Photo: Jessica Brooks (Amazon)

Anyone who’s lived through a traumatic event can tell you just how difficult it often is to address it directly. What they can’t always tell you? The degree to which that same trauma is present in every other moment of their lives.

Quietly, and without much focus on them, Walter and his stories are gradually taking pride of place on Homecoming. “Redwood,” the fourth episode and by far the most invested in the Heidi-Walter dynamic yet, puts the tales of Lesky’s death by IED, followed by Walter’s pre-military road trip to Yosemite, front and center. And yet it’s so subtly done, with the performances so understated and the rapport between case worker and client so gently fortified over the course of the episode, that it’s not until it’s nearly over—and the awkward, then tender, hug they share feels like its own emotional IED exploding in the confines of Geist’s Homecoming program—that it becomes clear the center of the story isn’t Heidi, but the relationship between these two fragile people.

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The episode is arguably the most understated installment thus far (opening montage of berries being harvested aside), and it benefits from the quiet, moody nature of Roberts’ and James’ work. Sam Esmail seems to realize discretion is the better part of valor, here, and with the exception of said opening sequence, leaves the usual tendencies toward good-natured retro bombast aside, focusing instead on the minutiae of his actors’ work. And what rewards he reaps in the process: Shea Whigham’s Thomas doing a hilariously uncomfortable stint in Geist’s reception-area chair; the way in which Colin quickly registers his untied shoelace and then proceeds to ignore it, the Geist celebration happening below drained of all but its ironic timing thanks to Heidi’s unexpected phone call; and the delicate emotional back-and-forth unfolding between Heidi and Walter, the former’s sense of protectiveness quickly blossoming into something more, while the latter’s frustration and mistrust melts away into the surprisingly empathetic bond uniting the two.

Simultaneously, present-day Heidi is beginning to realize the depths of her memory loss. Returning home after her time with Anthony, she goes to the closet and pulls out a bag of “patient belongings,” along with an even more intriguing road map of California—and this prior to the episode’s subsequent tale from Walter of his trip to Yosemite National Park. It’s a body blow of hard evidence she can no longer explain away, her fears about not remembering Colin now expanded and given frighteningly tangible presence by virtue of a medical stay to which she has no memory. “Why didn’t you tell me I was in the hospital?” she demands of her mother. “Tell you?” her mother blurts, a confused smile playing on her lips. “You were there!”

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A similarly awkward parent-child conversation unfolds between Walter and his mother. As his mother vents about his lack of a cell phone, needles him about Shrier, and generally pushes every button imaginable, Walter Cruz squirms like a man who’d rather be doing anything than having this conversation. He even presses his mother to just have a “normal” talk with him, but when her version of normal doesn’t meet his—much the same way that Heidi’s mom does everything to reinforce the idea that all is not right in her daughter’s head—he pulls away. Relationships on this series are like black holes: Without a common thread of darkness to join them, other people don’t even see the need being exuded by folks just looking for simple connection.

Meanwhile, Thomas continues his dogged pursuit, incentives to close the case be damned. His visit to Geist HQ is a delightfully daft demonstration of yet further Kafka-esque bureaucratic manipulations, as he’s passed along from department to department, with no good answers and no justifications for any of his treatment forthcoming. Colin’s panicky response to the visit drives home the idea that something very sinister is at the heart of the long-ago situation (emphasized by the Geist exec’s visible discomfort at learning Thomas plans to visit those directly involved with the scenario), and his blatant lies only serve to play up the viewer’s sense of mystery. (Unless Colin also can’t remember for some more nefarious reason, as well, but that seems unlikely.) These kinds of narrative ploys largely function to flatter the audience—we know something’s wrong, and our minds are comforted by the story continually rewarding us for picking up the obvious hints it’s laying down—but they’re undeniably effective.

Things have yet to go south for Heidi in the past. She is fulfilling the requirements of her job, keeping Walter Cruz calm and in the Homecoming program, and generally excelling. But the bond with her favorite client is starting to become more important than Geist policy. She’s getting confronted in the supply closet by the ever-watchful Craig, and thanks to Thomas and his investigation, we know this can’t end well.

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Stray observations

  • Hi, Frankie Shaw! Even in a barely there role as Heidi’s fellow waiter, the actor is fun to watch. “Have you ever forgotten something?” “All the time.”
  • Since when is “coca” corporate slang for correlation/causation?
  • How fun was that opening sequence, tracking the berries that get harvested and converted into whatever they’re being used for at Geist? Between the music, the beakers, and the bubbling liquids, it was like a montage from an old Hollywood mad-scientist movie.
  • Well done, Stephan James, showing the tragic exhaustion of Walter: “I just want something new.”
  • As always, for anyone who has listened to the Gimlet Media audio series and wants to delve into the differences between the original podcast and this new iteration of the story, or have watched ahead and want to discuss upcoming episodes), please head over to our Spoiler Space.

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