Ten minutes and forty seconds into the first episode of the Homecoming podcast, David Schwimmer deadpans: “Heidi, I’m gonna stop you right there.” It’s a situation that many women have found themselves in countless times – their expert opinions being overridden by mansplainers. In Homecoming, the role of women — in particular, Heidi Bergman — is pivotal, deeply frustrating, and also true to life. In this way, Homecoming is a show that makes the point of view of women a dynamic and realistic one.
Homecoming is Gimlet Media’s psychological thriller podcast, a modern day radio drama, featuring the aforementioned Schwimmer, Oscar Isaac, and Catherine Keener in the starring roles. Colin Belfast (Schwimmer) presents as the typically annoyed, failing to multitask, male boss. The underlying narrative arch, told through a tantalisingly voyeuristic approach, overheard phone calls and therapy session recordings, is that of Walter Cruz (Isaac), a veteran with PTSD. Walter is a guinea pig of the “Homecoming Initiative,” a project Colin is desperate to get more funding for. Heidi is a case worker whose job is to monitor the progress of these vets. It is through these many recordings that we piece together the threads of this plot.
“I’m gonna stop you there” is a phrase Colin employs time and again, whenever Heidi inches towards territory he does not want to engage in. The first time he uses this barb towards Heidi is as she attempts to explain that a ‘holistic’ approach to the treatment of one particular veteran, Walter, would be best. What is more frustrating is how Heidi bends to Colin’s will. I found myself groaning each time she paused and waited for Colin to give her permission to speak, presumably only if she agreed with him.
All the while, Colin interrupts. He talks over and mansplains and does his best to thwart her. He is pathological, but Heidi doesn’t pull him up on it. It is a deeply frustrating thing to listen to, and during my binge of season one, there were frequent tube journeys in which my groans garnered suspicious looks from strangers. I also knew that, if I were Heidi, I wouldn’t have pulled him up on it either. In this way, Homecoming creates a sympathetic and realistic character, one whose development I was invested in, and also saw as a mirror of my own.
Women are often conditioned to make space for others, and particularly for men. We defer to them in situations like the ones Colin and Heidi are in, when she is the clear expert, but also in day-to-day life. Try walking down a street and not moving out of the way for every man who barges in front of you.
Kelli recommended Homecoming to me because of a shared appreciation of all things Oscar Isaac (fangirling over him is clearly an epidemic). While I started because of Isaac, I was hooked because of Keener’s performance. Heidi reminds me of my own mother – a psychotherapist and deeply caring woman who often leaves her comfort zone to attend to the needs of others. As the plot of Homecoming moves in surprising and myriad directions, Heidi’s character develops into one of the strongest and most stable elements of the show.
While the rest of the characters spin their wheels, Heidi finds her feet.
“Colin, I’m gonna stop you there.” – Heidi, Episode Six: “Optimists,” Season One finale. 13:58.
Throughout Homecoming, Heidi pursues her singular goal which can be boiled down to one objective: helping Walter Cruz. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a few other female characters. Audrey Temple (Amy Sedaris) is Colin’s boss, and I delighted in hearing her shoot Colin down. I didn’t like Temple, but I cheered for her, just because she puts Colin in his place. Alia Shawkat as Temple’s receptionist Becky is a delight. She does underhanded things to Temple, and I loved her all the more for it. I didn’t mind Temple, a woman, being thwarted because it’s another woman doing the thwarting.
Temple is also further derailed by her male boss, Randolph Geist (Spike Jonze) and my giddiness was quickly dashed. Geist employs Colin’s tactics with Temple, and the strong and condescending woman we have been introduced to is easily reduced to silence. The men get the last word.
Time and again, Heidi is foiled by the men around her. The cop who turns their “relationship” against her, her ex-boyfriend who leaves far too many accusatory-then-apologetic-then-accusatory-again voicemails; even the incidental characters get in the way. I can’t help but feel that this all speaks to a deeper trend of misogyny in our culture – the micro-aggressions women face in day-to-day life. Not only is Heidi’s goal being obstructed by men who stand to gain from her failure, but it is also being hampered by men who are none the wiser. Men who just are.
Ultimately, Temple included, the characters in this program are selfishly altruistic. They do good only if they get good back, and if they do good without a reward, it is only by accident. This dictates everyone’s motives, except Heidi’s. Her goal is, simply, to help Walter.
We are treated to Isaac’s voice sparingly in season two. He is the lone male character whose relationship with Heidi is, dare I say, ideal. He accepts the power structure, that she is his therapist and he is her client. This is what allows a bond to form between them (whether that bond is strictly ethical or not, I defer to my mother). And thus it is the one relationship that I found myself rooting for. And, perhaps like Heidi, I had no ulterior motive in wanting to hear Cruz and Heidi together – it was simply the place where Heidi was able to be a solid version of herself.
Heidi’s agency in the second season is intoxicating. Building off her season one finale, she interrupts, she takes up space, even when she doubts herself. She calls herself an amateur, but it’s clear by the end of season two that she is anything but. She finishes season two with a less dramatic but equally important telling off, this time of her ex. The realm of possibilities of season three await us, ideally promising more of Heidi’s interactions with Walter Cruz. I hope, and expect, that Heidi’s agency will only grow, and we will all be able to delight in more mic-drop moments to come.