Friday, November 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'Homecoming' - An Atmospheric Premiere Puts the Audience Immediately Into Heidi's World in 'Mandatory'

Amazon's Homecoming - Episode 1.01 "Mandatory"

The Homecoming Transitional Support Center is a safe space for veterans to process their military experience and re-familiarize themselves with civilian life. In a monitored environment.

In 2018, it makes no sense to provide full-length reviews of each individual episode for shows released all at once on the streaming services. Sure, there are some shows out there that value the power of the episode. They do make a point in differentiating each episode to ensure it's not just one big slog to the finish. However, the ability to watch the entire season at one's own viewing pace has largely changed the way we consume and discuss these shows. So, some brief summary thoughts are really all that's actually necessary with these seasons. As such, here are my latest thoughts on the next episode of Amazon's Homecoming.

"Mandatory" was written by Eli Horowitz & Micah Bloomberg and directed by Sam Esmail

This premiere does such a phenomenal job in just putting the audience into this world and the conflicts that will come to define these characters. So much could be said about the way director Sam Esmail has chosen to depict this world - from the aspect ratio to the half-hour running time. Dramas that only hover around the 30 minute mark are such a welcome development to anyone who watches numerous television shows out there. It also ensures that everything is condensed and focused on the plot points that will be very important for the overall story. It never feels like the narrative drags here. Instead, it never outstays its welcome. It gets straight to the point. It invites the audience in with a bunch of teases expecting us to get to the next episode as soon as possible to start receiving some of the additional clues. Meanwhile, the change in aspect ratio for the flash-forward sequences proves that this is going to be an unusual show that understands it is doing things in different ways than the traditional format. In fact, it feels like key parts of the action and story are being removed from the audience's understanding of the world. It's only being shown through a confined space. It almost infers to the audience that this is happening in a different time altogether. That's impossible because it's set four years into the future. Of course, Heidi's life has demonstrably changed as well. She is working a crummy job as a waitress and being interviewed by an agent from the Department of Defense. Something with the Homecoming program has gone awry somehow. It's led to some kind of investigation being brought against the organization because of Walter Cruz. Heidi quit at some point and has a convenient cover story with her mother's failing health. And yet, the way that the story is being depicted in the future proves that Heidi is being very cagey with her answers. She may know that there is something nefarious going on with this program. Through her actions in the present-day, the audience has the initial understanding of what this program actually is. It's being built up as this new transitional program for helping soldiers return to civilian life. Heidi's supervisor, Colin, is only asking Heidi for data points that can produce a positive presentation when he has to meet with representatives from the Department of Defense in six weeks time. She has a suggestion for how to run this program but it is quickly shut down. She can't form relationships with her clients. She just has to view them as statistics. That's absolutely horrifying and makes it seem like they are being stripped of their essential humanity. They were just fighting in a war where they were treated as nothing more than soldiers who needed to follow the chain of command. That's why the transition back home can be so difficult. They now have the freedom to do whatever they want. The Homecoming program still has structure but it's all about giving these soldiers the tools to succeed after war. It's billed as being inspirational and beneficial. However, there are such ominous teases lurking over every single corner of this story. It doesn't seem like Heidi is comfortable in any aspect of her life. She can't really speak up to her boss. Nor can she really figure out her current relationship with new boyfriend Anthony. She believes she's a helpful counselor. But the audience knows better than that. This premiere shows off the world as Heidi sees it. It may not be as coherent as she wants. It will lead to disaster. Heidi may have escaped from it once but she may be unable to avoid the consequences of this program forever. As such, that sets up a really engaging storyline for this season.