Homecoming, remarkable as Julia Roberts first foray into episodic television, is also remarkable for its mysterious and slightly creepy storyline and vibe.
Julia Roberts is Heidi Bergman. In 2018 she was a counselor in a treatment center for returning soldiers. The center, called Homecoming, was meant to prepare the soldiers, all of whom suffered PTSD or various traumas, for their lives ahead. Now, in 2022 or thereabouts, she is a waitress in a seafood joint and unable to remember anything about what happened at Homecoming.
We jump back and forth between these two time periods as the intriguing story unfolds.
There are four lead characters in this 10 part drama. (Each episode is about 30 minutes long.) In addition to Heidi, there is Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale). He’s Heidi’s boss and constantly on the phone with her, urging her to “get the men ready.” She thinks that means getting them ready for civilian life, but the immoral purpose behind Homecoming is not so benign. Bobby Cannavale is generally perfect at nailing a character, and he does it again here.
Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is one of the soldiers who comes under Heidi’s care. I thought Stephan James gave the best performance of all the very fine acting talent in this series. He was the person most of the mystery revolved around and happened to. He interacted with Heidi more than anyone else. The two of them became very close, and Heidi took a personal interest in making sure he ended up where he wanted to be.
Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) is the fourth lead character. Carrrasco is a “cog in the wheel,” in his words. He’s a functionary in the Department of Defense. He is alerted to an investigation into Walter Cruz’s case while he was at Homecoming. The details of the alert are sketchy, but there’s something there that makes Carrasco’s spidey senses tingle. He keeps pursuing Walter’s case until he unravels the whole tangled mess.
Carrasco is a sad sack non-hero from an office cubical, but he stirs up a well-hidden hornets nest. Carrasco starts trouble by asking questions of Colin, who claims to know nothing. He talks to Heidi, who initially can’t remember anything. He finds soldiers who were at Homecoming. We begin to glimpse what really happened there.
Like so much of what’s wrong with the world today, corporate greed is at the base of what happens in Homecoming. When profits are involved, when money is to be made, the lives of the people at the bottom are expendable. Homecoming is another manifestation of a sick system in which profits are the only thing that matter.
Two wonderful actresses played moms in Homecoming. Sissy Spacek was Heidi’s mom and Marianne Jean-Baptiste played Walter’s mom. Dermot Mulroney was in a few episodes as Heidi’s neglected live-in boyfriend.
Homecoming is another manifestation of a sick system in which profits are the only thing that matter.Directed by Sam Esmail of Mr. Robot fame, the series carries some directorial tricks and baggage that both added to and detracted from the story. Esmail used wide screen shots for the 2018 events, but most of the current day (2022) parts of the story were squeezed into something that looked like it was shot on a iPhone in portrait mode. In addition, the squeezed sections used less color. When Heidi began to recall the past, the screen suddenly widened.
The director used many overhead shots that dehumanize the people scurrying below. Significance was granted to many complex arty architectural features like stairways, hallways, and storage spaces. It felt experimental in a lot of ways, although I don’t think it was meant to be experimental. I think it was meant to be unsettling. Many things about this story were unsettling. The music, the colors, the lighting, and the camera work all supported that feeling.
There was still action as the credits rolled at the end of each episode, and something very important happened after all the credits rolled on episode 10. Pro tip: watch the credits.
Julia Roberts played her character as empathetic and helpful when she was a counselor. When she was a waitress, she was dull and undemonstrative. She looked sad and defeated much of the time and only came alive toward the end. Like her surroundings, she was subdued. She had a bit of a compulsive disorder that was well used in the story to provide a touch of humor and pathos.
Many things about Homecoming were distracting to me as a viewer. But overall, it was an interesting drama that unfolded in fascinating bits and pieces that drove me forward from episode to episode. It’s certainly worth watching. I don’t give it rave reviews, but I kept watching to the end, which is more than I can say for some series I’ve started and abandoned lately.
Please share your reactions if you’ve seen this series.