There are often much easier answers to the big questions on TV than there are in life. Most of us spend years looking for certainty, reassurance, some psychological clue that we’re doing...the right thing, the safe thing, whatever. Homecoming is a reminder: Even dreams have unexpected ends.
“How should we sum up?” What a fitting line to begin the season finale of this pleasurably nostalgic throwback of a series, a show that indulges in some of the more fun elements of ’70s Hollywood thrillers and translates them into a 10-part streaming series on Amazon. The whole “long movie broken up into sections vs. binge-watch TV series” debate isn’t terribly interesting, but Homecoming is certainly a strong example for those arguing the former perspective, a show that takes visual breathers as its stopping points, rather than plot twists, cliffhangers, or any sort of self-contained themes or arcs. The tale of a conspiratorial program intent on wiping soldiers’ emotions and memories in order to send them back out for combat, it was blessedly free of the treading-water tactics and “I can’t tell you that yet” nonsense which mars so many similar rabbit-hole stories. It was a remarkably straight-forward tale aided by strong performances, a wonderful score, and sure-footed direction by Sam Esmail. It’s not flashy, but Homecoming is very satisfying.
“Stop” is essentially a denouement, albeit one in which twice the character of Colin Belfont has his legs cut out from underneath him in incredibly entertaining fashion. First up is Heidi in the past, placing her farewell phone call to her boss in the manner most intended to raise his hackles. From calling his tone “hysterical” to saying, “I’m gonna stop you right there, Colin,” she essentially tosses his most condescending and obnoxious statements back at him, until he loses his cool altogether. Swearing and yelling, he realizes she has hung up, only to turn around and witness an entire roomful of military brass staring stone-faced at the Geist executive whom only minutes before they had so effusively praised. Next, he turns to his attempt at cleaning up the mess with his boos, Ron, only to hear that Ron has let go because he had “overextended himself.” The delicious irony of Colin gently patronizing Audrey, only to slowly realize she now held his fate in her hands, made for another fun beat.
And those dialogue-heavy sequences were a strong way to prime the pump for Heidi’s road trip. The show essentially gave the audience what it wanted in terms of Colin’s comeuppance, which provides a sense of closure before the ambiguity of the closing moments leaves a more open-ended place for the story to go. Esmail gets to cut loose and play around when Heidi hits the road, popping Julia Roberts behind the wheel of a car and having her make like Sal Paradise, with a playful montage of screen wipes and split-screens to convey her cross-country journey, all set to the Eels’ “Tremendous Dynamite.” A less classically minded story might just have it end there, her sights on California, disappearing over the horizon.
But the structure of Homecoming dictates she must locate Walter Cruz, and even find him almost immediately after rolling into the small societal outpost she finds in Yosemite Valley. The realization that Walter doesn’t recognize her—and her internal struggle whether or not to show him the map and potentially trigger his memory—makes for an affecting exchange, the two actors leaning into the slowly fading hope behind her eyes as he guilelessly questions her about her plans. Both James and Roberts have done consistently good work, and their reunion echoes with its own extra-diagetic memory in the viewers’ minds of all the conversations prior to this one. Sure, the discovery of her adjusted fork re-opens the possibility of their connection, and makes for a solid tease for a second season, but it’s also not really necessary, which is as it should be.
For a series about government cover-ups and nefarious corporations, this final episode had an agreeably low-key vibe, very much in keeping with the way the show has consistently undercut bombast and used clever musical cues to leaven the thriller aspects with some humor. That happens again here, as Heidi’s Rocking Road Trip is ended with a smash cut to a stop sign at the exact moment the soundtrack drops away. For such heavy material, it never dwells in the discomfort for too long. Sissy Spacek’s mom is almost a stand-in for the show itself, urging its characters to go along and get on with the business of living, awkward moments and all. There’s not much in the ending that wasn’t telegraphed beforehand, resulting in a series that has already largely said everything it intended, and is content to simply let these characters out into the unknown, Thomas Carrasco’s case having been set in motion with who-knows-what outcome. But as Gloria might stress, there’s no resolution that can satisfy beyond these people finding a modicum of peace.
Episode grade: B+
Season grade: B+ (high marks for consistency)
- If you stayed through the credits, then you saw the scene in which Audrey watches as Colin signs the paperwork and stresses what a team player he is before leaving—only for her to anxiously pull out a container of the Homecoming project’s medicine and dab it onto her wrists. Looks like testing moved to another level.
- “He’s finally where he belongs.” I don’t think anyone would be too put out to end up in Walter’s very comfortable-looking cabin by the creek.
- Heidi and Walter’s final flashback conversation was also charming, full of the subtle chemistry that has defined all their interactions. “But we’d die trying.” “Or maybe we’d get lucky.”
- It was a brief meoment, but it was fun to watch past-Heidi’s world contract into the 1:1 frame, her mom knocking on the door, trying to get her to come out.
- Seriously, if it weren’t for the show’s use of orchestral soundtracks for most of its cues, I’d swear Eurythmics’ “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” was playing over Heidi’s last kiss-off to Colin.
- Thanks, all, for reading along and watching. I know these streaming release schedules make it harder to have a conversation, but I’ll be checking back as the weeks go by and more people discover this simple and smart little series.