On Mirrored Pond: A Recap of Homecoming "Optics"

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Homecoming Season 1 Episode 3 “Optics” (What Happened on 5/15/2018?)

There is a lot going on in each of these episodes, I am sorry they take me so long. In this particular instance, I felt like I needed to re-read some philosophy before writing and also had to take a trip to DC. Anyway, thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

Florida Road Trip

Shrier and Cruz go on a wild adventure leaving the facility and ultimately proving only that the Homecoming facility is indeed located in the state of Florida.

I guess that isn’t entirely a surprise, but what was much more interesting to me is how the REALITY of the places they visit on their adventure seem as surreal or bizarre as the facility itself. Almost as if what is being questioned is if, for a normal couple of guys (or girls), a real world one can escape to even exists. A world beyond surveillance, militarism, exploitation, and white picket fences.

If Homecoming is an evil Disneyland, Florida is the Disneyland parking lot.

Like with much of Sam Esmail’s work, I find myself taken back to Simulacra and Simulations by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard:

To begin with it is a play of illusions and phantasms: pirates, the frontier, future world, etc. This imaginary world is supposed to be what makes the operation successful. But, what draws the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious reveling in real America, in its delights and drawbacks. You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that sufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect. The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot - a veritable concentration camp - is total. Or rather: inside, a whole range of gadgets magnetize the crowd into direct flows; outside, solitude is directed onto a single gadget: the automobile.

At Homecoming, the parking lot is a return to your family, maybe in full withdrawal from a drug addiction you didn’t even know you had in service of a cause you never signed on for (the drug test of some corporation most likely intended to build super soldiers...purely an instrument of their desire for profit, unknowing and tossed aside once no longer useful to their project). Is it any surprise that Shrier, after his trip through his foreign military adventure, can no longer determine between reality and fantasy?

Or more precisely, is revealing the hollowness of reality. That all we have to hold on to is our instinctual belief that there is a REAL to return to (In other words, that there is nothing but simulation left). Isn’t this precisely why MAGA worked in 2016? Playing on everyone’s belief that somewhere, there is a bar we could go to where we could just have a beer and everyone would be okay.

Band of Brothers

By the way...have you noticed that nobody, no character on this show, appears to have a connected and healthy home life except for one person? The only one “living the dream” is the person selling the nightmares to everyone else (Colin Belfast) and even he is only allowed to visit as a reward for work done well.

And even in the case of Colin Belfast, the one character truly experiencing the imagined real, it seems a bit strained, like a character in the scene where all the rich folks in the movie Brazil are eating glop presented as steak by a high-end restaurant.  The illusion matters as much as the substance.

I think what is being explained here, and oddly enough also in Mr. Robot, is that there is LITTLE functional  DIFFERENCE between the revolution and the corporation for the plebe, between escape and imprisonment, between entertainment or deprivation. In our mass buy-in to the system, we have reduced what was REAL to a nostalgia vulnerable to manipulation….A mass VR experiment that takes advantage of our optimism and our deep desire (perhaps craving) to feel our actions serve a real connective purpose.

For example, I can attest to the fact that being out in the REAL world is better than being in prison (I have been imprisoned). But at the same time, now the FREE world means being at risk of imprisonment for saying words, our neighborhoods and cities are constantly and totally surveilled, we have allowed our police the right to shoot anyone for almost any reason, and our phones can allow authorities to track us anywhere at anytime (often with our explicit agreement).

Freedom now really is not Free.

Shrier is trying to escape to a real, a somewhere, that no longer exists if it ever did.

The truth is that the African village the Army built in order to train people like Schrier and Cruz is no different than the Homecoming facility, no different than the retirement village, and no different than any city.

Simulated freedom, in service of the machine.

My friend, the Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh often suggests that what he need to do is “embrace the ruins (in essence, we all need to take the Red Pill from the Matrix).” I think the psychologist Lacan refers to this as “traversing the fantasy.”

Baudrillard continues:

Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.

MAGA/Nostalgia is our collective commitment to the Blue Pill, what is painful is stripping the nostalgia away to see the desert of the real.

The comedian David Cross had a joke about people moving to Hollywood to “make it in films.” He spotlighted that of the millions of “talented” folks who relocate to “make it” maybe three or four (including ironically David Cross himself) will ever make it.

Our collective commitment to our nostalgia/desire for true freedom is, in this context, kind of like taking that trip to Hollywood. Might be time to stop defending the plasterboard - mile wide and inch deep - facades of our imagined, desired, and craved REAL and start embracing the ruins.

Walter Cruz reminds me of the character Cypher from the Matrix, he has seen all the same evidence Shier has seen but still enjoys the steak, even if it isn’t really a steak that he is eating at all, to give up the fantasy and embrace the ruins  (in his case, driving across the country with the windows down with a romantic partner).

However, this appears to be about to change.

Don’t Look at the Machine Behind The Curtain

Thomas Carrasco has a lot of screen time during “Optics” but all in the service of one discovery.

Thomas figures out that on 5/15/2018 Walter Cruz assaulted Heidi Bergman and caused her to lose her job due to her subsequently being hospitalized.

In service of figuring this out, he refuses to do as his boss told him and end the investigation and even physically avoids his voice on the way to investigate the files in storage in the basement of his office.

Remember, it seems clear that the drug being administered in the soldiers food is designed to create super-soldiers able to fight through emotional trauma but the major side effect of this “treatment” seems to be irrationality and rage in a decent percentage of those treated (we know of at least two people already who have lost it).

Sam has shown us so much of the positive and supportive relationship between Walter and Heidi (it even seems flirtatious at times) so the dread of knowing that it will all end in violence is even more disquieting.

During the credit sequence, Sam pays homage to Hitchcock’s classic movie Vertigo in which character John Ferguson (James Stewart) falls for two women who look exactly the same. Not surprisingly, there are multiple Heidi Bergman’s represented in this episode as well:

The caring and even playful Heidi who meets with Walter

The emotionally cruel and even ruthless Heidi who crushes Anthony

The amnesiac (Kim Novak’s character in Vertigo may or may not have amnesia too) Heidi who reunites with Anthony (to get to the bottom of her amnesia concerning her former job).

Let us not forget, that as much as we find out 2018 Heidi wants to “save” Cruz and Shrier, and (according to Anthony wants to help them), she is also clearly complicit in running a program which will sacrifice them without a second thought the exact moment they stop being functional test subjects. Colin literally says the physical risks a patient responding poorly to their treatment poses to his/her family is “beyond their responsibility.”

Heidi may have convinced herself she was doing right, but a part of her clearly understands that what she is doing is dangerous and wrong as well. Most likely, recovering her memories is not going to result in a flood of happy memories.

Might be best for her to embrace the ruins and learn to love the Diner.

Okay, that’s it for episode 3. Leave a comment if you would like to!

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Josh is the 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.