Spoilers for Homecoming below.
Aamzon’s Homecoming is a less a mystery box than a mystery Russian nesting doll. With two timelines (and two aspect ratios), the show layers mystery upon mystery. In the past timeline, Julia Roberts’s character Heidi Bergman works at a mysterious facility helping soldiers transition after serving in a war, while in the present day, she doesn’t remember doing that very job. In keeping with the surreal nature of the plot, the show fills every frame with unsettling details and references that reveal more of and comment on the action. Vulture caught up with the show’s production designer Anastasia White, who also worked with director Sam Esmail on Mr. Robot, to uncover nine hidden details you probably missed.
The show built an actual Homecoming facility
Before filming began, White, Esmail, and cinematographer Tod Campbell got together for drinks in New York to discuss ideas for shooting the series. One key idea was to have a crane shot — seen in Homecoming’s first episode — to cover two stories of the building, which meant actually building a two-story set. “They had a really big crane, so we had to account for that,” White said. “Our engineer was onboard with the weight of cranes on top of the set.”
From there, White went about constructing the set and trying to find ways to make it feel tonally specific. “Since so much of the show happens in the facility we didn’t want it to just be a typical office building, we wanted to give it a little bit of a texture and depth [to get] the idea behind the facility,” she said. “It’s sort of a mid-’80s office complex, and so the architecture and a lot of the base materials are from that time period in Florida.”
All those octagons are intentional
In that Homecoming set, one of the first things White designed was Heidi’s office, which is shaped like an octagon — just like many other things in the show. Esmail originally wanted Heidi’s office to be circular so there would be more freedom to shoot in the space, but White suggested an octagon because “it’s a fragmented circle, which ties into the story thematically.”
Pay close attention and you’ll see octagons everywhere in the Homecoming facility: on the walls, in the cafeteria, even in its chandeliers. “There’s the infinity aspect of [the number eight],” White explained, adding that the designers specifically focused on the idea of the octagon as a broken circle. “It was about starting over and what’s lost and how you can put it together again,” she said. That’s why the octagon appears primarily in the Homecoming facility: “We didn’t really use it anywhere else, because that’s really where everything is stemmed from — where it all goes down.”
Pineapples hidden everywhere
Adding to the show’s suspense and paranoid tone, the soldiers in the Homecoming facility aren’t sure if they’re really in Florida or not. To “challenge the viewer’s sense of reality” as well, White filled the show with hidden images of pineapples to make everything seem that much more fake. “We wanted to play with the viewers mind a little bit to give them the opportunity to doubt the whole thing for themselves,” she said.
Birds are hidden in unexpected places, too
Wherever she goes, Heidi seems to be haunted by images of fish and birds, which White wove into the background of the show. “There’s the pelican with the menacing caw in all of the episodes of the facility, but then they’re also at the diner. In her mom’s house, there are pelicans and fish that are more more trapped in glass as artwork,” she said. “I feel like the birds are taunting Heidi.” It’s a fitting motif: Birds can fly away, but Heidi is stuck.
Heidi is trapped by boxes within boxes
A recurring visual motif in Homecoming is the idea of boxes within boxes. Even the show’s two aspect ratios play into the idea. Or, as White puts it, “You keep pulling out to reveal something bigger.” This comes together in a crucial climactic shot where Heidi finally remembers her past at the facility: As the camera’s aspect ratio changes to signify her restored memories, she’s framed by square halos in the background. “I knew what was gonna happen with that scene, the transition scene,” White said. “I knew that shape in particular should be what was behind her.”
The secret messages in the “wellness center”
When Heidi goes back to the Homecoming facility with Colin in the present-day timeline, she initially ends up in a “wellness center” across from the old building, which is also owned by the nefarious Geist Corporation and touts “holistic approaches” as well as a cafeteria with a Moroccan Monday. “I think they’re gonna touch more on this in season two, but in some of the artwork we have up in the cafeteria, there are a couple hints about memory loss and what Heidi is going through,” White said, hinting at a potential future plotline. “But it’s also a more hip look to it, so it probably isn’t obvious.”
The hidden meaning of Fat Morgan’s
Yes, “Fat Morgan” is the nickname of the manatee on the sign, but it’s also a little bit of an in-joke. It’s named after the concept of a fata morgana, a specific kind of oceanic mirage, since Esmail liked to have a meaning behind the names of everything in the series. “There’s also a painting of Sam as a sea captain in the diner, but I don’t know if you actually see it,” White added.
Even the paintings in Heidi’s office matter
In Heidi’s office, there are two paintings on the wall: George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and a 17th-century Dutch painting by Hendrick van Anthonissen that was recently revealed to have included a beached whale after it was restored. The Homecoming team was interested in the former painting because of its use of Pointillism — up close, it’s just dots; at a distance the picture comes together — and because there’s a little girl in it looking directly at the viewer. “She’s the only person that’s looking at the viewer, and we thought that was interesting,” White said. “With all these people and all these things happening there’s one person that’s paying attention.” With the Dutch painting, “we did a version of our own where we half uncovered the whale, so it’s like the ghost of it,” White explained. “That goes with Heidi’s memory, or lack thereof.”
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke
White also pointed out a minor, amusing detail that reveals quite a bit about Colin Belfast’s bald ambitions. He makes fun of his boss Ron’s rustic garden in episode five — “What the fuck are these rocks?” — but when we see his garden in the present day in episode nine, it’s full of rocks and succulents, too. “It used to be traditional, which you see in the birthday party, but he changed it to be a lot more bohemian just to emulate [Ron],” White said. “That was a writer’s note. They wanted to show his instability, I guess.”