Kelli wasn't in combat. She worked in supplies, mainly for hospitals, and "other people had it a lot worse than I did" becomes her mantra, repeated to deflect the expressed concerns of those around her. But you don't have to wield a weapon yourself to see things you can't shake off, and whether Kelli is suffering from PTSD or something more vague, some inability to downshift to the pace of civilian life, she begins to break apart. Overwhelmed and drunk at a bar with her friends, she climbs out the bathroom window rather than go back inside. Later she quits the warehouse job she's held for years and that was kept open for her, saying "it's just a giant waste of time, I can't do it anymore." At home, her former ease with Mike is forced -- he weeps when his tickling her on the couch triggers distress and she pushes him away. When she discovers his infidelity, the timing of which is unclear, he moves out, and what's left of the life she used to lead quickly unravels, with a DUI, a battle for her kids and the threat of being redeployed.
At times the film's unspecified blue-collar setting can feel disingenuous instead of lived in -- when Slattery first appears, in particular, it takes a while to get back to thinking of the people on screen as characters instead of attractive TV talent in search for actorly legitimacy by dressing down and not wearing makeup. "Return" is most intriguing in how it deals, in small ways, with how Kelli's gender shapes her experiences coming home, expressed mainly through her own expectations of herself. She repaints the house and rearranges the dishes in the cabinets in an attempt to reclaim her space, but her domestic and maternal instincts don't automatically fill in as she seems to feel they should. The difficulty she has in articulating what's wrong and the sense that there's no one for her to turn to are exacerbated by the fact that she doesn't see herself as a typical soldier, that there's no established context for her experiences. Kelli's dread of being sent back, of not having enough time to pick up the pieces of her shattered home life, sends her on a frantic last-minute quest to get pregnant by someone, anyone in order to not be eligible for redeployment. It's a terrible and not terribly rational idea, but one that speaks to her mindset at that moment -- having another baby wouldn't just mean they'll have to let her stay, it'd provide a foothold there, a desperate way for her to get back to the person she used to be. [B]