“I don’t know what’s going on. Do you?” Set to the awkward background soundtrack of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” Heidi’s question to her mother succinctly describes not just the first half of this series, but an apt slogan for the worst results of the Homecoming project.
If last episode began to peel back the layers of deception at work within Geist and displayed the depths to which Colin will sink in his efforts to protect himself from the prying eyes of Thomas and Heidi both, “Test” is the moment when things start barreling forward, the momentum gathering steam as Thomas’ interrogation of Heidi in the present is paired alongside the discovery of Walter’s memory loss in the past. It’s been clear since almost the beginning that something had been done to Heidi to make her forget, and following the revelation in episode five of Geist’s goal of erasing traumatic emotions from returning soldiers, the obvious assumption is that Geist then turned its medication on Heidi, excising her entire history of working for the Homecoming program. This simply lays bare the events that started them all down this path: She learned their treatment was going awry, and she did something about it.
The latest conversation between Heidi and Colin (the latest in the past, rather)—again filmed with Esmail’s good use of split-screen, the sound of the phone connection crackling as though we’re eavesdropping, and Colin’s winding spiral path up the stairs—all make the central “scales falling from the eyes” reveal of Geist’s duplicity land with force. We suspected something all along, and Colin letting slip that the Dept. of Defense wanted them to wipe these soldiers clean in order to return them to battle is just the kind of effective knife-twist that seems eminently plausible and totally disgusting. “We’ve saved them from a lifetime of pain, and anxiety, and regret.. In the end, he’ll thank us for that.” Colin’s words are those of every abusive asshole who’s ever harmed another person “for their own good.” And if the first round of soldiers to lose their feelings of pain and guilt happen to be turned into memory-less automatons in the process, well, you can’t make a secret military program omelette without breaking a few human eggs.
The music, which borrows liberally from the scores of John Carpenter films, play up the dramas, but it’s the pairing of such aural intensity with the prosaic scenery that makes this installment so effective. The sanitized corporate environs, the mundane suburban housing of Heidi’s mother—these are the settings in which such cruelties unfold. The muted color scheme serves to reinforce the everyday nature of the surroundings, again reinforcing Gloria Morriseau’s point: that horrific institutions and actions aren’t done by mustache-twirling men in back rooms. They’re done by corporate executive, smiling and taking meetings on their bluetooths while planning weekend retreats with their spouses.
It’s also what makes Shea Whigham’s Thomas such an affecting character. “I know what people think,” he says, an air of sadness enveloping the man who just tumbled into a bike rack and is sitting on the concrete ground, frustrated and flailing. “I’m just a cog.” In other words, he’s indistinguishable on the outside from the many other cogs who may be serving sinister ends. But as he points out, his own little machinery can make other cogs turn and do work of their own—“...and that’s what justice is.” His bitter speech reminds Gloria that the means to redress evil have to come from the same ossified institutions and structures that cause the pain; that systems larger than any one person also might be the only things powerful enough to find a measure of justice.
Similarly, there’s a quiet tragedy at work in Heidi’s realization of what’s happening to Walter Cruz. Her offhand comment about getting back to “Titanic Reborn” is the trigger that exposes gaps in the soldier’s memory, but it’s her growing awareness of the severity of his memory loss that makes the scene work. She’s desperately worried, but trying only semi-successfully to hide that concern, fearing what it might do to her charge. Not only is he unable to remember the day Lesky died, he can barely remember he was over there at all. “Wait, does that mean something?” Walter asks her, seeing the fear on her face and unsure what it means. But by the end, even her inability to mask her feelings can’t break through the chemical neutering that’s been performed on Walter, who assures her this is the best he’s felt in a long time. What a brave new world for him.
Thomas has yet to put together what seems obvious to the audience at this point: That Heidi is telling the truth, that she doesn’t remember doing anything to those men because the same thing was done to her. To be fair, he’s only just now listening to the session in which Walter’s memory is revealed to be disappearing—he doesn’t know Geist’s goal with the project. But Colin knows all too well, and the way he planted seeds of paranoia in Heidi pushes her to act. “You were right. They’re coming after me,” she tells him, and despite his attempts to steer her away from Thomas (“fuck you, fuck you,” he repeats under his breath, watching the compliance officer drive away after confronting Heidi), he’s still the one controlling her interpretation of events. As they drive off toward Tampa, the big danger isn’t that Heidi will learn what happened. It’s that Colin will be there when she does.
- Thomas fixed the record player! “It was the stylus.”
- It’s one of those excellent down-the-rabbit-hole moments when Heidi demands to know how Gloria got her hands on recordings of the sessions with Walter. “You sent them to her.”
- Of course Colin tells her she’s sounding hysterical. Classic gaslighter.
- We’re approaching the final act, but again, if you’d like to discuss upcoming episodes, spoilers, or comparisons to the podcast, please head over to our Spoiler Space.