The notion of using a second season to go back to patch together events that took place during the first season does not sound like a promising avenue forward for a show like Homecoming, which has been struggling to justify the need to come back at all. It wasn’t as if the story of Heidi Bergman and Walter Cruz were incomplete in any significant way, even if not every I was dotted and T crossed. There was something bittersweet and perfect about that final meeting between the two of them at a diner, which hinted ever so slightly at Walter’s memories starting to return after Heidi deliberately megadosed him out of the program.
And yet, “Previously” is the liveliest episode of the new season by far, and all the retconning of information from last season does help give the show a renewed momentum, if not yet a sense of purpose. We learn much more about “Jackie,” whom I will refer to henceforth as Alex, which appears to be her actual name. And we learn crucial information about Audrey that helps explain how she ascended so quickly up the corporate ladder, from a bit player in the first season to a high-powered Geist executive now. Then there’s the issue of Leonard Geist himself, who doesn’t appear to be the all-powerful corporate Svengali the show had suggested.
Every scene in “Previously,” as the title suggests, takes place around the time the previous season ended, with much maneuvering around events that happened in the finale. But let’s start with Alex, who wasn’t a part of the show at all until now. The opening scene finds her in what appears to be a human-resources job, listening sympathetically to a sexual complaint from a young woman about an incident without her boss in the bathroom. When the woman steels herself for the he-said/she-said fight to come, Alex subtly steers her away from filing a complaint by revealing her own experience with sexual harassment, which ended with her getting a tiny settlement, the perpetrator getting six weeks paid leave, and her having to make reservations for the guy’s celebratory lunch when he returned. Alex claims she wound up quitting and booking a one-way trip to India that changed her life.
This entire spiel, we learn shortly afterwards, is a ruse designed to shield the boss from harm. Alex appears to offer this vile “crisis management” service on a freelance basis, taking money from harassers to dissuade their victims from following through on complaints. It’s possible, given the conversation she has later with Audrey about pulling off her own act of corporate chicanery, that Alex manages other types of “crises,” too, but this does shed light on what kind of person she is. Until now, she’s been a blank slate, but her situation and her actions have also allowed her to be cast as a victim and a fully sympathetic figure. Who wouldn’t sympathize with someone who wakes up in the middle of a lake with her memory erased? And now we have another question to consider: Will the experience of losing her memory change her? Will forgetting who she is make her a better person?
Tabling that for now, “Previously” digs into one of last season’s most curious developments: How did Audrey, a low-level functionary, get herself in a position to knock Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), the executive who spearheaded the Homecoming initiative, off his perch? At the end of last season, all we witnessed was Colin summoned into a meeting room with Audrey, who was forcing him to take the fall for the Department of Defense launching a federal investigation into Geist over the program. “Previously” reveals that it was all an elaborate scheme, co-scripted by Alex, who knows how to plot such things out. The lone trump card in Audrey’s hand is her awareness of the DOD investigation, and that’s what allows her the leverage to force a confession out of Colin. She and Alex guess that Colin will offer to be the fall guy in exchange for assurances about his advancement in the company. The assurances are false, the signature is real.
The key to Audrey’s plan working is that Leonard Geist himself knows nothing about Homecoming, and only learns of this radical program through the signed confession that she brings to him. He’s furious that this drug, which was only supposed to be applied topically and in small doses, has been ingested by soldiers as part of an experimental PTSD protocol, and he winds up firing both Colin and Colin’s boss, Ron (Fran Kranz), who can’t make a plausible denial fast enough. All of this business explains Geist’s irritability with Audrey in the present day and his bizarre, angry speech to the public. His company has been hijacked by bad actors, and he could go to jail for it.
That leaves one final piece of this elegantly designed puzzle of an episode to get dropped into place. A continuation of Walter Cruz leaving the diner at the end of last season confirms what Heidi (and the audience) had suspected—that he was starting to remember again. When he starts driving his truck, the traumas of his past flood his memory with such intensity that he gets in an accident and winds up in the emergency room, where he discovers that his memory may not have been altered through brain surgery, as he’d been led to believe.
And so now the table is finally set for the second season, which is shaping up more as a postscript or epilogue than discrete entity but at least has the courtesy to make it compelling. Still plenty of questions, old and new, left to be answered — chiefly, how Alex landed on the rowboat with her memory scrubbed — but assumptions we might have made about all these characters have been tweaked a little, and now Walter Cruz is about to find his way back into the picture. The game is afoot!
• The photo of Alex in India wearing a sari is the same photo of her standing next to three soldiers, which is the same photo of her alone pasted on Audrey’s office wall at Geist. She also has an assortment of ID badges at home, which suggests the roots of her “Jackie” identity.
• The advice Alex gives to the young woman with a sexual-harassment complaint is, “You must protect yourself, because nobody else will.” In an encounter premised on lies, this is the closest we get to Alex saying something true.
• Kitty litter mystery solved! Alex buys the litter herself after the meeting, so we’re close enough timewise to her memory wipe that it never left the trunk of her car.
• The topical function of Geist’s rollers seems to be to ease temporary psychological pain, equivalent to taking aspirin when you have a headache. Hence the slogan on Ron’s dumb sign: “GET OVER IT.”
• Audrey the receptionist circumventing a female boss who wants to pass off Audrey’s idea as her own is the plot of Working Girl. So consider Audrey a more sinister Tess.
• Colin’s last words to Audrey: “So you’re like … a good person? That’s the idea.” As we learn at the beginning of the episode, acting like a good person is an effective scheme for bad people.