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Traumas both real and fictional push forward a flashy Homecoming

Illustration for article titled Traumas both real and fictional push forward a flashy iHomecoming/i
Photo: Ali Goldstein (Amazon)
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It’s becoming clear that this flashback from before Alex lost her memory will, in fact, constitute the majority of season two. It’s an odd structure for a TV series, but as usual, Homecoming moves at such a fleet pace, in such easily digestible chunks, that quibbles about how the show arranges this story become minor issues in comparison to the fun it’s having telling it. That some of this episode felt like unnecessary padding livened up with flashy style-for-style’s-sake direction only means that the creative team probably sensed “Meters” was the slow point of the season as well, and wanted to make sure it still felt entertaining despite its slight nature. Mission accomplished.

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Continuing to fill in the entirety of the timeline between season one’s conclusion and season two’s start, we pick up right where we left off, with Alex bailing Walter out of jail under the guise of her do-gooder “Vets4Vets” volunteer, Jackie. And in the span of only a few minutes, we again see why Alex is so wickedly good at her crisis-manager job: She says all the right things to Walter, everything an actually-helpful sympathetic ear would say. She vividly describes the pain and struggle of returning to civilian life after the life-or-death intensity of military service, connecting the former Geist test subject’s memory loss and nagging sense that something isn’t right with the universality of the feeling among soldiers back in the everyday grind: “What I learned is that this happens to almost all of us.” It’s compassionate, and sensitive—and she’s saying it for all the wrong reasons.

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Luckily, Walter’s complete lack of knowledge reassures her to the point where Alex thinks her work is done. Over a few rounds of beer, they trade war stories (hers being fictional, of course), and she correctly suggests that maybe his mom lied to him about having surgery in a well-intentioned effort to keep him from returning for another tour of duty. “He’s a total sweetheart, completely harmless,” Alex tells Audrey when she ducks out to the restroom for a phone check-in. And it all seems like it will be fine—until one tossed-off comment from Walter lets her know that he’s not giving up on getting answers out of Geist. Alex tries one more time, making up another story about her sniper buddy (just like Walter, what a coincidence!) who killed himself because he couldn’t stop looking for answers, and it blows up in her face. Walter tells her to stay the fuck away, and storms off, leading Alex to make the fateful decision to stick around and try something stupid with the serum from Audrey’s roller.

In case the title of this episode didn’t make it obvious, we now know how Alex slips up. She used the metric system when telling Walter how her former sniper pal would brag about his longest shot. All those lies on top of lies on top of lies, and the one that’s going to cost Alex her memory (presumably) is because she didn’t think to describe a certain distance with the proper measurement. When the episode ends in the supermarket, with Alex buying the melon we saw sitting on the motel bed way back in episode one, the strange comedy of the situation is driven home by the juxtaposition of this life-altering plan with the mundanities of a grocery store trip. If a lot of the aesthetics of “Meters” felt like tap-dancing to liven up the predictable path of these events (the slo-mo walk in the jail, the split-screen end to the phone call as Alex and Audrey return to their waiting guests), the end credits shot was as breezily good as season one’s pelican-in-the-office.

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Illustration for article titled Traumas both real and fictional push forward a flashy iHomecoming/i
Photo: Ali Goldstein (Amazon)

By contrast, Audrey’s journey here is shaping up to be a classic “pride goeth before the fall” scenario. She’s getting more and more confident, bolstered by Bunda’s continued snake-oil salesman patter and her own increasing ambition. First, it’s the injunction she delivers to Leonard, getting him to halt the destruction of the berries. (Or at least prevent Hector’s large crew of men from getting it done over the next two weeks, leaving the Geist CEO to vainly start digging them up himself, one by agonizing one.) Then, it’s the business of asserting herself in the office, taking Bunda’s demand for a party and using it to line everyone up under her authority. And while it’s fun watching her take revenge on the woman who never helped her when she was the desk clerk (“I love how proactive you are”), the MVP of this episode is clearly Joan Cusack, monologuing with glee about the Department of Defense’s open-ended plans for the berries and their magical properties. “But what if?” she says in response to Audrey’s questions about what they’ll do with the serum. “We open the door and let the fucking crazy world in?...Whatever happens will be better than anything we come up with.” It’s a fun performance from the ace character actor, and she’s clearly relishing it. I’m hard pressed to imagine another actor who could make the line, “Let the best idea win? Doesn’t that sound good?” seem so daffily menacing.

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It’s looking more and more like the penultimate episode is going to reveal just what went down in that motel room that led to Alex’s memory being wiped and the beginning of the season. But it’ll be a shame to not get more of the tensely intimate conversations between the crisis manager and Geist’s newest executive trying to convince one another their relationship is going just fine. Even the call between them that ends this episode, meant by both sides to be reassuring, ends on an awkward silence that speaks far more than all their words. It can be quite funny at times, but make no mistake: We’re watching a tragedy.

Stray observations

  • Gotta love Craig’s fake enthusiasm about Geist’s new Department of Defense contract. “I love it—sounds fun.”
  • Alex’s opening line to Walter is a good one, too: “It says here you assaulted a computer.”
  • Baseless speculation corner: So, what—Alex’s plan was to spike the melon and then offer Walter some as a conciliatory gesture? I think when she gets back to her room, he’ll be waiting with a couple beers, and after she spikes his, Walter will switch them without her noticing. I know that sounds silly, but honestly, how else do we get from here to there?
  • Janelle Monáe’s performance impresses me more and more. The layers to the her-as-Alex-as-Jackie scenes are so deft and mannered.
  • There’s only two episodes left. I’m not sure how they’re going to end this, but I suspect it will be more abrupt than I might like.
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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

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