This Homecoming season 2 review contains no spoilers.
Season one of Homecoming was a compelling, slow-burn, with a deliberate, meandering pace that would feel like mostly filler in less capable hands. Not much happens, really, certainly not enough to require ten episodes, but the story pulled you in with just enough mystery and thrill to propel you to the next episode. Season two offers much of the same, making no attempt to take the narrative into new, unestablished territory. It is the same story, panned to focus on a different subject. The themes are the same, but the context is different.
The first season of Homecoming played with time, and aspect ratio, leaping back and forth between the landscape present and the portrait past. It followed Heidi Bergman, played by Julia Roberts, as she uncovers the truth about her past and her time working as a counselor at Homecoming Transitional Support Center. Season two is a bit more straightforward, opting instead for a mostly linear approach, one that doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of paranoia and general unease present in season one.
Janelle Monáe replaces Julia Roberts as the show’s lead, and takes on a similar sort of dual role, as the past and present/ before-and-after version of herself. Monáe confidently embodies the disparate versions of her character, Jaqueline, who has no memory of who she is. She plays cool, aggressively competent, and perturbed-uncertain with equal aplomb, and her performance intrigues even when the story sometimes does not.
At the very end of last season, Audrey Temple (Hong Chau) — who we only meet briefly, when Carrasco questions Colin Belfast about Homecoming— convinces Colin to take the fall for the egregious line-stepping at the Homecoming facility. This season spends time, perhaps unnecessarily, walking us through the events leading up to and directly following that. Hong Chau imbues Audrey with a naivete that’s fun to watch as she moves with manufactured bravado through ever-increasing positions of power.
Leonard Geist, played by Chris Cooper, is a surprisingly sympathetic and relatable character. He, along with Audrey, has to deal with the fallout of Carrasco’s investigation into Homecoming, but he wants very much not to be involved. He’s responsible for many of the more humorous moments in the season, and takes interesting stances on how the company should move forward, following the fiasco.
We eventually get back to Walter (Stephan James) where Heidi left him at the close of last season, still effectively a blank slate, mostly content to live out his days not knowing— until he starts to suspect something else is going on. Julia Roberts and Stephan James carried the material in season one, and their performances, along with Esmail’s distinct visual language, did all of the heavy lifting, elevating a good script to a great watch. Similarly, Homecoming season 2 owes almost everything to its cast and their strong performances.
Each season of Homecoming could’ve been a film. Season one is a minimum four episodes too long and season two’s seven episodes could be split in half. Neither need to take up as much space as they do, and season two is frankly, superfluous. That is not to say it is bad or unenjoyable, the opposite somehow, only that it adds very little. There are a few key moments that justify a second season, but it is not a story that requires revisiting or expanding upon, and season one ended satisfactorily, even if it was open-ended.
I feel the need to include the caveat that I am often ahead of a story, and that mysteries very rarely play out for me how they are expected to for the audience at large. I am not unable to be surprised, it is just… not a common occurrence, especially in the realm of television where even the most creative, out-of-the-box filmmakers habitually recreate auditory and visual schemes that, to someone who watches TV as much as I do, act as neon signs that project the reveals as clearly as if they had been said plainly.
Season one of Homecoming was easy to decipher for me, and didn’t really scratch the “mystery” itch. Season two is even less enigmatic, and does not tickle the part of my brain that wants to solve a puzzle. That is not what I come to the show for, and thankfully, that is not all the show purports to offer. I come for the characters, who I delight in watching navigate the gray areas of ethics and morality, under personal and external scrutiny. I am intrigued by the questions the show asks and has no intention of answering, and the questions it asks and takes a definitive stance on.
We did not need a second season of Homecoming, but we got an overall enjoyable watch, a quick binge, that’s stacked with great performances, and has a satisfying conclusion.