“Mandatory” is an intriguing, well-directed and mysterious opening episode of Julia Roberts’s Amazon Series Homecoming.
When I heard that Julia Roberts was going to be part of the new Amazon Prime series Homecoming, I was pleasantly surprised and excited. The seasoned actress plays Heidi, a caseworker working at Homecoming, a facility helping soldiers transition to civilian life. Episode 1, “Mandatory”, keeps its cards close to its chest, but it gives enough interesting information to keep you tentatively at bay.
It’s clear that this homecoming facility is not the usual programme for traumatised returning soldiers, but “Mandatory” focuses on Heidi’s perceived hesitation throughout. In the present day, years later, Heidi works as a waitress at a grubby-looking restaurant, living with her mother who is apparently sick. The story begins unfolding when a Department of Defense auditor interrupts her day and asks about her days at the facility.
This spurs flashbacks, as Heidi begins to realise her days at homecoming were not all what they seemed. There was a scene in particular, when her manager from the Department of Defense rings her hurriedly, asking her to collect as much data on the soldiers as possible. I can imagine as a caseworker assessing returning soldiers your core focus is their wellbeing, and you can sense from her anxious response to his demands that her role does not fit in this facility.
“Mandatory” focuses on one of the soldiers in particular, Walter Cruz, who seems to be eager to be compliant to the programme. Heidi appears only comfortable when speaking to Walter, as he wants to be as “compliant” as possible so he can return to normal life. One of the experiments is a test job interview in a shoe shop, which seems absurd with ex-soldiers, and predictably it turns into a fight as one the men feels uncomfortable pretending to link his experiences overseas to offering value in a pretend job.
As the first episode of Homecoming ends, Heidi makes it clear that she does not remember if the soldiers voluntarily signed up to the programme or not. The Department of Defense auditor states there has been a complaint, which makes Heidi even more agitated.
Homecoming is impressively directed, with some well-placed shots to demonstrate the sinister aura of the facility. A scene, in particular, follows Heidi out of the facility and shows the work the staff are doing, ensuring that the facility is as normal for the soldiers as possible. Also, strangely enough, the screen narrows when Heidi is talking in the present day. “Mandatory” is a suspicious, intriguing opening episode, pushing you to binge ahead.