you go?” he asks, lightly. Shrier’s jumpy, and he isn’t totally making sense, but his mind’s still there. He tells Thomas that the trees were watching them, and that Heidi wasn’t who Walter thought she was. Shrier passes a brown leaf to Thomas, as if it’s a clue. The interaction is weird, but reveals a lot. Were patients overmedicated if this is their state of mind years after their treatment? Yes. Was Homecoming a guise for something more sinister? Yes. It’s safe to assume Walter could be much worse. Was Heidi working with Colin to trick Walter? Ugh, I hope not. Like the title suggests, I hope Heidi’s intentions were true to help sweet Walter.
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But more questions arise, so let’s get through a few now: What is the point of ruining a man’s memory? It’s not like Homecoming replaced his memories with new ones, or his suddenly debilitated physical abilities with heightened ones. Where did Shrier really go after he left Homecoming? His current boss, who can’t stop staring suspiciously at Thomas, doesn’t look like family. Is Walter dead, or incarcerated? Was he blamed for something he didn’t do because he can’t remember things either?
But Walter’s still alive and well (we think) in 2018, and is forced to partake in an intense role play. But really, we learn, Heidi isn’t trying to get in to Walter’s head, she’s waiting for the glue on his seat to dry, sticking him to the plastic chair when he stands. We’re having fun! And Craig is mad. Come night time, Walter and the guys have a new prank up their sleeve. It involves “trapping” that loud bird. The guys all rally together to pull it off, showing how weirdly lax security is — they’re all outside of their room in the middle of the night, and even hang out on the roof of a building, reminiscing over their favorite cereal. Walter also shares some details he’s learned about the program: It costs 100K for each of them to be there.
Colin’s giving himself a pep talk in a car in Tampa (which we realize is still where Heidi lives in her new life as a waitress). But Colin quickly realizes the pep talk was unnecessary because Heidi doesn’t remember him at all. He’s at ease — until he sees Thomas’ business card by the cash register and decides he needs to stay a few more days to tie up loose ends. Heidi, watch out!
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Craig, as we suspected, is a little snitch! He calls Colin and tells him that Heidi is getting close to Walter right as Colin is walking into Ron, his boss’, house. Ron is outwardly an American Jamie Oliver, but inwardly a little beast, who threatens Colin to see Homecoming through or else. With that thinly-veiled threat on his mind, Colin calls Heidi and chews her out. During the conversation we hear the mission statement of Homecoming: to treat PTSD like a cancer and eradicate it using medicine. Colin’s really pissed about the harmonica, because he think it’s a trigger for Walter to hang onto those painful memories. But, he uses a particular phrase, “delete memories.” And that’s what Heidi was fearful of — losing Walter Cruz entirely. She just wants to help him, but Colin doesn’t care. “If something like this happens again, trust me, I will find out about this,” he threatens. “And you will be out on your little ass.”
Ep. 6, “Toys”
The tin foil hats are on as the conspiracy deepens. Walter’s mother, Gloria (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), learns that the facility treating her son — whom she has not heard from now for 2 weeks — is not a Veteran Affairs group. It’s actually run by a private contractor called Geist. Confused, Gloria hangs up the phone, realizing that the soap in front of her is also labeled “Geist.” The company is bigger, and more influential than she, or we, realized. Gloria’s going to Tampa to get her boy back.
Also in Tampa, years later, Colin is pretending to be a random nice guy named Hunter and tries to flirt with Heidi. She ignores him until he tells her he just got back from Afghanistan, 72 hours ago. She perks up at this — and they start to chat. Fuck, Heidi, wake up!
Back at Homecoming, tropical storm Gloria has arrived, and she is not leaving until she sees her son. Heidi reluctantly takes her back to see Walter, and asks how she found the facility. Gloria (new favorite character), tells her she located 8 weird office facilities that matched Walter’s brief description of his location: outside of Tampa, near a retirement community, and next to a swamp. This was option 6 of 8.
While Gloria reunites with her son, Heidi stares at a Renaissance painting outside her office. She reaches over, adjusting it so it hangs crookedly. Heidi’s experimenting with the idea of order in her life — order coming from Colin, from Geist, and from her own intense type-A tendencies. But after a few minutes, she moves the painting back in line. As she walks away, her gaze lingers on the image of a glass of red wine, the same color red as the medicine being fed to the men.
Colin, in character as Hunter, asks Heidi on a date to further interrogate her. She is wary to be talking with anyone, but isn’t particularly alarmed by Colin’s leading inquiries because she thinks he’s just a tired soldier with some awkward social skills.
Gloria unloads on Walter. She questions the validity of not only the program, but Walter’s qualifications. He is resistant to her inklings that something is wrong with this place he’s been confined to, but she temporarily convinces him to leave with her until Heidi interjects and manipulates him into staying. Heidi knows that Walter leaving at this stage, week 4 of the program, could be detrimental to his health because he will experience serious withdrawals. Heidi thinks she is protecting Walter, but on her way out, Gloria tells her. “If you think you’re protecting Walter, or anyone else, in a place like this, then you’re a fool,” before driving off. Gloria’s right — Heidi is letting her emotions lead her instead of her common sense. This place is bad, even if Heidi’s isn’t.
As their date winds to an end, Heidi tells Colin-Hunter that she has felt “fake” every single day of her life. This feeling of being imposter haunts her — and it’s a result of her time at Homecoming, where she knows deep down she pretended to be a good person.
We also know the source of the complaint that is at the heart of Thomas’ investigation: Gloria called the Department of Defense and told them that Walter is being held against his will at Homecoming. “He needs to be sent home right away, or I don’t know what will happen,” she says. We see the printed message deposited into a pile of other complaints, likely buried until all those years later when Thomas finally pursued it.
After their date, Heidi and Colin end up in a motel room. (Colin is so creepy… why do we get a make-out scene between them, and not Walter and Heidi? Hmph.) Post-coitous, Heidi tells her new friends that she is tired of lying, and that she can’t shake the feeling that she’s done something very bad. Eagerly, he says they should figure out what exactly that was. He’s finally getting inside her head to see what exactly she remembers about her time at Homecoming. For a bumbling fool, he’s really good at manipulating people.
Can we also take a moment to appreciate Heidi’s complete and utter burn to Craig, Homecoming’s lead narc: “Shut your wet little mouth and go back to your toys.” Phew.
Ep. 7 “Test“
Gloria and Thomas are about to get shit done. Fighting against her initial reluctance, Gloria decides to lend Thomas a helping hand in his investigation after he tells her he believes her son did nothing wrong, and that he was taken advantage of while at Homecoming. This is what Gloria’s been saying since day one — finally, someone with some sense is on her side.
Walter is now in the middle of week 5. He has fully moved on from the guilt he felt around Lesky’s death, but the sudden change in his demeanor isn’t comforting, it’s alarming.
The situation becomes urgent when Heidi makes a joke about Titanic Rising and Walter has no idea what she’s talking about. “You don’t remember that?” she asks tensely. Something isn’t right. This has gone too far. She asks him to tell her anything about his time over there, and he tells her that all he can remember is the end of his tour. He thinks it’s because he has overcome his bad memories thanks to his treatment at Homecoming, but Heidi realizes that it’s because that is the only part of his time overseas he can remember. “For the first time in a long time, I feel good,” he says, smiling. Then why does this all feel so bad?
Heidi elevates her concern over Walter’s deleted memories. Colin celebrates the discovery that not only are the painful memories from war are gone, but that his memories of experiences and people he cared about are gone, too. He literally punches the air with joy. He also calls Heidi “hysterical” when she asks questions about the treatment. What is really going on?!
The closer Heidi in 2018 gets to the truth, the closer Thomas in 2022 is getting the truth. He plays a tape of a session between Heidi and Walter for her at her mother’s home, and she demands to know where he got the audio. He tells that she, Heidi, sent the tapes to Walter’s mom — possibly as proof of what really happened. The only problem is that Heidi still insists she does not remember Walter, or Shrier, or anyone else. It’s time to state the obvious: Heidi knew too much at one point, and was administered the medicine. Did Colin sneak it in her food? Or Craig? Or did she do it to herself to see what Walter was experiencing, in a Romeo + Juliet move?
And finally — bam — the truth about Homecoming’s real purpose is revealed. The guys are going to be redeployed; the medication is supposed to wipe out all memories, leaving Geist with soldiers with virtually no emotional baggage. They are all clean slates, ready to get on the frontlines with no signs of PTSD or triggers. But at what cost? On the phone, Colin spins the narrative, telling Heidi that Walter and the other men will thank them for allowing them to return their life as a soldier. It’s too bad all these decisions are made against their will.
Ellen saves Heidi from Thomas’ interrogation, but Colin is spying on her from outside her house and conveniently calls her. He offers to drive her to the address of the place she used to work a.k.a Homecoming where he, Colin, was her dickish boss. What a mindfuck he’s pulling on her! What is she going to do when she suddenly remembers her boss’ real voice and real face, and realizes it’s the same strange man she just conveniently met and agreed to be trapped in a car with?
Ep. 8 “Protocol”
This is so not the road trip Walter had in mind. But here we are in a Toyota Prius in 2022 with Colin, who is pretending to be Hunter, and Heidi, who is wrapped up in her buried thoughts. When Thomas realizes that Heidi is headed to Tampa, he jumps in his car to intercept her. He believes she is going to destroy evidence, but really all she wants to remember something, anything. But with Colin by her side, Thomas is right to worry.
Back at Homecoming, Heidi struggles to introduce the newest batch of soldiers to the program. She wavers for a minute, and Craig asks if everything is okay. She basically tells him tofuck off. “I wrote the script,” she says with a bite. Then she composes herself, smiles, and welcomes them to this “safe space.” What a lie.
Meanwhile, in the future, Heidi and Colin arrive at the building that used to house Homecoming, which is now the Geist Wellness Center, a facility we heard Colin talk about with his boss, Ron, back in episode 5. The facility was a sort-of reward for Colin if Homecoming went well. Based on its existence, Homecoming must have been deemed a success, which is why Colin is so nervous about Thomas digging into its seedy reality. But, lucky for Colin, Thomas fudges. He goes to a different part of the Wellness Center and finds the old Homecoming stomping ground, but no Heidi. His boss, the take-no-shit Pam, calls and tells him to give up. He has not found any actionable evidence, and he’s wasting his — and her — time. She tells him to come back to the offi — CLICK. Thomas decides that actually, he’s going to follow his instincts and break into the former Homecoming offices to look for evidence. Pretty sure this isn’t part of his job description, and that he will get in trouble for this behavior. In the other part of the building, Heidi and Colin-as-Hunter walk around, but nothing is triggering her memory. That is until she sees the words “integrated therapeutics” written at the entrance of a hallway. Her recovered memories seem promising until she enters a room where a masseuse greets her and tells her she knows nothing about Homecoming. Colin lucks out again.
But, remember that large, white bird? In episode 1, Heidi said the sound it made drove her crazy but it was a protected species so they have to let it roam around? It’s the same bird that Walter puts in Heidi’s office as a prank in episode 5. And, guess what? It’s still around the new, and now unrecognizable, center. Its odd quacking is the trigger Heidi needs to get her memories back. As they come tumbling back to her in the form of devilish whispers in her head, she starts to speed walk away from Colin, finally aware of who he really is.
Then things become a full-on mess: Colin tells Heidi that the two of them were in way over their heads at Homecoming and that they should share responsibility. But as soon as the words are out of his mouth, he figures out a new plan; he’ll make Heidi the scapegoat. All of Colin’s reprehensible orders were given to Heidi over the phone — he’s never stepped place in Homecoming (which is actually true) — so that means she is the one, on paper, responsible for all of Homecoming’s activity. Thomas finds the two former co-workers in front of the building, but is very confused. Heidi tries to tell Thomas that he was right, that there was something shady happening at Homecoming but, she insists, it’s Colin’s fault. Colin, however, tells Thomas that he and Heidi were in a sexual relationship (they technically were the night before, but that was the first and only time and a total manipulation) and to just let them have their lover’s quarrel. On his power trip, Colin tells Thomas to go back to his little clerk desk because he can’t do anything about the information he’s just learned.
Heidi interrupts him, screaming: “Everything you say and everything you do is fucking rotten, and you have made me the same.” Colin drives away, soaked because Heidi shoves him in a fountain, and Heidi gets in Thomas car where she breaks down in tears.
Heidi’s also crying back in her Homecoming office after welcoming the new batch of soldiers, fully aware of the horrible ways in which their lives are going to change. She enters her office, grabs all her office supplies — the same ones that reminder of Walter because of his constant fidgeting with them — and crumbles on top of them in a heap of sobs. Walter enters, and ask if she’s okay.
“I’m fine,” she says, smiling. It’s all...fine.
Ep. 9 “Work”
Our second to last episode of the season opens with Heidi in her job interview with Colin at Geist, before this entire mess unfolded. She looks hopeful about her new and budding career at the company. Cut to four years later: she’s in a dark car with Thomas, asking him what’s next for her, now that she remembers everything that happened at that place. “I deserve to be punished, don’t I?” she demands. No, Heidi, you don’t.
We’re getting retrospective in this episode. Like Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects, Heidi’s buried memories of then-and-now are blurring together. Heidi then was upset at Walter talking so flippantly about the news of his deployment. Heidi now is upset in the car thinking about Colin getting away with the program he tricked her into running.
Making matters even more emotional, our sweet Walter thanks Heidi for helping him and giving him the opportunity to go back to fight in the war. Heidi knows that isn’t how he really feels, that this is the medicine talking. Heidi reaches over, turns off the tape recorder, and asks Walter a question that shocks him: Want to go eat in the cafeteria? Heidi is about to dose up. It’s Walter’s last day, and she’s going down with him.
Colin, back at home, tries to tell his wife about all the bad things he’s done to clear his conscience (Heidi clearly got to him), but she tells him to just down the bad deed and put it in their box. Now, it’s all fixed, she says. Far from, sweetie.
Gnocchi. That’s the key to Heidi’s lost memory. In the cafeteria, for her final meal with Walter, Heidi doses herself (with week 6 medicine, which I can only imagine is an incredibly large dosage) in a large plate of gnocchi. The treatment clearly worked.
Back in Pam’s office, Thomas is recounting the events of the day. They agree that he should drop it. Case, deleted. As soon as he leaves the office, Pam pulls a sus cell phone out of her desk and calls Geist directly, telling them she has “somewhat urgent” news to recount. Shit, Thomas. You’re in a spider’s web now. Speaking of nature, there’s also that leaf that Shrier gave to Thomas. He nonchalantly pulls it out of his pocket, but something clicks. He runs out of the office, ditching his instructions to leave it alone.
Heidi, a Fat Morgan’s, finally reaches her breaking point after witnessing a not-too-surprising death. One of their daily customers, an elderly woman who sleeps at the table, dies mid-lunch. After her body is removed from the diner, Heidi is feeling determined to tie up her loose ends. She heads to find Gloria for answers...and closure.
Ep. 10 “Stop“
It’s the final episode, which means we have a lot of ground to cover both in 2018 and in 2022.
Finally, the repercussions of Colin’s actions are catching up with him in the future,— but not before we see a glimpse of Colin at his peak in 2018. He’s standing in front of a crowd of Department of Defense employees. They’re extremely excited about the success of Homecoming, with Walter Cruz touted as the shining example of a treatment that successfully deletes memories of combat (as well as other relationships, stories, and experiences). One man even expresses regret that he wasn’t able to undergo this type of treatment. What he doesn’t realize, and what Colin likely doesn’t fully either, is the long-term effects of the medicine (it’s actually more a drug at this point, so let’s call it that) being used on these guys.
But we soon find out, thanks to Heidi’s rogue move. Craig, a total rat, texts Colin and tells him about Heidi’s lunch in the cafeteria with Walter. This pisses Colin off not because Heidi ate the food — honestly, she’s disposable to him — but because Walter was his main prize pony in the treatment. It becomes apparent that Heidi knows this when she smugly tells Colin that Walter just unknowingly doubled his week 6 dose, and he cannot be deployed. Because of the unplanned dosage, he will be debilitated for at least a year because of that one plate of drugged gnocchi. Based on protocol, Walter needs to be sent back to his family for recovery. The phrase to describe this, we learn, is “reformatting.” As she’s delivering this news to Colin, Heidi is leaving the building with a box of her things. She’s destroyed all but one of the tapes from her sessions, sending a select one from Walter’s first day to his mother in Georgia. It’s unclear how long it takes for the drugs to kick in and start warping Heidi’s memories, but she’s on her way out of Homecoming. It’s clear she thought she’d never be back again.
So, flashforward. In addition to being rude, egotistical, and manipulative liar, Colin is also a demeaning, sexist asshole. Seated in large conference room back at Geist, Audrey (Hong Chau), the former receptionist on his floor, starts to ask Colin questions about his recent out of office trip. Colin flippiantly tells her to get coffee, call Ron, and take some little notes “or whatever you do,” before he realizes she is the one in charge of the meeting. Geists know what he did Florida. They know about his confession. They are going to make him their scapegoat. What do you do when the villain is taken down by a bigger and badder villain? Cheer, but only a little, I guess.
Craig — enough meddling! We se that Walter’s discharge papers, the ones that said he was removed from the program due to violence, were altered by Craig in order to make his dismal record look suspect on his part, not Homecoming’s.
(It is now that the cameras change perspective again. In an interview with The New York Times, the showrunners said that the camera’s wider lens takes over when Heidi has cognizant thoughts. As the story of timeline 1 approaches the point where Heidi’s memory is disappearing, timeline 2 reaches the point, four years later, when her memory has once again returned. So, narrow iPhone shots are 2018, and 16:9 ratio shots are 2022.)
Heidi makes it to Gloria’s home to find closure. From the way Gloria is talking about Walter, it feels in the worst case dead he is dead and in the best case alive but never fully recovered. While we wait to find out what state Walter is in, Heidi tells Gloria about Homecoming. Let’s review the stats: Homecoming chose 18 soldiers at the time, all under 30, to be treated at their facility. Each of the soldiers experienced some sort of trauma while overseas, and, over the course of 6 weeks, therapy and drugs would be used to unburden them of that memory. Heidi’s role as a counselor was to revisit one memory in each session in order to track how well their memory was being deleted. The end goal was to remove memories and then send the soldiers back to war. Gloria’s disgusted, but not surprised. She knows Heidi didn’t mean to hurt her son, but she still did.
Finally, we find out that Walter is alive, and finally back to normal. Or rather, some semblance of normal. Gloria says her son is, after years of recovery, acting like he did before the war. “He’s finally where he belongs,” she says. Just where that is, we don’t know.
After Gloria makes it clear that Heidi isn’t going near her son, we’re back in the cafeteria flashback, where Heidi and Walter are discussing their road trip once more. Their little fantasy is sweet, and heartbreaking, knowing the turns that each of their lives take.
Her conversation with Gloria and her last memory with Walter inspire Heidi to finally take that road trip out West. She heads towards Yellowstone Park, stopping at diners, post offices, and farmers markets along the way. But as the trip rages on, it’s clear that Heidi isn’t totally taking this trip for herself...she’s looking for something. Or someone — Walter.
And just like that, there he is, building a front porch on his modest cabin in the woods. He heads into town to grab a tool and stops by a diner that one Heidi Bergman happens to be sitting at, alone. Heidi doesn’t know if she should show Walter the map to trigger his memory or not, and instead opts to maintain intense eye contact and hold back her tears. Walter sits down with this sad-looking stranger and makes light-hearted conversation about how he’s always dreamed of living in a place like this. He seems more than okay. He’s made it to his happy place.
Walter leaves to finish the construction on his house and Heidi looks out at him, waiting for him to turn around, but he doesn’t. What he does do, though, is secretly mess with her silverware. He moves one of the forks to lay crooked, a callback to all the pranks he played on her. Oh, God, I’ve never been this emotional over a fork before.
And just in case the meaning of this final scene is lost on you, I’ll let thefirst line of credits song, “Trapeze Swinger,” by Iron & Wine, speak on it: “Please remember me, happily,…”
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