Homecoming Season One (Amazon Prime)
Written by Eli Horowitz & Micah Bloomberg, David Wiener, Cami Delavigne, Shannon Houston, and Eric Simonson
Directed by Sam Esmail
Ever since I finished watching the British television show Utopia, I have been searching for another show that hit many of the same buttons as that one. While it is not an exact 1:1 match, Homecoming is the closest I’ve come to find a show that creates that same pleasant paranoid and heightened atmosphere. There are some supremely intelligent presentation decisions made with the music and cinematography that give the show an eerie feeling. Homecoming presents an urgently relevant story with the feel of a type of cinema from decades in our past.
Two stories unfold. One in 2018 (past) and another in 2022 (present). In the present. Department of Defense investigator Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) is following up on an old complaint made about the Homecoming facility. This was a privately contracted program to help rehabilitate veterans and help prepare them to re-enter civilian life. Something happened in 2018 between counselor Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) and patient Walter Cruz (Stephan James). We can see from the pivoting storyline that the Heidi of the present is a more muted, disconnected person than her past self, and this only deepens the mystery as to what went down. The secret appears to be known by Colin (Bobby Cannavale), an executive for Geist Emergent Group, the parent company to the Homecoming project.
I was immediately struck by the music of Homecoming. It will likely sound familiar, and that’s because almost every track is from a film made in the 1960s or 70s. The series uses scores written by Bernard Hermann, Vangelis, and others. I was particularly happy to hear a piece from Francis Ford Coppola’s conspiracy paranoia picture The Conversation used in a later episode, the music written by David Shire. For film fans, the creators are signaling their appreciation of a particular genre of movies, things like Hitchcock movies and the conspiracy pictures of the post-Watergate era. The music even leans into giallo territory at moments and makes the show feel both classic and a fresh take on science fiction/thrillers.
There is also meticulous attention paid to the cinematography. The shot composition is absolutely gorgeous and strongly evoked Kubrick, David Fincher, and De Palma. A decision is made to shoot the 2018 segments in full 16:9, the aspect ratio used for your typical large-screen television. However, 2022 portions are shot in 1:1 so that they resemble a vertical smartphone shot. This may seem like an arbitrary way to visually distinguish the two periods, but there is an explanation for why we see these in different ways near the end of the series. In the final episode, we’re thrown for a loop when we get a couple of scenes shot in 4:3 that also signal another point in time and have a reason for existing. This is such dedicated craft to not just shooting a script but spending time creating an atmosphere and potent tone.
Even better is that the story that accompanies these wonderfully stylistic flourishes is equally as good. The window dressing all serves to develop the characters, particularly the relationship between Heidi and Walter. Their friendship works so well and is the emotional core of the season. Carrasco and Colin operate as the more direct adversarial element in the story, only meeting face to face twice but existing in opposing orbits of Homecoming. The mystery is paced out so wonderfully and episodes only clock in around 30 minutes, a surprising choice for a drama. This keeps any chapter from falling into a lull, and you could find yourself consuming the whole season in about a five-hour binge. I highly recommend Homecoming Season One for anyone hunting for a moody conspiracy-driven thriller; you will not be disappointed.