Braindead 1×04: “Wake Up Grassroots: The Nine Virtues of Participatory Democracy, and How We Can Keep America Great by Encouraging an Informed Electorate”

Previously on Braindead: Spacebugs, Gareth and Laurel making out, head explosions, Abby infecting Stacie, Gustav reading a lot, Scarlett being weird, Ella getting infected, Luke versus Ella, Laurel investigating the bugs, guys sharing a candy bar, and bugs eating a cat.

Whew. It’s pretty catchy when the guy sings it though.

Recap

We open on two future victims of the bugs, flirting as they enter their two neighboring apartments in a fancy brass-numbers-and-white-walls apartment building. He’s new; she offers to help with anything he needs. They go inside, and… uh-oh! The bugs are coming in both windows. I keep my eyes squeezed safely shut while some squishy noises indicate that someone has pooped a brain out their ear. When the gross noises stop, Bug Lady is laundering her sheets to get the brain juice out and listening to Misty, the Republican commentator played by Megan Hilty, in her apartment, while Bug Dude is listening to Fake Rachel Maddow commentate in his apartment. Both are typing angry internet comments on their fancy Mac laptops and hitting their exclamation point keys WAY too much.

When they drive to work, windows down, their blaring political radio stations overlap with each other. She turns hers even louder; then they decide to ram each other with their cars multiple times. Well, that escalated.

Meanwhile, Laurel and Agent Onofrio are flirting and drinking in the bar best known to us as That Place Where Laurel and Gareth Made Out. Laurel mentions not being popular enough to have had a nickname in high school. Ooh, I feel ya, Laurel. Then she switches gears and starts interrogating him: is it true that terrorism is responsible for these CHIs? (Catastrophic Head Injury, dontcha know.) Laurel, hilariously, calls them “head eruptions.” That’s still more accurate than the whole “spontaneous combustion” phrase they were using a couple weeks back, which I still highly object to. Anyway, he blathers about some terrorist group that’s claimed responsibility. She raises the possibility of screwworms and tells him to look it up on Wikipedia. (Oh, not find-it-quest.com? Or Chumhum?)

Just then Gareth walks in with the great commentator herself. He and Laurel glare at each other like they’re Rory Gilmore in the middle of a teenaged hormonal meltdown. Misty takes it well, scoffing and calling Laurel “the Healy girl” and then teasing him about slumming and going to sit at Laurel’s table if he’s so fascinated by the guy she’s with. Meanwhile Agent Onofrio is so dumb he barely even notices anything weird is happening. As soon as Laurel gets up for a drink Gareth joins her and dramatically warns her that Onofrio is an FBI agent. Laurel laughs. They each order an old-fashioned for themselves and other drinks for their dates (in a nice little touch, beefy Onofrio is drinking a lite beer and girly Megan is drinking a martini). Then Gareth tells a joke about a Russian prostitute who earns $250.10 in a day because she gets ten cents per customer. It’s only funny because Russian accents are invariably funny.

Then Gustav shows up. With his spacebug-infected cat in a carrying case. Poor Laurel, who does not know how to set boundaries, leaves Onofrio in a bar to hear Gustav’s weird bug story. Gustav tells her that Onofrio is leaving anyway (because, as any normal person would, he hacked his phone and sent him a “text” from “work”) and sure enough, he emerges to apologize to Laurel for having to leave. “Ok, THANKS, Laurel had fun,” Gustav snots, which is really funny. Onofrio STILL doesn’t realize after the preceding five minutes of total inattention that he is always going to be number a zillion on Laurel’s priority list, and promises to call her later. He might as well have little cartoon hearts coming out of his eyes.

Somehow this convinces Laurel to let Gustav drag her over to the hospital so that Rochelle can CAT-scan Zeke the cat. “Cat CAT scan,” Rochelle says oh-so-cleverly, “I’m so glad I went to med school.” She insists everything’s healthy. Then Gustav asks her to try the posterior lateral something-or-other, and suddenly it turns out there’s a whole piece of brain missing up there. So, uh, Rochelle, how much of med school did you actually go to? Did you miss the part where they told you to look at the whole brain scan, and not just whichever part shows up on your screen first? Rochelle insists the cat moved, but Gustav handily proves that there’s another bit missing. “The bugs ate half his brain,” Gustav insists. So they shine a light on the cat’s ear, which has a gross hole in it, but – thank God – no bugs. “They’re deaf in one ear. That’s how we know he’s infected,” Gustav says. Then about five seconds later, he says, “Absence of paralymph fluid means that they’re off balance. That’s how we know they’re infected.” This guy has a lot of theories.

All of a sudden, Ella, who was infected all of last week and walked just fine, is staggering dramatically through the hallways of the Capitol, or whatever building the Senate is in. (As with every week, I should probably disclaim that I know very little of the practicalities of how the government works, other than that NRA bribe money probably secretly pays most of their salaries.) Luke wants to talk to someone named “Mr. Tabac,” a rich dude who loses 4 million dollars every five seconds he has to talk to the government, about the fact that the Republicans want them to cut three major agencies to end the shutdowns. “You can take your money and shove it,” Ella sneers and then threatens him with a raised capital gains tax. She’s looking pretty rough, too, sort of like a dead person who was prepped for her funeral by a blind makeup artist.

That night, Gareth watches Laurel’s Kickstarter video asking for money for her documentary instead of hanging out with the Very Naked Misty who’s waiting in his bed.

Cut to the next morning, when Senator Wheatus (I’m going to stop calling him Senator Weenus this week, since I feel I have sufficiently beaten my lame joke to death) is on Misty’s show talking about the One-Wayers, the conservative cult that the Senator made up last week who feel they’re “losing their country” (you know, to minorities). The Senator talks about the One-Wayers like he just heard of them through constituent emails, instead of inventing it himself.

Meanwhile at Luke’s Office of Adultery and Intrigue, the dude from room 302 is here to tell Laurel, the constituent caseworker, in one of her rare moments of actually doing her job, that he’s angry that Luke is giving into the fascists. He also wants to know why we aren’t more like Denmark (Laurel’s face clearly says, “Uh, I don’t know where to start with that one”) and why she isn’t more angry. She tries to get out while he finger-wags in her face, lecturing her about giving in to the One-Wayers and arming themselves to fight them. Uh, awkward. That’s such a One-Wayer thing to say! Laurel kicks him out of the room, and he walks into a column in the middle of her office. Gustav is always right.

After the credits, Laurel is telling Luke about the crazy constituent, and he immediately tells her to call the police—or the FBI. I’m sure she’ll be only too happy to do that.

They arrive at Senator Wheatus’s office for a meeting, which conveniently leaves Laurel and Gareth (who, for a chief of staff, never seems to have much to do other than flirt, like, I think he actually does his job less often than Laurel, which quite is a feat) outside together. Again. Laurel teases Gareth about Misty. There is some dishwater-bland (but still kinda cute) banter about which party is bankrupting the nation.

Inside the meeting, things are a bit more exciting. Senator Wheatus breaks one pencil and then fails to break ten pencils to demonstrate how strong the One Wayers are. Ella throws the pencils at the wall to demonstrate, presumably, how crazy the Democrats are. Wheatus comes out long enough to grab some emails from Gareth, and Laurel notices him bumping into the door, again for the first time since he was infected in the pilot. She starts interrogating Gareth about Wheatus’s hearing and balance; then, just as he’s fully weirded out, she sees something on the TV that utterly distracts her: blood-pressure medication being recalled due to supposedly causing CHIs.

Laurel dashes out, leaving the discomfited Gareth. She shows the video to Rochelle and Gustav, and Rochelle has to admit that her father didn’t have high blood pressure, so she agrees to meet with a contact at the CDC. Gustav is very excited about showing the CDC the screwworms on the brain scans and explaining to them how sometimes bugs fart in people’s brains. Rochelle is like, no way, I’m just bringing Laurel, because I don’t want you to spew your crazy on my random acquaintance. Meanwhile, Laurel, who has the attention span of a fruit fly, checks her email to find an “anonymous” donation of $750.10. She covers her mouth, obviously thrilled that Gareth still likes her, and not inclined to think too hard about any possible implication that he thinks she’s a ten-cent Russian prostitute.

Gareth is meeting with the future One-Wayers, including Miss 303, telling them to start a grassroots campaign without a hint of irony on his face. Then Laurel shows up to thank him. “That could be from anybody,” he says, feigning casualness. They stare at each other all googly-eyed for a second. She’s about to leave, but then he drags her outside for a secret meeting, presumably leaving the crazy Republican constituents all alone in his office, which seems like a GREAT idea, while he strolls in the moonlight with Laurel. He apparently has decided it’s time to compromise, and reveals that Wheatus was in a screaming fight with the majority leader, who wants to work with the Democrat moderates. “I know, you’re wondering whether to trust me. I’ll leave that to you,” he says. Laurel immediately calls Luke to tell him exactly what Gareth told her. “Use this information if you want, or don’t,” she says loftily when he asks if her “Republican friend” gave it to her. This obviously doesn’t satisfy Luke, who asks if she’s sleeping with him. Laurel gets all mad and hangs up. Seriously, is she twelve? I mean, I know he’s a Republican and she’s a Democrat, but I feel like they’re being very “Noooo, boys have cooties” about this flirtation, which is silly.

Just as she’s realizing she’s locked out (so, where did Gareth go?), Laurel is confronted by Mr. 302 and his GIANT BUTCHER KNIFE. Are there no guards at this building? Oh, well, I guess they’re furloughed. Anyway, Laurel is terrified, and he just goes on and on about NPR and the NEA and some show he loves on PBS until Laurel pulls out her rape app. “What are you, insane? This isn’t a rape, I’m a member of Men Against Rape!” he says, hilariously. (Apparently there are real groups called this, but it just seems suspicious for a random dude to join it, like having to announce that you’re against genocide or slavery.) He rants about some show on Masterpiece Theater that his knife is apparently from. “We are angry and we will not be denied,” he says, aiming the knife right at her. She screams at him to go, and finally decides to walk away hastily, as he dementedly yells the names of publicly funded radio and TV shows after her.

So Luke meets up with the majority leader (presumably) in a park, which seems like not the way for two recognizable public figures to conduct a secret meeting. The majority leader complains about the One-Wayers, saying “If one of us even nods when a Democrat speaks we’ll lose our seat.” So they agree instead to a sequestration—ten percent budget cuts across the board in six months if no one compromises. Luke also promises to sideline Ella and Red so they can’t derail everything.

Laurel is in her office looking through her clipboard when Scarlett comes in. She asks for yesterday’s names, and Scarlett is all, “I cleared them out. New policy. Destroying yesterday’s names.” She gives a giant smile that almost makes it look like she didn’t purposely fuck over Laurel.

Laurel’s next constituents are the same-old: Gustav, Rochelle, and a CDC guy. Gustav announces composedly that he took all the pills that the CDC accused of causing head eruptions, because “I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t make my head explode.” Rochelle does a champion eyeroll. I love it. The CDC guy, meanwhile, argues that the bugs on the scan are just dust mites. But Gustav will not be deterred, and he actually wins the guy over: Apparently Mr. CDC did his thesis on screwworm eradication. That’s … awfully convenient. So he gets totally excited about Gustav’s bug farting theory, and tells Gustav that they’ll need an infected human to get his boss on board.

So Laurel and Rochelle show up to see Abby, who immediately, and unpromptedly, announces, “You know, all lives matter, not just black lives.” Rochelle’s “um, thanks” face is pretty priceless. After letting the awkwardness sink in for awhile, Laurel gives Abby a semi-true story about Rochelle looking into a new infection in the area, mentioning the balance and the deafness that it causes but steering clear of the thing where it turns you into a demented partisan. “You’re really jealous of my success, aren’t you Laurel?” Abby says. Abby’s says she’s not sick, and Rochelle tries to ask for a non-invasive test in case she’s asymptomatic. But Abby has a whole arsenal of catchphrases: “This is the nanny state,” which is at least somewhat relevant, and then “It takes a village,” which… isn’t. She kicks them out, politely, and Laurel says she knows another way.

Cut to a picture of Onofrio—on a folder that Gareth is studying in his office. Because that’s a normal thing to do when you find out someone is dating a woman you haven’t even asked out on a real date yet.

Onofrio himself is in Laurel’s office, along with Rochelle. Laurel mentions the “powers” he has under rule 264 that allows the CDC to deal with communicable diseases. He mentions that he looked up screwworms. Laurel is being super manipulative, insisting that the CDC will benefit from the investigation and giving him puppy eyes. But just as she’s about to convince him, she sees Gareth outside and dashes out. Oh, silly Laurel and her short attention span! He says he has information for her, but chickens out when Onofrio shows up. They exchange semi-hostile hellos, and then Onofrio tells Laurel he’ll head over to Abby’s place soon. “Nice guy,” Gareth says snottily when he leaves. Then he leaves the file with her and tells her to read it.

Abby opens the door to find Onofrio and interrupts his awkward speech about the CHIs he’s investigating with, “Have I done something wrong?” When he says no, she asks, “Are you arresting me?” He stammers that “We have the power to impel…” She realizes that he’s doing this for Laurel and tells him she’s going to record every step of this. But that turns out to be somewhat of an empty threat, since while Onofrio is announcing insincerely that the CDC welcomes “an engaged citizenry,” Abby is busy climbing over her balcony and jumping headfirst onto the parking lot below. By the sound of the splat she makes, I’m thinking she’s dead. The sound-effects people on this show must be having a BLAST.

Gareth is meeting with the One-Wayers, who are writing a manifesto. “The less we coordinate the better,” he says when they offer to let him see it. (I love that neat little ethical sidestep he does: oh, we’re not COORDINATING, we’re just meeting regularly so I can be updated on every step of the process. Totally different.) The manifesto is going to go on the website, along with a series of links to bomb-making instructions. Gareth is nodding along and taking notes until he absorbs that last part, a few seconds later. “Why do we need bombs?” he asks. The lady from 303 is like, duh, in case people don’t know how to make them. They’re for “Democrats. Socialists. Tax-and-spenders,” she says. Yeah, but you can’t kill them, Gareth says, in a voice that communicates how much he can’t believe he has to actually say this. “What do you mean?” says Miss 303. He says that when Wheatus called this a revolution, he didn’t mean to go out with muskets and shoot Democrats. “Yeah, because we have Glocks,” Miss 303 duhs. Hee. He insists they can’t do this. But Miss 303 has a trump card: Gareth said they couldn’t coordinate. Heh.

Just as Gareth is regretting his own words, Laurel rudely storms into his office without knocking to dump the Onofrio file on his desk. Gareth excuses himself to go talk to his irate non-girlfriend. She tells him not to go “throwing bombs into my life.” (I see what the writers did there.) He insists that there’s a photo of Onofrio waterboarding someone in the file. Laurel insists that the guy in the file looks nothing like Onofrio, and then ostentatiously takes a call from him right in front of Gareth. Her stricken look tells us that she’s finding out about Abby.

She goes straight to the apartment complex, where she sobs into Onofrio’s oh-so-broad shoulder. Later, he tells her that it had nothing to do with them. Laurel isn’t dumb enough to fall for that, considering that it was literally exactly because she sent him over there. But Onofrio also mentions that her friend said that there were changes in her life, and that she must be depressed. The friend, of course, is Stacie. Laurel’s alarmed.

Back at the Senate, Luke and the majority leader are meeting up while Ella and Wheatus are on yet another talk show. They have a plan: each promises to have thirty votes waiting close by. “Here goes, career suicide,” the majority leader growls. “It’s for the country,” Luke says, wheeling in an extremely old dude in a wheelchair. What a hero. Adultery and using senile dudes as vote puppets aside, of course.

In the empty chamber, the majority leader announces a session. Luke immediately asks for something called a “unanimous consent vote.” The young man in the front of the room, who seems to be some sort of secretary slash master of ceremonies, points out that they only have three senators, but they say that’s all they need. Then they hold a whole ceremonial vote, including calling for objections in the empty chamber, which is fairly amusing. Luke has to slap the elderly senator to wake him up, and of course he guesses wrong as to what he was brought there to do, yelling “Nay!” until Luke corrects him in a whisper, and then yelling “Aye!” (This was quite funny when they did it on The Good Wife, where it involved bringing in two elderly lawyers to pad a vote, one of whom was too senile to remember what to vote for; and I guess the theory is you can never have too much of a good joke?)

Wheatus and Ella are still pontificating at each other, but Luke didn’t account for one thing: Scarlett, who gets on her phone as soon as she sees what he’s up to and texts Ella, just as the thirty moderates from each side are proceeding in. Ella and Wheatus get the text and dash off the show without so much as a by-your-leave. Unfortunately, they can’t get on the subway… due to the government shutdown. OH THE IRONY. (OK, I admit it, I laughed.) Meanwhile the majority leader is prodding the master of ceremonies through a faster and faster role call for the votes, and the sequestration bill passes as soon as Ella and Wheatus dash in. “You’re dead,” he tells Luke when the latter emerges triumphantly from the chamber. “No, seriously, you’re dead.” Luke, who hasn’t seen the One-Wayers’ website yet, just grins, thinking this is a joke.

That night, Rochelle and Laurel hang out with a cheese plate and a bottle of wine while Laurel mopes and speculates about why Abby killed herself. Rochelle is clearly a little skeptical, but wants to be nice to her new, grieving friend. When Laurel suggests that Stacie only said Abby was depressed because Stacie’s infected, though, she can’t resist pointing out that that would be a level of coordination among the infected (and since they were “infected” to different sides, it would be even more odd). Then she congratulates her on her brother re-opening the government, and Laurel sighs that she’s so self-involved she didn’t even know. Just then Onofrio shows up to “check on” Laurel, and Rochelle grins and makes a discreet exit so they can bang.

Left alone, Onofrio offers her a box of cookies. (Italian ones, of course.) Laurel announces that she needs a drink, so they sit on the couch with wine. Then she brings up the torture report. He says readily that he was in it. “And you did those things to people?” Laurel asks. “Enhanced interrogation, waterboarding?” She looks really nervous, but he reveals that he was a whistleblower. “There’s a rumor that I was a mercenary, that I tortured, but it’s not true,” he says. Uh, ten bucks says that comes up later. She apologizes for thinking that he did torture people. Turned on by this very sexy discussion, he kisses her.

Next thing you know we’re seeing Onofrio and his bare chest sleeping post-coitally on Laurel’s bed. She sneaks out of bed to check the news and calls Luke. “Yeah, I’m pretty bitchin’,” he says. “It was so sweet, Red didn’t know what hit him.” This dude learned a lot of slang in the 90s, huh? In passing, he mentions Red and Ella’s appearances on Misty’s talk show, so after hanging up Laurel googles it (or rather, find-it-quests them). “I don’t condone violence, but I could understand why people would be passionate about this,” Wheatus is saying. Ah, the Trump method of telling huge lies. I don’t think Obama is a Muslim, but I could see why other people would think so! Gotta love it. Of course Miss 303 and Mr. 302 also get their say, ranting about how voters need to get involved. When Laurel sees him screaming at the TV that he’s angry, she gets scared and closes the laptop.

Cut to her sitting up on her couch, having apparently passed out. She crawls up to Onofrio and cuddles on his chest, murmuring that she fell asleep on the couch. “What?” he mumbles, smiling at her and cupping his ear to hear her better. She stares at him suspiciously. End of episode.

Review

This episode moved at a nice clip. Now that kindly old Agent Onofrio is presumably infected, we get to see what it’s like when someone who actually knows about the bugs contracts them. It’s interesting that his head didn’t explode, and that Laurel didn’t really hear anything during the night. (And, uh, are her sheets going to be all stained by his brain ear-poop?) But, logistics aside—and my questioning the practicalities at all is, I realize, probably ill-fitted to the whole horror-comedy-slash-political-satire genre—we should get to see if everyone who’s infected is equally invested in protecting the secret. Or will Onofrio still be willing to aid the non-infected in the fight?

Meanwhile, I’m really enjoying the mix of satirical and silly humor. The funniest scene by far this week was when Gareth met with the One Wayers and tried to explain to them that they can’t kill people. Johnny Ray Gill’s also very funny as Gustav, and his deadpan delivery of the screwworm theory to new people is always good for a laugh.

But, much as I hate to criticize Gareth, who’s really too adorable to truly irritate this soft-hearted recapper, he and Laurel are doing that thing that only teenagers in movies should do, which is act annoyed by each other while simultaneously torturing each other’s dates. Just give it up already, guys! You’re not in first grade! You can ask each other out like regular humans! Of course, it’s TV, and the slow romantic burn is more satisfying. So I guess we’re just going to have to root for these two crazy kids to get together despite their immaturity. And luckily, their chemistry is really good.

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2 Comments

  1. […] When we open, Laurel is watching a very cheesy anti-war ad that accuses Wheatus of basically orchestrating the war in Syria to benefit the one percent. Luke comes in to get Laurel’s feedback, and she wonders why he doesn’t just let her do it, because it’s a dumb ad and the one percent has nothing to do with the war. But Luke tells her it’s PAC money paying for it, so they can’t coordinate. They can, however, do the other kind of coordinating, where they tell the PAC all of their thoughts and feelings about the commercial, and the PAC does what they want. (Gareth had to make a similar distinction, if you’ll recall, back when he accidentally got a bunch of bug-infected Republicans to make a website about assassinating libera….) […]

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