Julia Roberts’ Best TV Performance Is in This Prime Video Psychological Thriller

Sam Esmail’s eerie series lets Julia Roberts get dark.

Julia Roberts’ Best TV Performance Is in This Prime Video Psychological ThrillerCustom Image by Zanda Rice

THE BIG PICTURE

 Heidi Bergman’s amnesia drives the main mystery in Homecoming across different timelines.

 Julia Roberts nails two sides of the same character, showcasing complexity and depth in her portrayal.
 The Season 1 finale of Homecoming brings a chilling resolution with a stylized aspect ratio change.

People forget things all the time, but Heidi Bergman can’t remember a major part of her life, and the reason why is the main mystery in Season 1 of Homecoming. Despite the name, this isn’t part of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy or the concert doc for Beyoncé. It’s Sam Esmail‘s Prime Video thriller series where Julia Roberts plays two versions of a character named Heidi in different timelines. In 2018, she is an employee of a mysterious facility, and in 2022, she is a waitress, suffering from a strange case of amnesia that keeps her in the dark about her old workplace’s secrets.

While the actress is famous for her big smile in rom-coms and as a queen of thrillers, she has done TV too, just a limited amount. On Friends, she was a resentful ex-classmate of Chandler (Matthew Perry), who seeks belated, yet deserving revenge on him. It’s funny, but her appearance is mostly stunt casting. Recently in Gaslit, she played Watergate critic, Martha Mitchell, creating sympathy for this underappreciated public figure who suffered abuse at the hands of political enemies and her husband. Both of these characters are easy for viewers to root for, which is why Homecoming stands apart from them. Roberts gets to put on that disarming smile as Heidi, but with the creeping paranoia that her intentions may not be as good as she claims.

What Is Sam Esmail’s ‘Homecoming’ About?

In 2018, Heidi Bergman was a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, helping soldiers transition back to their home life. Her busy day is full of taking frequent calls from her agitated boss, Colin (Bobby Cannavale), or holding therapy sessions with the soldiers. Away from work, her personal life is lackluster, including her boyfriend Anthony (Dermot Mulroney), where the romance has gone well past the expiration date. Homecoming is where Heidi is at her best, knowing how to say the right thing to gain someone’s trust, but something is not quite right. In 2022, Heidi is now a waitress when she’s questioned by an investigator, Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), who doesn’t believe her dismissing remarks that she doesn’t remember her time at Homecoming. This begins a slow-burn plot that unravels across half-hour, practically bite-sized episodes, leaving viewers to wonder what Heidi is hiding.

Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman Can’t Be Trusted

Julia Roberts as Heidi in Homecoming
Image via Prime Video

Julia Roberts’ performance in the 2018 timeline is similar to the heroines of her career: someone a viewer can root for. She’s under tremendous pressure from Colin, who demands she gather data on the soldiers and not to form relationships. While Heidi is overwhelmed by her duties, she is tenacious about handling the stress. After all, she doesn’t know how to have a life outside of work. It may break the hearts of fans who watch the chilly, awkward scenes between Roberts and Mulroney, but much like in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), these characters aren’t meant for each other. Heidi bottles up her emotions, breaking things off with Anthony to focus specifically on work. This makes the therapy sessions with Walter (Stephan James) feel all the more intimate.

They form a connection effortlessly. Roberts puts on her iconic smile as she sits behind an office desk, trying to make probing questions sound casual while discussing Walter’s painful memories of his time in the military. Ignoring her boss’ rigid data-based approach, Heidi chooses to bond with Walter. They form a playful, flirty relationship as they move away from talking about his PTSD and onto a hypothetical road trip they could take. It teeters into being inappropriate due to the power dynamic between them, but it shows Walter’s desire to leave Homecoming, and Heidi’s gradual realization that she wants a life outside of her career. In 2022, she’s isolated with no special connection to anyone.

Whatever happened in the time gap loosened the cap on her abrasive side, too. Instead of treating people like she did with Walter, this version of Heidi pushes everyone away. WhenCarrasco arrives to poke at the blank parts of her memory, Roberts’ performance is entirely absent of her once inviting decorum. She gives blunt, short responses during the interactions, clearly wanting to get away from him as quickly as possible. It’s not just because this is a harsher, impatient version of the character, but because she’s scared about why she can’t remember. A pervasive feeling of paranoia in Homecoming isn’t just focused on Heidi’s amnesia; director Sam Esmail lets it seep into every part of the show.

Julia Roberts Nails Two Sides of the Same Character

Stephan James as Walter and Julia Roberts as Heidi in Homecoming Image via Prime Video 

One of the best parts of the series is the soundtrack, plucked from the films Esmail was influenced by. In Episode 1, the first few minutes have sweeping, fluid camera work that introduces Heidi’s office at the Homecoming facility. The theme of Dressed to Kill (1980) plays and the lush and dream-like score by Pino Donaggio sets up a picturesque first meeting between Heidi and Walter. There is a narrative theme Dressed to Kill and Homecoming share in how both explore the double lives of their characters. In 2018, Heidi may care for Walter, but she also plays a part in the secretive agenda behind Homecoming. As early as Episode 3, it’s revealed she knows something the soldiers do not.

Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali Talk Leave the World Behind

“A lot of it was just me being able to look up into Mahershala’s eyes and not … [get] teary-eyed and giggly like a 15-year-old girl.”

Their daily meals are medicated with an experimental drug that will delete their PTSD memories, and she accepts this by focusing on the good intentions behind it. This makes the office talks between Walter and Heidi all the more complicated. He easily opens up to her, and soon begins to have feelings for her. While she never oversteps, Heidi can’t stop herself from sharing these feelings. Their conversations in Heidi’s office are charged with this chemistry. Keeping quiet about the drugged meals leads to one of Julia Roberts’ best moments when she learns the complete truth about the facility. The drug in the soldiers’ meals is to allow PTSD-free soldiers to then be redeployed. Once Walter begins to be affected, Heidi panics. In Episode 8, she struggles with her guilt while in front of a new group of soldiers joining Homecoming.

Roberts’ performance has her eyes failing to focus on anyone while stumbling over her words. When an employee tries to step in, she suddenly regains control. “I wrote the script,” she tells him sharply. She greets the new batch of test subjects, but a close-up of her face can’t hide the heavy emotions swirling about. The beaming smile she can usually put on with ease is strained, and her eyes fill with concern. The score by David Shire from the paranoid classic The Conversation (1974) takes over the scene as the camera stays on Roberts, forcing the viewer to watch the sinking realization as she experiences it. Her job is based on a dangerous lie, and to redeem herself, she sees one option. Heidi overloads Walter’s dose of the memory-wiping drug, leaving him incapable of being redeployed. She medicates herself too, hoping it can delete her guilt (the answer to her amnesia in 2022), but it merely suppresses it.

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