Braindead 1×03: “Goring Oxes: How You Can Survive the War On Government Through Five Easy Steps”

The third episode of Braindead continued to be enjoyable due to the show’s zany mix of horror and satire, despite some gaping plot holes. Read on for a recap and a brief review!

Recap

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.

I love these singing previouslies. So fun.

Ella Pollack emerges from her house in a bathrobe to find a flower delivery on her doorstep. “Let’s not fight,” it says, signed from Luke. She calls him and thanks him for the peace offering. Turns out it was from Scarlett. The two senators agree not to be at each other’s throats, and Luke (who’s about to go on DoubleSpeak) suggests talking before the caucus, but Ella says she’s home sick. He hangs up and calls Scarlett a genius. Scarlett’s dead zombie eyes stare back at him.

BD 103 head explosion.png

Meanwhile, Ella is settling in to watch DoubleSpeak (it’s the one with Fake Rachel Maddow) herself while she sniffles into a tissue. Luke is defending the Democrats, and getting shouted down by a random Republican who’s video-conferencing in. The Republican gets angrier and angrier—and then suddenly his head explodes onto the camera. Awkward! Panicked, the production team shuts down the live feed. At home, Ella has fallen asleep… and the spacebugs crawl into her ear.

Laurel is editing her documentary and recording a voiceover right on her laptop in her office when Scarlett interrupts her to make her do actual work. She has a visitor: Onofrio, the agent who has a crush on Laurel (“still with his flag pin,” Scarlett says irritably). Onofrio wants to ask her a few questions, along with another, meaner-looking agent. Laurel reviews the whole head explosion thing. “What was in his ear?” the mean agent asks. Laurel says he didn’t know, but the agent presses: “He didn’t know or he didn’t say?” “He didn’t say, so my guess is that he didn’t know,” she duhs. Then they ask her about how his head spontaneously combusted. Uh… spontaneous explosions and spontaneous combustions aren’t the same, people. Pretty sure you have to be on fire to have a spontaneous combustion. They announce that there was another “spontaneous combustion” (oh my God, I’m going to get really annoyed by this if it continues) of someone on Doublespeak and not to worry, it was Senator Weenus’s man. Laurel freaks out, thinking Gareth is dead, and dashes out of the meeting.

She walks nervously into Gareth’s seemingly empty office, but after a few seconds he appears behind her. She swallows and says, “Weren’t you on Doublespeak?” He says it was a last-minute change and asks if her brother “ripped the guy a new one.” Well, someone did. Too soon? Laurel says gently that the person on the show died and she thought it was him. Gareth doesn’t really have time to be touched by Laurel’s concern. He bursts into Weenus’s office and finds him on the phone, getting the news that his chief of staff died of “a stroke.”

That’s probably at least as accurate as “spontaneous combustion,” actually.

Laurel gets a call from Luke, who also wants her to maybe stop doing her job instead of chasing after meteors and Gareth all the time. He also thinks that the Republican guy died of a stroke, it turns out.

He hangs up on Laurel, seeing Ella approach. She announces that she feels better as she marches by him, then calls the caucus to order with a businesslike whistle. Luke thanks her and gives an update: the Republicans have overreached with their budget demands. Ella totally interrupts him and says, “Our compromise put a bullet in the terrorist’s gun.” Luke tries to point out that they’re not terrorists, and she accuses him of appeasement. “Why must we always be the party of adults?” she demands. “I will never, ever compromise my ideals and that is why you should make me whip.” Luke looks concerned, but everyone else totally cheers.

Meanwhile, Laurel’s dealing with more absurd constituents: one with a bunch of paintings of owls, one holding a saddle. Her first case is Gustav, who’s signed in as Dr. Bob Bob. “Your first and last names are Bob?” she asks. When he asks why, she says, “It’s just… different.” “No, it’s the same,” he grins. Hee!! Laurel decides it’s best to just go with this.

BD 103 make it smaller

“Can you make it… smaller.”

In their meeting, Gustav immediately recognizes a snatch of music she accidentally plays from her sad unfinished documentary as a Melanesian choir. Dude knows about everything, I guess. He confirms her email address and then says, “Government’s too big, don’t you think? Can you make it smaller.” Laurel agrees and he leaves. Pretty funny scene.

 

Senator Weenus is breaking the news about his dead chief-of-staff, none too gently, to the rest of his staff, and announces that Gareth gets the new spot since he’s been kicking the Democrats’ butts for weeks. Gareth looks properly regretful about this development, but Weenus and his spacebug-infested brain is doing FINE. He’s also pleased that Ella is challenging Luke. Gareth strategizes that they want Ella, since none of their moderates will flee to someone that extreme.

So Weenus announces in an interview that he supports Luke since he knows they can work together. “Dammit,” Luke says, watching the video with Scarlett. “They want Ella.” A couple minutes later he asks Laurel to get rid of a giant bouquet of cherry blossoms that Scarlett randomly placed in his office. I bet they are FULL of meteor ants. Scarlett catches Laurel doing this and screeches, “I cut them for Luke!” “He doesn’t want them,” Laurel says, none too apologetically. Scarlett asks Laurel if she doesn’t like her, and then announces she’s outnumbered. “By who?” Laurel asks. “Whom,” Scarlett says snippily, then answers: “By the people you’re outnumbered by.” They aren’t really keeping a low profile, these spacebug zombies, are they?

BD 103 scarlett

Outside, Laurel’s throwing away the cherry blossoms—they don’t have a garbage area in the building? She had to go outside the high-security government building to dump some plants?—and wearing a hilariously Jackie-O-style pink coat, when Gustav comes up behind her and tells her not to turn around. Obviously she immediately turns around. He reveals his real name and tries to get her to put her cell phone in an aluminum foil packet he’s been carrying around. Bet you wish you were dealing with chocolate dog guy again, huh, Laurel? She refuses at first, even though he says the NSA can use it to broadcast fifty feet away even if it’s off. Then he mumblewhispers, “Bugs are eating people’s brains.” Laurel sighs and puts her phone in his packet. Sure… put your phone in the crazy person’s tinfoil packet, Laurel.

They sit on a bench and he tells her about the screwworm, a little bug that feeds on human flesh. Then he says that the bugs are a new breed of screwworm that burrow through the skull into the brain and change people’s personalities. “People lose portions of their memory, and the ability to think. Memory’s the only way to get through to them,” he says. That’s an awful lot of behavioral information to get from a picture of one bug and a five-minute conversation inside an MRI machine, even for a science genius. Then he explains the head explosions: “Not many people know about this, but bugs fart.” Gotta love science.

Then Gustav notices two men nearby eating a candy bar together. I think it’s cute, but he thinks that it’s one of the FBI’s “rehearsed activities,” which they use to blend in. I mean, it is slightly unusual… so, shouldn’t they each have a candy bar so they can actually blend in? Laurel gets impatient, and takes her phone back. He gives her his card and tells her to call him. The card actually belongs to a “Dr. Mark Green”—ER shoutout?—but Gustav has crossed it out and written his own info on it. Laurel almost throws it away in one of the indoor trash cans (so they DO have them) but doesn’t. On her way back to the office she hears the same Cars song playing in Ella Pollack’s office. She approaches and finds Scarlett in there, talking to Ella. Uh-oh!

Back in her office, she googles “screwworms” on a Wikipedia-esque called “en.knowledgetext.org.” As with Find-It-Quest last week, I really think they could come up with better fake internet names. She sees a truly gross picture of screwworms gathering around someone’s ear—they look a lot more like actual worms than the space ants, though.

She’s interrupted by her dad, who’s here to help Luke with Ella and to give her a hard time about going to the tax prom with a Republican. Laurel smiles at the thought, but prickles at his surveillance. “You can tell your concerned friends that this was a favor I was doing for my brother,” she insists, and also says it wasn’t a date. But as he presses her more, she gets mad and picks up the phone to congratulate Gareth on his promotion to chief of staff, and ask if she can take him out to celebrate. He’s a little confused, but agrees—if she’ll come to the wake with him first. Yeah, because that’s not tacky at all. “A wake. Sounds great,” Laurel says with a grin. There’s a rebellious teenager inside all of us, no matter how many designer coats we acquire, I guess.

Daddy Healey brings Laurel in to meet with Luke and find a way to take Ella down. “Why do you need proof, just say she kills puppies and call it a day,” Laurel jokes. But her joke actually reminds Luke of a story about how Ella once put her dog to sleep right before the summer recess. Both men realize they can spin it as her wanting to kill her dog so she could go to Paris. They decide to leak it to Roll Call.

Scarlett interrupts to help, but just as Luke’s about to tell her to leak the story, Laurel kicks Scarlett out and says she saw her conferring with Ella. “Is there a reason Scarlett would turn Judas?” Daddy asks. “Maybe,” Luke admits. Everyone knows what that means. Anyway, Laurel says she knows someone at Roll Call. I guess her scruples about ruining Ella’s reputation over a petty story aren’t that strong. Meanwhile, Scarlett is standing outside lipreading the whole time. I guess the screwworms also deposit extra neurons in the part of your brain that reads lips? Convenient.

Laurel has decided to meet up with Stacie at a bar, but unfortunately, Stacie is one of the Ant People now and refuses her usual vodka martini. Laurel teases her that she’s never seen her have a seltzer in a bar. “Don’t do what you did with Abby,” Stacie scolds her, and tells Laurel she has a problem. Then she blurts out, “What are we gonna do when the Republicans take over?” She starts ranting about Denmark’s childcare policy and laughing hysterically at the lame Republican jokes playing on the bar TV.

Laurel suddenly gets suspicious and decides, I guess, to try out one of Gustav’s theories. She starts reminiscing about college. Stacie tries to defend herself by spewing facts about gun deaths, but as Laurel keeps pressing, she gets teary—and then gets pissed off. “Trump could be president,” she says. “You still have to live,” Laurel says. But she notices that Stacie is bleeding from her ear. Stacie claims it’s from a new piercing. Laurel pleads that she’s here for her, but Stacie leaves. I have a feeling the next time we see Stacie it’s gonna be in the form of brain splatter. Laurel calls Gustav, saying she wants to talk.

They meet up in some sort of—hospital, maybe?—where Gustav once again collects Laurel’s cell phone in his aluminum packet. Laurel tells him about Stacie, and he asks if her brains were pushed out. Weirdly, Laurel doesn’t seem that upset about this. I feel like if I thought my friend had screwworms in her brain I would be SUPER upset, and also it would take a little longer than five minutes in a bar for me to even accept that theory. But Laurel’s just marching along in her pink coat, totally calm, while Gustav insists that a pair of texting guys near the elevator are also FBI. Laurel asks him about the Cars song that the ant people like, but he says he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That might be the first time that’s ever happened to Gustav.

Laurel decides to bring Gustav to Rochelle so he can see his friend’s MRI. “Dots,” he says. Rochelle rolls her eyes, like duh, and starts in on the whole story about how people thought they were just image artifacts, but Gustav interrupts and asks her to enlarge the central left lateral ventricle. Rochelle sits back and lets him mess with the scan himself, not without a healthy amount of eye-rolling. He enlarges the picture until you can see a mandible—after confirming her phone is more than fifty feet away, of course.

Back at Weenus’s office, Gareth has an idea for saving the Republicans: build up the grass roots. They’re at 20 percent approval rating because they haven’t reached people, and they need to restart the government to do so. Weenus, busily sucking down carrot juice, asks Gareth why he got into politics. Gareth says some bullshit about small government. Weenus says he hasn’t actually accomplished any of that (true, Gareth has to admit) and they have to stop being patient. He rants about how they’ve been waiting for their ducks to be in a row, but“You know what? Ducks are IN a freaking row!” Then he asks Gareth to line the ducks up so he can machete them. Uh, I don’t really understand this metaphor, but it sounds ominous.

Gareth clearly agrees, since we next see him at the wake, sucking down alcohol while other people mourn the former chief-of-staff because he was “good to lobbyists.” Now that is tacky. Laurel arrives, rudely still on her phone with Luke about the Roll Call thing, and sits down with him. He donates the last of his drink to her and also gives her a tip that someone at the bar works at Roll Call. Laurel gets up wordlessly, presumably to go tip the guy off. While she’s gone, Weenus calls Gareth to tell him he was right, and to gather strategies for reaching the grass roots. Both he and Gareth pronounce it super weirdly, more like Grass Roots, as if it’s a band name or something. Laurel comes back, and he cheers her: “To your first leak.” He says things are going well for him; she realizes that means they’re going badly for her side. “We’re both playing with fire here,” Gareth says. Omg, forbidden love!

BD 103 date

Somehow Laurel doesn’t immediately jump into his arms. But she does reveal that they were observed drinking and dancing. “Better give them something to talk about,” Gareth says and takes her hand. He suggests taking it to the next level, but Laurel says she’s not drunk enough. Immediately, two more drinks magically appear in front of them (which Gareth ordered while Laurel was on the phone). Laurel chugs hers, and then leans in with an ironic smirk. They kiss, she giggles, he tells her this is hard work, they kiss again, she giggles again, and then the kissing starts for real. But Laurel chickens out and runs for the door. Gareth chases her and tells her it was a joke. “No, I know,” she says defensively. Aww, poor Laurel. He argues that if she leaves it will turn the joke into something that means something, but she calls him on the “algebraic psychology” of that and leaves.

OK, I’m all for a dramatic love story and that was super cute, but these are people in their thirties. I think they could probably just kiss without needing a whole bunch of excuses, especially after literally finishing two glasses each of what looks like pure whiskey in the space of about five minutes. For most people, the whiskey is sufficient excuse.

That night, Rochelle calls Gustav to tell him that a doctor at her hospital still thinks the mandibles are just artifacts. For some reason it takes Gustav a whole conversation to decide the line isn’t secure. He spreads bug traps all around the apartment, turns on the spacebug anthem, tapes two cups to his ears (I feel like taping his actual earholes would be more efficient, the cups are really just adding instability when you think about it) and goes to sleep while his cat stares curiously around. He must have nerves of steel to be able to sleep while using himself as bait for a spacebug trap.

The next morning Laurel and Luke arrive to work to find that their leak worked: everyone is comparing Ella to Mitt Romney, who once tied his dog to the roof of a car. Ella shows up, unperturbed, saying she already knew they were leaking the story and was prepared. She tells them to watch the news. Well, I’m kind of confused as to what they were already doing. Laurel asks what Ella knows, and Luke says she’s just bluffing. Famous last words, Luke.

Up in his office, Gareth hears Weenus laughing and turns on the news, where Luke’s affair with Scarlett is now cable news fodder. Weenus is laughing hysterically. Germaine, home alone and SUPER pregnant, is not. Luke dashes in and pleads that it’s not true, and hugs her pregnant belly. She sobs and calls him a bastard. Wow, that sucks. Poor Germaine.

BD 103 luke

Luke Healy: Still the worst.

Gustav is sleeping through a full-out space ant siege. They’re crawling all over his neck and trying to get into his cups. Gross!! He leaps up, bags a trap that he can see movement in, and runs out without even brushing them off his neck. Then they head in a line straight for his cat.

Laurel and Luke share a beer and he complains that he hates when women cry. Ugh. Men who secretly hate women always think we’re having emotions at them. Laurel points out snarkily that he could stop that. He pleads, “She’s everything to me. I make mistakes. I’m here, working late, my head gets clogged…” Wow this is the worst excuse ever. He starts waxing poetic about her shampoo smell and her smile. “It’s not poetry, it’s you cheating on your wife,” Laurel says, and she’s quite right. Luke accuses her of not knowing that not everything’s about morality, and to be a “human being that understands why something happens, not just that it shouldn’t.” Totally gross. It reminds me of Philadelphia Story, the movie Katherine Hepburn had to make to convince the world that she wasn’t one of those uppity women who don’t understand that sometimes men just have to cheat on their wives. Basically it was one long two-hour apology from Katherine for being too strong of a woman.

Anyway, Luke complains that the female senators are lined up against him, and Laurel offers to talk to them. I was so busy being annoyed at how much of a jerk Luke was being for claiming that morality was somehow boring and irrelevant to the fact that he was cheating on his pregnant wife, that I completely missed on first view how condescending this part is until Vulture pointed it out. Laurel offers to talk to the female senators to make them like Luke again. For some reason six powerful women in government are ready to gather to listen to her… and it works. After the meeting, everyone is hugging Laurel, and Ella looks displeased.

Meanwhile, Gareth is talking to Senator Weenus about fostering communication and building a big tent. But Weenus says “There aren’t many ways to get what we want. There’s one way.” He wants to build a coalition they can control, and call it the One Wayers. It sounds like a creepy cult–which is probably a plus for Weenus. He says they’re going to be “astroturfing.” Hee, I get it! Like grassroots, but fake.

Gustav’s brought his bug bag to Rochelle, and keeps hovering around and kibbutzing, telling her to be careful. She makes him go sit on the other side of the room. He gives her his condolences for her dad and says they can figure this out. Rochelle gets the bug out of the trap: it’s just a regular cockroach. Gustav realizes that means all the bugs are still alive in his apartment and rushes home, which will, presumably, be way too late to save his kitty.

After the meeting with the senators, Laurel calls him to say he has the votes but notices two men sharing a candy bar again. Just as she gets wary, she’s arrested. She tries to play the my-brother’s-a-senator card, both then and about five times when she ends up in a holding cell, but nobody cares one whit. The mean agent from the beginning of the episode interrogates her about CHIs, explaining it stands for Catastrophic Head Injury. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Laurel says. Really, Laurel? You can’t think of any recent events that might be relevant to the phrase “Catastrophic Head Injury”? Maybe that time a dude’s brains exploded on your face? The agent points this out, then asks why she called Agent Onofrio. She asks why she doesn’t have a lawyer, and tries to leave, but he won’t let her. Then he asks her who Gustav is. Onofrio shows up, and Laurel tries to bat her eyes at him, but he calls her “Miss Healy” and won’t go for it.

They leave her in the cell, planning to hold her overnight, but Luke has arrived. He points out that he’s on the appropriations committee, which gets her right out. Luke is so corrupt. But Laurel, once she’s riding safely in the back of his limo, basically acts like he just rode in on a white horse to save her. She complains about Onofrio, who’s calling her at that exact moment, but Luke reveals that he’s the one who tipped Luke off. Then he thanks Laurel for getting Ella to back down and convincing all the lady senators to like him again. “You must have told the story about me carrying you in the snow,” he says, and then he kisses her hand and says he loves her.

Yeah. Because lady senators are basically voting with their lady hormones, which we all know are totally unreasoanble, so they will turn on you for cheating and then be won back the second they hear about a cute childhood story. That’s how this works.

BD 103 stethoscope

Meanwhile, Gustav’s crawling around on his floor with what appears to be a giant suction cup attached to a stethoscope, for no reason I can gather. Suddenly the cat meows from behind him. “Damn,” he whispers. Poor kitty.

Review

This was another highly entertaining episode, with lots of good jokes (especially from Gustav) and some sharp satire. I like how Stacie insulated herself from emotion by relentlessly quoting inaccurate partisan facts, like the fact that Denmark supposedly has fully-paid childcare until the child is fifty. Although actually there are a lot of forty-somethings in America who need round-the-clock minders, if you ask me.

It seems silly to quibble about believability in a show whose premise is that a meteor brought a bunch of brain-eating ants to earth to fuck with Washington politics, but I actually don’t understand how Scarlett is so bad at trying to turn Luke into a fellow zombie. She tries to give him one bouquet and it doesn’t work, so what, she just gives up? How will Laurel survive the season, even? It seems like these bugs are literally everywhere.

But of course, it’s not really supposed to be believable. It has more of a carnival atmosphere: there’s room for going to all kinds of extremes, from satire to horror, and if you’re not there to have fun, get out. And it is quite fun. Laurel makes for a good straight (wo)man amongst all the craziness, and her chemistry with Gareth and fraternal chemistry with Luke remains quite real.

Oh, and Luke is a really good character. As a politician, he’s actually fairly idealistic—which happens time and time again, people who actually do good things for their country but whose egos then inflate to the point where they’re narcissistically convinced they deserve to have the rules of honesty and integrity bent in their private lives, because they’re just so darn special. And, like a good politician, he’s charismatic and articulate enough to convince everyone around him that he doesn’t suck in his private life, even Laurel who really should know better.

So all in all, a third strong episode. It still isn’t clear how long this can be spun out, especially past the first season, but I’m looking forward to seeing the attempt.

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