A cat gets a CAT scan as Luke tries to shut down the government shutdown
Credit: Michael Parmelee/CBS
S1 E4
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We are four episodes into BrainDead, and here is a list of everything this show has made me scared of (so far):

  • Ants
  • Bugs of any kind
  • Political extremism
  • Cherry blossoms
  • My cat
  • Meteors
  • Men eating candy bars
  • Ric Ocasek
  • Sleeping with the windows open

Seriously, why does everyone on this show sleep with their windows open? Is the weather in D.C. really that pleasant? And why does no one have window screens? I sleep with my windows closed and locked, with the air conditioning on full blast. No bugs are coming in my room while I sleep, thank you very much!

Tragically, the population of D.C. doesn’t do the same. Much of this episode follows Noah and Jules, two neighbors who start out with a distant but pleasant relationship and end up trying to kill each other with their cars after bugs eat their brains. Overnight, these seemingly normal humans start taking to the comments section with veracity, almost breaking the exclamation-point and caps-lock keys. Noah’s a knife-wielding, NPR-championing liberal, and Jules is a gun-toting, Trump-worshipping conservative. We’ve seen what the bugs can do to politicians — just look at Red Wheatus and Ella Pollack — but it’s even more horrifying to see what they can do to ordinary people.

But before we can dive into the saga of Noah and Jules, we have to face the two big unanswered questions from last week’s episode: 1) the lingering sexual tension between Laurel and Gareth, and 2) what happened to Zeke’s cat. Laurel and Gareth are in the denial stage of their relationship, even after last episode’s steamy kiss, and they have a very awkward run-in at a bar when they’re both on dates with other people. Laurel is there with Anthony Onofrio, the FBI agent who’s been investigating the head explosions, and Gareth is there trying to feed a story to Misty Alise, the bleach-blonde conservative newscaster.

Gareth had the brilliant idea to bolster support for Wheatus with a fake grassroots conservative campaign. By getting Misty to talk about it on national television, he’s hoping said grassroots campaign (called “The One Way-ers”) will actually get off the ground. But his plan is quickly derailed by the sight of Laurel with Anthony, so he does the mature thing: He compares Anthony to an Eastern European woman who sells her body for 10 cents before leaving to sleep with Misty. He then sits alone and shirtless in his apartment, watching Laurel’s Kickstarter to fund her documentary. Smart choices, Gareth.

Laurel’s evening is further ruined by the sudden appearance of Gustav with a cat carrier. That’s right, this week’s musical recap kicked off the episode with all I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks: “My god, you monsters, not the cat!” It turns out the cat’s name is Zeke, and he seems to be okay after his alien encounter — until Laurel and Gustav take him to the hospital to see if Rochelle can run some tests.

Side note: I really want to know how they got that cat in a CAT scan machine. I come from a family of veterinarians, and they’ve all come home with puncture wounds in their arms from trying to X-ray angry cats. I have a hard time believing it was in any way easy for Rochelle to get Zeke in that machine.

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Anyway, the cat’s CAT scan proves surprisingly helpful, and Laurel, Rochelle, and Gustav are finally getting some answers as to how these brain-eating bugs work. We now know the bugs climb inside people’s heads and eat away a large portion of the brain, which is then expelled (or, to be honest, excreted) out of the ear. In other words, the bugs don’t eat away the entire brain, which explains why people are still able to walk and talk after being infected. (Alright, it doesn’t REALLY explain it, but hey, this is a show about alien bugs eating people’s brains and affecting their political affiliations.)

Also, since the ants burrow in through the ear, it creates an imbalance of fluid and causes deafness in the ear. So, our bug-fighting trio now knows how to figure out who’s been infected: Look for people who are partially deaf, have trouble balancing, love The Cars, and drink a lot of green smoothies. It ain’t much, but it’s a start.

NEXT: Abby takes a leap of faith

Laurel, Gustav, and Rochelle feel like they finally have enough evidence to take it to a friend at the CDC, a guy named Dexter Wu. Surprisingly, Dexter doesn’t think they’re crazy! He’s a total nerd for screwworms, and to him, their theory that bugs are eating people’s brains doesn’t seem that far-fetched. But he tells them he’s going to need more evidence — preferably a real-life infected person (not a cat). Since Rochelle’s dad and Gustav’s friend both literally lost their heads, Laurel decides to try her friend Abby, the overnight conservative. They head to Abby’s apartment to convince her to do a voluntary CAT scan, but Abby refuses. She then turns to Rochelle and, unprompted, tells her, “You know, all lives matter, not just black lives.” Wow.

Desperate, Laurel recruits Anthony to use his power as an FBI agent, but when he shows up at Abby’s apartment, she calmly tells him she’s going to get her coat before DIVING OFF HER BALCONY like she’s King Tommen after his mom blows up the Great Sept of Baelor in Game of Thrones. Goodness.

Meanwhile, the government shutdown is still going on and Luke is trying his hardest to end it, especially because he’s facing pressure from some of his biggest donors. Red says he’ll only agree to end the shutdown if the Democrats completely defund three major governmental agencies, but Ella refuses to cut a single one. Luke offers to cut one, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), but Ella and Red both decline to compromise.

To add to Laurel’s problems, the newly infected Noah shows up and he’s very, very angry. He’s pretty much angry about everything, but he’s especially incensed about Luke’s idea to cut the NEA. He even confronts Laurel in a dark, shadowy corner, wielding a knife and yelling incoherently about the PBS programming that’ll be affected by the NEA cuts: “Masterpiece Theater! This Old House! NOVA! Antiques Roadshow! Charlie Rose! Tavis Smiley!”

Dude, if they get rid of Antiques Roadshow, I’m on your side.

As for Gareth, he’s facing an angry infected citizen of his own. His plan to create a grassroots campaign called “The One Way-ers” has gone a little too well, and he now has an army of angry citizens willing to do anything — and they mean anything — to support the conservative cause. Led by Jules, The One Way-ers are prepared for a media blitz, letter campaigns, making bombs… You know, the usual. Be careful what you wish for, Gareth.

Meanwhile, Luke is desperate to end the shutdown, so he teams up with Republican leadership to distract Red and Ella in a screaming match on television while they hold an emergency vote to get the government back in business. It works, but by the time Ella and Red get back to the Capitol, they’re pissed. When Red leans in close to Luke and whispers, “You’re dead,” it doesn’t seem like an empty threat.

So far, the infected people have seemed fairly harmless, craving green smoothies, listening to The Cars, and pontificating about democracy. Now, we’ve seen Abby take a nosedive off her balcony, Noah come after Laurel with a knife, and Jules lead a popular uprising armed with guns and bombs. It still isn’t clear yet what the alien bugs’ endgame is, but whatever it is, it isn’t going to pretty.

As if that wasn’t sinister enough, we end on another ominous note: Anthony comes over to Laurel’s apartment with cookies, trying to comfort her after Abby’s suicide. They share a sweet moment, and they even end up sleeping together. All seems well, until she realizes he’s deaf in one ear, and all signs point to bug infestation. Dun dun duuuun.

Odds and ends

Number of times we hear “You Might Think”: 0! That’s a first. Unless I missed any?

Grossest moment: No exploding heads this time, but Abby makes a pretty nasty splat noise when she hits the pavement.

Best lines:

  • “He didn’t say pick up a musket and fight!”

    “Right, because we have glocks!”

  • “Don’t you want to know whether Reverend Chambers solves the murder? Grantchester, on Masterpiece Theater! Don’t you want to know?!?”
  • Luke, after shutting down the government shutdown: “Yeah, I’m pretty bitchin’.”
  • When Laurel’s watching Claudia Monarch’s show after Luke cut the arts program and ended the government shutdown, there’s some scrolling text that reads: “PBS Chief: No more Sherlock?” If Luke is responsible for the end of Sherlock, there really WILL be political consequences.

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