Thoughts on Homecoming television show from Amazon - a deep dive discussion about what exactly happened at the end of the film and why.
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Ok, this is a new one for me. I don’t know what I think about Amazon’s Homecoming. Taylor doesn’t have an opinion on something? Wait, what? That’s not even a thing, is it? I didn’t think so either. At first, I didn’t even think I would even finish the series. I started it once by myself. Quit. And then my wife asked if I had heard of the new Julia Roberts series… uh, no, punk’n… tell me about it. (You see, I regularly watch stuff she wants to see without her and it is a point of perpetual contention. Sorry sweet’ems.) So, we started it… again, for the (first, cough) second time. And sure enough, after two episodes, my wife was just as done with it as I was. Although, I had made it to ep5 by myself. But in the interim, I had started the podcast, and now nothing could dissuade me from the hunt.
Can I point out something simple here – entertainment shouldn’t be this difficult to get into. There, I’ve said it. So yeah, I’m not going to be adding Homecoming into my THiNC. Recommended list (which you can see here if you are so inclined). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything here for us to talk about, to the contrary, the right hook of Homecoming really is explosively interesting.
And that is the sort of think I like to bring to you guys here on THiNC., think worthy movies. Insightful, complicated, confusing, mindjob movies that are worth discussions and arguments over. Generally not the standard Hollywood fare. They lean into the independent vein. Like Titanic Rising (sorry, that is a Homecoming joke), or I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, or The Guilty, Rabbit, and The Kindergarten Teacher. Anything, as long as there are interesting premises to be had, and intriguing things to discuss. But Homecoming? It was straight out of the vein of Maniac – which I loved. And that particular idea is simple enough – what is happening at Homecoming?
So yeah – if you haven’t seen the series yet – please do so. I plan to be delving into details here that are definitively spoilers.
Super High Level Homecoming Season Walkthrough
Heidi (played by Julia Roberts) is a counselor at Homecoming. Homecoming, apparently, is a facility focusing on rehabilitating soldiers after their return from combat. Seems like a fantastic idea seeing as though the suicide rate of military personnel is something like double that of the general population. Anyway, Thomas Carrasco (played by Shea Whigham), the investigator from the Department of Defense, discovers that the Geist research effort, Homecoming, was actually just drugging their research participants, in order to force them to forget the chaos of the battlefield. But why? Simply put, they did it in order to send them back to the field for another tour. Pretty ingenious little plan, minus the fact that it all blows up in their face.
At the end of episode nine, Heidi and Walter (played swimmingly by Stephan James), share an enormously medicated plate of the cafeteria’s gnocchi in an attempt of blitzing both their memories of the entire affair. And when the final episode opens we see Colin, Heidi’s boss, (played by Bobby Cannavale) selling the benefits of Homecoming and the achievements the program had amassed. But quickly, Colin’s thoughts swerve off topic when is told of Heidi’s medicinal overdose. Heidi informed Colin she’s walking out the door with all of her things.
Colin unwittingly finds himself dodging the roll of fall guy for the program, but not fully understanding the trouble he is really in. Colin and the former Geist receptionist Audrey (played by Hong Chau) agree that they will need to blame the program on a patsy. But Colin is completely clueless that she is gunning for him for the role of patsy. And we learn that Craig is the one that doctored Walter’s file to add a fake “misconduct/violence” record to Walter’s file. Meanwhile Heidi goes and meets with Walter’s mom, named Gloria (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and she admits everything that had happened in the program. That the program went after returning soldiers with PTSD and that they attempted to delete their memories. Gloria, obviously, isn’t amused, nor does she forgive Heidi for her actions. Heidi understands, but asks for an item of Walter’s in order to try and trigger the return of his memories. But Gloria tells Heidi no – and tells Heidi to stay away from Walter… because, after all, he’s happy again. (Can anyone say ironic?)
The Final Few Scenes of Homecoming Discussed
Alright – here we are. The point of this entire write up. The point of my attempting to soldier through, to slog to the end and to see what this is all about. So yeah, Heidi, in 2022, four years after the chaos of Homecoming, finally remembers the crux of the entire shabang. Not only was the facility there to expunge veteran’s memories, but that she also boobytrapped herself to forget that that was what they were doing at the facility. Which, I must add, was a move directly out of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. (Don’t start, if you haven’t seen that movie yet I’ve got nothing for you.)
Well, Heidi, map in hand, that was given to her by Walter earlier in the show, takes off to the California mountains. During their therapy sessions, road trips became a recurring theme in their discussions. And this small town of Fish Camp was a beacon in Walter’s mind. Halfway guessing that Walter would return, she headed there in hope of seeing him again. And there he is, walking into the restaurant where she is eating. Obviously, his brain is tripped out on memory erasing drugs, and he doesn’t remember her. But they are both kind enough. She tells him that she was supposed to meet someone, but that she was too late. As she is walking out, she notices that Walter rearranged her perfectly aligned and arranged silverware, like he had done during their sessions with the pen. So does he remember? Is that just deeply rooted instinct at play. Or a signal? And why did Heidi hide the map that might have been just the thing to remind Walter, and unlock the memories in his head, and give him back his freedom? Hrm.
The End Credit’s Scene
Did you guys notice the scene after the credits? We see Colin signing the form and telling Audrey that he is being a team player. But then, after he leaves, Audrey is shaking, like visibly. And that is when she pulls a vial of red liquid and rubs the liquid on her wrists. And voila, like a talisman, she’s calm again.
The Enormous Lie of Homecoming
Homecoming falls into a well trod path of memory experiment movies that play with the nature of trauma and personality via drugs and scientific study. The Jacket is one that we discussed recently here. Maniac, as I mentioned previously. Forgotten was an interesting twist on this theme. Oh, and Oldboy? That has to be listed here as well. But we can’t forget Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind either, could we? And obviously Memento is the grand daddy of them all.
I mention these movies because they are the shoulders upon which this story rests. All these movies have discussed this confusing question – and that is, “Are we the sum of our memories? Or are we something innate, in spite of our shared pasts?” Homecoming and the rest of the movies in this oeuvre wonder if we can delete memories and still remain who we once were. And if we are who we are only because of the painful circumstances we’ve gone through. Forget them, and are we still us?
The Study of Epistemology and Homecoming
The collective study of Philosophy has been grappling with the idea of “knowing” since as far back as Plato’s Republic and earlier. The rationalist school of thought argues that the ultimate source of human knowledge is reason. And to the empiricist, the ultimate source of knowledge is experience. Locke and Hume argued that while we might have a small amount of a priori knowledge, most of our defining knowledge comes 100% from experience. And the definition of experience would be impressions from our sensations of the physical world. (Hume called them “impressions”.) I’m sure you have heard of the phrase the Tabula Rasa – or the blank slate? It was Plato that first posited the blank slate, but later, it was the empiricists (specifically Locke) who carried this idea of the blank page further. It was central to their deterministic world view. That we are the captains of our own fates. That we are free, self authored minds, was the foundation of our definition of our freedom.
So Homecoming, whether you are aware of it or not, is a philosophical question mark. Hey empiricists – Homecoming’s authors are saying – what if all of our knowable knowledge was flawed? What if everything we could know was broken? Better yet! What if we are the ones that knowingly broke our ability to know by actively lying to ourselves? (Which is the question that the Matrix asked with the question of the red pill and the blue pill. Do we want to know the real truth?)
When it is discovered, that the Homecoming facility is purging veteran’s memories, we all wonder the same thing collectively. Are they better off? Or are they worse off? Have we broken their ability to be free agents? Could it be that if we had the ability to selectively deltree the entire subset of their military memories, should we? These guys have PTSD after all. Think about it, even Gloria admits that Walter is better off having had his memories purged. He’s finally himself again. Remember? So is this a vote for yes? We should? But what about the fact that diamonds are only valuable because of the enormous pressure they are placed under to become what they are? Muscles only form after tearing down old muscle matter to build up new. Wouldn’t we become those hover chair people in that Pixar movie, what was that called? Oh yeah, Wallie? Wall-e? Or something like that.
The Violence of Self Trickery
But, when a movie introduces the idea of tricking one’s self… that is a rabbit hole you will never recover from. Think about it. Even if you only did it once. Even if you tricked yourself once, and deleted the memories that contradicted this trick (like Leonard did to himself in Memento) you can never ever know if that was the only lie you had told yourself. I mean, think about it… YOU LIED TO YOURSELF! There is no more malicious trick than that. Is it possible to recover from such violence as this?
Heidi has dismantled her own memory, at least one time. If I were the show’s creators? In the next season, I would dive deep into this line of thinking. One self lie? Hahah. This was the 14th Homecoming attempt. Better yet!? She’s the president and inventor of the drug. It is her study, and her hypothesis they are testing! She’s not a simple lab rat. She is the lab and the master manipulator. These are her drugs. But to maintain her sanity, to maintain her hold on her assumed moral compass, she’s been rewriting her culpability time after time. (Reminds me of the clever movie Radius). Who’s to say that it wasn’t Heidi all along that got Audrey to maneuver Colin to take the fall for her project. We literally can’t know if this is all true. Not when you nuke the prima facie validity of your memories. Once that is gone? Toast. You are toast. You might have been Hitler for all we know. hahahah.
And we know that this strange red plant (is this a real plant?) is the basis of the pill that they are using on the soldiers. But what is this red juice drug? Something entirely different? Or is it just the same thing but stronger? We already know that Amazon signed Homecoming to a two season deal. We know that they have to do something to ramp the story up.
Final Thoughts on the Show Homecoming
Personally, it felt like the first 5 episodes could have been ditched wholesale, and the show wouldn’t have suffered any in the least. (I’m sure many of you disagree, and to you I yield the floor.) But I have to give Sam Esmail props for a consistent and well trod path from beginning to end. There is something amazing about the philosophy of memory and the nature of who we are and who we hope to be. By deleting Walter’s war memories, was he fixed? Gloria, who didn’t know, nor did she want to know, a post war Walter, would say yes. But if we are the sum total of our experiences, as the empiricists say that we are, then, what exactly have we done to Walter? Defrauded him of himself, and more importantly his freedom?