Photo: Hillary B. Gayle (Amazon)

“Who here thinks any of this is fuckin’ real?!”

Specialist Joseph Shrier may indeed be “highly agitated and paranoid,” as Colin says, but he’s not wrong about the existence of false pretenses. (Okay, thinking they aren’t actually in Florida is admittedly a bridge too far.) The Homecoming project has reasons for bringing these men together that have very little to do with helping them transition back into society. Heidi genuinely wants to help them, but it’s in service of acquiring data—“everything these guys remember”—that will presumably make her superiors very wealthy. You don’t arrange staged meet-and-greets with executives on golf courses if you’re not looking to make a lot of money. And whatever the real reasons for the men being there, by the end of the day Shrier has been proven right about something else, too: They’re not just free to leave whenever they want.

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It starts with a slightly silly focus on fruit, but “Pineapple” eventually earns its title by reworking an initial non sequitur of a camera zoom on the titular food into becoming a stand-in for everything wrong with the facility. And that’s starting to look like the modus operandi of these early installments of the show: doing a lot with a little, giving just enough to push the story a little further along while basically refusing any real information. It’s good fun, but it doesn’t do much as an individual episode of television. It’s a piece of a larger puzzle, but it’s one of those edge pieces that are all a single color—only useful insofar as it snaps together with those on either side of it.

The present-day narrative comes more to the foreground here, as we start to get a better sense of Heidi’s day-to-day life, but even in this the show is teasing some grand mystery to which our protagonist herself is in the dark. She appears to be living with and caring for her mother (the always-welcome Sissy Spacek), but when she mentions Thomas’ visit, her mom quickly disabuses her of the notion that Heidi moved back because of her parent’s medical needs. “You came back, and then I fell. That was two months later.” The fact that Heidi is surprised by this suggests her life has been in a strange kind of stasis, a holding pattern she has never thought to question during the years since she relocated. The question of what happened to her is now starting to become bigger than just what Homecoming did to her and others at the time she left; it seems to have bled into her entire subsequent existence.

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Everyone’s favorite awkward compliance office Thomas gets a little more screen time here, in the harsh fluorescent lighting of his office cubicle while he tries and fails to speak with Walter Cruz. Walter’s mother—or the person who says she is—refuses to give him much, other than the unexpected reveal of Heidi’s name on her tongue when Thomas brings up Heidi’s inability to remember anything. And Thomas has work problems of his own: His boss, busy with her young child, doesn’t have much interest in the case’s peculiarities. “There’s a binary—you close or elevate,” she says, and without anything more to go on than the hunch that everyone’s being real weird, the case looks to get closed. (It won’t be, of course, but I’m glad we’re fleshing Thomas out more as a character instead of just a set of prying eyes.)

What little electricity this episode throws off is provided almost wholly by Jeremy Allen White’s Shrier, whose slow-burn eruption in the cafeteria manages to plant seeds of doubt in Walter’s head. (Cannavale’s Colin is the other brash force of momentum here.) Despite the crazy-sounding conspiracies pouring from his mouth, the soldier still has the trust of his comrade, and so the smaller questions give rise to larger ones. He may have lost a good chunk of that confidence when he leapt up and started ranting to the entire room, but his nagging sense of unease will remain with his friend. Esmail’s direction helps here—the close-up camerawork illuminates the bond shared between these men, and goes some way toward demonstrating why Walter’s loyalties would lead him to buy into these far-fetched possibilities.

While we have yet to really learn anything substantive about what’s going on, the brief flashes of a larger story at work—the quick cut to bloodied glasses lying in the sand when Heidi asks Walter if he’s ready to talk about Lesky’s death, the friendly ambush on the golf course—keep things moving along with just enough energy to prevent it from feeling like stalling. Homecoming needs to start giving us more to work with, but even this lesser second episode has the style and tension to sustain interest for now.

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Stray observations

  • The final static shot here is very emblematic of the series as a whole: Shrier, confined and beginning to come apart, hemmed in by the framing of the window onto the hallway.
  • Walter and his buddies from the Titanic Rising story all received the Army Commendation Medal.
  • Stephan James does a great job using Walter’s understated reveal of Lesky’s death to sell the character’s ambiguous mental state: “It makes the story a little sadder, I guess.”
  • Of course, the questions asked in the doctor’s office do an even better job of putting the viewer on edge when it comes to what’s happening in Walter’s brain: “Do you ever hear ticking, or squeezing sounds in your head after you run?”
  • The movie Anthony asks Heidi if she wants to return to is the cheesy 1991 action drama Backdraft.
  • 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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