Laurel assembles an alien-bug-fighting super team
Credit: Jeff Neumann /CBS

You know what’s a lot more fun than watching political talking-head shows? Watching political talking-head shows during which those talking heads spontaneously combust.

We may only be three episodes in to BrainDead, but so far, we’re three for three on exploding heads. And you know what? I am still totally delighted and totally grossed out every time it happens. This time around, it happens on Doublespeak with Claudia Monarch, one of those debate shows where they get a bunch of people with opposing viewpoints to yell incoherently at each other. When Luke Healy stops by to discuss the government shutdown, he gets in a loud argument with a man named Jonathan Broadbent, Red Wheatus’ current chief of staff. Their debate, however, is cut short when Broadbent’s head detonates, spraying blood and guts everywhere. (Thank god for that eight-second on-air delay.) I think if your opponent’s head literally explodes while you’re arguing, you automatically win.

Fortunately for Luke, Broadbent was taping his piece from a remote location, so he doesn’t get any brain matter on one of his fancy suits. The word on the street is Broadbent died from a random stroke, and Luke doesn’t question it; after all, he’s got more important things to worry about. After his fellow Democrats began to question his leadership skills in the wake of the government shutdown, Scarlett attempts to smooth things over with one of the senators, Ella Pollack, by sending her some apologetic cherry blossom branches — with a side of brain-eating ants. It isn’t long before Ella has transformed into a hard-line liberal crusader, and she’s determined to dethrone Luke as the Democratic whip. He’s more moderate and eager to compromise with their Republican colleagues, especially if it helps end the shutdown, but she’s fed up, asking her fellow senators, “Why must we always be the party of adults?”

As for the Republicans, the Broadbent incident means there’s an opening among Senator Wheatus’ employees. Red promotes Gareth to chief of staff, and Gareth soon sets out to turn the Democratic infighting into a win for the Republicans. He convinces Red to endorse Luke as whip, automatically making Ella seem like the more attractive candidate to the Democrats. (A hardcore Democrat like Ella will help the Republicans keep their more moderate senators on their side.) It’s a reminder that Gareth is really, really good at his job, and we finally get a little bit of insight into exactly why Gareth pursued politics: ambition and an idealistic desire to improve the world as best as he can. Here’s hoping the ants don’t eat away at that part of him.

Speaking of ants, Laurel gets a visitor: Gustav, whom we met in the last episode as the certified genius/chess whiz whose friend’s head exploded. He, however, introduces himself as a constituent named Dr. Bob Bob and says vague things like, “The government’s too big, don’t you think? Can you make it smaller?” It isn’t until she steps outside her office later that he confronts her and tells her who he really is, leaning in to whisper, “Bugs are eating people’s brains.”

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After Gustav insists Laurel put her cell phone in a foil bag to stop the NSA from listening in, he tells her he found the bugs in the remnants of his friend’s exploded brain, and he believes they’re a type of screwworm, a bug that eats human flesh. These particular screwworms are eating people’s brains and affecting their memory (and making them more extreme in their political views). As for the occasional head explosions? He’s not quite sure what that’s about, but he posits the explosions are caused by a buildup of methane in the cranial cavity — a.k.a. bug farts. Of course. I was thinking the explosions maybe had to do with the infected’s intelligence level or attempt to actively fight the bugs, but sure, bug farts work, too.

Gustav gives Laurel his contact information — which is a dentist’s business card with the dentist’s info crossed out and Gustav’s name and number written in pen — and she’s about to throw it out when she hears the most horrifying thing a person in Washington can hear: the dulcet tones of “You Might Think,” emerging from Ella’s office. It’s there that Laurel sees Ella deep in conversation with Scarlett, which does not bode well for Luke.

NEXT: Alien bug fighters, assemble!

Before Laurel can warn Luke about Scarlett’s visit with Ella, she gets a surprise visitor in the form of her father. He’s there to tell her he heard from a reliable source that she went to the Tax Prom with Gareth, and basically all of Washington, D.C. is gossiping about them — especially because Gareth just got promoted. So, Laurel does the mature, adult thing, calling up Gareth and asking him out just to piss off her dad. He says of course, provided their date is during Broadbent’s wake. Because nothing says romantic like going to a wake for an old, dead Republican.

Meanwhile, Ella is still openly campaigning against Luke, so the entire Healy family (Dad, Luke, and Laurel included) gets together to figure out how to take her down with a nasty media blitz. Together, they cobble together a story about Ella putting down her dog just before her vacation to Paris, spinning it into Ella putting down her dog so she could GO to Paris. Cold as ice.

The only thing left to do is leak the story, so Laurel meets with her photographer friend, Stacie. Last time we saw Stacie, of course, she was locked in a bathroom being attacked by ants, and you can tell: She’s since traded her vodka martinis for seltzer and lime, preferring to pontificate about gun deaths in Finland and child poverty in Denmark. Concerned by her friend’s overnight transformation, Laurel remembers what Gustav told her about the bugs affecting memory, so she tries to get Stacie to reminisce about college. It seems to be working, until blood starts leaking from Stacie’s ear and she leaves in a rush, babbling about infected ear piercings.

If Laurel was doubting Gustav before, she’s now all in. She introduces Gustav to the only other person who thinks something strange is going on — Rochelle Daudier, the medical resident and daughter of the late Dr. Daudier, whose head exploded — and together, they form our eclectic alien-bug-fighting team.

But before they can get out and start solving mysteries together, Laurel has a date to get to — or more specifically, a wake. There, Gareth is a gentleman and points her towards a reporter who can help leak the cooked-up story about Ella’s dead dog. (Aww, what a romantic gesture.) She informs him that she only asked him out because the rest of Washington was gossiping, so he, logically, suggests they do something to make them gossip even more. They kiss, and it’s super cute. They both immediately chalk it up to being drunk/joking/etc., but c’mon. In a world of mediocre TV will-they-won’t-they romances, Aaron Tveit and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have phenomenal chemistry. I’m not sure what their official ship name is (Laureth? Garel? Rittly?), but consider me on board.

The dead dog/Ellis-in-Paris story leaks — exactly as Luke planned — but Ella retaliates with a far more serious scandal, breaking the news of Scarlett and Luke’s affair. As a reminder, Luke has a wife at home who’s eight months pregnant (and Scarlett is infected with brain bugs, but no one else knows that). It’s a devastating blow to Luke’s credibility, but it doesn’t hit that hard emotionally, especially since we haven’t spent more than a few seconds with Luke’s wife — and we only know Scarlett as an empty-brained zombie.

As for Gustav, he decides to confront the epidemic head-on by setting up a bunch of bug traps in his apartment, putting The Cars on repeat, and taping two red Solo cups around his ears to keep the bugs out. He does manage to catch a bug, but sadly, it’s just a cockroach, and not of the brain-munching alien variety. Instead, those bugs go for Gustav’s poor, poor cat, raising a whole bunch of new questions about how the aliens can affect animals. To be fair, though, most cats act like aliens are controlling their brains anyway, so maybe this won’t be all that different.

Odds and ends

Number of times we hear “You Might Think”: 4

Grossest moment: We’ve seen heads explode in the back of an ambulance and in an MRI machine, but an explosion on live television is a new one.

Best lines:

  • Scarlett: “You’re outnumbered.”

    Laurel: “I am? By who?”

    Scarlett: “Whom. By the people you’re outnumbered by.”

  • Stacie: “Did you know Denmark’s child poverty rate is like a quarter of America’s? They have guaranteed child care until a child is 50.”
  • Gustav, at the hospital: “I did a marijuana study here a few years ago. It went badly.”
  • Red: “Let’s get our ducks in a row first. Well, you know what? The ducks are in a freaking row! Even if I have to hold a machete to their throats, those ducks are lining the hell up.”

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