Homecoming: A Psychological Thriller About Emotions and Memory

· January 16, 2019

Homecoming, a television series produced by and starring actress Julia Roberts, premiered not too long ago on Amazon Prime. It’s safe to say that this psychological thriller has shaken the audience. The series focuses on the ever-controversial issue of scientific discoveries at the service of the military.

The plot of this TV series seems to be based on an investigation that a team from Columbia University and McGill University carried out. This study showed that it’s possible to selectively erase different memories stored in the same neuron. It was published in the Current Biology journal last year.

A synopsis of Homecoming

This TV series tells the story of a private investigation company with a contract with the United States Army. Apparently, they’ve enabled a rehab center for soldiers who come home after deployment. They’re told to stay in the center to receive therapy that will help them resume their normal lives.

The company hired a not-so-experienced psychologist (Julia Roberts). They put her in charge of the center, but she receives her orders from others above her. The project actually aims to test a new drug that promises to eradicate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder that many war veterans suffer from.

That’s the only thing that Heidi, the psychologist, knows, but there’s actually a lot more to it. I’m not going to spoil anything else so that those interested in watching the show discover it for themselves.

Heidi, the main character of this psychological thriller.

The actual investigation

The show’s plot seems to have its origin in the amazing discoveries regarding emotions and memory. The Columbia University study found a way to selectively erase memories located in the same neuron. The study was carried out on Aplysia sea slugs whose neuronal chemistry is identical to humans’. This discovery has led to other studies that seek to mitigate the negative psychological effects of traumatic events.

On a chemical level, there’s a difference between associative and non-associative memories. A lot of the information we store is emotionally neutral. However, the other type of information we store is linked to emotions. Together, they make up the memory of an event.

Researchers discovered that each type of memory uses a different variant of the kinase M protein, the neurotransmitter that neurons use to store memories. Associative memories use the variant PKM APL III and non-associative memories use another variant: PKM APL I.

The result of the study

This study confirmed that the painful part of a memory can be erased by applying the inhibitors of the appropriate kinase variant. This discovery can lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There are many psychological tools to help manage PTSD. However, therapy isn’t able to eradicate it completely. This is why researchers now want to develop pharmacological approaches to treat PTSD and eradicate the anguish a memory can produce in a patient.

Julia Roberts in Homecoming.

A psychological thriller

This psychological thriller presents a scenario where this research seems to already be in the human experimentation stages. This television series shows the darker, inhuman side of the development of the pharmacological approaches we mention in this article.

In Homecoming, human experimentation yields the expected results, along with some unforeseen events. Said unforeseen events are relatively easy to correct in the next stage of the drug’s development.

It’s important to mention that the people they’re experimenting with are completely unaware of the true purpose of this “rehab therapy”.

This psychological thriller sheds light on this issue. However, it’d be very interesting to know if anyone’s carrying out studies based on therapeutic techniques of the so-called third generation. Evidence states that some of these techniques can influence the brain’s chemical balance.