Braindead 1×05: Back to Work: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Congress and How It Gets Things Done (and Often Doesn’t)

 

Recap

Previously on Braindead: You know. Space bugs. Most importantly, Laurel’s buddy Abby killed herself and Laurel slept with Agent Onofrio only to realize he was partially deaf in one ear (a sign of bug infection, along with balance problems). Prime quote: “You can count on him when booty calls” (of Onofrio). Also, the lightning-speed “previously-on” songs have helpfully acquired karaoke-style subtitles.

The episode opens right where the last one left off, with Laurel realizing that Onofrio—who slept in her bed while she slept on the couch—can’t hear what she’s saying unless he turns his left ear towards her. He gives her a sweet smile, which is rather unlike a bug person. But her relief is premature: when he gets up to get ready for work, she realizes he’s changed the sheets. He explains this by saying that he’s “a bit anal,” and says that there was “a wet spot.” Ew! That is so much more than I ever wanted to have to picture about the sex between those two. Laurel goes to the dryer and smells the sheets. Uh… does she know that that’s a sign of infection? Is she sniffing for brain fluid? Does brain fluid have a smell? (The internet seems to think not.) Is she sniffing for the supposed wet spot? No matter what she’s smelling for.

BD 105 Sheets.png

When Laurel reports all this to Gustav and Rochelle, Gustav responds to this with his usual common sense and moderation: “Oh my God, he’s a bug man,” he says dramatically when he hears the part about the sheets getting washed. He argues that guys usually don’t wash the sheets while people are sleeping. Um, I don’t think that’s unique to men, like, these people are acting like a) men don’t know how to use laundry machines, and b) it would be totally normal for a woman to wash the sheets of a new sex partner without permission, which… I’m pretty sure it would not be. Are these really the same people who wrote that masterwork of feminism, The Good Wife?

Anyway, Rochelle says that her friend at the CDC (the one from last week who conveniently studied screwworms in school) needs Laurel’s political help to get funding to investigate the screwworm. Laurel doesn’t think Luke is going to go for this crackpot idea. Rochelle argues that new ideas often seem crazy and “Lyme disease and Zika are just as weird as this,” which is objectively false. Then Gustav, who as usual is not at all worried about seeming crazy, gives Laurel sedatives “for your bug man” so they can give him a CAT scan, and some brass knuckles.

Laurel leaves impatiently and bumps into Luke, who looks over at Rochelle and Gustav and asks if Gustav is her one-night stand from the night before. Heh! Just imagine. Laurel says it was Anthony, and he makes some comment about how “Laurel doesn’t do serious,” and never gives guys a second chance. Somehow this extremely mild criticism convinces Laurel to call Anthony to, I guess, prove that she can be serious about someone. Which is something that only happens on TV shows (remember Chandler’s big-headed date?). Then, Anthony apologizes for showing her his “feminine cleaning side.” By cleaning sheets. A thing that apparently no man has ever done. Anyway, she invites him to a party for the government reopening that night, and he offers to make her dinner after they peace out of the party. Laurel looks nervous, and can you blame her? She’s about to enter a serious relationship with a person whose brain is crawling with space bugs to prove to her cheating bastard of a brother that she’s not a commitmentphobe.

BD 105 Brett

Brett, the charming veteran who has only a few weeks to live.

Back at work for a hot second, Laurel and Luke meet a group of constituents: disabled veterans who are uniformly charming and humorous. They need funding from Congress to continue medical studies that were helping them before the shutdown. Brett, the one in the wheelchair, has a week to live because he’s in liver failure—he’s hoping to make it to his daughter’s first birthday. Wow, they are really laying it on thick with this one.

It works on Luke, who likes the idea of doing something for him, and even admits to Laurel that he (gasp) likes Brett, despite his notably tiny heart. He thinks he can have something by the end of the day, since “no one votes against veterans.” Ahh, famous last words.

Laurel thinks this is a good time to try to get some funding for the CDC to look at theories outside of the blood pressure medication. “I’m gonna share with you a wonderful little civics lesson about the glory of our system of government. Everybody hates everybody.” And the fact that no one (like the FDA) is criticizing the CDC for this means that the CDC can’t be wrong. So basically, this sounds like a really fancy cynical and game-theory-based hypothesis, but what he’s actually saying is that if no one disagrees with something in Washington, it must be correct. Which… is not a thing.

Satisfied with his good day’s work of helping veterans and stifling free thought, Luke attends a budget meeting of some sort, where he confers with the majority leader, and they agree (not in so many words) that the leader will put the veterans on the agenda, if Luke votes for naming a White House kiosk after a slain police officer named Ed Cherie. But this plan goes haywire when, suddenly, Wheatus wants to know if they’re really considering having a kiosk “christened with a name sounding like Sharia?” Oh my god, I love it. He’s basically Trump. Luke tries to explain this, but Wheatus insists that not everyone will know the difference and he’s worried it will look like they voted for terrorism. He thinks they should name the cart after Ronald Reagan. Hee! Then Ella jumps in and asks why they can’t name the kiosk after a woman. Wheatus obviously votes for Ayn Rand. Then someone protests that kiosk is a French word, which everyone knows is basically like putting an “I’m a Communist” sign on your forehead. The whole scene is completely hilarious.

Luke emerges looking terribly weary, only to find a guy outside from the FDA who tells him the CDC is wrong about the blood pressure meds. He didn’t believe Laurel, Gustav, and Rochelle, but he definitely believes the random white guy standing in the hall, so he goes to find Laurel and asks what is causing the head eruptions.

That night, Laurel arrives at the reopening party at 8:20, only to have Luke lecture her about how in DC, people show up to parties on time. Wow, people in DC sound FUN. He also says that he likes Laurel’s date, who—of course—is off in the corner lecturing Wheatus about how amazing Norway is. “Then go live there,” says Wheatus, oh so cleverly. Laurel takes the opportunity to ditch her date and flirt with Gareth while he pretends to be the bartender. She asks for an old-fashioned (he also has a pitcher of gross-looking spinach smoothie on hand, for Wheatus and his bug-infected cohorts). He gives her one that looks beautiful, but it has a cherry blossom in it. Laurel rejects it kind of rudely, not because she knows ants live in cherry blossoms (she hasn’t figured that out yet), but just because she’s kind of a jerk for no reason sometimes.

Somehow Gustav and Rochelle made it into the government party, which: I’m so sure. They pull Laurel and Luke out to the hall to tell Luke about the screwworms. Gustav tries very hard to sound normal, but the best he can do is to say unnatural things like, “Yes, what they say is true.” Luke points out that the CAT scans are small. This makes no sense to me. Are CAT scan prints usually to scale? But Rochelle explains it’s from a cat, which gives Luke an excellent chance to beat last week’s “cat CAT scan” joke further into the ground. “Things are weird until they’re not,” Laurel says. “Unless they stay weird,” Luke says. (I guess this is like the grown-up version of the sibling fights they would have had when they’re children. “You’re stupid.” “Unless you’re stupid!”)

As Rochelle lists the symptoms, including aversion to alcohol and sex, Laurel looks over at Onofrio, worried. Luke condoles Rochelle on her father’s death, and says he’ll meet with the CDC, but meanwhile wants them to meet with an entomologist that, for this entire episode, I thought was named “Dr. Lame-o.” Turns out her name is Dr. Alaimo, according to IMDB (and she’s played by the always fierce Margo Martindale, as we’ll see in a second). He asks them not to show her the “… cat scan,” further beating the dead horse of that joke. I suddenly have a theory that Luke and Rochelle are going to end up making out.

At the party, Laurel and Onofrio chat. He’s drinking juice; she’s drinking an old-fashioned. As they go off together so he can cook her dinner, Gareth gives them a plaintive look from across the room. Like, maybe actually ask her out if you don’t want her to go out with other people? Just a thought.

Onofrio brings Laurel back to his intensely clean house and apologizes for its being messy, then starts repeating lame jokes that Democratic commentators have made, forcing Laurel to laugh awkwardly as if they’re as hilarious as he thinks they are. She asks if they’re OK, and says he seems standoffish. She’s obviously suspicious that he’s infected, which just makes her seem completely insane for going alone to his house. He says he wanted to give her space, then takes her hand—seeming very unexcited, but obviously realizing that he’s gonna have to put out in order to seem like a human—then falls suddenly to the ground.

BD 105 bacon

Gustav knocks on the door at this auspicious moment, and it turns out he gave Onofrio sedatives that only last ten minutes, so they could investigate whether he’s infected. “Don’t you want to know if he’s a bug?” Gustav says as he lays bacon on Onofrio’s cheeks, insisting that screwworms love bacon. “Has he had alcohol? Has he been… intimate?” he asks, trying to prove to Laurel that she should be worried. I love how he gets all prim when he talks about sex.

Just then there’s a knock on the door. Not Rochelle, apparently. “This is not gonna look good,” Gustav says. “You think?” Laurel sasses. But it turns out it’s a woman yelling for Tony, asking him about his “whore.” Laurel’s phone goes off, and the woman at the door recognizes that it’s not Tony’s ringtone so she yells that she’s coming in. Laurel and Gustav escape out the back, leaving Onofrio on the floor, his face covered in bacon. Well, the lady at the door is going to have quite the surprise if she manages to get in.

Laurel threatens to pummel Gustav once they’re outside, but can’t because she gets a call to go to the hospital, where she and Luke visit an unconscious Brett. They look at a picture of his daughter again, just to make sure we understand that it will be Really Sad if he dies, because he’s a dad and everything.

Rochelle and Gustav visit Dr. Alaimo in her lab, and she examines the CAT scan (not the one of the cat). She’s got frumpy glasses and wild haven’t-showered-this-week hair, as befits a mad scientist. She seems dubious, but Rochelle gets Gustav to show her the video of the bug crawling across his friend’s brain splatter. “That. Is. Not. A. Screwworm,” she enunciates. Gustav argues it’s a hybrid. Somehow he convinces her to start looking for infestation clusters, and she goes to get her pushpins.

Back in Wheatus’s office, Luke is trying to persuade Wheatus that the kiosk is not, in fact, going to be named after Sharia law. Wheatus objects to being patronized, which, I think the way to avoid that is to stop saying idiotic things, but OK. As a last resort, Luke shows him the picture of Brett’s daughter, Lucy. “Sweet. An illegitimate child of yours?” Wheatus snarks, deservedly. Luke explains who she is and tells Wheatus they need to “pass” the clinical trials. Wheatus says some tired, cynical things about how Luke is helping out Brett for photo ops, and makes it clear that he’s going to delay the vote on the stand so that Luke won’t get credit for helping out Brett. “Come on. You don’t like children. No one likes children,” he growls. What a treat this Wheatus guy is, huh?

Luke leaves and punches the air wildly to let out his anger, even though the hall totally still has people in it. Dr. Alaimo calls him, ending the display. She seems open to Gustav and Rochelle’s theory and promises not to embarrass him. Then she turns back to Gustav and Rochelle and tells them to figure out their reproduction strategy and their communication by going to the infection clusters: the Mall, and near the Capitol.

Outside the Capitol Onofrio is apologizing to Laurel. His cover is that he has a drinking problem, and last night he “hit bottom” and “woke up with food in my ears,” which he doesn’t seem to find as weird as one might think. Laurel asks him about the woman at the door, and he says that they were together but that his night with Laurel “changed everything.” Oh, gross. He also says he couldn’t go further with Laurel until he ended it with the old girlfriend. What is further than sleeping with someone? Like, hasn’t it already gone pretty much as far as it can go? He begs her to let him take her to dinner that night, but she says they should stay friends.

Just then they both notice Gustav at the top of the stairs. Laurel ditches Onofrio to go yell at Gustav. (Poor guy. He can’t even get her attention when he’s infected with space bugs.) Gustav smirks that he’s actually not here spying on Laurel for once; he’s here because it’s an infection cluster and he’s monitoring pheromones. “I need my life to be normal again,” Laurel announces, but then they hear a weird electronic feedback noise from someone’s hearing aid and Gustav, whose attention span doesn’t seem to be much better than Laurel’s when it comes to conversations with other humans, runs off.

He dashes back to Dr. Alaimo and asks if the bugs communicate through high-pitched frequencies. She says wax moths can sense sound 150 times higher than humans, and so Gustav says he’s going to the mall to try. Dr. Alaimo hastily gets up and comes with him.

Meanwhile Luke is in a dimly lit room hugging an old friend a little too warmly: a sultry brunette who, it turns out, works at the CDC. Luke spills everything, telling her that it’s not about blood pressure meds: it’s about bugs. “NSA bugs?” she asks. Heh.

This immediately segues into them having sex. The woman is literally going into throes of ecstasy as Luke describes the bugs. Well… whatever works for you, I guess. But as soon as he gets a call he picks it up, and it’s clearly his wife: he even ends it with “I love you too.” This guy has NO shame. His CDC friend is a little insulted at first, but then she decides to just go for it, and turns around so he can spank her. All righty then.

In an essentially pointless scene, Dr. Alaimo and Gustav are measuring high-pitched noises amongst the cherry trees on the mall. Gustav wants to keep going, but Dr. Alaimo suddenly loses interest and tells him to go home because any bugs will still be there tomorrow.BD 105 Cherries

When Luke gets to the Senate the next day, people are being super weird. They keep wiggling their fingers on their foreheads and laughing at him. It takes his very angry father to reveal what’s going on: that the fact that he told the CDC that bugs were causing exploding brains. “No one cares about sexual indiscretion, the only thing that can kill a political career is ridicule,” he growls. Apparently there’s a CDC lawyer spreading the story about him. Luke wants to call Polly, who’s presumably the spanking girl from last night, but his father saves him from himself and starts thinking aloud about how to save his reputation. When he finds out that Luke hasn’t gotten anywhere on veterans’ affairs, the elder Healey says, “I’ve been thinking. It’s just as good if the Republicans let him die.” Brr, this guy’s cold. He muses that such a tragedy could fuel Luke’s presidential run.

Luke, who I guess still has some standards, stares at the pictures of the veterans and stomps off to bring Wheatus (plus Laurel, and a photographer) to meet Brett in the hospital. “Are you up for a photo?” Wheatus asks as he promises to help. Laurel asks Luke if he’s letting Wheatus take the credit, and Luke assents: “We were deadlocked.” Oh, yeah, you’re SUCH a hero for saving a sweet man with a one-year-old daughter from being killed by your political antics. But he has a favor to ask Laurel, as a boss: “Don’t ever mention bugs to me again. Ever.” He tells her Dr. Alaimo told him that they were all crazy.

At first it seems like something Luke might be saying to hide the fact that he’s just looking out for his reputation, but when Rochelle and Gustav storm into Dr. Alaimo’s office, they find her wide-eyed, calm, and well-groomed, the polar opposite of the frumpy lady she was the night before. She coolly admits she changed her mind about their theory. Gustav realizes she’s changed, and to test his theory he whispers into her ear and she doesn’t hear it. “I got a good night’s sleep, that’s all,” she says. I’m sure it was all very peaceful after she was done pooping her brain out her ear.

Laurel opens the door to find Onofrio holding an apology pizza, an apology bouquet of cherry blossoms, and… Love Actually, “the best movie ever made.” For some reason she believes him that this is just about being friends and working the steps, and lets him in so they can chow down on pizza and watch the movie on her laptop. Onofrio is really into Hugh Grant dancing. “I never get bored with it,” he says and laughs maniacally. So… men aren’t allowed to wash dirty sheets, but he’s not at all embarrassed about thinking Love Actually is a good movie? Okay then. “We’re just friends, right?” Laurel asks, rather tactlessly.

BD 105 attack

He says they are and then gets up to heat up their pizza, but when she gets up too, he suddenly wraps his arms around her and starts squeezing as bugs file out of the cherry blossom bouquet. Laurel struggles, breathing hard, and manages to grab her brass knuckles and swipe him. “Ow. This is hurting!” he yells, as if he’s surprised. She threatens to kill him, and he’s like, “I wanted to be your friend,” with thick blood streaming down his face. It’s funny in a sort of grotesque way. Laurel throws his laptop and bag out the door after him, then slams it behind her and cries. She washes the blood off her hands in the sink right next to the cherry blossoms, but now there’s no blood to be found.

At a giant press conference, Wheatus is bragging about how bipartisan he is and how he saved Brett’s life, with Brett in his wheelchair prominently displayed beside him. “Thank you sir. Thank you for all you’ve done for me,” Brett says obediently as people clap. Mr. Healy can’t believe Luke handed this photo op to Wheatus. “What have I always said? Don’t be tempted by the small move,” Mr. Healy says angrily.

Gareth calls Laurel to tell her that he thinks Luke is pretty cool for letting Wheatus take the credit on the clinical trials. Laurel, who’s still shaken up and has apparently just gotten out of the shower, thanks him mildly. He apologizes for being a jerk about Onofrio, and she says, “Gareth, seriously, you haven’t.” She gets scared when there’s a knock at the door, and asks him to hang on, swallowing back fear. But then it’s just Gustav, and she smiles and ends her call with Gareth.

BD 105 scared

When she lets Gustav in she gives him a giant hug. Aww, friends! Then she thanks him for the brass knuckles and he doesn’t even seem to make the connection that, I don’t know, maybe she had to actually beat up her new zombie boyfriend. He’s just like “… You’re welcome.” And he unpacks a sheet of mosquito netting, giant pink headphones with bright yellow ear-cups, and tape. She thanks him. He notices the flowers in the trash and, when she explains that Anthony brought them, is just like “Oh, yeesh.” I love how Gustav’s got that genius thing where, despite being perfectly nice, he’s totally disconnected from what normal people might be feeling at any given moment.

Anyway, after Gustav leaves Laurel gets into bed sans netting, but is too nervous to sleep. I’m actually kind of shocked. Why the hell wouldn’t you cover your ears while you slept if you knew that there were bugs ranging through your city, eating people’s brains while they slept? I mean, let alone the the fact that she actually suspects this has happened in her apartment, why weren’t they all sleeping with mosquito netting long ago anyway? Anyway, she finally gets up and covers her bed with the netting, but balks at the bright-colored headphones. Laurel? I think between looking a little bit like a dork, and turning into a bug-infested zombie, you should probably pick looking like a dork. But she settles into sleep under her netting, ears uncovered, and the ants start pouring out of her trash can.

As Gustav walks home under the cherry blossoms, his bug-detecting device suddenly goes totally wild. He realizes what’s going on and calls Laurel, but her phone’s on vibrate, and there’s a parade of space bugs crawling up her bed. Gustav leaves a message while he runs frantically back to her building, but it’s too late. They’re crawling into her ear (which looks suddenly like it’s not covered in netting), and then she sits up with a gasp, but with netting still on her face.

I’m SO confused. Did they just go in? Was she dreaming? What is happening?

Review

We put together a few more pieces of information about the mystery: it turns out that even people who know about the bugs before they’re infected, like Onofrio and Alaimo, still close ranks as soon as they are. So next week, if we aren’t shown what happened to Laurel, it may be hard to tell at first whether she’s infected and covering for herself, or just fine. Of course, since this isn’t a hard-hitting cable show like Game of Thrones, I don’t think there will be any actual suspense involved. Letting a major character like Rochelle or Gustav get infected would be a possibility, but they’re not going to turn their heroine into a bug zombie; that’s just a non-starter. So I think we all know that, somehow, she is going to get away fine, and any coy hints that she might be infected next week would probably read as cheap manipulation.

On the other hand, the scene where Onofrio attacks her—though it had its funny moments, like when he tried to turn on the charm through a faceful of blood—was genuinely frightening, and Laurel’s shakiness afterward was very convincing and sympathetic.

As I mentioned in the recap, I like the character development of Gustav. You can tell why he hangs out in the park and lives with a cat: he seems vaguely puzzled by regular people and their concerns about emotions like love and embarrassment, since he’s always just busy thinking about his next scientific breakthrough.

BD 105 Gustav

But Luke’s character development still feels pretty thin. This episode was obviously designed to show that he has some scruples, despite his father’s demon-on-the-shoulder routine. But because his father’s position (let the veteran die of liver failure so you can make Republicans look bad) was so cartoonishly villainous, and the only thing Luke really sacrificed was the opportunity for a photo op, it didn’t exactly feel like it added a lot of nuance to Luke. It would be more interesting to see him struggle with real temptation—maybe try to resist cheating on his wife—or, to see him grow into some kind of recognition of his own flaws. Instead, he seems to be skating on the surface of his own shittiness, as does the show.

 

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2 Comments

  1. […] Previously on Braindead: Everything I wrote was wrong. Or at least, the part where I said Laurel obviously did not have a spacebug infection. The previouslies song is very slow and sad and informs us that indeed, Laurel has bugs in her brain. At least he agrees with me that “this isn’t supposed to happen to the main character.” He also sings briefly about Abby’s death, Stacie’s infection, Gareth’s crush on Laurel, and that time Laurel beat Anthony up with her brass knuckles. […]

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