Braindead 1×07: “The Power of Euphemism: How Torture Became a Matter of Debate in American Politics”

Buckle up, kiddies. This one got REAL.


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.”

We open back on this moment. Gareth is drinking his old-fashioned and not quite sure how to react to Laurel. Soon, though, he settles for a sort of patronizing amusement that Laurel does not appreciate. She clarifies that she doesn’t get migraines, and that telling him this is “not smart” (you know, because as a woman you should really just be pretending to be “normal,” as Gareth said he wanted, in order to hook yourself a man).

BD 107 Laurel

Then she sees one of the bug people staring at her and stomps over to confront him, insisting to Gareth that he’ll be listening to the Cars, which does make her sound pretty crazy. Gareth follows her over to one of them, who doesn’t take the interruption well. He is in fact listening to the Cars.

Gareth drags her back to the table and then takes a call from Wheatus, who’s still calling Laurel Lana. He says he needs help with the CHIs and reveals that the former chief of staff’s head exploded. Gareth tells him Mike the intern is currently handling his (Wheatus’s) calls.

Wheatus calls Mike the Intern into the room and asks for someone named Marchant on the phone. Mike wants to know what this call will be regarding. “I’m a senator, he’s the head of the FBI. He’ll know what this is regarding,” Wheatus duhs. He sends Mike the Intern out of the room to make the call just as a bug crawls out of Wheatus’s ear. And it’s not a normal space bug. It FLIES. Queen spacebug alert!

When Mike the Intern has Marchant on the line, Wheatus demands some cherry blossoms as well. Mike thinks he’ll help the Senator by killing the weird bug on the plate, only to have Wheatus slap his hand away and wag his finger hilariously at him. Then Wheatus makes Mike turn his back while he explains to Marchant that he doesn’t want to bring in “Lana” for questioning and get in trouble, and meanwhile coos at the bug as it lays super fake-looking eggs in the cherry blossoms.

When all this is done, he makes the head of the FBI wait while he asks Mike the Intern what he studied in school. “Coding,” is the answer. So, … he has a degree from Coursera? Because I think at most schools it’s called, like, computer science. But anyway, the point is, Mike uses his left brain. A lot. You may recall some Science happening last week around this concept.

Wheatus makes Mike the Intern lean his head forward. I fully thought he was just going to pour some screwworms in there, but I guess he has to have more finesse than that. He just squeezes his head and murmurs, “Good,” so I guess “coding” majors have a large left side of their head or something. He sends Mike home with the space-egg-laden cherry blossom branch and tells him to come to the Senate gym at 7 the next morning. You might assume this is because the bug people like to be fit and Wheatus is turning him into a bug person, but that’s because you just don’t think as big as Wheatus. Satisfied with his day’s work, Wheatus tells Marchant to meet him at the gym too. The queen screwworm crawls back up his arm and, presumably, back into his ear. Lovely.

At the FBI, a beat-up-looking Onofrio (which, when you think about it, all of the last episode took place within about twenty-four hours, so his black eye is pretty fresh) is consulting with his weaselly looking colleagues, one of whom turns out to be Marchant, about whether CHIs are terrorism or not. One of them brings up “Lana,” the Senate staffer they questioned. Why can’t any of these people learn women’s names? It’s such a weird joke to repeat over and over again. Onofrio’s evil bug eyes light up at the mention of Laurel, and he suggests they should bring her back in for some “more tough questioning.” Bald FBI Guy thinks this is a bad idea because Laurel is related to a Senator, but Marchant says he’ll deal with Wheatus.

BD 107 Mike

At the gym, Wheatus and Marchant are running on the treadmill, and Marchant tells Wheatus it’s not the terrorists, that the Islamic Ra’Id Front (presumably some sort of ISIS equivalent) is just taking credit for anything they hear about. Then they hop off the treadmill and go to the leg extension machine, where Wheatus has poor Mike the intern trying to lift serious amounts of weight. He forces Mike to lift more and more while Mike wails that his head hurts. Finally, Mike’s head explodes all over everyone. Marchant does NOT enjoy this. Wheatus just tries not to grin.

In a brief feint at being a responsible employee, Laurel has decided to see some constituents today! Don’t worry, though, it won’t be for long. She calls “Cornish,” the name of a man nervously shredding some paper in the waiting room and brings him to her office. He makes some pleasant-ish small talk about the statue of a horse outside her window, which is placed at such an angle that you can only see its butt. Nice touch. Then, he asks her how to get out of the office without going through reception, and demands that she stand. (I remember him playing a different sketchy intelligence officer on Alias. He has that look, I guess!) Laurel, for some reason, hasn’t pushed her panic rape button yet when he whips out his disposable handcuffs. Cornish smiles gently and says he’s going to take her in for questioning, but can’t tell her where. She tries to run out and talk to her brother, but he tases the shit out of her and apologizes sweetly into her face before lifting her up and, presumably, carrying her out through the side door.

After the credits, Gustav’s using his little app to try to find auditory traces of the bugs on the street. Gustav is NOT stealth. It goes off at a suit trying to catch a cab, so he hails one himself to follow it. The guy gets off at the Senate, and as soon as he’s in the building Gustav’s phone starts going wild. He calls Laurel, whose phone is currently in a purse that’s being searched by the FBI agents. Onofrio checks the screen, sees it’s an unknown caller, and tosses the phone aside.

When Gustav arrives at Laurel’s office, Rochelle magically appears at his side and complains that she and Laurel are supposed to have lunch. Scarlett asks if they need anything, and gets very icy indeed when Gustav’s phone starts squawking. “She’s infected,” he whispers, pulling Rochelle away. Rochelle tries to call Laurel.

Unfortunately, Laurel is now locked in a large white chamber with yet another scary white dude. This is Dr. Colin Mitchell, a psychiatrist on retainer with the FBI. He asks about her tolerance of pain, her medications, and her heart rate, and says it’s to help them modify her treatment for her questioning. She looks over at Cornish, the guy who arrested her, and asks, “Is this about torture? Is someone here planning to torture me?” They laugh and say no. She’s just going to help with the investigation. Which sounds like something Jack Bauer says to you right before he kicks you in the nuts.

BD 107 examination

Outside, a little conference of white FBI guys discusses the fact that Laurel’s strong enough to take psychological stress, open-face slaps, and closed-fist hits to the torso, and that they should just steer clear of her appendix scars. Yikes. It’s both more humane and also way LESS humane than traditional TV torture, which tends to involve dramatic unplanned physical attacks by rogue agents who just HAVE to know where the bad guys hid the bomb (and of course, they’re always bad guys). Onofrio breaks in to say that she’s going to accuse him of assaulting her. “Because she’s lying,” he answers when they ask why she would say that.

I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s going to be accusing ALL these guys of assaulting her, based on this conversation.

Onofrio shows up in Laurel’s interrogation room, and she panics and starts telling the others that he’s attacked her, and he’s lying about her. But nobody’s listening to her now. They bring her into a room full of terrifying medical supplies and strap her into the world’s scariest exam chair. Laurel protests in an ever more frantic voice that under the new rules, an FBI lawyer needs to be present, and that there’s a new Senate committee whose leaders need to consent to the questioning, or something. This actually seems to work on them.

Rochelle and Gustav visit Gareth’s office, much to the displeasure of his snooty secretary. As soon as they say it’s about Laurel, Gareth bursts out of his office and asks what’s wrong. They (after confiscating his phone inside Gustav’s handy foil packet, of course) tell him that someone’s trying to break Laurel’s phone encryption, which they found out through some sort of GPS alert, which doesn’t make sense so I’m not going to try to make sense of it.

Just then Wheatus busts in. Gustav, straight-faced, introduces himself as Dr. Bob (hee!) and Wheatus tells them genially, “I do believe that black lives matter.” They give him tight-lipped smiles and nods. I mean, come on guys, give the guy a break! Sure, he sounds like that awkward uncle that you can’t bring to parties, but he’s way ahead of plenty of Republican senators, many of whom don’t seem to have even the slightest interest in protecting black lives. Gareth gives them an apologetic look before following Wheatus next door.

But Gareth doesn’t have the clearance for this conversation, according to the FBI agents who are waiting in that room, so he just leaves again. Luke arrives for the meeting—looks like he and Wheatus are the head of the committee Laurel was talking about, and this is an “emergency session” with only two people. They explain that they need an “Appendix Q” clearance due to a possible bioterrorism attack. (What does Q stand for, I wonder? “Quietly painful”? “Quite illegal”? “Quashing human rights”?) Anyway, Wheatus asks if this is about his intern’s whole head explosion at the gym thing, and says with a beatific smile, “Clearly the terrorists are going after me because of my strong stand on terrorism.” Which is an enjoyably Trumpian thing to say.

Luke asks who’s in custody, and the agents are cool as a cucumber as they lie that it’s a local citizen with terrorist sympathies. They bring up the Arab ambulance driver from the pilot and say that the “person of interest” tried to hide his identity, which if you’ll recall she didn’t even know. Luke looks perturbed, but they insist there’s a ticking clock to try to pressure him. Luke asks to see the stats on the person of interest. Wheatus accuses him of having a “bug obsession” and then says that if any more of his staffs’ heads explode he’s going to take revenge on Luke. Oh no! Cover your ears, Gareth! Finally Marchant breaks in and returns the conversation to sinister realism, promising to brief Luke throughout the day on the “reasonable and appropriate” torture methods they’re planning to use on his sister. How kind of him! So Luke signs.

While Laurel waits, Onofrio chomps on carrots. She asks how many of them he’s infected. “It’s just me,” he says calmly. He says everyone’s just doing their job and he doesn’t have to do anything. She threatens to tell that he’s infected, and he laughs her off, because that would obviously be ridiculous. But that gives Laurel an idea. She starts talking into the camera, telling them her whole theory about how Onofrio’s brain has been eaten by bugs. A couple generic white dudes watching the video look a little dismayed and note understatedly, “We may have a mental issue here.”

At Luke’s office, Gareth shoves by Scarlett to tell Luke that his sister’s missing and someone’s trying to break the encryption on her phone. Scarlett does not look pleased.

Back at the FBI, Onofrio gets all excited to get started torturing Laurel. “I want to stop the terrorists,” he says to Bald FBI Guy to explain his bloodlust. As soon as he walks away, Bald FBI Guy fields a call from Luke. He tries to lie, but Gareth prompts Luke to ask directly about Laurel, and Bald FBI Guy’s conscience doesn’t quite allow him to lie. Finally Luke says he’s going to count to five, and not to hang up if Laurel’s there. He gets to five, and the agent is still on the line. Luke thanks him, hangs up, and tells Gareth he’s going to “raise holy hell.” He tells Scarlett to get Marchant on the line and visibly freaks, while Gareth… prepares to walk away.

I’m sorry, so he’s not going to stay and make sure that the girl he’s kind of dating gets rescued from crazy torturers? Is Gareth… kind of lame?

Scarlett, on the other hand, is on her game. Gustav and Rochelle watch as she makes a call, then stares out at the hallway intensely with the receiver lowered, you know, as normal humans do. Their phone zips and beeps the whole time, which somehow doesn’t alert Scarlett to the fact that she’s being tracked. Then they follow her gaze out to the halllway, where a Bug Gentleman is receiving her signals. When he walks away, Rochelle says she’s got it and strides away.

Back in the office, Luke is asking Marchant if he has her sister. Marchant says he has no idea where his sister is, even as he simultaneously stares at her on his livestream. Luke keeps pressing him, but gets nowhere—until he realizes he can subpoena Marchant. Apparently the ranking member of the committee can ask for a vote on directives, or something. “Just this morning I watched the head of a Hill staffer explode in my face,” Marchant remarks in an attempt to get Luke to leave him alone.

Meanwhile, Laurel’s being interrogated by our friend Cornish, who first kidnapped her. He asks her about the Islamic Ra’id Front, then traps her into accidentally lying by asking her about the ambulance driver whose name she doesn’t remember. Finally, he plays a recording of her talking to Gustav, but she won’t tell him who it is. He asks if she’s patriotic, but she, still trying to get out on the basis of insanity, tries to tell him that Anthony Onofrio’s brain has been eaten by bugs.

One of the random white FBI dudes watches this and says, “There might be mental illness here,” and that they can’t interrogate someone who’s psychotic. Marchant asks, seemingly unnecessarily, “In what way is she psychotic?” He promises to get permission to interrogate her anyway.

Before a Senate vote on torture, Luke and Wheatus have a little pissing match. Luke says that some of Wheatus’s allies don’t like torture; Wheatus does that little finger-wagging thing he loves so much as he accuses Luke of coddling terrorists. Luke is actually surprisingly calm for a guy whose sister is about to be tortured.

Gustav and Rochelle are reunited by the reflecting pool as Gustav tries to follow the staticky signal of his phone. She asks if he recorded Scarlett’s signal, and suggests that he broadcast it as if it were him so they can find the guy again. As soon as Gustav realizes this is a great idea he stammers that he would’ve thought of it himself. Hee.

At the caucus, Luke is trying to draw out the meeting while Wheatus tries to hurry everyone up, insisting there’s an impending terrorist attack. Luke asks Marchant about the torture, which Marchant refers to as “forward-leaning interrogation.” Heh. Luke gets a little note on lined paper from Gareth (does this guy just travel around with little sheets of lined paper and pencils to write his little notes?), telling him to ask about “controlled immersion.” Luke finally gets Marchant to admit that this is basically waterboarding, but with less water.

Laurel and Cornish watch on TV as Wheatus insists that if he had a terrorist he’d do a lot worse than immersion, and Luke says drily, “Oh, I know you would do a hell of a lot worse.” Cornish tells her hat her brother’s going to lose, but Laurel insists that Americans won’t stand for torture. He tells her a long story about how his car broke down and some rural Americans gave him money and dinner and helped him out. His point? That Americans “are great individually. Nicest people in the world. But get them in a group? Voting? They turn vicious.”

As people clap for one of Luke’s comments, Laurel leans her head back and sighs in relief. But Mr. Taser turns the channel to Misty’s talk show, where she is interviewing a very calm blonde lady who insists everyone’s better off if they just don’t think about torture. As Misty tries to ask more questions, the guest speaker just shushes her over and over again with a cool smile, leaving Misty gaping. It’s pretty funny.

During a break from the proceedings, Gareth warns Luke that he’s lost a Republican crossover vote—a war veteran who’s against torture and has for some reason left the meeting. Luke does what any grown man would do: he calls his dad.

Somehow Rochelle and Gustav have found a group of bug people running around the same reflecting pool where Rochelle got knocked down before, and magically, the very same guy is among them who was listening to Scarlett before. Gustav broadcasts at him, and he comes up to them. Rochelle and Gustav are terrified (and their scared faces are amazing), but decide in whispers to “act like them.” Which apparently involves turning stiffly and walking away. Once their quarry loses interest and starts running away, they start following him to see if he leads them to Laurel.

BD 107 scared

This is Rochelle and Gustav pretending to be bug people. It’s priceless.

Less funny is Laurel’s terror while Cornish pours a beaker full of water, then pulls out a scary instrument that he cheerfully informs her is a “flow control valve,” to make sure that their torture of her doesn’t legally rise to the definition of torture. “So … you put the cloth over my face and you pour that over it for how long?” she asks in a low voice, trying and failing to sound tough. He says it’s a minute. Jesus, a whole minute? Maybe that’s not torture if you’re like, an endurance swimmer. She asks if it simulates drowning; he corrects her: immersion. You know, uncomfortable, involuntary, prolonged immersion. Very different from drowning.

Luke’s vote is coming close, and his dad informs him that the missing Republican vet is “out of pocket” at his daughter’s dance recital. Luke can’t believe he couldn’t skip the recital for this. “When I was in the senate, daughter’s dance recital meant sleeping with a mistress,” his dad says. I’m shocked Luke hasn’t learned this phrase yet, given his irresistible desire to sleep with every woman he can find. He tells Luke he can find the guy within an hour, so Luke hangs up and announces he has “a few words to share.” Wheatus sighs as Luke launches in with “Back in 1803…” Hopefully covering two hundred and thirteen years will take long enough for his dad to find the vet!

Rochelle and Gustav have chased their quarry all the way back to where they started: the Senate building. Rochelle theorizes that the message says something different from what Gustav thinks. They follow him inside, where he confers with Scarlett. Rochelle asks him to play the recording again, but just part of it, to see if that makes people do something different. That way they can find out what the bugs’ words mean. Gustav reluctantly says Rochelle is “much smarter than he thought.” I mean, OK. I feel like I could’ve come up with that too, and I’m not a bug-tracking genius or anything. Rochelle says something about graduating pre-med from Princeton, to which Gustav just scoffs. As the bug man walks out, they play a bit of the recording, and it makes him walk into walls. They have a great time with that. Then they try the second “word” on Scarlett (VERY unclear how they’re delineating these words) and she raises her arms in the air. They giggle.

Back at the Senate, Luke is arguing that if America tortures, they lose the moral high ground. Wheatus protests that Jack Bauer did it, and when taken to task on that, digs in by saying that Justice Scalia used Bauer as an example all the time. Well, sure, if Scalia did it! I guess we should all go out and fire some gay people from their jobs too? After a little shouting match, Wheatus asks for a vote. Luke sees that his veteran is back and hastily agrees—but then the veteran whispers that he can’t vote with Luke. “Not with the public watching. That’s why I tried to stay away.” Ahh, the irony!

BD 107 torture.png

The vote goes forward as Laurel watches, breathless. Twelve yeses, including Wheatus. He says that’s a majority, and Mr. Taser apologizes to Laurel again, and has her lowered to a prone position. “I don’t know anything,” she begs as they lay a cloth over her face, with a bunch of metal holding her in place. Just then, we hear Wheatus telling the Senators to stop voting twice.

“All those who voted yes, please refrain from voting no,” he says absurdly. He tries to count the “no” votes again, with a handful of voters including Luke. Then, suddenly, a whole bunch of people raise their hands… and, after a moment of resistance, so does Wheatus. Rochelle and Gustav giggle in the back as they broadcast their bug signal. Wow, it’s lucky that so many of these Republicans are actually bug people, and not just… you know, regular politicians voting for torture because their party told them to. Wheatus sighs and says they should discount the no votes since they already have a majority of yeses. Luke insists that the yes votes negated themselves. Wheatus impatiently reminds everyone to only vote once and calls for yeses again. So Rochelle and Gustav play the first signal, and all of a sudden a bunch of senators get up and walk away, hitting their heads on the wall and then falling down. Hee! It’s a pretty great scene. Gareth watches in alarm as Wheatus, whose hands are above his head, tries to pull his hands down.

Back in the Torture Chamber, Mr. Taser takes the cloth off Laurel’s face and says, “Want a ride?” Wait, so he’s giving up that fast? It didn’t seem like the “no” vote was final, either. She agrees to this, and gets him to drop her off at work. “I would have taken the day off,” he laughs. Yeah, and you actually DO your job, unlike Laurel, who spends most of her time investigating spacebugs and inventing excuses to go visit Gareth’s office. Cornish admits that he has experienced all the interrogation techniques himself as part of his training, and says she was lucky… and then shakes her hand and says “See you again.” Well, that wasn’t threatening at all!

Gustav and Rochelle greet Laurel with worry, and she hugs them and thanks them, although she has no way of knowing that they actually helped save her. Gareth witnesses this tender moment from the hall stairs, but doesn’t come in. Then Laurel goes in to see Luke and hug him. It’s supposed to be a sweet moment, but again, I feel that Luke not wanting his sister to get tortured, and going to what might generously be described as moderately strenuous efforts to try to prevent it, isn’t such an unusually heroic move that it saves him from being a dink. He’s still a dink.

Also a dink is dear old Daddy Healey, who shows up to give Laurel a big hug. Gustav’s phone goes wild. Uh-oh.


This was quite a departure for Braindead. The show has been tackling issues that are deeply serious: the dumbing down of American politics, the increasing lack of civility in public discourse, online extremism, etc. etc.; but it has tackled them as satire does: mostly humorously, turning them from fearsome to farcical. This time, the show grew deadly serious. Laurel’s fear as she’s strapped into the chair, about to be suffocated by a cloth through which water is being poured for an entire minute (think about that—sixty seconds of having water poured over your mouth and nose while you’re strapped to a gurney), is real and naked.

BD 107 livestream

It’s easy to be morally outraged by the word “torture” (or, for some people, to be smugly complacent about the fact that torture is necessary) without thinking much about what it really is. In this episode, we are reminded that each time someone is tortured, it involves a human being being unimaginably cruel to another human being—attempting to cause them so much pain and fear that they give in to what you want from them. The blonde woman on Misty’s show advocated that we not look too closely at torture, instead merely enjoying the privilege of living in a powerful and mostly safe country. This episode defied that instinct, reminding us exactly what it costs when Americans don’t interrogate their government, and don’t stand up for the rights of the powerless. We risk letting our representatives purposely inflict suffering on people who are often entirely innocent, and always human.



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