Braindead 1×06: “Notes Toward a Post-Reagan Theory of Party Alliance, Tribalist, and Loyalty: Past as Prologue”

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.

Recap

Laurel sits up in bed, panicked and in pain, grabbing her head. Don’t freak out, Laurel! That’ll just make your head explode! She writhes out of bed, holding her head, and calls 911. Sucks for her that the dispatcher is also infected (she’s the lady from apartment 304 in episode 4), so she pulls out a carrot and snacks calmly on it with no sense of urgency at all. It’s pretty much what Laurel deserves for thinking 9-1-1 can help her with spacebugs in her brain, like, does she not remember when that dude’s head exploded in the ambulance in the presence of half a dozen completely helpless EMTs? Why is she not calling Rochelle? Luckily, Gustav is knocking on her door to warn her. She opens the door and informs him dramatically, “They’re in.”

After the credits Gustav tries to help her with the dispatcher, who has no interest in speeding things up and informs him it’s gonna be 45 minutes before the EMTs come. Then she totally hangs up and starts watching cat videos, which vaguely surprises me—but I guess even crazy Republican internet trolls have to take a break from spewing racism at their keyboards once in awhile. Gustav, heroically, tries to hide from Laurel the fact that the EMTs aren’t coming. Then he answers the call waiting, where Gareth is on the other line and can totally hear Laurel literally throwing herself around and screaming in the background.

Before Gareth can arrive on his white horse, Rochelle shows up to see Laurel. Gustav, hilariously, is like, “Yeah [she’s here] but she’s got bugs in her…” and points to his ear. He has Laurel reciting presidents, and then slaps salami on her ear to draw the bugs out. Then he has a Scientific Realization: the bugs went in Laurel’s left ear, so he has to make her use her right brain to defeat them. (Unclear how that works.) Rochelle exclaims that that means art, intuition, music, risk-taking and passion.

Just go with it, guys. This isn’t the Discovery Channel. Sometimes, when you have bugs in your brain, you don’t have time to make sense, OK?

So Rochelle starts stuffing Laurel with alcohol and food, and Gustav turns on the music. Laurel looks kind of sweaty and unhappy, but she eventually agrees to get up and dance while swigging hard alcohol out of the bottle. Unfortunately, she can still feel the bugs in her brain.

“What else is right-brain?” Gustav says. Rochelle looks expressively at the TV, which is showing two elephants mating. I got very concerned that they were going to have sex with her right then and there, which would be, well, heroic of them, and also really gross. But no! They sit her down on the couch with a laptop and show her some porn. Well, hey. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Fortunately, she’s not limited to this solution forever, because Gareth shows up at the door. “Bugs, you’ve met your match,” Laurel declares and swigs more alcohol.

What follows is completely bonkers, so you’re just going to have to believe me that CBS actually broadcasted this to people’s TV screens. Laurel starts singing to Gareth, and then they all have a big group hug and sing together. Then Laurel and Gareth start making out, and Gustav legit WINKS AT GARETH AND SHUTS THE DOOR, leaving Laurel and Gareth kissing in her bedroom, and Rochelle and Gustav out in the kitchen enjoying the audio version of what Laurel was just watching on her laptop. It’s sort of like Gareth is a freshman girl and Gustav and Laurel are frat bros.

Inside the bedroom, Laurel starts mauling Gareth, telling him she wants to get the bugs out of her head, which he clearly thinks is some kind of metaphor for lust run out of control. He offers to kiss her breasts, but she’s too busy chowing down on chocolate and then a tube of salami (NOT a euphemism) to be interested in something that vanilla (no pun intended). He takes a bite of salami when offered and seems ready to go with the whole situation despite its weirdness, but then Laurel, apparently, has an orgasm after like five seconds and falls asleep on top of him, leaving him looking… rather disappointed. Classy!

And the craziest part? This is network TV, guys!

BD 106 bugs

Gareth emerges into the kitchen just as Rochelle and Gustav have escaped another parade of bugs. “Sup,” Gareth says from the floor, where he’s got a bug underneath a cup. Rochelle asks a still-shirtless Laurel if she’s OK, and Laurel says they’re gone. And Gustav proudly announces that he’s “Got one.”

This is officially the most bananas show I’ve ever watched.

Back at the office, Ella and Wheatus are yelling at each other again about an upcoming vote on refinancing the CDC, while an exhausted Luke sits in the corner and waits for them to run out of energy. Next door, Gareth’s staring into space and wimping out on (presumably) dialing Laurel’s number. And in her office, Laurel’s calling Rochelle, who wants her to come in for a CAT scan. But Laurel’s fine, and says she wants to try the same thing on Stacie. (So… she’s going to seduce her and feed her salami?) Rochelle asks what Gareth saw, but Laurel thinks she’s never going to hear from him again. Anyway, instead of calling Gareth she calls Stacie and asks to meet up.

Meanwhile, Rochelle and Gustav are doing some more Science with the captured bug. Rochelle has one of those cool isolation boxes where you stick your hands into gloves in order to touch what’s inside. She peels off a bug leg, which then starts moving on its own towards the rest of the bug. Gustav asks if she thinks the bugs might be from outer space.

Really? That’s your first guess? Not that they’re mechanized, or the product of nuclear fallout, or genetically engineered? How lucky that that’s exactly correct, then.

Luke is trying to make Laurel do her job, and introduces her to an angry red-faced old man named Mr. Brewster who’s mad that he has to take three buses to vote. “This is about your polling place?” Laurel asks disbelievingly, like she can’t believe she’s being bothered by something as dumb as a person’s right to vote. She has real problems, OK? Last night she fed a man salami while she was having sex with him.

She does perk up, though, when she realizes that Wheatus sent him. What a perfect excuse to go see Gareth!

She’s stopped outside his office by an admin who is not particularly amused when Laurel takes an eternity to decide whether she wants to tell Gareth that she’s here, or that it’s work related, or not. Before she can actually call him, Wheatus pulls Laurel into his office to make fun of her for being an emotional girl who cares about veterans. (Hmm, and here I thought veterans were like the only people Republicans did get weepy over.) He suggests she go back to LA, because “things are gonna get bad very quickly.” Ooh, the bugs are getting feisty!

Then he points out (rightly, and I love how even people whose brains are half missing can see the juvenile flirtation between Laurel and Gareth) that she’s distracting his chief of staff, and complains that she’s unpredictable because she veers between emotional and strategic and having her “woman time.” Hah!

Laurel is about to leave in a huff when she sees a whole bunch of district maps strewn on his floor. She asks him suspiciously if he drinks, and he says, “My body’s a temple.” He suggests that “joining other like-minded people and completing a mission” is more fun than drinking. (Sure, but when I join a group of like-minded people on a mission, our mission usually is to find the nearest alcohol, so!) She asks about the district maps; he calls them work product, and then bops her on the head with one and tells her he’s gonna keep an eye on her.

Gareth interrupts and is clearly a little dismayed to see Laurel there (who Wheatus introduces, on purpose, as Lana). Wheatus can read a room, so he sends them off to Gareth’s office to, you know, work things out.

BD 106 chat

Laurel announces that she’s there about gerry-mandering, but Gareth has decided to grow a spine and suggests that they talk about the previous night. As one does, they immediately abandon their professional duties to take a romantic walk on that lawn that overlooks the Washington Monument (yes, I still haven’t learned Washington geography, no idea what that lawn is called). Gareth says he’s never had a night like that before. Actually, for someone who’s never had a night like that before, he handled the whole “chowing down on salami during sex” thing with admirable equanimity at the time. Laurel asks what he saw. I just can’t get over what a funny question that is to ask of someone who you just slept with. What do you think he saw, Laurel? Gareth’s expression also basically says, “…Uh, other than your lady parts?”

Anyway, she clarifies and asks what he saw after she passed out, like did he see anything in her ears? Gareth says, “I don’t know what you’re after. I held you… and then I got dressed.” Which is actually kind of a sweet response for someone who should probably know he’s about to get lied to, which promptly happens. The conversation is basically, “What did you see?” “Nothing.” “OK, then in that case it was a migraine.” Like, I’m so sure. (It’s also such a dumb lie. Telling him he walked in on her in the middle of a coke binge would make SO much more sense.)

But Gareth is not of a skeptical nature, so he moves on to the real question, which is, “And if I wasn’t [sic] there?” That’s also kind of hilarious, because clearly there were two other people there with Laurel, so he probably thinks that she was about to jump into bed with Gareth or Rochelle. But Laurel, always willing to take things to a new level of anti-feminism, goes, “Are you asking if I sleep around?” Gareth denies this and says he doesn’t want to be used. Laurel says unconvincingly that the sex was great. Gareth corrects that it was weird. She asks what he wants, and he full-out launches into a giant speech that I’m going to transcribe, because I’m a recapper and I feel like it:

“For things to be normal. I want to talk and joke and take you out to dinner. And pay.” (OK, WHAT YEAR IS IT. Women can sleep around AND pay for dinner if they damn well want to.) “And then kiss you on your stoop one night, and feel awkward about calling you the next day. Then I talk to my friends, and they say not to call because I’m gonna come across too vulnerable, but of course I call anyway, and then we’re happy, and a little awkward on the phone together…”

Come on, it’s great, right? Laurel smiles, completely charmed by this, which, I get it, you know, it’s Aaron Tveit and most of the speech was adorable and the only bad part still involved her getting a free dinner. She says that could happen. Gareth says actually, no, it can’t, because when they had sex she was yelling at him while eating chocolate and salami, and he needs time to think. Well, neither Laurel nor I can argue with that. Then he asks what she needed, and she tells him, and he chuckles and walks away.

Dynamic duo Gareth and Rochelle are meeting with the CDC doctor at the same section of fence that previously featured two men eating the same chocolate bar. They tell him they have a bug sample, and Rochelle reports that it’s 90 percent potassium chloride, which is apparently combustible and could explain the head explosions. (I don’t for a second buy that Gareth didn’t recite information about this as soon as he heard it during the spectrographic tests.) About the other 10 percent, Rochelle says it’s “unknown.” Gareth clarifies that the bug moves after it’s cut up. So… this bug is 90% salt and 10% an unknown substance that moves on its own? This might be the most TV science of all the TV science I’ve ever heard. They pass him the sample. “I’m on your side,” the doctor says when Gustav orders him to be careful. As soon as you hear that you know the guy only has like a 10% chance of surviving the episode without turning into a Bug Man or turning out to be a secret villain.

At the Senate, the majority leader tries to call a vote to fund the CDC. Wheatus announces that he has a hesitation. (Ella Pollack gives a comic, exaggerated headdesk here.)

BD 106 headdesk.png

Apparently the CDC published a comic book which is about repelling zombie attacks in order to raise interest in the CDC’s work. Well, that is kind of silly. Wheatus points out that the CDC is publishing books about zombies AND funding research into brain-eating bugs. Ooh, this guy is actually kind of crafty! He apparently is in touch with Dr. Wu and knows about his research. (See, no one says they’re on your side if they actually are. Not on TV.) Anyway, Wheatus wants to delay the budget till they can make sure it won’t be spent on bugs and zombies.

An important dude (you know he’s important because he is older, gray-haired and wears a suit) storms into Dr. Wu’s lab and asks if he’s investigating zombie bugs, then tells him to stop. He has two security guards come in and take the sample into cold storage

Laurel is back at work, and she gets a delivery from Gareth: the list of gerrymandered districts, just like she was about to search for on Find-It-Quest Dot Com. “Don’t say where you got this!” the note says. She unfolds a giant map of DC on the floor, then uses the text-only descriptions of each district from Gareth to draw on her map. Luke interrupts to ask if she’s crazy. She tells him it’s about Wheatus, who’s gerrymandering. He says that Wheatus won’t be easily embarrassed and advises her to find really ludicrous districts. Fair enough.

She finishes drawing her crazy map and then starts going full Carrie Mathison on the thing: thickening some of the lines, standing on the chair, and coming up with crazy theories about them. Next thing you know, Rochelle and Gustav are in the office with her agreeing that the map looks like crop circles. Rochelle doesn’t think it makes sense to “gerrymander districts into crop circles.” Gustav intones hilariously, “Because these bugs are not of this world.” He notices they’re all pointing towards Capitol Hill. “They’re taking over the government, they’re coming for us!” he yells. Hah. Never change, Gustav. He tells Laurel that Wu’s boss took the sample bug away from him because of Wheatus. He argues that they’re in a game of chess. “When we make a move, they make a counter move.” That’s… deep.

In a pre-session Democrat powwow, Ella is trying to whip everyone up into a frenzy against Wheatus. Luke asks if everyone’s going to stick together. Famous last words. Laurel breaks in to ask if the CDC’s going to be back up and running, and Luke says it is, but he can’t be talking about bugs. Laurel leaves and finds Gareth scribbling on a piece of paper. He gives it to her sheepishly. It says, in all caps, on lined paper, “HI! WANT TO GET A DRINK WTIH ME, GARETH?” Well, that is kind of what I’ve been urging him to do all along, but I didn’t quite expect it would take the form of a ransom note. She says yes. Then they go into the hallway to escape the curious ears of the secretary, who isn’t Scarlett (what happened to Scarlett?). They agree to have drinks—not that night, because Laurel has important spacebug-related plans, but the next night. She thanks him and promises to make things normal again. Ah, the classic love story of the twenty-first century: man says he doesn’t like drama, woman promises there will be no more drama, woman promptly tries to deny that she has any emotional needs in order to avoid causing said drama. So romantic.

Laurel’s plans are apparently to take Stacie to a loud club and make her drink and dance. She says, “Remember? The West Village? Like that.” Yeah, because the West Village is really known for its wild dancing. She finally gets Stacie out on the dance floor and tries to set her up with an ex-boyfriend, but Stacie gets offended. Laurel tells her that she knows about the bugs and she knows there’s a cure. She points across the room—she’s brought the ex-boyfriend to the club! Strong move. But Stacie’s got a stronger one. She wraps her creepy spacebug claws around Laurel’s arms and announces calmly, “We know what you’re doing. It’s not going to work. She’s gone. Stacie’s gone.” Yipes. Then Stacie makes her knock on the left side of her head. It’s totally hollow. She says that if the bugs leave, Stacie will be a “lobotomized idiot.”

Laurel asks what she wants (notice that’s the second time Laurel’s asked that question this episode). Stacie drags a finger down Laurel’s sternum and announces that they want everything. The actress is obviously having a blast being as deranged as possible. Laurel asks if they’re taking over the government (you know, with their crop circles) and she says there is no government, sticks her fingers up like antennae, and walks away cackling wildly.

BD 106 stacie

The next morning, Rochelle is jogging around the reflecting pool when she passes a group of joggers who just knock her down. “Clockwise around the pond!” she yells. Wow, they love their rules in DC. I can’t imagine someone trying to tell New Yorkers which direction to run in at Central Park. But they’re listening to eighties music and don’t listen. Bug people! They love fitness too!

Back at the lab, after bandaging up her knee, she find-it-quests to a feature on a blog called “Science Friday” (she also has “Find-It-Quest mail” open in a different tab, in a nice touch) and looks up a post that she’s already seen called “Music of the Spheres.” Apparently it’s the “sound” of certain constellations.

Back at the Senate, the CDC promises they’ve shut down the bug research. The majority leader wants to close debates, but Wheatus has another ace up his sleeve. “Let him rant, he’s got to save face,” Ella says to Luke, accidentally getting picked up by the mic. Oops! He asks the CDC guy about his testing and elicits the information that it’s live testing. With animals. Who are then sent to “rendering factories.”

Ella perks up, and all of a sudden she’s on the same side as Wheatus. Luke makes the same impotent “oh shit” face he’s been making all summer. After the session, he asks Ella, “What do you hate more, Republicans or animal testing?” Wow, that’s a hard question. Ella walks away rather than pick between her two greatest enemies.

Back at the lab, Rochelle is still listening to “the sonification of light curves from the outer reaches of the Milky Way.” Sure. As one does. Anyway, then she leans forward all shocked, because… It’s the Cars song that the bug people love! It matches the “sonification” of something called the “Draco” constellation. Which is a real thing, apparently, and not just a weird Harry Potter shoutout.

At work, Laurel brings Luke into her office, which is entirely covered with her redistricting map. He agrees it’s gerrymandering. She asks what it looks like. “Constellations?” he guesses. No, Luke, constellations are what eighties music sounds like. Duh. Laurel tells him it’s crop circles, and he agrees with her in lackluster fashion and muses that one of the districts looked like Lincoln’s beard. Hee. Laurel insists that the districts are crazy. Luke argues that some of the districts actually help the Democrats. Laurel asks why, and he says, “General stupidity?” I mean, it’s a pretty good guess, given… you know. Everything. On his way out, he lets her know that they’re also losing on the CDC vote.

The Senate’s back in session. Pollack makes an announcement that Wheatus wants to undercut the CDC, and she doesn’t. She suggests an amendment to increase the CDC’s ambitions, you know, like Finland. I do enjoy this show’s skewering of Democrats’ unreasonable obsession with Scandinavian countries. (Which I share.) So she moves to add three billion dollars to the budget to fight “a war on death.” I love it. Kind of like the war on terrorism, but even vaguer and dumber.

In her office, Laurel is rolling up her map when Rochelle comes in and tells her there’s a chance Gustav is right, and then points to outer space. I mean, OBVIOUSLY Gustav is right. Have they MET Gustav?

A brief shot of the storage unit at the CDC (closed-captioning simply reads “Chittering”) tells us that the bugs are planning a jailbreak.

Laurel arrives at drinks with Gareth at the same bar wearing a fascinating dress with a giant tree printed on it. They do that ultra-annoying TV thing where they start over by pretending they’ve never met before. Laurel’s intro is, “I’m Laurel Healy and I think I’m going insane. Because I think bugs are eating people’s brains and turning them stupid.” (Hey, kudos to Laurel for not following through with her Cosmopolitan advice column-esque plan to pretend to be normal because Gareth wanted normal.) Gareth decides to take another drink and ends the episode with the rather apropo comment, “Huh.”

BD 106 dress

Review

Well, I think it’s pretty clear that I had Thoughts on the gender politics in this episode. Nothing happened that was quite as bad as the bullshit “men don’t wash their sheets” thesis that marked last week’s episode, but this week’s whole thing where Laurel wants to be seen as chaste and Gareth wants to pay for dates did NOT do it for me. That said, I commend them both for growing up a little and admitting they actually like each other.

But this episode is absolutely, deliciously insane. Laurel has sex with her main romantic interest just to get the bugs out of her brain. The science in the episode involves sophomoric distinctions between left-brain and right-brain activities, “sonification” of space galaxies, bugs that are 90% salt and 10% a mysterious spacely substance that makes you move even when you’re dead, and… crop circles. What more could you ask of a political/zombie satire/thriller?

I also enjoyed Wheatus and Ella’s maneuvers, but I almost wish they were as outlandish as everything else that’s happening. Sometimes I wish we didn’t have to actually watch the political stuff, and Luke-as-straight-man is deathly boring, so I hope that he’ll get infected soon and redeem his general soul-sucking lameness as a character.

But I think we can all agree on one thing: Johnny Ray Gill is a national treasure and should be famous, like, yesterday.

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2 Comments

  1. […] Previously: Everything was fine after Laurel got infected by space bugs, well, except that Gareth had to have sex with a drunk Laurel in order to uninfect her, which was awkward. Gustav figured out how to listen to the bugs with his iPhone. [Insert science rap about the concept here.] Also, although this isn’t really in the song, Laurel wore a fabulous cherry-blossom-print dress to a date with Gareth, they “started over,” and she told him that she thought bugs were eating people’s brains and “turning them stupid.” […]

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