One of the most difficult things to accomplish in all of entertainment is delivering fans a follow-up to something truly great. Whether it be a new season of a TV series or a sequel to a feature film, it's never easy to replicate something masterful. Such is the mission for Amazon's Homecoming. With a series like Homecoming, which does feature a mostly new cast and follows a very different mystery, you'd think it would be easy to set aside the first season and just enjoy what Season 2 has to offer. That task, however, is more difficult than it sounds. Homecoming's first season is remarkable in its story and craftsmanship. The second season, simply put, just can't hang.
Standing on its own, without the shadow of its predecessor looming over it, Season Two of Homecoming is a stylish, well-acted mystery. It's an interesting and thought-provoking story packed into seven very digestible episodes. Had it been the first installment of a brand-new series, this would be one of those shows you recommend to your friends or Twitter followers. But in trying to fill the shoes of Sam Esmail's first 10 episodes, Homecoming truly suffers.
This second season follows the story of a woman played by Janelle Monae, who wakes up on a boat in the middle of a lake with absolutely no memory of who she is and how she got there. What follows is a tale of lies and deceit as she tries to uncover secrets about her past and the events that put her in the boat in the first place. This season also dives more into the story of Geist, the company at the center of the first season, dealing largely with Hong Chau's Audrey Temple, who ended Season One by swooping in to clean up Colin Belfast's mess at the Homecoming facility. This season also brings back Stephan James' veteran protagonist Walter Cruz and introduces the man who owns the entire company, the mysterious Leonard Geist, played by Chris Cooper.
The story that unfolds in Season Two is much more straightforward than Season One, only going back and forth between two timelines on a handful of occasions. These characters are in a constant cycle of burying and uncovering lies about themselves and the people around them, and it all moves fairly quickly to a satisfying conclusion in the finale. Really, the final episode is very good. But getting there can feel like a burden, especially compared to Season One.
There are more locations and moving parts in Season Two, which make it feel much bigger than the largely contained story told in the freshman entry. It all looks bigger on the surface, like it's leading to something much grander. That size and scope, though, is largely shallow. These are pretty bare bones. There's just no meat there.
Yes, the acting in Season Two is impeccable, particularly from Chao, Monae, and James. Everyone does their job well. The sets are gorgeous. There's an aura of intrigue surrounding everything. Season Two director Kyle Patrick Alvarez handles all of the pieces fairly well and makes some compelling choices.
But Homecoming's new season is missing the two components of what makes its first installment work so well. The contained, time-jumping story of Season One highlights the thoughts and motivations of its core characters, which is easily one of its biggest strengths. On the flip-side, Season Two tries to focus on the mystery itself, which keeps it from achieving its desired level of depth.
The other thing hindering Homecoming in 2020 is its distinct lack of Sam Esmail. The Season One director uses the camera as a weapon against an unknowing audience, making you feel unsettled and totally helpless by the way he frames a shot, rather than relying on the atmosphere of the setting or performances from the actors. Esmail makes you feel what the characters feel, causing stress with eerie transitions that keep you moving at breakneck speed. It's a constant thriller, even when two characters are doing nothing but eating dinner.
Season Two, though it looks good, never achieves that level of tension or craftsmanship. It imitates Season One without fully knowing why it worked in the first place. Despite being three episodes shorter than Season One, Homecoming's follow-up feels significantly longer.
Homecoming had some massive shoes to fill when returning for a new season. While it certainly has its own merits, it pales in comparison to the act its trying to follow.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Homecoming Season Two premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, May 22nd.
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