Sam. Esmail. His name was the only convincing I needed to tune in to Amazon’s new series, Homecoming. The Mr. Robot creator delivers a taut, Hitchcockian thriller dressed in an obscure corner of Americana. Based on the episodic podcast, Homecoming centers on a rehab facility of the same name, transitioning military troops back to civilian life.
Upon first glance, Homecoming is an oasis for mental healing, exorcising demons from the war. But beneath the surface, lies an insidious secret to its success. Viewers unravel this mystery in a sliding timeline through the eyes of Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman.
The series is a 10-episode examination of agency and control – specifically that of the mind. How malleable humans can be when fed a certain narrative. What happens when this narrative is revealed as false. And upon this realization, how does one gain back this control.
Esmail explores similar themes of agency in Mr. Robot as Eliot Anderson battles both his dual identities, and the invisible hand of E.vil Corp. In Homecoming, viewers are introduced to Geist – a conglomerate overseeing the facility. It functions similarly, hiding its true motives in plain sight.
Roberts is wonderful as Bergman, her first television role. Some champion this her best performance since Erin Brokavich, a role that saw Tinsletown’s pretty woman turn down the glam for blue-collar realness. Bergman is the same, but without the bravado. I can best describe her has routine. From her mild OCD-organized desk, to the way she complies toward authority figures.
She’s the complete opposite of her superior Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale). The charismatic asshole is my bid for one of 2018’s best villains. Manipulative. Chauvinistic. Cocky. He takes his character from Robot and makes him the insecure jock from high school, running on those glory days.
These two extremes are balanced by rising star Stephan James – who beautifully depicts the wide-eyed solider Walter Cruz. His unique relationship with Bergman steers the narrative toward the unfortunate reveal. And while this show never taps the aggressiveness of Esmail’s other show, it’s just as chilling in its cerebral horror.
Esmail’s play with timelines comes off seamless. Where many shows’ time jumps tend to confuse, his visual methods differentiate the past and present. He also uses space and time in certain frames to create panic. Everything from the title sequences to the score illustrates something is awry.
At thirty-minutes an episode, the slow burn develops at a steady pace, never feeling boring. And with a disturbing post-credits scene, we see this isn’t the end of the story. Already greenlit for a second season, we can expect exploration beyond Homecoming, into the crevices of its parent company Geist.
Homecoming also stars Shea Wingham, Sissy Spacek and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. It is available through Amazon’s Prime Video.