The biggest change for the second season of Homecoming isn’t just that Julia Roberts is no longer in front of the camera — she’s an executive producer, however — but that fellow EP Sam Esmail isn’t directing any of the episodes. Season 2’s episodes are directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez (13 Reasons Why). SInger-songwriter-producer-actress-style-icon Janelle Monáe is now the star of the show, playing a new character who might be going through the same memory-erasing shenanigans that Stephan James’ character Walter Cruz went through in Season 1. Read on for more…
Opening Shot: A woman wakes up in a rowboat in the middle of a lake. She sees someone running away from the shore, and she paddles with her hands to get back on land.
The Gist: The woman walks out on the road, having no idea who she is or where she’s going. The keys she found on the shore don’t work for the car that’s parked on the road. When a cop encounters her walking on the road, she asks if the woman has ID. The woman finds a VA ID with the name Jacqueline Calico (Janelle Monáe) on it. The cop takes Jackie to the hospital.
There, the doctor not only sees the “Airborne” tattoo on her arm but a bruise on the crook of her elbow, suggesting that she’s shooting up. The guy in the next ER bed, a cantankerous sort named Buddy (John Billingsley) encourages Jackie to not say a word, but as she sees the doctor talk to the cop, she decides to bolt out of the hospital. During her labyrinthine escape, she ducks into the hospital chapel, where she sees a woman pray then kick over a wastebasket in frustration.
When she finally gets outside, she encounters Buddy, who offers to drive her to a bar named Skins; a napkin from the bar is in her pocket. There, she finds out that she was there the night before, when a bartender named Kyle (Christopher Redman) tells her that she and another guy were drinking heavily and caused a scene. They somehow convince Kyle to let them see the receipts from the night before, and when she sees that their order was charged to a room at the adjoining hotel, she presses on to investigate.
No one’s there, so she employs Buddy’s help to get her into the room. There, they see an empty vial from the Geist Group, with the red blobs she described left over inside. They also find a credit card and a picture of her in the army with the faces of the others X’ed out. Oh, and there’s a stack of hundreds. When she realizes that the tattoo is fake, she goes to tell Buddy, but Buddy wants only one thing: that stack of cash.
Our Take: Alvarez tries to keep the style Esmail established in Season 1, with desaturated visuals, Hitchcockian music cues, and dramatic cuts. He mostly succeeds, but the first episode doesn’t apply the same time-shifting that the first season does, where there were visual cues to tell you which timeline you were in. So here, keeping with Esmail’s style is more of a consistency choice than something that really helps the viewer along in the story.
Monáe is fine as Jackie. It’s not the first time we’ve seen the multi-hyphenate star act, so we knew she was fully capable of pulling off being this intense, non-glamorous character. There aren’t many people that she bounces off of in the first episode, except for the paranoid Buddy, so it’s hard to see how she’ll mesh with Stephan James’ character Walter, whose memory was pretty much shot at the end of Season 1, or Hong Chau’s Audrey, who was pretty much in charge of the Geist Group by season’s end. So seeing how Jackie (and Janelle, for that matter) integrate into this odd world is yet to be seen.
So far, the story feels like a little bit of “second verse, same as the first,” but we know it will develop quickly, given that there are only 7 thirty-minute episodes this season.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Leonard Geist (Chis Cooper) walks on a farm near his headquarters, and discovers a fruit that makes him look up in discovery. When he closes the door to his shack, the music stops and the credits roll as we pan away from the shack.
Sleeper Star: Billingsley is only a guest star in Episode 1 (“People”), but we’ve enjoyed him in everything he’s been in over the years, and this episode gave people an extended look at his range. He’s usually playing nerdy and a little shy, but Buddy was anything but; he’s just an asshole, plain and simple, and Billingsley pulls it off brilliantly.
Most Pilot-y Line: The doctor pantomimes shooting a needle into his arm while talking to the cop, just so we know that Jackie sees what they’re talking about. That didn’t seem like something you’d see in a conversation that wasn’t being shot from someone else’s perspective across the room.
Our Call: STREAM IT. After one episode, the jury’s still out on whether Season 2 will live up to Season 1’s story and style. But Monáe is definitely good enough to carry the season, and the story may end up going in unexpected directions.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.
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