‘Homecoming’ Episode One: Mandatory

Premiering on Amazon Video in November, Homecoming is a psychological thriller based on the podcast of the same name by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg. The podcast is a magnet of Hollywood talent, boasting big names like Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, David Cross, and Amy Sedaris. Scripted podcasts were once prime radio entertainment, but fell out of popularity with the rise of television in the 1950s. Taking inspiration from the 1943 radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number”, Horowitz and Bloomberg bring back this style of entertainment, creating an HBO worthy series in podcast form. This slow-burning, star-studded thriller was developed for the small screen by Sam Esmail, and stars Julia Roberts in her first full-length television role.

The show’s premiere episode shifts between secret government facility Julia Roberts and Fat Morgan waitress Julia Roberts. Her character, Heidi Bergman, it is revealed, once worked at a facility called the Homecoming Transitional Support Centre, but has since quit. The past she has tried to escape catches up with her when she waits on Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) who works for the Department of Defence. He’s following up on allegations and complaints about the facility and the treatment of the soldiers living there, as questions arise about whether or not they were there voluntarily or held against their will. 

We learn that Heidi used to be a counselor at Homecoming, responsible for aiding soldiers reintegrate into society by helping them process their military experience and re-familiarize them with civilian life. This monitored environment seems simple on the surface: a space where soldiers suffering from PTSD can come and heal. With group meals, workshops, and practice job interviews that provide the comedy to the episode, Homecoming seems almost inviting. But as the camera pans along the facility’s long corridors, above the facility’s many rooms, with a haunting score playing throughout, it becomes clear that everything is not what it seems.

It’s evident that Heidi is uncomfortable with the going’s on at the facility, whatever they may be. She wants a holistic approach to treatment, while her boss, Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale) just wants her to collect some important “data” to present to the Department of Defense. Belfast’s emphasis on discretion consumes Heidi as she takes her work home with her, creating what are probably many awkward dinners between her and her boyfriend. If there’s one word to describe the episode, it’s secrecy.

Heidi wants to leave her past behind her, but why is uncertain. The episode raises more questions than answers: What is Homecoming’s real purpose? What’s the real reason Heidi quit? And most important of all, why is there a species of bird flying outside that sounds like a whoopee cushion?

 

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