The final episode of Homecoming’s first season sticks its landing for a lot of reasons. The acting is superb across the board, director Sam Esmail’s visual style remains purposeful and precise, and the storytelling reaches a satisfying resolution, while still leaving enough questions dangling to make us eager for what comes next. (Amazon has already green-lit the series for a second season, so we know there will be another.)
But what makes “Stop” so satisfying is the way that, on numerous levels, it sticks it to the Man — the Man in this context being the various powers that had a hand in creating the Homecoming facility, including Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale). The fact that it’s women doing the sticking only makes the finale that much richer and more enjoyable.
In any conspiracy thriller that takes on entrenched institutions, whether that’s the government, corporate America, or some other entity, the audience is always rooting for some type of comeuppance. They don’t always get it. That was often the case in the 1970s, when moviegoers were frequently left with a literal or figurative “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” at a film’s conclusion. But other classics of the genre to which Homecoming director Sam Esmail is tipping his hat do provide that type of gratification. In All the President’s Men, we know that the work of Woodward and Bernstein brought down a president. Marathon Man does not end well for the Nazi war criminal, played by Laurence Olivier, at the center of its plot. Thanks to Tom Cruise’s shout-filled interrogation tactics, A Few Good Men finally unveils who ordered the code red. Notably, the cover-up narratives that have featured Julia Roberts, including Alan J. Pakula’s The Pelican Brief and Erin Brockovich, ruled in the favor of the anti-Establishment protagonists.
You can say that’s true again in Homecoming, at least to an extent, especially in the flashback that unfolds early in the finale. That’s when we finally see how therapist Heidi Bergman (Roberts), makes her strategic exit from the Homecoming facility. After breaking protocol and having a medicated meal with Walter (Stephan James), which she does intentionally to cause an overdose that prevents Walter from being redeployed overseas, word gets back to Colin, who, per tradition, rips into her over the phone.
Nevertheless Heidi persists with her plan, rebelling against both the Geist Group, which set up this clandestine program to exploit American soldiers in the first place, and the man who has helped execute it, the conniving Colin Belfast. “Are you okay, Colin?” Heidi asks while he freaks out. “You sound a little hysterical.” She’s very deliberately taking a word that Colin has lobbed at her before — a word that is frequently used to undermine women — and throws it, curveball-style, right back in his face.
Revenge is a dish that, unlike medicated gnocchi, is best served cold, which is what Heidi does here. (“I’ll already be gone,” she says matter-of-factly when Colin sputter-threatens that he’s coming down to Tampa to deal with her.) The fact that Heidi is a woman who just outsmarted the deceitful, self-interested man who rudely questioned her again and again makes the whole moment extra-delicious.
That’s not the last time Colin will have his ass handed to him by a woman, either. In the most surprising twist of the finale (and one of my favorite scenes in the whole series), Colin enters a cavernous conference room, expecting to meet with his supervisor, Ron, to discuss how to handle the fallout from Heidi’s transgression. Instead he is met by his assistant, Audrey (Hong Chau), who handles administrative duties at Geist headquarters. Audrey has not been a major figure in Homecoming up to this point. We know she exists, but she’s a side character, someone you don’t need to think about much, which reflects how Colin regards her.
After Audrey starts to ask Colin a series of questions about his recent sketchy business travel, he reveals just how little respect he has for her. “You can take you little notes or whatever it is you do,” he tells her. “We need all kinds here,” he adds in a not-so-subtle nod to her status as an Asian woman, “but let’s remember who you are and who I am.”
If Colin had been paying attention, he would have already realized that Audrey is not who he thinks she is at all. She’s actually in charge now. Thanks to Chau’s tremendous performance in this scene, that’s obvious visually before she even says it out loud. Audrey speaks to Colin with more confidence than she’s exhibited in previous scenes, glances at him as though he’s a subordinate, and even holds her posture with more God-given authority. She knows what Colin has been doing and plans to punish him, both for his Homecoming screw-up, and for assuming that a woman who looks like her could never possibly be a threat to someone like him.
The moment when the scales tip in Audrey’s favor is particularly great. After Colin suggests that they pin all blame for what happened at Homecoming on a rogue employee — that is, Heidi — Audrey, says, “Not she. We’re not talking about Bergman.” Then she smiles. She blinks twice. The sinister score that underlines her blink turns this into a real goosebump moment, where it’s obvious that Colin is the one who must take the fall.
In a conversation with Vulture’s Maria Elena Fernandez, Homecoming showrunners Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg noted, “The show is about these power structures, and about gender in certain ways.” The way that Audrey says, “Not she” to Colin makes that abundantly clear. What is not clear is whether Audrey is really interested in saving a fellow woman from being blamed for an operation created by men, or if something else is going on here. (As I note in this piece about the finale’s post-credit scene, I have some theories about what Audrey’s role at Geist might actually be.) Either way, watching her turn the tables — specifically, the world’s largest conference-room table — on Colin is a treat, and a payoff for watching Colin get away with everything for the past ten episodes.
By the end of the first season, we don’t know enough to say that Heidi or anyone else has truly stuck it to Geist. We still need to learn what comes of the DOD complaint filed by Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), and we still need to find out who is really responsible for coming up with the plan to drug vets and send them back overseas. But I do think that Heidi’s decision to “go rogue” is an effective act of resistance. When she travels cross-country to track down Walter Cruz (Stephan James), all she wants to do is make sure he is okay. She gets that reassurance: Although Walter does not seem to remember her when she runs into him at that diner, he seems to be doing well, happily holed up in Yosemite like he always wanted. He’s certainly not the shell of himself she feared he might be. As Walter’s mother Gloria (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) told Heidi earlier in the finale, “He’s finally back to who he was before this whole mess.”
But maybe Walter does remember something after all. In a lovely button on the season, after he leaves the diner, Heidi notices that he’s turned her fork slightly askew, a reference to the pranks he played at Homecoming to disrupt the sense of order in her office. Does that mean he actually does remember Heidi? Or does it reflects how he still has the same sense of humor? It’s a deliberately ambiguous ending, as Horowitz told us: “Hopefully it’s not just ambiguity for its own sake, but actually gets at a larger question we’re asking about what makes a person who they are.”
No matter your interpretation of that final scene, it affirms that Heidi did the right thing by bucking company orders. Walter avoided deployment thanks to that extra dose of medication in his meal, and crucially, he does not appear to have suffered any long-term damage. Even if Homecoming weren’t going to have a second season, that would stand as a great note on which to end a series that is, at its core, about systemic abuse.
Men in the military think of themselves as a brotherhood. But in its parting moments, Homecoming’s first season dismantles even that idea. It’s not his fellow soldiers, or even a guy like Colin, who ultimately saves Walter. It’s a mother — his own — and a sister, Heidi, who refused to let him be turned into another mindless taker of orders.