You should probably know that Homecoming season 2 starts closer to the end than the beginning. The Amazon Prime Video series is a Memento-like puzzle in which you’re tasked with figuring out what is going on with Jacqueline, played by Homecoming newbie Janelle Monáe, a veteran who wakes up in a rowboat unable to remember how she got there. To be honest, she doesn’t remember anything at all about anything and that’s part of the fun of solving this mystery.
Of course, there are a few things we already know going into the second season of the conspiracy thriller. While Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is long gone, the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a pilot program that was erasing the traumatic memories of veterans, has not been forgotten. The program has been stopped (for now), but it’s the Geist Group, the company behind the live-in facility gone wrong, that we should really be worried about. Walter Cruz (Stephan James), one of Homecoming’s patients, is still struggling and still looking for answers to what he can’t remember. It sounds like he and Jacqueline are in the same boat. (Sorry, had to.)
That’s not a lot to go on, I know. But to be honest, the less you know right now, the better. All you really need to know is the hair is much better this time around. With that in mind, get ready to unspool this mystery that includes a questionable photo, a fake tattoo, and a farm. Oh, none of that makes any sense? Don’t worry, soon enough it will.
Episode 1: “People”
“Hello, are you there?” Jacqueline (Janelle Monáe) is out cold on a small rowboat in the middle of a tranquil looking lake. She wakes up confused to see a man standing on the shore staring at her. She screams for help, but he runs off. She realizes she doesn’t have an oar so she uses her arms to paddle her way to the shore. When she gets there the sun is almost down and she’s breathing heavy. She finds a cell phone, but instead of feeling relieved, she just seems confused.
Jacqueline doesn’t use the found phone, she just starts making her way through the woods. The menacing music adds to the suspense of her forest bathing, which eventually leads her to a road and an SUV. She takes out her keys and hits the alarm, but the car isn’t hers. Without a second thought, she starts walking down the dark road until a car pulls up behind her. While most of us would either be relieved or just plain scared, Jacqueline just keeps walking until the woman in the car, an officer named Donna asks her where she’s headed.
The fact that Jacqueline doesn’t seem to know where she’s been or where she’s going is a red flag for the officer. All she can tell Donna is that there was a man, but since she can’t tell the officer her name or that she’s a veteran until she pulls out the wallet in her back pocket, Donna decides it would be good to take her to the hospital.
It’s there Jacqueline meets Buddy (John Billingsley), a Hawaiian shirt-wearing older man with an oxygen tank who we first hear fighting with the doctor about his bill. Jacqueline is soon fighting with the doctor too. He believes she’s a drug addict thanks to the mark in the crook of her elbow right above her Airborne tattoo, which appears to be from an intravenous needle. It doesn’t hurt that she also can’t remember her address or her birthday, though she denies having ever used drugs. However, the most off putting part about all of this is the doctor’s reaction to this veteran possibly being an addict. As if the doctor has seen this so often before it’s become an epidemic that deserves little empathy from him.
On the other hand, Buddy is intrigued. He pulls the hospital curtain back to inspect the mark on her arm, agreeing that it is clearly drug-related. “I don’t think I’m a drug user,” she says, a little unsure herself at this point. “Doesn’t matter what you think, it’s what they think,” Buddy tells her, sounding a little too on the nose. But his words resonate with Jacqueline who doesn’t have a few days or weeks to kill in the ER. She needs to figure out what happened to her and fast, so she makes her great escape.
Very calmly she walks off as if she’s maybe done this before. She keeps a steady pace, not too fast, which makes her seem less suspicious as the hospital staff begins looking for her. She makes rights and lefts through the hospital as if it’s a festival corn maze, she seems unfazed. Walking into the hospital chapel she finds a woman praying before she nervously knocks over something on the altar. Her meek apology makes her seem more disoriented than Jacqueline.
Soon she is outside ready to start walking again, but Buddy pulls up all too eager to take her home. But she’s not interested in going there, wherever there is since she sure doesn’t know. The napkin in her pocket has the word “Skins” on it. She wants to go to there. As they drive off, the camera lingers on a giant billboard of a man who seems to be hawking a cologne or something in a red bottle. “Get Over It” the ad screams at you. It seems a little aggressive, which is why I can’t imagine it won’t pop up again. Especially, since it doesn’t seem like Jacqueline will be following this sentiment anytime soon. “If I did something wrong, I don’t know what it is,” she tells Buddy on the way to Skins. And she’s determined to figure out if she did.
She doesn’t know how she ended up in the boat, but she does remember towels, little red ones that she wasn’t allowed to touch. “Special occasion towels,” is how Buddy describes them before letting her know “that’s fucking weird.” It certainly is a weird memory Jacqueline, can’t argue with him there.
While a middle aged man sings Heart’s ‘80s power ballad “Alone,” Buddy regales Jacqueline with the story of Skins, a family appropriate inn and eatery, which used to be more like a Hooters until some “rich fucking asshole from Calgary” bought it. Now it’s “lame,” he tells Jacqueline, but it used to be a place for the dregs of society who wanted some decent potato skins and maybe a handjob. That’s one hell of a Yelp review, Buddy.
While Jacqueline doesn’t remember the place, the waiter sure remembers her. He claims she was there yesterday, day drinking with her friend. The two started yelling and he kicked them out. Jacqueline’s hoping a receipt will help her get closer to identifying said drinking buddy. This Buddy talks the waiter into letting her rifle through the receipts by reminding him that Jacqueline is a veteran, a real “G.I. Jane” who deserves a little sympathy for what she’s seen. Again, Jacqueline shows off her tattoo, the “Death From Above” symbol, to prove she was really in the armed forces.
The receipt reveals an illegible signature, but does reveal a room number. With Buddy’s rock hammer (he’s looking for gold, but hasn’t found it yet) in hand, the two find the room locked and seemingly empty. Quick thinking Jacqueline pretends that Buddy, “her dad,” needs his pills from the room. The housekeeper lets them in, though Buddy isn’t too excited to be her dad instead of her husband in this scenario. He realizes though that the oxygen tank adds a few years.
No one is in the room, but there is a melon sitting on the bed. Hard to explain that. She finds a plastic baggie with a wad of money and a Geist Lab needle in it that says “lab use only.” There’s also a card with the name Alex Eastern on it. The name doesn’t ring any bells for her, but at least they have a name.
There is also a war photo of her and three other soldiers whose faces are X’ed out, which makes them impossible to identify. Is Walter Cruz (Stephan Jackson) one of the guys in that photo? While in the bathroom trying to calm down she notices that her tattoo is peeling. She starts scrubbing it away while Buddy seems to be contemplating his own escape. “Oh, Buddy,” he keeps repeating to himself. When she comes out to show him the spot on her arm where her tattoo used to be, Buddy hits her in the head with the hammer.
“I thought you were helping me,” she says, sprawled out on the hotel carpet as he makes off with the cash. “Yeah,” he says as he leaves her a $100 for her troubles. “Fucking people.”
A car alarm blares as Jacqueline lies there taking in what just happened. We get a closer look at the painting above the hotel bed of a small lake surrounded by trees, not that unlike the one where Jacqueline started the episode. Cut to a man peeling a brightly colored fruit that looks like some sort of hybrid. The man is Leonard Geist (Chris Cooper) and this is his farm, the secret one that everyone was looking to get invited to last season. It seems we’ve made it to this monotone gray plot of land that is being tended to by a few workers. Was Jacqueline left on the outskirts of eccentric Leonard’s property? Your guess is as good as mine.
Episode 2: “Giant”
There goes that car alarm again. We’re right back at the hotel. Jacqueline goes to the window, reaches in her pocket and clicks the car alarm key. The sound stops. It seems we now know where her car is.
She inspects the black SUV parked outside the hotel room, going right for the glove compartment. The registration for the Grand Cherokee is made out to Alex Eastern from Oakland, CA. It’s not actually her car. She nervously opens the truck only to find a huge bag of cat litter. Not exactly the smoking gun she or we were looking for.
Jacqueline sits in the booth at a local fast food joint, but all I can see is the paintings on the wall, which once again are of happy little trees. Did everyone in this town use the same interior designer? But the registration does give Jacqueline an address and an idea, which involves a taser. “Have you used one of these before?” The cashier asks. “Probably,” she says.
Alex lives in the suburbs, all that’s missing is the white picket fence, which seems to give Jacqueline pause. She doesn’t knock on the front door, but walks around to the backyard. Through the window we hear Audrey (Hong Chau), an assistant for Geist Emergent Group, Homecoming’s parent company, who we met in the first season, talking on the phone. Leonard (Geist) wants to see her and she sounds exasperated by this request.
Jacqueline keeps walking, in the next window we see a cat before she finds an open window to enter the house through. The room she enters looks like a messy office full of books and a photo of former president Richard Nixon, his arm cocked ready to throw a baseball. Taser ready she opens the door to the open floor plan kitchen. Jacqueline hits the deck when Audrey enters the room. “Come on, Alex,” Audrey says.”Pick up.” She lets them know she’s been waiting to find out what happened last night. Is this the guy Jacqueline spotted running away at the lake?
What we learn is that Alex described things as having been “fucked up,” but neither we nor Audrey know exactly what that means. Clearly, things didn’t go as planned or Jacqueline wouldn’t be crouched down behind a kitchen island listening to this conversation. It also seems as if Alex has disappeared since they’re not returning Audrey’s phone calls.
That conversation leaves Jacqueline shook and ready to follow Audrey to the office. If you needed another clue that what Audrey is doing might be on the shady side, the fact that she has to pull off onto a secluded dirt road to get to the office feels very suspect. Anyone else find it hard to believe that Audrey doesn’t see the truck that’s been following her the whole damn time? I mean, she’s not keeping so much distance that you’d miss the only other car on a dirt road.
Perhaps, she’s just taking in the scenery of this vast farm that is the same one we saw at the end of the premiere. Now we’re able to see just how sprawling it is. The building that looks like it was made out of high tech Lincoln Logs is the office Audrey is headed to. Unfortunately, you need a Geist employee pass to get in, but before we can see how Jacqueline plans to do that, we start following Audrey into the underground lot.
She parks, moving the C. Belfast — that C is for Colin, who was Heidi Bergman’s (Julia Roberts) supervisor played by Bobby Cannavale — placard from the wall, snapping it as she does. As we learned last season, Colin wasn’t so great at his job.
Jacqueline must walk in the main entrance where she checks out a model of a small home surrounded by trees. Nothing much to look at, but it does look familiar. Is that the house Leonard entered in the finale? Was this unassuming shack the first piece of his empire?
“Strength and endurance,” Audrey repeats to herself in the elevator up to a floor where she’s greeted by a way too happy employee who is giving her the status of “the launch.” Balloon garlands in shades of green are on the ground, but should be hung up already. The DJ still needs the music list. “We need to set the right tone,” she says annoyed. Fun, chill, and optimistic are the tones her assistant thinks they could go for. Audrey’s not so sure. “What does that mean?”
Jacqueline watches this tense conversation from afar as someone asks her if she’s there for “testing.” She says yes, only to be scolded for being late. She’s led to a room with six other people and asked to offer her left hand. They attach a monitor. A phallic white device rises from the center of the table they’re all sitting around. A man offers a creepy smile and the room is bathed in red light. The mirror behind Jacqueline makes it feel like an optical illusion. Mist starts blowing out from the object in the center of the table. She starts to freak out and pound on the wall. Craig (Alex Karpovsky), another familiar face from Homecoming season 1, enters, “What appears to be the issue?” He says with a smile. “You have to let the aroma diffuse.”
Audrey is still frantically looking for Leonard. He’s in the greenhouse trying to write a speech. He threw mulch at the maintenance workers trying to feed “the bugs,” the wide-grinning assistant tells her. It’s unclear what he’s writing about but this assistant is a mess and everyone seems to want something from Audrey, who just wants to clean up the Alex mess. She’s the boss now, but she seems more flustered than anyone.
As she makes her way to Leonard’s greenhouse, we go back to Jacqueline and her aroma test. Craig is interested in knowing if any of the participants have any negative feelings about the citrus smells. One guy does, he thinks it’s “too easy,” it’s “pandering.” While another thinks they’re treating them like children with this orange scent. No surprise, Jacqueline is a little let down to know this test wasn’t something diabolical, but a product test on the new scents for Geist’s plant-based household cleaners. This feels like a real step down for Craig, who used to be monitoring the Homecoming trials.
Audrey finally enters the greenhouse to meet Nixon, a golden retriever who is ready to play fetch. Another Nixon reference, interesting. Leonard, who looks likely a dad on his day off, not the founder of a company, is watching Airwolf, the 1984 TV show about a scientist who creates a super helicopter that the government wants to steal. Another clue of what’s to come? This is the movie that gets him “fired up,” but what Audrey wants to know is why he wants to speak at the launch. Audrey doesn’t think it’s a good idea. She starts talking about jail.
But he’s not interested in Audrey’s suggestions. As he tells her, two weeks ago, he “didn’t know her fucking name,” now she’s trying to mediate his every move. “You know it now,” she says, reassuring him he’ll get through this with her help. He disagrees, but she wants to cooperate and believes that could help get things back to normal. To that, Leonard tells her, “Stop trying to sell me this awful batshit and tell me it’s cookies and cream.” What a truly disgusting metaphor.
They have a new partner and they don’t have a choice, she tells him. “They’re in charge,” she says and while he’s not interested in the new management, whoever they are, she says she accepts this new reality and he should, too. “Here’s the reality,” he says. “It’s my fucking company and I’m going to say whatever the fuck I want.” To that, Audrey puts her hands up and leaves.
The test is done and now, along with Jacqueline, we get a chance to check out Geist headquarters, which is selling the Leonard Geist origin story pretty hard. Photos of the founder in his youth line the wall, along with the slogan, “From our farm to your house.” It all sounds so lovely and too good to be true.
Alex is still M.I.A., and Jacqueline is about to be too. This getaway doesn’t go as smoothly, but the taser gets the job done. (Sorry, Craig.) She takes the stairs to Audrey’s office, which is full of the vials she found in Alex’s hotel room. These ones are full. She starts looking through the papers on the desk, but there’s nothing there. That is until she turns her head and sees her photo taped to the wall. It’s not the same photo she found in Alex’s room, but she is making the same face. More and more, it feels as if Jacqueline’s Air Force story is a bogus one.
“What are you doing here?” Jacqueline turns, but it’s Leonard giving his speech on the main floor. He’s talking about the new venture and all the money it’s going to make, but Leonard, hunched over the podium, has another question. “Who likes to go camping?” The crowd cheers. He starts telling the story about being out in nature. “What do you do,” he asks, “you play your flute.” Now, I’ve only been camping once, but flute playing wasn’t part of the experience, but his staff seems to understand exactly what he’s talking about.
The flute playing apparently brings people in the campsite together. “It’s nice,” he says. “Some days I felt like that. Here with you guys, but that’s when the fucking giant shows up. She’s always starving, the giant. She sees food and says, ‘I want it.’ The music means nothing to this giant,” he says, losing the crowd who aren’t as into the flute playing anymore. “It’s a fucking metaphor,” he says as Audrey tries to get him to stop.
Leonard keeps speaking, letting them know the new management is the giant in his story and this is his warning to the campers. Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” starts playing, the balloons start to fall and Audrey and Jacqueline see each other across the crowd. Both start walking towards one another. Soon Audrey appears to be running. When they finally meet, Jacqueline is ready to unload on her, “Who the fuck are …,” but she’s stopped by a kiss on the lips. It seems the photo on Audrey’s wall might not be as weird as we first thought it was.
“Alex, how have you been?” Audrey says. Now we’re as confused as Jacqueline is, but Audrey’s next question will make you want to press play on episode 3 ASAP. “Where is Walter Cruz?”
More episodes to come.
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