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The mystery and intrigue dripping from the screen is what is at the crux of the Amazon Video series Homecoming. Based on the podcast by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, the show is an eerie, slightly funny, engrossing work helmed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. But what stands out in the series is the contrast between corporations and government. Already a skeptic at best and a severe critic of business at the worst, Esmail pits the bumbling bureaucrat Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) and the uber-eccentric, fast-talking, abrasive Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale) against each other. In the middle are the two people who form the basis of the main plot. Julia Roberts, at once steady, frazzled, and assured plays Heidi Bergman who is tasked with addressing the concerns of returning veterans under the Homecoming program, a subsidiary of the agency surrounded in secrecy suggested in its title, Geist. Stephan James offers his talents as the thoughtful, grounded, and playful retired serviceman.
But it is the contrast between Carrasco and Belfast that rings with the most distinction and idealism. Esmail holds contempt for the big business, corporate style of the American way. Belfast stands as a big-mouthed, quick on his feet, but still stumbling businessman who adds to the canon of evil men and women who drive business on television and film. Similar to the show Billions with Paul Giamatti as a low-grade, power-hungry weasel of a government employee in Chuck Rhoades and Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod, the dynamic, confident businessman (with flaws, still), on Homecoming this juxtaposition is made apparent. Carrasco is quiet, self-effacing, and clumsy. Belfast flies through the episodes as a crushing, macho, overbearing wheeler-dealer. Now, this is the exact effect that the filmmakers wanted to display.
They wish to show that the government is necessary and good (and a proper one is) and that a magnifying glass ought to be placed on the activities of the businesses that provide virtually every value that the world consumes. It is the producers that offer the goodies that we take for granted. Enterprises like the oil companies are vilified yet our clothes, carpets, houses, cars, medical equipment, computer components and a whole host of other petroleum based products extend and enhance the lives of the individuals of the world.
For all of its excellent projection of shadowy plot lines and inspired camera angles and superior acting and sound, Homecoming comes up short when it showcases the innocence, the glory, and the cleanness of business. Cannavale portrays Belfast with extreme, punchy panache. He exudes both power-hunger and street-wise knowledge that crackles with the brilliance of the writing. Whigham’s Carrasco fumbles, falls, and brings a downer sort of personality to the fore. He is the opposite of Giamatti’s Rhoades. While there’s fire under Rhoades, Carrasco barely attempts to light the pilot in the oven. He’s persistent, though, always trying to get to the precious metals of the sand with a metal detector with dead batteries.
It has been nothing new about businessmen and women being beat up by Hollywood. In everything from It’s a Wonderful Life to Robocop, the idea of a “selfish,” conceited, and arrogant penny-pincher is well worn but still has a footing in the business of entertainment. Homecoming is in a way an extension of Esmail’s other outstanding work, Mr. Robot. In that show, the stakes of business being evil are ramped up to extreme levels. The “Evil Corp” that permeates through every aspect of life is actually the very lifeblood that the people subsist on just like in the real world. Remove, if you could ever try, the big businesses like Microsoft, Apple, McDonald’s, Facebook, Google, or any other blue chip stock. The entire earth would spin off of its axis. America, especially, would just become the clay feet instead of the tall, sturdy statue that the Founding Fathers intended it to be. Homecoming aesthetically is a premium piece of art. But it fails miserably when it comes to painting a portrait of the virtuous businessman and the brutal bureaucrat. Maybe in time, Esmail and company will realize that the very streaming service that hosts the show among the other companies is a juggernaut for good.