“I deserve to be punished. Don’t I?”
The question of blame looms large over the story of Homecoming. The degree to which participation in a system you know to be unfair or harmful should be ethically laid at your feet is one that many people face in an ongoing way in their workplace—this series just foregrounds it and makes a bolder example of the thorny issues at play. We naturally feel a sense of forgiveness toward Heidi, in part because she’s clearly already suffered for her actions. But does she become more culpable for walking back into the building after learning what was really happening to the soldiers? Does her desperate act of resistance, serving up a heaping plate of food dosed with the week six medication to Walter and herself, further compound the blame or help to mitigate it? When you don’t feel right about the actions of your employer, what is your responsibility? For Heidi Bergman, the answer is simple: Run, even if it’s from your own mind.
One of the strongest elements of “Work” is how it doesn’t shy away from implicating Heidi in the consequences of her actions, no matter how well-intentioned she may have been. The initial interview between her and Colin that bookends the episode is useful not just for how it symbolically depicts the low-light environs of Geist, as though the company were advertising its desire to keep its behavior safely removed from the light of day. It also shows that Heidi’s eagerness to prove herself may have contributed to her messy situation. She very clearly told Colin that the job would take precedence above all else, that she would be willing to do what others wouldn’t, and while she certainly didn’t envision the horrific outcome of her actions, she knew from day one the Homecoming program was operating in a gray area, both legally and morally. Think back to her conversation with her boss in episode one: When you’re being told not to use the word “medication” in front of other people, that should be a warning bell.
And with the consideration of her job from an outside perspective, Sissy Spacek’s presence here finally has a bit more purpose besides being playful with Shea Whigham. The script at last gives her a chance to speak up, and when she does, it’s exactly the kind of common-sense point of view that those characters stuck inside the fluctuating orbit of Geist’s reach can’t quite see. Pointing out Heidi had only had her degree for a couple of years, she makes the obvious insight: “They wanted you to run the whole company? Fishy.” But she also sympathetically notes the same reason many people continue to do work they may not find entirely justifiable or righteous, outside of a large paycheck: They enjoy the hell out of it. “You sounded happy,” Heidi’s mom says, and the other considerations took second place to that overriding concern.
Of course, we’re also smartly shown the flip side of that workplace dilemma. Thomas, after hanging up on his boss to pursue a case he was explicitly instructed to ignore, finally brings his findings back to the office, and they’re more than enough to justify elevating the case. We get a shot of him again in the midst of the vast cubicle-and-fluorescent armada of his job, only now the sense of oppressiveness and claustrophobia has been turned inside out; he radiates outward with satisfaction, his small cog turning in a way to start other cogs moving—the wheels of justice, just as he said. He has no idea he’s being stymied; his boss picks up a cell and calls Geist to report there’s a problem. But the point is precisely that such institutional corruption is out of his hands, and Thomas can rest easy, with the clear conscience of someone who did the right thing.
Unfortunately, Micah Bloomberg’s mostly strong teleplay also takes a weird pivot into Lady MacBeth territory. Colin’s wife (Sidney Poitier Heartsong, doing her best with the material) has been a peripheral character, someone we see as a way of showing Colin’s daily life outside of Geist, which is why it doesn’t really ring true when he comes home, wracked with guilt, eager to confess his wrongdoing, and she instead brushes it aside. A person who tells someone they love not to tell them a secret they’re desperate to reveal, instead wanting it to go into a closed box, never to be heard or seen? It’s less a person than a storytelling conceit that rings false, especially from a character that hasn’t been set up in any way to be so bizarrely tone-deaf to human behavior. It’s meant to humanize Colin, to show him as someone at the mercy of his own larger-than-life forces of his strangely scheming wife, but it’s a jarring moment of, “Women, am I right?” unjustified by the narrative that’s led to it. (It’s also framed like a scene right out of Mr. Robot, Esmail’s other show.)
Better to take refuge in the past, as Heidi hopes to. Her final recorded conversation with Walter is a heartbreaker (his hopeful suggestion that he could once more be deployed with Shrier, “or even Lesky,” conveys the depths of his mental decay), and the cross-cutting between it and the present-day journey to her workplace elegantly depicts the fraying of her ability to keep it together in either timeline. Then, she couldn’t do it anymore; she invites Walter to the cafeteria, and serves up the meal that will presumably render them both unfit for duty. Now, she watches as her regular customer Mrs. Trotter dies in the booth she occupies everyday, and it’s a bridge too far; Heidi removes her waiter’s apron and heads for Gloria Morriseau. The story seems undeniably headed for tragedy, but maybe our damaged case worker can squeeze one last road trip in before it all comes crashing down.
- Thomas still has the leaf Shrier handed him. I see big things for that leaf in season two.
- There’s a charming mapping in the return to Thomas’ computer blinking the “Click to confirm” command, only this time to elevate the case.
- Tuesday is Italian day in the Homecoming kitchen. Perhaps Moroccan Mondays are a remnant of the program’s meal planning?
- “My job was to help them.” “Maybe it wasn’t.”
- In some ways, this could’ve served as a season finale, albeit an unsatisfying one. Very curious to see how this is going to wrap up next episode, and what narrative threads they choose to complete.