BrainDead recap: Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown — a Critique
We may be only two episodes in, but BrainDead is quickly establishing itself as a show that refuses to be categorized. Is it a straight comedy? Is it a biting satire? Is it a gross-out horror? Sort of! Who knows? And just to muddy the waters even further, this episode adds a little whimsy, kicking off with our first extremely catchy musical recap, set to a jangly, folky acoustic guitar.
Sample lyrics: “Some kind of meteor came down; no one knows where it’s from. They shipped it off so they could study it in Washington. Guess what! It’s filled with space bugs and now they’re loose and eating people’s brains.”
Yeah, that about sums it up.
So here we are, two episodes in, and I may not be sure exactly what BrainDead is, but I do know I’m enjoying the ride so far. While the pilot suffered from the same thing every pilot suffers from — an overabundance of exposition/setup — the second episode showed Laurel getting down to business, trying to end the government shutdown, investigating Dr. Daudier’s exploding head, and (finally!) facing off against those space bugs, although she doesn’t have much luck. At the top of the episode, her own apartment is infested, and she quickly learns that traditional bug spray has no effect. Fortunately, she has the exact same reaction I would have upon learning bugs were invading my apartment: She gets the hell out of there. Good job, Laurel.
Side note: In addition to satirizing the partisan nature of D.C., BrainDead also takes aim at the cable news networks, switching between a Republican-leaning news channel (staffed by Misty Alise, a Megyn Kelly look-alike) and a Democrat-slanted one (headed by Claudia Monarch, a Rachel Maddow doppelgänger). It’s not a subtle comparison, but it’s fun to watch the two channels report the exact same news, while always placing blame on the other side.
By the time Laurel gets into work, there’s an FBI agent named Anthony Onofrio waiting for her. (And Scarlett is berating him for wearing a flag pin/accusing him of being a fascist.) Together, they sit down to go over exactly what happened to Dr. Daudier, and Laurel explains that yes, his head really did explode. And no, she’s not sure why. That’s about all she’s got — except for the fact that it was really, really gross.
(One clever detail of note: Laurel’s office window looks right out at a statue of a man on horseback. The only thing is the man is facing away from the window, which means Laurel spends her days staring at a bronze horse’s rear end. Ah, Washington.)
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Even though the government is shut down, Laurel still has constituents to address. This time, it’s a young girl named Annie and her father. Annie has cancer, and the two are on a cross-country trip to visit a bunch of U.S. monuments and to raise money for cancer research. Their last stop is the Lincoln Memorial, but the only problem is that it’s closed due to the shutdown. Laurel’s moved by her story, so she tries to get her brother to help, but he quickly turns Annie into a political chess piece, taking her on national television and shaming the Republicans for the shutdown. The Republicans, for what it’s worth, dig up dirt on Annie and her father, spreading the word that her dad is a schoolteacher who’s not only an atheist, but one who taught his students that Lincoln was gay. It’s a disgusting moment for Laurel, especially when all she’s trying to do is help one little girl wade through the bureaucratic nonsense that is the government shutdown, but it at least ends on a positive note: Laurel manages to sneak her in to the memorial, and it’s a nice reminder that Laurel’s job isn’t always terrible. Sometimes, she actually gets to help people.
NEXT: Exploding head No. 2
As for Laurel’s brother, Luke (the Democratic whip), he’s getting a lot of heat from the Democrats for allowing Red Wheatus to poach one of their own. Desperate to get the majority back, he recruits Laurel to cozy up to Gareth and figure out exactly how Red got Senator Spitz to flip. He refuses to give her any info, but he does invite her to Tax Prom, where congressional staffers and tax lobbyists dance and get very, very drunk. Aww, how romantic. It’s there Laurel reconnects with an old photographer friend, Stacie, who tells her about their mutual friend Abby. Abby, who used to be a wild-child novelist, now works for a right-wing organization called Help America Rise Again (which sounds like a rejected Donald Trump campaign slogan).
Thoroughly weirded out by Abby’s overnight transformation, Laurel meets back up with Gareth at Tax Prom, where she overhears a phone call between him and Red. From there, she’s able to figure out Red apparently sold out a moderate Republican senator named Barneki in order to court Spitz. Healy talks to Barneki and believes he’s convinced him to cross the aisle and become a Democrat, but Barneki soon leaks their meeting to the press, making the Democrats look desperate for a deal. Laurel, of course, is pissed once she learns she was the one who got double-crossed, instead of the one doing the double-crossing.
Finally, we meet a new (and extremely delightful) character: Gustav Triplett, chess wizard and certified genius. His regular chess games in the park, however, are interrupted when one of his opponents, Oscar, starts leaking blood from his ears. They rush to the hospital, but Oscar’s head soon explodes, just like Dr. Daudier’s. Ugh. In an attempt to figure out just what killed his friend, Gustav the genius soon sets out to learn everything there is to know about the brain. His own clothes are still splattered in Oscar’s brain matter (ew), and it’s there he finds the clue he’s looking for: a tiny bug.
Oscar’s CAT scans attract the attention of another medical resident: Rochelle Daudier, the daughter of the late Dr. Daudier (whose head also exploded). Desperate for information about her father’s death, Rochelle comes to Laurel and shows her Oscar’s CAT scans, which feature lots of scary little black spots all over his brain. Finally, people are starting to put the pieces together, and between Rochelle and Gustav, at least Laurel isn’t the only one who thinks there’s something very strange happening in D.C.
As for Abby and her radical transformation? Laurel calls her to apologize, and the two have a seemingly sweet heart-to-heart. But while the two are on the phone, we learn Abby has Stacie locked in her bathroom, and she’s handing her over to the bugs — all while turning up the volume on “You Might Think.” We’re only two episodes in, and that song is already ruined for me forever.
Odds and ends
Number of times we hear “You Might Think: 1
Grossest moment: Another exploding head! Daudier’s was pretty terrible, but in this episode, we get a nice, lingering close-up of Oscar’s bloody, headless body being pulled out of the CAT scan machine. Woo-hoo.
- “You want me to pimp myself out?”
“No! Well, metaphorically.”
- “Tax Prom. Hill staffers dress up, get drunk, argue about Paul Krugman, vomit on the sidewalk. It’s pretty fun.”
- “Isn’t that the right-wing group?”
“If by right-wing you mean we’re right, then, YUP.”
- “You wanna dance?”
“No, I wanna drink.”
- “We are now the godless, Lincoln-is-gay party.”