The elastic and elusive nature of memory has always been the driving force behind Homecoming. First a podcast, then a 10-episode vehicle for Julia Roberts in a rare TV role, now a series with a second season – a new mystery, fresh characters, but still the same questions. How does what we remember, and what we obscure, define who we really are?
In season one, this puzzler tormented Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), a case worker at Geist Group’s Homecoming Transitional Support Centre. It specifically looked at her professional relationship with war veteran Walter Cruz (Stephan James). In season two, Heidi is nowhere to be seen – but Walter’s story certainly isn’t over.
This time around, James’ character is more of a satellite to Jackie – Janelle Monáe’s new character which drives this season forward. She wakes up on a fishing boat in the middle of a lake. She doesn’t know how she got there, what to do once she’s out of there, or much of who she is at all. As ever, Homecoming begins with the end, and relishes the chance to put the pieces back together in reverse order – making the mystery even more addictive for the viewer.
Spoilers, of course, are high-stakes in the world of Homecoming – but thankfully the twists and turns here are just as satisfying as in season one. The initial 10 episodes followed its source text, the podcast by Mica Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, while the second season expands the world beyond what was originally envisioned. But with Bloomberg and Horowitz still writing the show, nothing falters in terms of the story’s depth.
Things are pushed outwards, though – which can be guessed from the credits alone. Where season one kept a tight focus on Roberts and James, season two is gloriously star-studded. Along with James and Monáe, Hong Chau (Watchmen) gets a bigger and more complex character development from season one, while the introduction of the always brilliant Chris Cooper (American Beauty) gives a face to the notorious CEO Leonard Geist. Meanwhile, Joan Cusack plays eccentric military woman Francine Bunda in a wiry, almost pantomimic performance.
These new characters may dilute the central focus – one individual is forced to re-evaluate their sense of self in the middle of a much wider conspiracy – but only slightly, as the elaborate machinations of Geist, its employees and its purpose, are fleshed out with successfully mind-scrambling but always sophisticated results.
The world of Homecoming still looks as slick as the finest spy thriller movies on the big screen. Where season one toyed with the genre’s tropes, by recycling seminal suspense-filled soundtracks (from Hitchcock, De Palma and more), season two recruits rising composer Emile Mosseri (responsible for the stunning score in The Last Black Man in San Francisco) to write original music that helps to build tension as much as the slowly-delivered dialogue.
Elsewhere, the tight 30-minute runtime gives Homecoming a sense of claustrophobia and restraint usually reserved for comedies. But the snappy format offers a very different kind of escapism for the viewer here: Homecoming examines the danger of being alone with your own thoughts, pushes you to see beyond appearances and deep into the jigsaw puzzle of the human mind. As the series proves with its second season, the possibilities are endless – you never know what you’ll find there.