Screenshot: Amazon

Colin is the worst kind of boss. He’s the guy that talks to hear himself talk. He’s the person convinced they already know everything you’re going to say before even initiating conversation with you. Arrogant to hide his insecurity, boorish to cover up his lack of knowledge, and unwilling to hear any opinion but his own, he’s an overbearing asshole even before he threatens Heidi’s job without so much as a pause to hear an explanation from her for the behavior of giving Walter the harmonica, let alone welcome her assessment of the soldiers upon whom they’re experimenting. “Put your emotions aside and do your fucking job,” he says, without a trace of tact or even care for what’s he doing to her. And perhaps the most obnoxious part of the situation? From the point of view of the creators of the Homecoming project, he’s absolutely in the right.

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In the final minutes of “Helping,” the halfway point for season one of Homecoming, we finally get a clear explanation of what’s been going on in the Geist facility: The drugs they’ve been giving the soldiers returning home are an attempt to fix post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re treating PTSD like a cancer—something to be eradicated, not just managed,” as Heidi puts it during that very uncomfortable phone call with Colin. In other words, they’re obliterating bad memories—“deleting” them, in her boss’ parlance. If that sounds like a risky proposition, well, that explains why Colin is so livid about Heidi’s decision to give Walter Shrier’s harmonica. If it’s tied to one of his negative memories—and worse yet, if it could act as a trigger for the many unpleasant-sounding emotional outcomes possible for Walter Cruz—then handing him the instrument is like playing Russian roulette with his psyche. That sounds much worse than just compromising some data.

The show is playing its characters’ inner views close to the vest, so we don’t actually know how much Heidi believes this assessment, or by extension, how much we’re supposed to accept it as accurate. But it’s clearly the way Colin’s oddly menacing boss Ron (the always-welcome Fran Kranz) would see it, and that business-minded mentality may have a ring of truth to it. What is Heidi doing? Is part of her resisting the treatment they’re providing the clients, now that she finds herself with an emotional attachment to one of them? Or is she testing out some other hypothesis? Colin doesn’t let her get in a word edgewise by the end of their call, so we’re left in the dark as to her motives—and Roberts slips such ambiguity into her performance, it feels like Heidi may be a bit in the dark, too.

Then she walks into her office and is greeted by a pelican.

Homecoming doesn’t just keep its audience at arms’ length about the true extent of what’s happening in the Homecoming program, or what the people involved really think about it. It has fun with that lack of insight, using it to play games with our sympathies and comment on the characters’ own deceptions and defenses. Colin’s casual lies to his receptionist in Redwood about where he is get called out by the car-rental employee, a new layer upon pre-existing layers of duplicity. He then makes a lie of omission to Heidi, his slowly dawning realization that she doesn’t recognize him first providing reassurance that he’s safe, only to hit a new degree of frustration when he sees Thomas’ business card and figures out the compliance officer already paid the former Geist employee a visit. The show makes a strength from the normal weakness of don’t-show-or-tell storytelling, the usual clunkiness of playing coy with a narrative made into a source of fun by virtue of how fiercely the series sticks to giving everyone onscreen ulterior motives to accompany whatever ostensibly clear-cut ones they possess. (Except maybe Colin—he really just seems like a dick.)

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The soldiers of the Homecoming program act and sound very much like any other returnees from a military engagement abroad. The only difference is that we’ve now seen the razor’s edge separating them from what happens to those who don’t make it through the program. Thomas’ visit to Shrier in the future, where the vet is doing groundskeeping work and barely seems aware of what’s happening or why, is an ominous portent of the downside to the project in which these men have entrusted their wellbeing. But the real question lies in the leaf that Shrier hands to Thomas; is this just another symptom of the vet’s now-disturbed mind, or is it an actual symptom of the larger problem? “I warned him,” he tells Thomas, and it’s unclear if he means the program, the relationship, or just the trees he continues to be convinced are evidence they were never in Tampa, after all.

Of course, more unsettling is the realization that wherever Heidi is now, it’s not far from where she was plying her trade with Geist. Colin steps out of the airport into Tampa, and is soon at Fat Morgan’s, discovering the degree to which his former employee’s mind is missing some links. The show is just now starting to give up some of the bigger answers, but it’s anyone’s guess just what this experimental project is willing to do to keep its secrets safe—outside of some well-tempered memory removal, that is.

Stray observations

  • By Walter’s estimation, each of the men in Homecoming is worth roughly $100k, and the government wants its investment back.
  • Seriously, the pranks were delightful, which is rare, because pranks in real life are the worst. Walter’s glee in the opening trick of gluing Heidi’s stuff to her desk, and Heidi’s revenge in the glue on the chair, were both great fun.
  • It looks like Colin’s annoyance—expressly stated since episode one—about the living conditions of the program is a frustration shared by Ron, as well. They’re both waiting for the building of the “wellness center.”
  • Craig continues to be the worst. Our new hero Engels: “I can’t imagine that...being friends with you.” Everyone laugh, as it should be!
  • Heidi wiping off the makeup that only 30 seconds earlier she was reveling in felt very honest. Julia Roberts continues to kill it.
  • A reminder: If you’re watching ahead and want to discuss upcoming episodes or plot points, please head to the Spoiler Space to avoid spoilers in the comments.

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