The first season alternates between two storylines, both centered around social worker Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts). Heidi is the primary case worker at Homecoming, a privately-owned experimental rehabilitation center for veterans suffering from PTSD. It’s a dream job at first – but when interactions with her morally dubious boss Colin (Bobby Cannavale) and her most promising patient Walter (Stephan James) arouse her suspicion, she soon realizes that the otherwise idyllic facility holds a dark secret…
Four years later, Heidi has seemingly thrown away her career for a waitress gig at a dingy seafood restaurant when an auditor from the Department of Defense, Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), approaches her to discuss criminal allegations regarding her former place of employment. She must work through unexplainable gaps in her memory to help finally bring Homecoming to justice.
The second season revolves around a woman (Janelle Monáe) waking up in a boat in the middle of a lake with no memories of who she is or why she's there. She ends up meeting a man in the hospital who may know more about her situation that he lets on. This season is a departure from the podcast, following an entirely different cast instead of following Heidi's story.
Homecoming’s first season, directed by Sam Esmail (of Mr. Robot fame), premiered on November 2, 2018. A second season, with Kyle Patrick Alvarez replacing Esmail as director, premiered May 22, 2020. While critical reactions to the first season raved about the casting, cinematography and direction, reactions to the second season were more mixed.
Character tropes go on the Character page.
Homecoming contains examples of:
- Anachronic Order: The story jumps back and forth between two points in Heidi’s life: her work at the Homecoming facility in 2018, and her involvement in the Homecoming investigation in 2022.
- Animal Motif: Fish. Heidi and Walter discuss the fish tank in Heidi's office as part of their sessions. The Homecoming cafeteria is decorated with fish, which Walter uses as part of a prank. After leaving Homecoming, Heidi works at a seafood restaurant and has a fish-shaped nametag. Walter moves to a town called Fish Camp.
- Artifact Title: Season 2 focuses on an entirely different cast in a different location, thus leaving the Homecoming centre behind.
- Artistic License – Pharmacology: Homecoming is secretly administering experimental drugs by putting in the soldiers' food, but this is a very inexact way to deliver medication. There seems to be no system for controlling how much of the drug makes it into each dish, and there are no established rules governing how much food they eat. So there's no way for Homecoming to effectively control the dosage, even though it's established that skipping or doubling doses can have catastrophic effects.
- Aspect Ratio Switch: The 2018 segments of the plot are filmed in 16:9; for the 2022 segments, the aspect ratio switches to 1:1. Select scenes set before both time periods are presented in 2.35:1. In 2022, when Heidi's memories return to her, the aspect ratio changes from 1:1 to 16:9 via the Vertigo Effect. When she knowingly takes the Homecoming drugs herself and loses her memories, the ratio shifts back to 1:1 in the same way.
- Behind the Black: In "Stop" (1x10), Colin hurriedly calls Heidi in a panic about her knowingly dosing herself and Walter with the Homecoming drugs by eating in the cafeteria, realizing too late that all of the DOD staff are standing behind him and staring, and that he's revealed way too much than he intended.
- Benevolent Conspiracy: Zigzagged before being finally subverted. At first, it appears that Homecoming has good intentions in wiping the soldiers' memories. Then it transpires that they only want to deploy the soldiers again, regardless of what they want.
- Bittersweet Ending: To season 1. The veteran rehabilitation program at Homecoming is shut down, and Walter survives with his mental faculties intact. Heidi begins making amends for her actions at the facility, and is able to meet Walter on good terms, although he doesn’t remember her. However, the Geist Corporation is still marketing its amnestic drugs (and it is implied that the Department of Defense refuses to take legal action against them), Heidi is left to deal with the crippling guilt wrought by her actions, and several patients are left with severe brain damage from their treatments.
- Continuity Lockout: Each episode builds on the last, as is typical of the genre.
- Corporate Conspiracy: Geist, the company who run Homecoming in private association with the government. Theoretically a recovery place for soldiers, their attempts to use memory wiping drugs appears to be a Benevolent Conspiracy, until Heidi learns that they're really trying to redeploy these soldiers more "efficiently" by removing them of the need to have psychiatric care. In the mid-2020s, their drugs have even gone mainstream.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Colin, Ron, and the rest of the Geist Corporation are willing to brainwash innocent veterans to make them willing to serve infinite consecutive terms of duty in order to obtain precious data that they can profit off of.
- Crapsaccharine World: Specifically within Homecoming, which assures the men they can leave whenever they want and are being prepared for better lives. They are encouraged to view Homecoming as positively as possible. They are in fact being drugged so they can continue being soldiers.
- Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: What Homecoming wants to do: erase traumatic memories of conflict, but only so they can continue exploiting the patients.
- Gilded Cage: Patients at Homecoming have access to top-notch amenities, but are prevented from leaving by the staff, allegedly for their own safety.
- Hoist By Their Own Petard: Twice in season 2; first with Alex who plans to inject Walter with another Homecoming drug dose, but ends up being injected with the drug herself by him in self-defense, and the whole of Geist plus General Buda and her two cronies end up drinking their own drug at the reopening party when Walter serves it to them as revenge.
- Lady Macbeth: It's revealed toward the end of Season 1 that Colin's wife is not in the dark about his shady business dealings. Whenever he has a crisis of conscience, she urges him to "put it in the box" and forget about it while she remains blissfully ignorant.
- Alex in season 2 is this for Audrey.
- Leave the Camera Running: The final shot of every episode is held for over a minute while the first section of end credits plays out. When the screen cuts to black for the rest of the credits, the audio of the scene we were looking at, for the most part, continues to play.
- Love-Interest Traitor: In 2022, as she’s trying to make sense of her missing memories from Homecoming, Heidi kindles a brief romance with “Hunter”, a divorced veteran who’s willing to listen to her problems; he even drives her back to Homecoming when she decides to investigate further. It’s actually her old boss Colin trying to steer her away from remembering the truth about Homecoming. She just doesn’t remember who he is.
- A downplayed and accidental version between Walter and Heidi. They have a great deal of Unresolved Sexual Tension and Heidi completely loses it when she realises that she has accidentally become this to Walter, drugging him and letting him go back to war zones as a result.
- Obsessively Organized: Heidi insists on her pen being laid perfectly parallel to her notebook. Walter teases her by moving it. In the end, there's a callback with the way Walter leaves a fork crooked on the table.
- The Oner: In the pilot, an impressive shot following Heidi from her 3rd floor office to her car outside occurs. It was possibly aided digitally, but it really adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Homecoming facility.
- Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Heidi manages to free Walter from Homecoming by messing up his medication, and then drugs herself so she doesn't have to remember it. Homecoming, however, carries on for several more years as a "wellness center" (in the podcast, they apparently successfully "medicate" soldiers for years after.) In the podcast, Thomas and Heidi eventually succeed in busting Homecoming and getting it closed, and she and Walter succeed in escaping and fulfilling some of their dreams, but Geist has become more powerful than ever, and the ending teases that the memory-control drugs have gone mainstream.
- Privately Owned Society: Initially appears to be subverted as much is made of the DoD's separation from Homecoming, but episode 9 reveals that Thomas's boss called in Geist employees to hush up Thomas's findings, so they are in fact much more closely connected.
- Red Herring:
- The question of whether Homecoming is located in Florida. It is, just a long way from anywhere.
- The note on Walter's patient record saying he was expelled for violence, which seemed to line up with Heidi leaving the facility after being hospitalized. It's not the patient-on-doctor assault that it seems to be: they actually both got a second dose of the medication.
- Reformed, but Rejected: A variant between Heidi and Walter's mother. Heidi reveals the truth about Homecoming to her and tells her that she can try to bring back Walter's memories. His mother tells her not to, saying she knew she meant well but she's still done a great deal of damage.
- The Reveal:
- Homecoming's scheme is to make the soldiers fit for duty again and ship them right back into combat.
- What happened on May 15, 2018? Heidi and Walter ate doses of Homecoming's drugs that were out of schedule, causing lasting side effects.
- The amnesiac woman that leads Season 2 is Alex, a ruthless lawyer working for Geist who got her memory deleted while attempting to clean up the loose end, Walter.
- Ridiculous Future Inflation: A subtle and downplayed example, but apparently in the year 2022, a bowl of chowder at a casual diner will cost a whopping $18.50.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Heidi in episode 7, where she pushes Colin into a fountain while yelling "just stop talking!"
- Spot the Imposter: Alex poses as a former vet to meet with Walter and does quite well thanks to her research. But she still messes up when she talks about the sniper in her unit and his hitting a target at several hundred meters. Walter points out how snipers use "yards" not "meters" for distance and that mistake was enough to make him suspicious enough to follow Alex and find out the truth.
- The Stinger: After the credits of "Stop" (1x10), the scene of Audrey addressing Colin's visit to Tampa concludes. He signs the confession, taking the fall for the Homecoming project, and exits the boardroom defeated. Audrey then, in a quiet panic, reaches into her purse and rubs the end of a vial of "LAB USE ONLY" — potentially the Homecoming medicine — on her wrists. She very quickly returns to her stoic demeanor. As of the release of Season 2, this scene is easy to miss, as the autoplay jump to episode 2x01 occurs in the middle of the credits.
- Took a Level in Badass: Audrey, Colin's secretary in 2018, becomes the head of the division — and Colin's boss — by 2022.
- Unequal Pairing: One forms between Heidi and her patient Walter. It doesn’t end well.
- Unwitting Pawn:
- Heidi. She knew she was treating PTSD by medicating soldiers without consent, but she didn’t know why, or the extent to which the medicine could work, until 1x07.
- Walter. All this treatment only to be redeployed, or at least someone attempts to redeploy him.
- Villain Protagonist: The amnesiac protagonist of season 2 turns out to be this.
- Vertigo Effect: Masterfully used when Heidi's memories return to her, and when she takes the medicine to forget later.
- Wham Line:
- There are two from "Test" (1x07), both being responses to something Heidi has said.
- Prior to this line, the extent of the drugs is unknown to the audience, and we are led to assume that the drug can target specific traumatic memories. Earlier to this line, Walter had recalled an important story where he and his platoon pranked one of their brothers in arms with a made-up sequel to Titanic (1997) called Titanic Rising. But when Heidi brings up the prank later, he asks "What's Titanic Rising?" Showing that the drugs do not specifically target traumatic memories.
- Prior to this line, the intentions behind the Homecoming program are still ambiguous. Then Colin remarks, "I'll present this to the DoD, and they are going to open the fucking hose! We'll be able to deploy these guys way sooner than we thought!"
- In "Work" (1x09), Thomas tells Pam that he's going to escalate the investigation. At first, it's assumed Pam doesn't know more than Thomas about Homecoming, but then Pam calls someone immediately after her conversation with Thomas. The person on the other side of the line says "Geist Executive, how can I help you?" To which Pam answers that she has an emergency. Thus revealing Pam has been collaborating with Homecoming the whole time.
- In "Previously" (2.03), Audrey goes to meet Leonard Geist in order to explain how there is now an investigation into Homecoming but that she's already obtained a signed confession from a guilty party. Prior to this line, it is assumed that Ron got the green light from Geist himself for the Homecoming program, but when Audrey tries to explain the situation to Geist, he interrupts her, saying "What the fuck is Homecoming?" Revealing Homecoming to be a rogue pet project of Ron's.
- There are two from "Test" (1x07), both being responses to something Heidi has said.
- Workaholic: Both Heidi and Colin ruthlessly prioritize their work at Homecoming at the expense of their home lives.