BrainDead recap: Notes Toward a Post-Reagan Theory of Party Alliance, Tribalism, and Loyalty: Past as Prologue
Sex scenes, salami, and space bugs
A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain BrainDead to a few friends — and failing miserably. It’s like a political satire, I told them, except it’s also kind of a mystery, and there are these three people trying to figure out why strange things keep happening in Washington, D.C. But it’s also kind of a drama, and it focuses a lot on all the backroom deal-making that goes on in the Capitol. There’s also a sci-fi element, since there’s this meteor that came crashing down, which was filled with these alien bugs. And they’re not normal bugs, since they like to burrow into people’s heads and turn them into extremely partisan zombies who drink green smoothies and yell loudly about the state of the country. The show also owes a lot to the horror genre, since there’s a lot of really unsettling, bloody shots of people’s heads exploding. There’s a great conspiracy undertone, too. It’s on CBS, created by the same people who did The Good Wife. Oh, and that song “You Might Think” by The Cars plays a major role in the plot.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of elements to juggle. And for the most part, BrainDead does a pretty good job of keeping all those balls in the air. The show is at its best, however, when it leans into the ridiculousness of this entire concept. And with this episode, it does just that, kicking off with a dance party to The Partridge Family and a sex scene that involves eating large amounts of salami and chocolate. Which is, you know, a totally normal way for a TV episode to start.
As the musical recap reminds us, the bugs have finally gotten to Laurel and crawled into her ears. “This isn’t supposed to happen to the main character,” Jonathan Coulton sings. “I hope her head does not explode like other heads exploded thrice before.” Me too, Jonathan.
Fortunately, Gustav figures out that the bugs are in the cherry blossoms. He and Rochelle rush back to Laurel’s apartment to save her, but it’s too late. Still, they try to talk her through it, all while the 9-1-1 operator they call is busy eating carrot sticks and watching cat videos. Since the bugs affect memory, they try to get Laurel to fight them by stimulating the left side of her brain, asking her to recite the presidents and use basic reason. They soon realize, however, that it’s not working, and it isn’t until they think back to Rochelle’s dad and Gustav’s friend that they realize heads only explode when an infected person tries to fight the bugs with logic. So instead, they turn up the music and try to get her really drunk to stimulate the right side of her brain.
“Bugs, you’ve met your match,” Laurel slurs.
But it’s still not enough. So when a concerned Gareth knocks on her door, Laurel decides to take a more aggressive approach to get a bug-fighting burst of dopamine: gnawing on chocolate and salami, singing The Partridge Family at the top of her lungs, and seducing Gareth. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right? Amazingly, the extra dose of chocolate, music, and sex does the trick — Laurel passes out, Gustav catches one of the bugs exiting her ears, and a very confused Gareth leaves, not exactly sure about what just happened.
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(Side note: When Laurel and Rochelle broke out into “I Think I Love You,” my first thought was this was the scene where we’d FINALLY get to see Broadway star Aaron Tveit sing. But alas, it was not to be.)
NEXT: They came from outer space
Rochelle and Gustav take the bug they caught back to Rochelle’s lab, where they cut off a leg to do some analysis. Pretty soon, however, the leg starts moving of its own volition, and they start to wonder whether these bugs might have a more extraterrestrial origin.
Meanwhile, Laurel is back to work (and avoiding Gareth) when a constituent comes to ask her about his polling place being moved. Apparently, one of the Maryland senators has been gerrymandering voting districts — and it isn’t Luke. She goes to Red’s office to see Gareth, but Red himself grabs her instead. He says he’s been paying attention to her, before telling her to go back to Los Angeles because things in Washington are going to get very bad, very soon. (Which isn’t an ominous thing to say at all.) But while Laurel’s in his office, she gets a glimpse of his Maryland maps, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out he’s keen to re-district the state. What she doesn’t know is why.
On her way out, she bumps into Gareth, and the two have a heart-to-heart after their awkward rendezvous the night before. He confesses he does want a relationship with her, but he’s (understandably) freaked out by the whole eating-chocolate-and-salami-during-sex thing. He needs some time to think, so they agree to remain just friends. For now.
Rochelle and Gustav’s investigation reveals the bug is made out of 10-percent “unknown” material, so they bring the bug to their new friend at the CDC, Dexter Wu, for extra analysis. He agrees to look into it, but somehow, word gets back to Red, who threatens to pull the CDC’s funding and argues that taxpayer money shouldn’t go into investigating zombie bugs. So, Wu’s research is shut down before he can even figure anything out — and the bug is locked away in a storage bunker.
As for Laurel, she’s still looking into Red’s gerrymandering (using something called Find It Quest instead of Google). After a lot of drawing and referring to maps, she’s got a good rendering of what the new districts might look like — and they look a whole lot like crop circles. Where’s Fox Mulder when you need him?
Now that Laurel knows there’s a way to get the bugs out of people’s heads, she tries to do the same thing for her longtime friend Stacy, inviting her to a loud nightclub and trying to hook her up with her ex-boyfriend. Soon, however, Stacy grabs her arm and says, “Listen to me. We know what you’re doing. It’s not going to work. She’s gone.” For the first time, Laurel is talking one-on-one with the bugs themselves, not under the pretense of talking to an infected person.
“What do you want?” Laurel asks them.
“Everything,” Stacy replies. “We want everything.”
As for Rochelle, she finally unravels the mystery of “You Might Think.” While Laurel and Gustav are starting to believe these bugs might be from another planet, Rochelle has been hesitant. (Rochelle’s the only voice of reason on this entire show, and I love her for it.) Still, she’s haunted by the constant sounds of The Cars, and when she does a little digging, she figures out that recently recorded sounds from outer space sound a lot like a slowed-down version of the “You Might Think” bassline. Cue the X-Files theme song.
Odds and ends
Number of times we hear The Cars: Three. (Good. I missed it.)
Grossest moment: Nothing too nasty this episode, but the whole Laurel-Gareth sex scene to get the bugs out of her ears is one of the weirder sequences we’ve seen lately.
- Gustav, while he and Rochelle are waiting for Gareth and Laurel to finish hooking up: “Have you noticed in horror movies black people die first?”
- Gareth, on why he’s hesitant to start a relationship with Laurel: “Because you were yelling at me to go faster while you ate chocolate and salami.”
- Laurel, addressing an infected Stacy: “What do you want?”
Stacy: “Everything.” Very creepy.