'Homecoming' returns to Amazon Prime -- and it lacks more than Julia Roberts

  • Janelle Monáe stars in Season 2 of Amazon Prime's "Homecoming."

    Janelle Monáe stars in Season 2 of Amazon Prime's "Homecoming." Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Posted5/23/2020 7:28 AM

Strangely enough, I've pretty much forgotten why I praised Amazon Prime's "Homecoming" so highly when it premiered in late 2018.

I remember that Julia Roberts was in it. I remember being both relieved and impressed that the episodes were each about a half-hour long instead of the customary 59-minute bloat. This lapse in recall isn't because I've been dosed with some top-secret experimental memory erasure drug (though let's not rule it out); it's because an approximate squillion shows have come and gone since then. The brain can only take so much.


Turns out, that's precisely what "Homecoming" has been trying to tell us!

And, as I snap to, this clarity brings with it some disappointing news: Season 2 of the psychological thriller (which started streaming Friday, May 22, in seven episodes) isn't nearly as captivating or complex as its predecessor. Rather than advance the story significantly (or startlingly), it functions more as an afterthought or a predictable epilogue. And although it adheres to the spooky, paranoid style of the first iteration (minus Roberts' character, and also minus Sam Esmail's direction), it simply isn't mysterious enough to satisfy. Its coolness has gone cold.

Nevertheless, "Homecoming" is still jangly-weird and quick: The whole season can be binged in under four hours. Janelle Monáe stars this time as a woman who wakes up in a rowboat adrift on a scenic mountain lake. Turns out she's not far from the small-town diner where Season 1 so effectively concluded. The woman doesn't know who she is or how she got there.

And the folks at Amazon have begged critics not to reveal details about Monae's character in our reviews -- her name, her background, or her part in the overall story. Fine, it saves us all some time.

The character is immediately immersed in "Homecoming's" milieu, as set forth by the original, fictional podcast from Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz. Although the experiment in Season 1 (in which the military was using a memory-wiping drug at a private rehab center to cure soldiers of traumatic experiences and send them back into combat) was exposed by Roberts' character, there is still great interest at the corporate farm Geist, the source of the serum, where hybrid plants are grown and harvested.

Hong Chau returns as Audrey Temple, an ambitious Geist employee who is still quite willing to help an amoral Pentagon official (Joan Cusack) devise new ways to exploit the drug. The story also checks in with poor Walter Cruz (Stephan James), the former soldier who is still trying to piece together the memories that the drug took from him. Chris Cooper joins the cast as Leonard Geist, the company's founder.

The look and feel of "Homecoming" are easily retrieved, such as intentionally dissonant music cues that are artfully mismatched to the show's overall theme of corporate venality. The rest is lost in this effort to squeeze a little more juice out of the initial idea. What we see here will soon fade.

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