7:30am PT by Josh Wigler
'Homecoming' Creators Break Down the Ambiguous Final Scene: "It's an Open Question"
[This story contains major spoilers for the first season of Amazon's Homecoming.]
When it comes to the content of Amazon's Homecoming and the Gimlet Media podcast on which it's based, there are small differences, and there are seismic differences — and the final notes of the season fall definitively in the second category.
Existing across two seasons at six installments each, the Homecoming podcast from Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg (who also co-created the TV series alongside director Sam Esmail) follows the story of therapist Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) and her gradual decision to turn away from the titular program. The reason? She becomes attached to one of her patients: Walter Cruz, voiced in the audio drama by Oscar Isaac, and portrayed on television by Stephan James. The TV adaptation follows a very similar trajectory, albeit with one important distinction: the complete abandonment of the podcast's second season story arc.
In the original telling of the tale, Heidi spends the entire second season reluctantly reuniting with the Geist Group responsible for the Homecoming project, which was designed to cure military veterans of their PTSD by erasing troubling memories, getting them into top shape to return to war. Once Heidi recognizes the scope of the initiative, she sneakily drugs Walter as well as herself with memory-diminishing medicine (hidden in a heaping plate of gnocchi primavera), causing her to forget all about her time working for Homecoming. She regains her memories at the end of the podcast's first season, and then spends season two's runtime searching for Walter, who has gone off the grid, with the aim of making amends for her role in his destabilized state.
For the sake of the television adaptation's first season, Homecoming stretches and adds to the story originally told in the podcast's first season, before completely cutting bait on the content of the second season. Instead of an arc in which Heidi teams up with her ex-Geist boss Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), Esmail's series ends with a quickened and successful version of Heidi's search for Walter. In the podcast, Heidi and Walter have yet to reunite, through two full seasons.
The final pre-credits sequence of Amazon's Homecoming involves Heidi finally encountering Walter in a sleepy diner in a sleepy town, where he has settled in and made a nice, quiet life for himself. When the two reunite, Walter seemingly has no memory of Heidi and Homecoming at all. Sensing his newfound tranquility, Heidi doesn't reveal her true identity; for her, it's enough to know that he's OK.
At the end of the moving conversation, Walter leaves to return to his cabin in the woods, where he's trying to build a new deck. Heidi watches him exit the diner, at long last at peace … until she looks at the table setting Walter left behind: perfectly straight, except for a fork, pointing diagonally toward the window. It's a callback to the way in which Walter used to mess with Heidi's carefully organized office in the Homecoming days — a sign that he remembers a lot more than he's letting on.
What is the audience supposed to take away from the last scene between the two Homecoming heroes? Does Walter remember his time at Homecoming, and Heidi specifically, throughout the entire final conversation? Does Heidi's mere presence at the diner trigger something within Walter, causing his memories to return in a flash? It's an incredibly ambiguous final note to end the season on, exactly as all parties involved intended. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Horowitz says there are two different readings of the ending, at least as far as the Homecoming writers room is concerned.
"The first is that he knows [who Heidi is] the whole time and he's not messing with her, he's being delicate with her, but he needs her to know," he says. "The other one, I call it the 'in the bones' theory, where you don't need to believe that Walter has remembered, it's just that this is the same guy who when he saw Heidi messing with her pen, couldn't help himself but mess with her too — so it's the same person. But very much I would say it's an open question."
"I feel good in that it feels like a relevant uncertainty," adds Bloomberg. "The two sides of that debate are forcing you to kind of wrestle with some of the questions that the series is hopefully asking."
For their part, both Esmail and Roberts have their own strong feelings on the correct interpretation of the final scene — and it's neither of the interpretations laid out by Bloomberg and Horowitz. With that said, they would not come forward with how they viewed the veritable fork in the road. "We didn't want to have a bow on top," says Roberts, the only comment on the matter she's willing to offer up … on the record, at least. Whatever her interpretation, there's little doubt that Roberts was deeply invested in how the scene was conveyed, based on how Bloomberg describes her contributions to the moment.
"It was a scene that Julia was very focused on," he explains, "in her words and what she said and how she was going to play it. That scene, really more than any other, was a collaboration between me, Eli, Sam and Julia, where she was laser focused on that and getting that right. She knew how important it was."
As for the decision to completely reverse course from the podcast and actually bring Heidi and Walter face-to-face by the end of the season, Horowitz says, "I think we liked the idea of having a season tell a real story, not just being all about tantalization or denial, and so that's a natural moment for that story [to end on]. That's kind of where that story needs to go. So instead of making it all about, 'No, wait until season two, season three, season 10,' [we want to] let each season have its own satisfaction. I think that's something that appealed to us as storytellers and felt most honest to the characters."
"How do you bring them together — because this is what the audience wants — without making disingenuous what's come before, and cheapening what's come before in the separation, and yet gives a conclusion to this [story] that is some kind of answer to what you watched up to that point," Bloomberg says. "Them running across the diner and hugging and kissing, it might for a moment be nice, but then you'd be like, 'Oh, it's just a movie or it's just a TV show.'"
Throughout the entire promotion process, both Roberts and James have been coy about whether they will return for a second season of Homecoming; an odd prospect, considering it felt like a foregone conclusion before watching the season finale. But in the context of Heidi and Walter's reunion, it does feel as though their stories are wrapped, ambiguity notwithstanding. "We're playing it super cool," Roberts says when pushed on the subject of returning for a second season, while James only adds that he would be open to reprising the character — and that's the end of that, for now.
But is there life in Homecoming beyond the story of Walter and Heidi? Amazon picked up the series for two seasons in its initial order, and based on the first season's very last scene, one can imagine where the story may go next — a final scene that doesn't involve Heidi and Walter at all.
The season's closing moments occur after the credits, much as Esmail has ended every season of USA Network's Mr. Robot. It features the Geist Group's Audrey Temple (Hong Chau) privately applying an unknown substance to her wrists, cooling her nerves after a tense meeting with Colin Belfast. The scene suggests creators Bloomberg and Horowitz's interest in deepening the Geist mythology as the show moves forward, without needing to elaborate further on Heidi and Walter specifically. Is that the plan for season two? True to form, the Homecoming creators are keeping their lips sealed, even as Horowitz chews on the question like so much amnesia-inducing gnocchi: "I could see that — but those are your words, not ours."
Homecoming is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.