Homecoming season 2 is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t rush a story, especially its ending.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
I was hoping to include season 2 of Homecoming in the next issue of my, admittedly, neglected Write A Great Opener series. Instead I’m writing this.
Homecoming is an Amazon Prime original series, adapted from a podcast of the same name. The first season stars Julia Roberts as she unravels her mystery past. Roberts’s character, Heidi Bergman, was once a councillor at a mysterious facility called Homecoming, where soldiers are sent to be rehabilitated into civilian life. Four years later, she is a waitress with no idea what Homecoming is and no memory of her close friendship with her client, Walter Cruz.
First, a review of season 1:
It’s great. Go watch it.
Okay, now for what we came for.
Season 2 kicks off with a brand new character played by Janelle Monae who wakes up in a canoe with no memory of how she got there. Everyone who watched season 1 knows that the soldiers at Homecoming were being gradually drugged to induce amnesia as a cure for PTSD. After, they would be redeployed. (Read ‘Recycled.’) The trailers and the first two episodes led us to believe that Monae’s character suffered a similar fate and that she is a soldier called Jackie.
This is later revealed to be false.
In actual fact, she was pretending to be a solider so she could earn the trust of Walter Cruz. In season 1, Walter was victimised by the Homecoming Initiative and is still suffering the aftermath, with no idea what happened to him. He has begun questioning the gap in his memory and Jackie, whose real name is Alex, went to stop him finding out.
I love this idea.
Alex is a less than pleasant character. She’s a fixer. In the first backstory flashback, she manipulates a sexual assault victim into dropping her charges. As the episode rolls on, we find that she’s dating Audrey Temple, a minor character in season 1 who has risen through the ranks and seems to be running Geist, the corporation behind the Homecoming Initiative.
These are two flawed, interesting characters. Audrey is tired of being overlooked and grows gradually more callous, encouraged by Alex. Meanwhile, Alex is manipulate and uncaring of others, while fiercely loyal and loving of Audrey.
Episode 3 was my favourite, taking minor characters from season 1, expanding on them, and adding some complexity to the individuals working at Geist. Leonard Geist himself was unaware of Homecoming and disgusted when he learned about it. Apparently, this season is focusing on the antagonists. At the heart of it, of course, is the less-then-decent Alex. She gets a dose of karma when she goes after the innocent Walter Cruz and wakes up with an opportunity to become someone better…
Only that’s not where the story goes. In fact, it ends right there.
What should have been the midpoint of a redemption story, ends with a shock twist that’s more…meh. Walter teams up with Leonard Geist, whose been pretty much shelved from his own company after he tried to stop anyone else using the amnesia medicine. Likewise, Walter is horrified that there may be more victims in the future. Together, they get revenge by drugging everyone who happened to be in the Geist building at the time.
Including innocent workers and visitors.
Leonard is supposedly an empathetic character. When a third-party shows interest in the treatment, he gets his workers to dig up the plants used. Power-hungry Audrey, who has said third-party on her side, tells him that anyone who tries to dig up the plants will be sent to prison. Leonard tells his workers to stop, then takes up the shovel himself. He would go to prison for his morals, but doesn’t want his workers to suffer the same fate.
But he’s perfectly happy drugging them, I guess.
At first, I was ecstatic that Walter got his revenge and Audrey was karma’d… except it became more underwhelming the more I thought about it.
I felt bad for Audrey, for sure, which put a damper on things. I wouldn’t have minded that, only there wasn’t enough screen time given to Walter to determine whether we should root for this ending or be horrified that he was no different to those who mistreated him. We didn’t see him gradually uncover his past.
(There wasn’t much ‘uncovering’ at all. Come on, this is supposed to be a mystery.)
I feel like we’re supposed to disapprove of his choice, but honestly it’s hard to tell. It just felt out of character. He was a little angry, true, but not angry enough to justify drugging a few hundred people the same way he had been, in my opinion.
Still, it’s not something that can’t have been fixed without a little more time dedicated to it.
Character development, my friends. If you want Walter to slip into the morally corrupt, then you actually need to build up to it.
The real shame of this rushed ending is, of course, Alex. Alex, who realises that Walter is drugging everyone, is saved from a second dose but stands idle, watching it happen to everyone around her. After, she sits with her unconscious girlfriend because she doesn’t want her to wake up alone like she had in episode 1. She’s learned some compassion, but she hasn’t learned who she was or the terrible things she had done.
Her backstory is dumped on the audience through flashbacks, but Alex herself discovers nothing. Literally, one day passes with her being an amnesiac. She wakes up in a boat, she goes to a motel, goes to her girlfriend’s, and then goes to Geist. The End.
We know who she is, but for this moment of compassion to mean something, she needed to know it too. We should have discovered it with her, as we did with Heidi in season 1. That way, we could be there with her while she reflected on everything and grown as a person.
Instead, the season ends at episode 7. That is, by far, the biggest twist. The ending feels like the middle, and not in a good way.
Walter rides off, possibly in search of more answers, leaving Alex with the unconscious Geist members. It’s impossible to know what Alex plans to do next because we haven’t learnt a thing about this version of her.
The writers seem to think that answering who she was is enough. Who she is doesn’t matter.
Once we’ve learned all we need to know, it’s a mad dash to the ending. I’m not saying this ending couldn’t have worked, but it needed more to build it up.
Open ended is one thing. Half finished is what this is.
The first season is just open-ended enough to be hopeful and bittersweet while feeling satisfyingly resolved. It is a fantastic, complete story. Season 2 started well but ultimately amounts to wasted potential.