BOXSET REVIEW: Homecoming

SPOILERS

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

What’s the story?

It’s 2018 and Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is a counsellor working at Homecoming, a privately-owned rehabilitation centre for soldiers that works to ease their psychological issues post-combat. Fast forward several years and when Thomas Carasco (Shea Whigham), an auditor for the Department of Defence tracks her down whilst investigating a complaint from her tenure at the facility, she’s working as a waitress at a run-down seafood restaurant. She also has virtually no memory of her time working at Homecoming. We follow her journey in recovering her memories as the shocking truth of what really happened to her slowly unfolds.

What’s good about it?

Homecoming comes to Amazon Prime with considerable prestige attached to it. Based off a highly popular podcast (that itself has an all-star cast) which is already three seasons deep, this psychological thriller was an easy pick up by the streaming giant. It is also the next project for Sam Esmail, the man behind the award-winning Mr.Robot, and we’re in equally mind-bending territory with this story – albeit a little more Hitchcock than hackers this time round. The headline-grabbing addition of Julia Roberts in her first ever TV role also doesn’t hurt the show’s chances at being a hit. And for the most part, it is absolutely phenomenal television that reminds you just how much of a golden age of intelligent entertainment we’re living through.

If Mr.Robot was Esmail channelling Fight Club through the millennial filter of cyber espionage, then Homecoming is The Manchurian Candidate by way of the war on terror. Whilst the source material isn’t as fresh as Amazon’s marketing department would have you believe, in Esmail’s hands it becomes something darkly magical that few other directors working today can match. The first series of Mr.Robot was near enough a masterpiece as longform television could be, and all the visual hallmarks of that show’s success are present in Homecoming. Esmail brings a veritable magician’s box of tricks to proceedings, with split screen, aspect ratio changes, inventive framing, swooping aerial dioramas and lingering static shots among his favoured techniques, but it’s never overtly flashy – it’s all in service of the tone of the show,  slowly pulling a thin strand of paranoia and dread out of the most mundane objects until you start questioning the reality of what you’re watching. You’ll never look at pineapple again without feeling physically ill after being exposed to this show.

Julia Roberts heads up a who’s who cast of character actors that feel real and embedded to the story, drawing you inexorably into the central mystery of what happened at Homecoming. There’s not a huge number of locations or incidents to work with, so instead the major focus is on the dialogue and it’s shifting intricacies. Roberts is transcendent in a role that makes you wonder where she’s been for so long. Essentially playing two different characters slowly merging as time rewinds and new details about her former personality and actions are slowly revealed, we veer from her confident, assertive portrayal of Heidi as a professional genuinely invested in helping her patients through to her future version as somebody irrevocably jaded and out of step with society, happy to wallow in a broken life without asking too many questions about how they got there. It helps that Roberts has such a solid cast to work against, with special mention to Stephen James (Selma) as disaffected veteran Walter Cruz and Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire) as her sleazy boss at the ominous conglomerate Geist.

What’s bad about it?

As much as Esmail’s style is genuinely breathtaking at times (seriously, there are some simply jaw-dropping shots in this show), it’s not for everybody. That directorial DNA is embedded in each frame, so if you’re used to a more pedestrian, less authored tone of direction you may end up feeling distracted rather than invested in what’s happening on screen.

It’s also difficult to talk about a show that lives and dies on its reveals, like any good psychological thriller does. Whilst Homecoming’s secrets are worth sticking around to see unfold, I did guess very early on what the central mystery involved. The show has to balance giving space to let your suspicions grow organically with the pace of the narrative, without telegraphing when a shock is coming – and it doesn’t succeed there all the time.

Why it’s worth a binge…

If you enjoyed the tone and construction of shows like Wayward Pines, The Sinner, Lost and Mr.Robot then this is for you – and at a snappy 25 minutes per episode, Homecoming is never in danger of outstaying it’s welcome. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better combination of story, style and acting ability this year.

Andy D

Homecoming S1 is now available on Amazon Prime

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