Braindead 1×02: “Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown – A Critique”


We have SINGING PREVIOUSLIES!!! A male voice (which I hoped was Aaron Tveit’s but, tragically, is not) narrates everything that happened last week: the mysterious meteor, the space bugs, the brains, Laurel’s sad documentary, Luke’s job, Laurel’s job, Gareth’s job, Senator Weenus’s job, the government shutdown, Luke’s affair, Scarlett’s “space bug problem,” and the good doctor’s exploding brain. It’s pretty damn catchy too.

Laurel’s listening to pundits discuss the shutdown and trying to spray the ants that are parading in a column right towards her feet. They do not give one shit about the spray, so she stomps on a couple of them with her hipster-masquerading-as-professional-lady clunky boots, and then runs out the door. The camera gets way too close to the ants, who seem to be nudging each other and possibly reanimating. Yikes. OK so it’s been like a day, and already these things are ALL OVER D.C. and in Laurel’s actual apartment. Realistically, does Laurel have a chance of surviving the season with her brain intact? Things are moving way too quickly here.

Meanwhile, a suited man is waiting in Luke’s office. Suddenly Zombie Scarlett appears and attacks him for wearing a flag pin, asking if she’s a “godless liberal” for not wearing one. This soon devolves into a rather one-sided“discussion” of wind power and back-alley abortions. The poor guy scrambles up when Laurel enters and asks to talk to her about Dr. Daudier.

Laurel has some very gross flashbacks of it, and says, “His head… exploded.” The guy writes this down with hilarious concentration, barely reacting. Then he asks about a gunshot—one of the EMTs heard one, which Laurel denies, looking suspicious—and then about the ambulance driver. He says his name, “Ali Wassem,” very portentously. “I don’t think it’s about that,” Laurel says with some annoyance. “Terrorism.” This thread is totally dropped afterwards, as far as I can tell, but it is kind of funny because frankly, if I saw someone’s head explode I probably would wonder if it was due to some sort of bizarre terrorist weapon, no racial profiling necessary. In any case, Laurel takes his card and he leaves without giving her too much more trouble.

Luke’s heading off to a meeting that he refers to as a “Democratic bloodletting” (since the Democrats have lost the majority). Suddenly they’re distracted by the sound of Scarlett loudly munching celery. Those space bugs have made her an impressively efficient chewer—she can get through a whole stick of celery like it’s a marshmallow instead of the world’s most hard-to-chew vegetable. Laurel mentions that she’s being weird, but Luke dismisses it, saying, “I think she’s dieting.” Laurel makes a grossed-out face as she realizes her brother is probably the kind of guy who asks cranky women if they’re on their period, too. Luke tells her to take care of the two constituents who are waiting for her.

The constituents in question are a father-daughter pair who run a blog as a fundraiser for cancer treatment for the daughter, an adorable nerdy tween named Annie. The blog is about her journey to see forty monuments in forty days, and they want to get into the Lincoln memorial even though it’s closed for the shutdown. “Lincoln’s my favorite president,” Annie says cutely and promises Laurel she won’t make her listen to the whole Gettysburg address, which she has memorized. Charmed, the soft-hearted Laurel says she’ll ask her brother to help.

At the Democratic meeting, Luke’s coming under fire for losing the majority. “You’re the whip,” some old white dude yells, “it’s not just about counting votes, you’re supposed to keep members together!” Then a dignified woman interrupts and asks to speak. Everyone shuts up, which is surprising. The woman, Senator Pollack (according to IMDB), says that they should be angry at the Republicans, not at Luke, “whose family may I remind you has done so much for this party.” Ahh, the Bush defense. This calms everyone down, but as soon as the meeting adjourns, she demands to know what Luke’s doing to get the majority back. He explains his strategy: someone must have been screwed over to get the turncoat senator over to the Republican’s side, so that person might be willing to come to the Democrats. She warns him that “at a certain point, the mob needs blood.”

At an elegant restaurant with Laurel, Luke continues his streak of being a total peach by rolling his eyes at the idea that Laurel cares about a twelve-year-old with cancer. He tells a story about an opera-singing ex of his who couldn’t get emotional because her voice would crack. Laurel points out acidly that “We’re talking about you again.” He insists that she can’t do the job if she feels too much. “Only feel if it makes you effective,” he says. (This has definite echoes of early The Good Wife episodes, where Alicia had to learn not to care about her clients.)

Then he gets even slimier: he wants her to get Gareth feeling guilty about screwing them over last week. Laurel immediately realizes why: he wants her to find out who was screwed over by the recent move. Luke points out that Laurel is pretty good at politics for someone who hates it, a running theme. Anyway, Laurel argues that Gareth’s not just going to spill. Luke doesn’t exactly want her to pimp herself out, but, OK, he kind of does. Laurel rolls her eyes, but she’ll clearly do it—not just because she secretly likes being a shark, which I think she does, but also because she likes the idea of being able to flirt her heart out with Gareth while pretending it’s all for the job.

Laurel accompanies Luke to the filming of DoubleSpeak, the Fake Rachel Maddow show, where he’s on with Senator Weenus. He has to correct Weenus that the party is called the “Democratic” party, not the “Democrat” party, which I bet is a nudge at some real politician, probably Trump. In the “green room,” Laurel and Gareth watch and he needles her about not returning his calls. She points out that he took advantage of her while guilting her about people going hungry during the shutdown, and then, when he doesn’t start groveling, teases him, “Apology accepted.” He still doesn’t apologize—but he does ask her to Tax Prom, a prom run by tax lobbyists.

BD 102 chewing

Um… *I’ll* go to prom with you, Gareth!

When filming’s over, Weenus begs Luke to listen to the Republicans’ offer, and they agree to meet the next morning. Laurel comes over to announce that Gareth asked her to the tax prom, and reminds Luke about Annie. Luke, that prince among men, is much more excited about pimping out Laurel to get info than he is about helping cancer patients.

In a park, a hyper young man is playing chess against several opponents, rolling his chair back and forth from table to table. After gleefully advancing his pieces against several other opponents, he gets to Oscar, a young man who’s silently hanging his head on his hand. The chess prodigy teases Oscar that he’ll have to make a move because that’s how the game works, and when he doesn’t get a response, starts counting down. Then he leans closer and sees blood coming out of Oscar’s ear. Yipes.

BD 102 gustav

At the hospital, he tells the MRI technician that he thinks it’s a “diffuse axonal injury.” The MRI tech laughs at his amateur diagnosis, and he just says he reads a log. Meanwhile, poor Oscar is screaming to “Make them stop” and writhing inside the machine. The tech sends the chess prodigy in to distract him, so he tries to cajole him by teasing him about the game. This makes Oscar smile for a second but then he starts sobbing again and screaming, “They’re inside my heeeead!” On the MRI screen, the picture of his brain suddenly explodes into a bunch of neon pink pixels. The chess prodigy, horrified, turns away with his face and chest covered in brains as the headless body emerges from the machine.

This show is SICK. I kind of like it.

After the credits, it’s time for the tax prom. The emcee does a very sad introduction where he tries to get cheers for things like “dependent care tax credit,” and then calls for some “major tax funk.” Oh God this is so depressing. Luckily Laurel looks fab in a blue velvet dress with a sternum cutout. She can see people staring at her. Uhoh, zombies at the tax prom! But she’s distracted by running into an old friend from her artsy days, Stacie, who’s now a photographer, and who says another mutual friend named Abby is at the tax prom. Said Abby gives Laurel a big fake hug and says she’s here for work—with “Help America Rise Again.” As in, the right-wing group. Stacie can clearly barely contain her laughter, but Laurel’s horrified. Then it turns out this woman won a genius grant the previous month, but gave up novel writing because the world is going down the drain. Pretty sure the genius grant is just a whole bunch of money with no strings attached, so I guess now it’s all going straight into the Trump coffers! MacArthur must be rolling in his grave.

When Abby leaves to take a work call, Laurel and Stacie decide to have a girls’ night with Abby, get her drunk, and have a “reverse intervention.” Then Gareth arrives and they awkwardly semi-compliment each other’s outfits. “You wanna dance?” he asks. “No, I want a drink,” Laurel says.

At home, Chess Prodigy is researching “Exploding Head syndrome” via a combination of fancy medical textbooks and silly Youtube videos. Gingerly, he plucks some of the brain matter off his jacket and starts Sciencing with it.

Over drinks, Laurel insists that things are changing in America. When she mentions Abby, Gareth points out that “if she was [sic] raving about Hillary she wouldn’t be quite so ‘fanatic,’” and says that Democrats are “tolerant of everything but Republicans.” She calls him cynical. He isn’t taking her very seriously, but she drunkenly rambles that people here get their idealism beaten out of them. Gareth points out that LA is the same. “We don’t really talk, do we, we just contradict each other,” she says. He’s smiling affectionately at her when he takes a call, telling her not to leave. Laurel pretends not to listen as Gareth openly talks on the phone, mentioning that someone thinks their seat was taken away, and then incautiously writing a number on his napkin right in front of Laurel.

BD 102 dancing

Laurel hightails it to the restroom to call the number and find out which Senator it belongs to. “Hey, he used you,” she counsels her disapproving reflection in the mirror. This apparently quiets her conscience, so she calls Luke to tell him the name, “Barneki,” and say that Gareth was calling Barneki to do damage control. In return, Luke announces proudly that he’s helping out Laurel’s “cancer girl.” Laurel hangs up, smiling, and returns to Gareth and asks him to dance. They dance with ironic smirks, every once in awhile exchanging little grins.

The next day, Laurel’s constituent is Rochelle Daudier—the daughter of the doctor whose head exploded on Laurel, as Laurel realizes with clear panic. She asks Laurel to say what really happened. The autopsy said that he died of “overheated blood,” and “That’s not a real thing.” Rochelle is a resident herself. She begs Laurel to tell her the truth—she can take it. She asks if she was conscious, and if he said anything. Laurel says softly, “He said they were inside him.” Rochelle wipes away tears and shows her something on a tablet: a brain scan of poor Oscar from the park, which shows little weird artifacts in his brain. Over two different scans, they moved. I hear space bugs have a nasty habit of doing that. Anyway, Rochelle explains why she brought it up: “This man’s head exploded, too.” Even though we already knew that and we know to some extent what’s happening, it’s a deliciously ominous moment.

BD 102 rochelle

Luke, Senator Pollack (his defender from the earlier meeting), Senator Weenus, and some other Republican dude are meeting to discuss the budget proposal. Weenus rambles about how his body is a temple and he loves to juice. I guess the space bugs, like ants, really go for fruit. Then he gets down to their proposal: commerce, education, and energy have to be cut because they’re “wasteful, bloated bureaucracies.” The Democrats think it’s a joke, and when they realize it’s not they call Weenus insane. Weenus, amusingly, declares with a beatific smile that he’s the sanest person in the room and that he can bench press more than anyone here, and sucks down a shot of green juice.

Back to Chess Prodigy, whose actual name according to IMDB is Gustav. He’s still Doing Science with the brain bits, which have totally leaked onto his table. Ew. Never eat there again, Gustav. He goes through the photos he’s taken on his phone and finally finds a couple frames where a little black ant travels across the brain matter. Then he looks around, unsettled. “Uh-oh.” Heh.

Back at the FBI, Mr. Flag Pin is wondering what “overheated blood” is when Laurel comes by to visit. Quickly he cleans off his desk and straightens his tie, so, I guess maybe he has a crush on Laurel? She says she had to stop by because the switchboard wasn’t letting her through (“non-essential personnel,” explains the temp who’s functioning as the detective’s replacement assistant). Laurel tells him that another head exploded, and tells him to contact Rochelle. The detective gives her his cell number in case the switchboard gives her more trouble. Behind him, she’s horrified to see her brother streaming on the computer, announcing that the Republicans have prevented “Shutdown Annie” from completing her mission.

When Laurel bursts into Luke’s office to criticize him for using Annie, Zombie Scarlett demands whether the Republicans would go any easier on them. Luke kicks her out, but Laurel tells him that she wanted him to help Annie, not use Annie to help himself. So… I guess she really isn’t that great at politics. Luke says he wants to win “for all Annies,” but Laurel doesn’t buy it.

On the TV, even Megan Hilty’s Republican newscaster can’t work up too much outrage on behalf of the Republicans, and Weenus and Gareth are plotting to get back at the Democrats. “They bring cancer girl, we bring a knife,” Weenus says to Gareth. “You get me that knife.”

Girls’ night, and Stacie and Laurel are happily reminiscing about Laurel’s failed clog-dancing documentary while Abby takes a call for work. Abby comes back in and refuses wine, saying she’s on a cleanse and recommending the same book about juicing that Weenus loves. “Forever Juice” is its name. Then she cackles about some Wall Street Journal editorial that morning, calling it a “devastating takedown,” presumably of the Democrats. It’s pretty funny, both because of Laurel’s weirded-out look and because of Abby’s absurd Republican Lady outfit: a sweater set, hair in a half-back, and a skirt that belongs on Betty Draper. Finally Laurel and Stacie call her out on her big change. Abby says she doesn’t like how Democrats treat the opposition like they’re insane. Yeah seriously, Laurel. She’s not insane! She just has space bugs crawling around inside her half-eaten brain cavity! HUGE difference.

Things get awkward when Abby calls out Laurel on not finishing her documentary, and having family money to rely on, and then suddenly bursts into tears and goes home. Weird. I wonder if somewhere deep down the real, pre-Space-Bug Abby is upset about what she’s doing at the behest of her alien overlords.

Luke and Senator Pollack are seeing Barneki, trying to convince him to switch, playing every card—the loss of his chair, PAC money, the way the world has changed, the fact that Republicans will screw him over for being a moderate. Next thing you know, Luke is crowing to Laurel in his empty office that they’ve flipped a Republican. But Laurel’s not there—only Scarlett is. And Scarlett gets that look in her eyes of a plan hatching. A sex plan, to be more specific.

BD 102 scarlett

I guess the zombies aren’t really into teh sex.

Luke and Scarlett fall into bed, and Scarlett pretends to enjoy it while squeezing her eyes shut in disgust. “It feels so good, so good,” she insists creepily. Luke tries to get up, but she pulls him back down for some truly unsuccessful dirty talk, like: “Mm, baby, how’s that? [gagging noise]” Just as the bugs are marching over Luke’s pillow towards his delicious brains, Luke decides that Scarlett’s weirdness is probably all Laurel’s fault for freaking Scarlett out about the whole adultery thing. He storms off and leaves a disappointed Scarlett in the bed.

At home, Laurel works herself up into yet another frenzy of guilt watching old videos of herself and Abby. She calls and leaves a message saying she wants to apologize. Just then Luke comes over to accuse her of ruining him for Scarlett. “Luke, I have a life, it’s my life, it consumes my time,” she says sarcastically. He says she always criticizes him, like with an old girlfriend named Pixie. “Yes, I criticized you because Pixie was sleeping with every guy in school, and I’m…” She stops and sighs, putting her hand to her head. If you think it’s because she realized that as an artsy liberal she shouldn’t be slut-shaming, you’d be very wrong. She just realized she’s tired of fighting. That lasts for about thirty seconds until she realizes that obviously if Luke thinks she’s meddling, he must be sleeping with Scarlett again. (As everyone pointed out last week, Laurel is very easily distracted.) I thought you had a life, Laurel. Anyway, Luke denies it, and Laurel calls, “Germaine loves you,” as he stomps off in a hissy fit.

The next morning, the Republicans have found their knife. Annie’s dad teaches classes where he says Lincoln was gay, and once sued the school district for saying the Pledge. Annie has been rechristened “Atheist Annie.” Luke is not happy. I could so see this happening. And it’s always so infuriating when it gets cast as un-American, because separation of church and state is one of the most American principles there is.

Meanwhile, in Weenus’s offices, there’s much to celebrate: not just Atheist Annie, but also the fact that the Republican Senator that Luke tried to woo away has gone public with the entire story, making the Democrats look terrible. Weenus cackles and hugs Gareth gleefully as the story streams on a laptop.

Back at Luke’s office, Laurel is defending herself till she realizes that she didn’t actually see Gareth call Barneki. “You were played,” Luke tells her. “They’re sharks, they’ll kill us if they can.”

Pissed, Laurel busts into Gareth’s office and says, “You screwed me.” He says he faked the number to see if she’d steal it. “You didn’t have to steal it.” She grimaces at him and says sarcastically, “You’re right. Thanks for the education. Take care.” I mean, he is right though. She can’t be mad at him for playing her when she was trying to use him for information. It seems like she has this image of herself as the Ethical Outsider Who Cares About Kids with Cancer that makes it hard for her to realize that she’s already lost most of the moral high ground.

The Democrats aren’t happy either. Everyone’s railing against Luke when his ally Senator Pollack asks to say something. This time it’s harder for her to get the floor, but Luke tries to make everyone listen to her, sure that she’s going to defend him. Nope! She announces that she wants to put herself forward to replace Luke.

Laurel arrives at the Lincoln Memorial at night, and totally lies to the security guard, saying that her brother said she could get in. When he doesn’t go for it, she tries the line about how her brother is looking to make some budget cuts. He doesn’t go for that either. She almost starts pulling the crying damsel-in-distress routine, but she can’t even commit to it and stops in obvious embarrassment. Finally she just comes clean about Annie and her cancer treatment. The guard takes a look at sweet little Annie and her dad and lets them in. Bad call dude.

Laurel and Annie approach the softly lit statue of Lincoln inside the darkened memorial. Laurel admits she’s never been there. They pose for a picture, and then examine a plaque of the Gettsyburg address (yes, I had to look that up too). “Not under God,” snarks Atheist Dad. “Would you please shut up,” Annie teases cutely. She finishes reading the bit about government by the people, and Laurel asks why people don’t think that way anymore. Annie says, “Things were just as bad when Lincoln was president.” Uh, yeah, you could argue they were a lot worse, you know, because people were literally waging war to defend their tradition of owning other human beings as slaves. Anyway, Annie says that people need to not give up.

Back at home, Laurel’s interpretation of not giving up seems to be “I should google ‘exploding heads.’” Well, she doesn’t google it. She goes to “” Jeez. That’s, uh… worse than Chumhum, and who thought that was possible? She finds a page that Gustav uploaded with a photo of the brain bug and a contact form.

Laurel’s about to contact him when she gets a call from Abby. Both apologize to each other. “It’s this town. I hate this town. And I don’t at the same time,” Laurel muses. Abby invites her over for tea, and Laurel takes a rain check. As Laurel hangs up, rattling comes from the other room. Abby has Stacie locked in the bathroom! “Don’t worry. It’ll be over in a minute,” Abby calls. Then the ants start pouring out of the vents, and Stacie starts screaming. Abbie just turns on the little eighties ditty that the space bugs like to drown out Stacie’s cries. Cold, Abby.


The show continues to walk the difficult path it’s set for itself with impressive success, striking a balance between political satire and campy horror that doesn’t just feel like a mess, or a hodgepodge. In plot terms, there’s possibly a little too much happening. Abby and Stacie, Rochelle Daudier, Gustav, are all introduced on top of the large cast from the previous week, and all of them seem like they’ll potentially be major characters. But in a way, the show probably wouldn’t work without a go-big-or-go-home approach. Conventionally paced plotting and deep character study wouldn’t really fit the tone. Instead, they’re stuffing every last bit of wacky development they can into a 42-minute episode, and if you don’t like the whiplash pace, you’re probably not the right person to watch a political thriller horror show.

It’s also nice to see that the show has a somewhat diverse cast, at least if, as I suspect, Rochelle and Gustav take on large roles. Gustav, especially, has a lot of potential as the quirky science genius. And the nifty little touches are still really fun. The singing previouslies are clever and amusing, the title is just as good as last week, and I’m really enjoying Megan Hilty and Fake Rachel as opposing pundits.

My one quibble is that Annie’s words of wisdom were a little too pat, and we’re all tired of hearing precocious children unravel life’s mysteries for adult characters on TV. Especially precocious children with terminal illnesses,  which I realize sounds rather cold. On the other hand, the Gettysburg address did go right to the heart of the serious problem being addressed by the show: do we still have a government for the people/ Do we even still have a government at all?


One Comment

  1. […] Previously on Braindead: There was a meteor with brain-eating spacebugs that ate Senator Weenus’s brain. Laurel went to tax prom with Gareth and they totally like each other. Laurel’s old friend Abby sicced the spacebugs on their mutual friend Stacie. Ella Pollack tried to replace Luke as majority whip. Scarlett tried to seduce Luke but was too grossed out by his human body to do so. And a dude’s head exploded on a genius named Gustav, so he started researching the spacebugs. “And that’s all the time I have because this episode’s too long,” concludes the singer. […]



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