Last episode, Walter proposed a hypothetical cross-country “road trip” to Yosemite in a session with Heidi, as a way of demonstrating true intimacy. His theory was that two people, given 3,000 miles of road together, would eventually get bored reading to each other or joking around or talking about all the cool stuff they’re going to do at the park. At a certain point, he believes, they would have to start getting real with each other. That’s how he explains his relationship with Shrier and the other men in his unit, who spent day after day in the blazing sun, waving cars through a security checkpoint. Has she ever had an experience like that?
That session with Walter directly influenced Heidi’s decision to dump her boyfriend Anthony. (And not gently, either. She disposes of him like the stale, soggy grounds of a coffee filter.) Bottom line: She was never going to go on a road trip with Anthony, because whatever might be real about him doesn’t interest her. She is, however, interested in Walter. Their sessions together aren’t freighted by his PTSD or paranoia; he seems to be doing well, and their conversations have had a flirty chemistry to them. It’s like a relationship on fast-forward: Walter is there to reveal the most personal things about himself, and Heidi is there to listen sympathetically. When she visits his room and sees an actual map of Yosemite, with pushpins next to towns of interest, the “road trip” becomes more than theoretical. She can imagine taking one with him. And he’s imagined taking one with her.
This is all, of course, a terrible breach of professional protocol. Their sessions are supposed to be recorded and regimented, with no interactions taking place outside of her office. At the Homecoming facility especially, the patients (or “clients,” as Colin calls them) are treated like laboratory animals; each is a specimen being treated through some cocktail of drugs as well as counseling sessions. What matters is not their personal satisfaction or health, but the results yielded by this mysterious, experimental treatment. For Heidi to retrieve Shrier’s harmonica from storage as a totemic gift to Walter, and then agree to a closed-door encounter with him, represents a break from good practice, to say the least. This gesture isn’t as self-serving as it appears from the outside, because she wants to regain Walter’s wavering trust and the harmonica is given as an assurance that Shrier’s time at Homecoming wasn’t callously disposed.
(That little creep Craig will interpret it otherwise, though. He spends the episode keeping tabs on Walter and Heidi, monitoring Walter’s Skype call with his mother and lurking around Heidi as she digs through storage and visits Walter’s room.)
In the future timeline, Heidi comes back from her fact-finding meeting with Anthony with the revelation that massive chunks of her memory of Homecoming — more or less all of it —are inaccessible to her, like the contents of a burnt-out hard drive. She never told Anthony much about Homecoming, given the strict secrecy enforced around the place, but he certainly noticed all the calls she was getting from her boss, even if he can’t say what they were about. In “Redwood,” this triggers Heidi to plunder her closet for personal belongings from her months at Homecoming and her subsequent time in the hospital, which she also doesn’t remember. The key revelation is an old cell phone with a history larded with calls from Colin. And when she works up the nerve to give him a ring, he hangs up on her.
What we’re starting to learn now is that the Homecoming initiative isn’t about helping PTSD sufferers better process their trauma. It appears to be more like the service in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, through which bad memories are simply erased to eradicate the trauma altogether. We don’t know yet the particulars of the treatment, but leaving blanks in Heidi’s memories to obscure what might have happened at Homecoming certainly seems like a sinister misapplication of the technology. We haven’t reached the point yet when the experiment turned into a cover-up, but Thomas knows that Heidi was hospitalized on the same day Walter was expelled for violent misconduct, and somehow no one seems to remember anything about it.
Thomas’s visit to the Geist headquarters rattles Colin, too, and his response is subtly disastrous. He decides the best, most unambiguous way to get the Department of Defense investigator off his back is to deny everything — claim he doesn’t remember much of anything about Homecoming, claim he was too chained to his desk at Geist HQ to have a hand in it, get defensive about the timing of Walter and Heidi’s exit from the program. (“I have the same birthday as my dad. Are we the same person?”) His denials are clean but implausible, and not likely to hold up to further scrutiny. His only play now is to keep covering up before others involved in the program start putting the pieces together. He certainly has the experience and the know-how.
• The snazzy opening sequence follows the harvesting of a plant in Vietnam and the laboratory treatment of the berries within, which yield the serum that’s been fed to the clients at Homecoming. It ends with a POV shot of the package being delivered via cart to the facility, recalling the credits sequence of Zodiac, which ends with a letter being delivered to the San Francisco Chronicle. To wit:
• The Vietnamese berries may also solve the mystery of what room Colin was passing through during his first cell phone conversation with Heidi. The dude gets around.
• Maybe if Heidi pretends to share Craig’s enthusiasm for turning the facility into a shopping center workshop, he keeps his mouth shut.
• “It’s okay. It’s fine. I’m going to see a lot of things. I’m going to see the whole world.” Walter’s thought after his car breaks down just before reaching Yosemite is surely a common one to young people entering the military. For him, the whole world turned out to be a dust-choked checkpoint that seemed to serve no purpose, other than thinning the ranks of humanity with the occasional spasm of violence.