God bless the quiet dignity of Shea Whigham’s Thomas Carrasco. The man can get the runaround from practically everyone he speaks to, endure gentle mockery and sneering condescension alike, but still stand stolid in the face of such scorn—and even hang up on his boss mid-dressing down. You go, Thomas.

The constant cross-cutting between Thomas and Heidi’s respective explorations of the Mirror Pond Wellness Center in “Protocol” is effective, but comes close to a case of overkill in terms of layering on the symbolic “mirroring” of their journeys. Heidi (and Colin) walking into the food court as Thomas enters the abandoned cafeteria, the two entering the offices at the end of the hallways at the same time...we don’t get to sit quite long enough with either of them to let their experiences register. There are a few moments that come close, but sacrifice emotion for aesthetic (I’m thinking specifically of that lovely but detached shot of the back of Thomas’ head in shadow, framed by the outline of the palm tree-engraved window). That was obviously intentional—there’s more than enough intensity to go around in the antepenultimate episode of the season—but both Roberts and Whigham are so good when Esmail’s camera does linger on their faces, it might behoove the director to lean into it a bit more.

Advertisement

Still, that’s a minor quibble for the most exciting episode of the series yet, as the confrontation between Heidi, Colin, and Thomas forms a hydra-headed bundle of fraying tension—and, in the case of Colin, boorish bravado. The Geist executive is the only one who has a sense of what happened to Heidi and the Homecoming program, and the sense of indignant, outraged cluelessness shared by Thomas and Heidi is thrilling and comical in equal measure. (This was best exemplified by the quick exchange when the compliance officer first happens upon the two. Heidi: “You were right!” Thomas: “About what?”) The way in which the show just lets these awkward exchanges proceed, in plausible, stilted fashion, lends an appealingly understated frisson to what could’ve felt very over the top. Even when Colin is plunged into the pond, only to emerge sopping wet and squawking about how he’s going to be “taking pictures of this,” it’s the kind of believable humdrum postscript that keeps this tale of conspiratorial brainwashing anchored to terra firma.

Colin’s ruse as Hunter exposed, he quickly turns to two of his more appalling tactics: Being the gaslighting asshole who tries to convince Heidi he simply wants to save her from herself, and the above-it-all prick who treats Thomas like a spittoon unworthy of his chaw. “I can practically see that wheel turning in your head—really, really, slow,” he superciliously sneers, and proceeds to unleash a degree of invective that would feel unnecessary and deeply insecure even if it didn’t boil over into dripping obnoxiousness about the minor nature of the officer’s work. “You know how fuckin’ pathetic that is?” Colin chuckles, addressing Thomas’ responsibilities. Heidi gets the applause for pushing him into the water, but Thomas gets the respect for standing stock-still and neither shrinking nor erupting in the face of such an odious dick. It’s Esmail’s drawn-out equivalent of a jump scare in horror, where you spend the entire time waiting for the character to be brought up short. And, in this case, soaking wet.

Advertisement

By now it’s clear most of the installments of Homecoming feel less like TV episodes and more like hunks of a five-hour movie, with this being the big set-up to a final showdown. The open question now is, what does Heidi do in the past to trigger the actions against her? She’s obviously on a razor’s edge of stability; the plastered-on smile she summons to silence Craig and recite the welcome speech to a new bunch of Homecoming recruits just barely stays on long enough to start walking away. By the time Walter pops his head in the door to see if she’s okay, the ruse is gone. It’s all she can do to assure him she’s fine, when she’s obviously anything but. The items on her desk that she methodically starts putting back in place as the credits roll are like little pieces of herself, parts she’s struggling to assemble into the appearance of coherence, but she’s already lost.

And the perspectives of past and present have now converged in our framing of the images. The memory awakening that happens when Heidi is about to leave the rehab office slowly triggers a classic Hitchcockian realization, a dolly zoom that simultaneously widens to shatter the 1:1 ratio we’ve been watching all this time, bringing it into alignment with the past. Heidi still doesn’t know what exactly happened, or how, but she finally sees Colin for who he is, and knows that she participated in doing something terrible to the soldiers—something for which her just-revealed nemesis feels no remorse. And worse still, he’s never even set foot in the building before. So he drives off, and she’s dumbfounded Thomas won’t even try to stop Colin. But the kicker is what Thomas says, watching the villain in both their lives motor away: “He’s right.”

Stray observations

  • “You know, there’s actually no such thing as an inner ear?” Colin’s machinations might have been worth it, just to see the look on Heidi’s face when he offers up that nugget.
  • Similarly, Sissy Spacek and Whigham both do very funny deadpan during their brief scene together at the door to the house. “Did she go to Tampa?...I’m sorry, are you...gonna tell me?”
  • Am I correct in thinking the noise that triggers Heidi’s memory is a pelican croaking? Or am I way off base, there?
  • Even with only two episodes left, please head over to our Spoiler Space if you’d like to comment on anything coming up that hasn’t yet transpired in the reviewed episodes to this very good debut season.

Advertisement