On Mirrored Pond: A Recap of Homecoming "Mandatory"
Homecoming S1 E 1 “Mandatory” (Are the soldiers there voluntarily?)
I was a bit torn about writing about Homecoming.
On the one hand, I love Sam Esmail’s work, the cast is incredible, and it seems like a story that people genuinely liked when it was a podcast.
On the other hand, I tend to break out in hives during appropriation of the real issues actual soldiers struggle with (like suicide and mental illness) depicted for entertainment purposes. However, after writing recaps and other articles about Mr. Robot for years now, I have some faith in Sam. So, here we go.
Oh, one other thing, I have never heard any of the podcast episodes that this show was based on and I am purposefully only watching one episode at a time as I recap (I will not have seen the episodes until I am about to recap them).
If you have not seen Homecoming S1 E1 “Mandatory” before, *Spoiler Alert*
Walt Disney World
Whenever a song starts off with an orchestral arrangement meant to suggest everything is beautiful, calm, and amazing...get ready for anything but beautiful, calm, and amazing.
I actually feel like this opening song is an orchestral version of a Disney classic and that (for some reason) seems even more ominous to me.
Homecoming opens on palm trees but after only a few seconds the camera pulls back and we see that those palm trees are in the bottom of a fish tank built into the wall of an office. In other words, we are being waned that things will not remain as they initially seem throughout the duration of this show.
We start our journey at the Homecoming Transitional Support Facility in Florida and with a first meeting, in the office with the fish tank, between the facility administrator, a woman named Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) and her first “client,” a man named Walter Cruz (Stephen James) who either used to be a soldier deployed in an active theater of operations or is still a soldier who used to be deployed in an active theater of operations.
Walter seems, like the opening music, to be very calm and pleasant.
Before he arrives Heidi makes sure everything on her desk is perfectly positioned (suggesting that she is probably a bit nervous or even insecure about how convincing she appears to Walter)
Heidi has a very easy way about her, and seems very charming with Walter, she seems like she would make for a very good therapist or counselor.
At the end of the scene, we find out that Heidi is recording her clients and that the date is April 10, 2018.
The Double R Diner
The scene cuts to a diner and the camera changes from a traditional television view to what looks like an iPhone camera or a surveillance camera (with boxed and pinched sides). Heidi is now working at this diner and her first customer is a man named Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) and he tells her he is from the Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office (DODIGO).
He tells her that he is looking for her in connection to complaints about the Homecoming Transitional Support Facility.
Thomas asks if she worked at Homecoming and she says yes, he asks how long since she worked there, she responds about four years (so we have moved into the future, apparently about 2022).
I suspect that the cramped camera suggests Heidi is under surveillance by someone in addition to Thomas.
Okay a jump back to 2018. Heidi is interviewing Walter Cruz, she says the only requirements of his participation in the program are:
Coming to meetings with Heidi
She never says she is a therapist but later mentions to Thomas that she was a counselor, so I am guessing she might be a therapist but is probably a social worker.
Heidi reads Walter a ridiculous but typical canned welcoming letter and then asks him to confirm that he is there of his own free will. He responds yes.
This is a bit confusing since later he suggest that he “knows why he is here” but then backtracks to a standard story about people coming back from war having a hard time adjusting and that the program will likely help with reintegration.
That earlier list of requirements was giving me some Soylent Green vibes even before Walter leaves Heidi’s office and she takes a call from her boss Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale) who seems extremely shady (to say the least).
I say Soylent Green because he talks about opening a lab so they have consistent supply, she refers to medicine, and he says for her not to use that word. My guess is that the meetings with Heidi, the facility, and the workshops are fronts for whatever “medicine” they are putting in the soldiers food.
Apparently, the facility is newly transformed into a facility for these former soldiers. Colin is pushing her to get as much data as possible from whatever experiment they are doing at Homecoming. He is clearly not in the United States because he says the supply has to be shipped to the United States and he also suggests that the goal is to get the authentic memories from the soldiers. The ultimate goal of all of his shadiness seems to be selling their results, represented by data, to the Congressional appropriation committee.
We also learn that the facility is also a front, being made-over to carry the project over from now until they get the funding to move into a real facility.
Finally we learn, as Heidi is driving home that Homecoming is located at the Mirror Pond Corporate Park.
Cut to Heidi at home with Anthony (Dermot Mulroney) who seems to be her“boyfriend” of almost a year. It does not seem like a very solid relationship at all. He seems to have traveled to Florida to assist Heidi in moving from wherever she moved to Florida from.
He makes them a dinner which the both uncomfortably eat together.
It seems very clear both that, despite his desire to stay with her, she would like him to leave and that Anthony is not an equal partner in this relationship (she seems to almost loathe him). She seems like almost an entirely different person with Anthony and with Thomas than she is with Walter or with Colin.
This workshop is a typical soft-skills training session.
The facilitator, named Craig (Alex Karpovsky) is role-playing with the several of the military guys as the owner of a shoe store interviewing them for jobs. The first interview goes well but the second interviewee, a guy named Rainey, displays a lot of hostility which ultimately slips over into violence with Cruz getting involved in the fracas with Rainey. Punches are thrown before the fight is broken up.
Now we cut back to another session between Heidi and Cruz talking about the incident. During the discussion Cruz admits to hating what happened because he lost control of his emotions and then also admits to having repetitive thoughts about slamming his forehead directly into the sharp corners of the desk in his room.
For a seemingly calm and pleasant man, Walter is not doing well.
We hear a bizarre bird noise which Heidi explains is a protected species, Cruz offers to “take care” of the bird for Heidi.
Cruz says he is having trouble sleeping and that he is also having nightmares, Heidi suggests he takes a roommate, in particular a man named Shrier (Jeremy Allen White who was one of the men at the workshop where the fight broke out).
Now we are back at Fat Morgan’s (we learn, now that this is the name of the dnier), Thomas asks if she was an administrator, she says she was a counselor. He asks why she stopped working there and she replies her Mom got hurt and she had to move closer to help her. He asks if her current boss knows and she gets upset. Heidi is incredibly uncomfortable answering his questions. He asks if the soldiers at homecoming were their voluntarily, she says that she doesn’t know. Thomas says one of the people complaining wanted to leave and wasn’t allowed to leave, he repeats the question asking if the sessions were voluntary, she says he asked that already and gets really agitated. Finally, she asks if she knows Walter Cruz and she says “no.”
That is the end of Episode 1 (after Heidi storms back inside and Thomas slowly walks away from Fat Morgan’s.
It occurs to me that we don’t know where Fat Morgan’s is. But I am pretty sure it looks more like Maine than it does like Florida.
Also, it seems VERY clear that the scenes at Fat Morgan’s are filmed in the style of Twin Peaks, so I am guessing it is an homage to one Sam’s idols David Lynch.
My closing thoughts? I am pretty sure that:
everything at Homecoming from therapy to the building is cover for whatever is in the food
someone aside from the DODOIG is watching Heidi in 2022
the answer to the question superimposed over the episode in the Amazon interface (Are the Soldiers There Voluntarily) is no
Heidi is not like she seems at first, Walter is not like she seems at first, and Colin is probably exactly like he seems at first (totally shady).
Great cast, the usual unique visual styling of Sam Esmail, and what seems to be an interesting mystery are all present. Looking forward to watching the rest of this series.
Leave comments or alternative theories, I will respond as long as comments are civil.
Josh is the co-host of the Decarceration Nation podcast and is a blogger and freelance writer who writes about criminal justice reform, television, movies, music, politics, race, ethics, and more.