The lovely Iron & Wine song “The Trapeze Swinger” runs over nine minutes long, originally commissioned for the 2004 movie In Good Company and later tucked into the end of Around the Well, a 2009 compilation of B-sides and rarities. A song that epic in length and scope was unusual for Sam Beam — who uses “Iron & Wine” as his nom de folk — and its nine verses are dense with poetic language evoking religion and the afterlife, but each begins simply, with some variation on the words “please, remember me.” (E.g., “Please, remember me happily,” “Please, remember me mistakenly,” “Please, remember me as in a dream,” “Please, remember me seldomly,” etc.) The form those memories are supposed to take are complicated and evocative — and a little mysterious and obscure, as is Beam’s wont — but the phrase itself sticks to the ribs.
Homecoming has been leaning on famous music cues all season long, so the choice to use a song like “The Trapeze Swinger” during the final scene between Heidi and Walter has a bittersweet significance. And while there are other stray lyrics in the song that might have some resonance on the show — “with maps, a mountain range” — it’s that constant refrain about remembering that’s worth thinking about. Because when Heidi drives all the way out to a mountain town to see Walter, she holds the key to him recovering his memory, reversing the gaps just as dramatically as the sounds of a bird unlocked her own memory of what happened at Homecoming. She knows how painful that can be because it’s made her confront her own guilt and shame over participating in the program and feel anew the heartbreak of letting him go.
At the beginning of “Stop,” we get a fuller glimpse of what happened during and after Heidi and Walter’s fateful lunch at the Homecoming cafeteria. The dosage of Week Six medication was enough to wipe Heidi’s memory of the place, and the extra plate of spiked gnocchi left Walter so incapacitated that he had to be discharged to his mother, rather than redeployed as intended. (The effects of this medication have been a dramatic convenience the show has exploited a bit shamelessly. In one episode, there’s talk about the medication needing to be tweaked because it gobbled up too much of Walter’s memory after five weeks. Now here, a single dose does the same job on Heidi and an extra dose completely flattens Walter.) Presuming that Heidi knew what was going to happen to both of them afterward, she made the choice not only to liberate Walter from his coerced deployment but to erase her own memory of him and whatever happened to her at Homecoming. And what she did, too.
Trying to sort through Heidi’s motives in that moment is difficult, but the through line that connects her behavior in “Stop” is her willingness to put Walter’s happiness and well-being over her own. She wants to help him. When she heads off to visit his mother, Gloria, and tell her the full truth about what happened, she may have hoped for absolution for her role in scrambling Walter’s brain, but it’s not her primary motive, and Gloria isn’t having it anyway. (“Walter wanted to believe. That was the best thing about him and you used that.”) Yet it’s important that she feels like she has to come clean, because the last time they saw each other, she manipulated Walter into sending his mother on her way. Right before quitting her job, she had done Gloria the service of sending his session recordings to her, which in turn led to the Department of Defense complaint Thomas investigated, but this exchange completes her disclosure.
Heidi drives to Yosemite with the intent of finding Walter and restoring his memory of the time they shared together — which of course means restoring all the bad memories, too, including the “target” trauma of his friend dying from an IED explosion. Going on a road trip to this idyllic place, with its “gas station, hardware store, and little café,” was a fantasy they shared together, and she seizes the opportunity to make it a reality. But witnessing him in his current state, at peace in a mountain paradise, changes her mind and brings her back to her best hope about joining Homecoming in the first place. Getting PTSD sufferers to a place where they no longer have to contend with wartime trauma at all was a powerful notion to her, then and now, and she finally has a chance to get it right. She finally has a chance to control the outcome in a way that’s beneficial to a patient. And she takes it, to her own personal detriment.
So that Iron & Wine lyric is like a wish that can’t be granted. Walter doesn’t recognize Heidi and will never know the role she played in getting him to this place in his life. Only we know what happened and can share, privately, in the significance of her self-sacrifice. It’s not the Julia Roberts ending we’re accustomed to seeing, but then, this has not been a Julia Roberts performance we’ve seen often, either. Her Heidi has been refreshingly unvarnished, a work-in-progress who’s made tremendous mistakes but also acted bravely and unselfishly when it’s mattered the most. For all its feints toward a tradition of American political thrillers, Homecoming has never seemed that sincere in its convictions regarding the military-industrial complex, with its appetite for endless redeployment to endless wars. But there’s been conviction in Roberts’s and Stephan James’s performances, and in the elegant, efficient craft of the show. And that’s enough.
• Is it possible to feel sorry for Colin a little? Like Heidi and Thomas, he’s just a cog in the machine, too, betrayed by his betters. He may have acted recklessly and cruelly at times, but entirely in the interests of a company that wanted to push this program forward, regardless of the ethics. He’s at least capable of feeling bad about what he’s done, which is not the corporate way.
• No Thomas at all in this final episode. There was never any hope in an investigation that might harm the relationship between Geist and the Department of Defense in any meaningful way. A promotion for his diligent work does not seem forthcoming.
• The leaf is a red herring. Sorry, Shrier. Your subterfuge was in vain.
• “Are you okay, Colin? You sound a little hysterical.” Nice to see Heidi turning that particular word against him, given how frequently it’s applied to women who strenuously object to something. She quits well.
• The last-minute ascendance of Audrey as a key player on the show is a little abrupt, and I’m not sure what to make of the post-credits scene, which has her dabbing a vial of Vietnamese medicine on her wrists like perfume.
• “The therapy, the activities … it was all for appearances.” The true villain of the show is obviously Craig, who’s only role was to run pretend workshops and be a backbiting snitch.