Braindead 1×08: “The Path to War Part One: The Gathering Political Storm”

Recap

Previously on Braindead: Head explosions, bioterrorist fears, political arguments, thrown pencils… you know, the usual. We end with a satirical spacebug commercial framed as a drug ad, complete with the sexual and anti-alcohol side effects. Oh, and Laurel’s dad, Dean Healy? is TOTALLY infected.

As has been happening frequently in the last few episodes, we open right on the last moment of the previous episode, with Luke welcoming Laurel back to the real world after her little brush with torture over at the FBI. In the waiting room outside Luke’s office Gustav’s phone, which can detect high-frequency transmissions from spacebugs, goes wild. He and Rochelle try to sneak up closer to Dean, and Scarlett says snottily, “You’re gonna need to find a way to silence that.” Seriously. For one thing, I think even people with half their brains missing are going to catch on to your little app if you don’t silence it.

Suddenly, though, just as Gustav approaches Dean, his phone goes silent. He openly waves his phone around Dean’s face like it’s a metal detector, completely ignoring Dean’s friendly hello. After they give up and leave, Gustav insists to Rochelle that the machine must have stopped working near Dean for some reason, and that Rochelle should tell Laurel her dad is infected. Rochelle just thinks it’s broken.

Senator Wheatus is watching fake Rachel Maddow make fun of his arm-raise from last week. He storms out to Gareth and makes him replay the security footage from the vote. He sees Gustav and Rochelle and asks who those two black people are. “I’m not being racist, I’m just being descriptive. If they were dwarves, I’d say, ‘Those two dwarves,’” he clarifies, amusingly. Gareth points out that you can’t say “dwarf.” (Like many of us, I’ve definitely had jobs where most of my day seemed to involve trying desperately to get my boss to stop saying politically incorrect shit for his own good. I totally feel for Gareth here.) “Well, good thing they’re not dwarves,” Wheatus says. He remembers meeting them the day before: Dr. Bob and Rachel. When Gareth admits that they were here for information on the intelligence meeting, Wheatus declares them terrorist sympathizers. Oh no! Don’t waterboard Gustav!

Gareth immediately gets up to go warn Laurel like the loyal chief-of-staff he is, and runs into her in the hallway. She looks like she’s wearing a sexy referee Halloween costume, but somehow she’s pulling it off—what is up with Laurel and her super cute business wardrobe? Wasn’t she a broke filmmaker like five minutes ago?—and they walk outside together.

BD 108 dress.png

Right? This shouldn’t be cute, but… it totally is.

She pleads with him to ignore what she said before because she wants to “act normal.” Oh my God, Laurel is such a sell-out. She is literally fighting for humanity and yet is willing to deny it so she can land a boyfriend. Even if you’re doing it for Aaron Tveit, that’s kind of lame. Luckily, Gareth isn’t actually as invested in forcing Laurel to act out a fantasy of a normal couple eating burgers together as she seems to think he is. He warns her that her friends “Dr. Bob” (heh! Has he not learned the guy’s real name yet?) and Rochelle are in trouble. Laurel looks alarmed.

While Rochelle tries to do actual work in her lab, Gustav is still bugging (no pun intended) her about his phone. He insists that his phone’s working now, but that the bugs have changed their frequency because they know they’ve been caught. Um, maybe you shouldn’t have been letting it beep really loudly every time it was near one of the bugs if you didn’t want them to know you were onto them?

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Way to be cool, guys.

Then Laurel shows up, and they immediately spring up and inform her awkwardly that she looks nice today. (I love it whenever Rochelle and Gustav try to act normal despite being in a total panic. They have great on-screen chemistry–platonic, obviously.) She realizes they’re being weird and forces them to tell her. Rochelle finally gives in and explains Gustav’s 500-kilohertz bug detector, and says that there was a high-frequency communication coming from her dad. But it could mean anything, she says as Laurel looks devastated. “It couldn’t mean anything,” Gustav corrects nerdily. Laurel, choked up, leaves in a hurry but tosses over her shoulder that Wheatus saw them at the hearing and they should be careful.

The Chair of the Intelligence Committee, which I guess is different from whatever Luke and Wheatus were in charge of last week, calls a meeting to order. Wheatus asks to raise his hand (Luke suggests that he raise both hands, which gets a big laugh) and proffers a witness. Up comes a very calm, suit-wearing man named Ahmed who cheerfully admits that he helped the Islamic Ra’Id Front create a compound that could make a head explode because his mother was killed by a drone. He also says that Syrian officials approved what he did. Luke seems suspicious, because usually people don’t just casually announce to American senators that they’re total terrorists, and insists that the President needs to deal with international affairs if this was really state-sponsored terrorism. But Wheatus thinks it’s about war, and you know, Congress is in charge of declaring war. I feel like none of these people understand how their jobs work. I mean, I don’t understand it entirely either, but I am not a senator.

As Ella accuses Wheatus of war-mongering, Dean watches on a tablet. Laurel appears, asks him how he is and is treated to a political rant in return. She tries to whisper in his ears, one then the other, to test his hearing. He hears her fine the first time, then bluffs through the second time. Uh-oh! He leaves for a run, telling her he’s “not as old as you think.” But she grabs his hand to stop him, insisting he can’t hear her. Interesting—she’s pretty brave to start restraining someone she knows might be infected by evil bugs, after what happened with Onofrio. They don’t seem to take kindly to interference.

Back at the reflecting pool Gustav and Rochelle part ways to go home. As she walks by the Capitol a be-suited white man emerges to follow her into her apartment. Inside, she goes to her fridge but suddenly notices some movement—and sees that all the knives are gone from her knife block. Creepy! Ever resourceful, she grabs a frozen leg of turkey out of the freezer just in time to fend off a knife attack from the guy who followed her home. At one point he drops his knife, and with the characteristically polite approach of bug people who are trying to kill you (see also Onofrio, mid-attacking Laurel) he announces that he has dropped his knife and just needs a second to pick it up. Rochelle takes the opportunity to clobber him upside the jaw with her turkey leg. When he’s out cold, she makes a call, asking for help. “I caught one,” she announces. Go Rochelle!

Back at the Intelligence Committee meeting, Wheatus has wrapped up with his weirdly cooperative witness. Ella takes the mic. She thanks Ahmed for speaking, and asks if he blames America for his radicalism. He obviously wasn’t prepared for this question, so he stalls while she presses him, wasn’t the drone made of American technology? “Why do you hate America?” she finally asks. “Because of your… freedom?” he guesses. She starts ranting about wealth, inequality, and the 1% (while wearing giant gold earrings and a silver brocade jacket, might I add) and says that they can’t blame him because America caused the terrorism. “We are the real culprits!” she insists.

Back at the Healy house, Laurel is pretending to pee while actually investigating her dad’s medical cabinet and sending pictures of his meds to Rochelle.

After commercials, Gustav is duct-taping the attacker to a column in the middle of Rochelle’s living room while Rochelle tells Laurel to come over. Well, that’s one way to handle things, I guess. They strap a helmet on his head (to stop him from sending out high-frequency bug signals, of course), and while Rochelle shines her otoscope in his ear, Gustav comes up close, and demands to know what the “bug agenda” is. The prisoner does a reasonably good job of pretending to think Gustav is crazy for awhile, sarcastically agreeing that yes, he’s from outer space. “What is that, bug sarcasm?” Gustav says angrily. Hee! But when their prisoner suggests calling the police—even though he tried to stab Rochelle—the two are a bit flummoxed. Since they currently have him taped to a pole, and all.

BD 108 kevin

Laurel asks Luke if their dad has Parkinson’s, because he’s on Levodopa. Which strikes me as an inept name for a drug (“dopa,” really?) but is apparently a real thing. Luke says yes, and says, “Why did you think he wanted you to come home?” Laurel starts crying as Luke explains that their dad wanted to spend time with her. For some reason Laurel cries over this, even though what it boils down to is her dad wanted to spend time with her by pressuring her into giving up her desired career without actually telling her why he wanted that.

At the intelligence committee meeting, Wheatus’s supposed terrorist is showing a slide of two people whose head he blew up as an experiment. Then the witness says that he also experimented on zoo animals, and gives a deadpan list of extremely cute animals whose heads, supposedly, he blew up: zebras, giraffes, and pandas. Ella is staring at a giant picture of a panda looking like she’s about to burst into tears, not at all concerned about the fact that no science in history has required drugs meant for humans to be tested on pandas.

But Luke, who still maintains a tenuous grip on reality, doesn’t really believe the witness. Wheatus says hilariously, “I’m sorry to see that my respected colleague has a greater regard for the truth than he does for the lives of pandas.” Those Democrats! Always looking for the truth about stuff! Luckily, Wheatus has prepared a trump card: his witness now insists that there is a shipment of baby seals literally on its way to Syria, where their heads will all be blown up, unless someone stops them. Triumphantly, Wheatus asks, “And will they continue to blow up the heads of baby seals until we get boots on the ground in Syria?” “Definitely,” agrees the witness. It’s pretty hilarious, and not really that far off from how people get manipulated into voting for stupid things in real life.

Laurel arrives at Rochelle’s apartment (Rochelle has a sick bookcase, by the way; I’m so envious) just as Rochelle and Gustav are playing the Cars song to their prisoner and staring at him intensely, looking for reactions. The poor guy is still strapped to that pole, and begging for better music. Laurel says that they can’t just tie people up, but Gustav runs up to him and threatens to cut off his fingers if he doesn’t talk. Johnny Ray Gill does a perfect impression of someone who has seen a lot of 24 but never actually beaten anyone up before. Luckily, Laurel and Rochelle pull him off.

Laurel asks if the Parkinson’s could have given the machine a false positive on her dad. “The reaction of the brain could be the same. It’s possible,” says Rochelle. I mean, I think we would have noticed by now if people with Parkinson’s were emitting radio communications with their brain, but hey. I’m no doctor. Laurel thinks his symptoms are related to Parkinson’s, and Rochelle says she could look into his behavior—if he’s given up drinking, or sex. Laurel, as is her wont, gets an idea and runs off without explanation.

Rochelle thinks she’s going to see her mother, but, of course, Laurel’s mother isn’t the one getting laid when her dad is healthy. It’s Dean’s mistress, Terri (as we find out later), who’s giving a tour to a large group when Laurel comes up to her. She’s suspicious of why Laurel would finally seek her out, but Laurel tells her it’s because Dean’s sick. Laurel’s hurt when she realizes that Terri already knows, but Terri also reveals that after he was diagnosed he called to wish Laurel a happy birthday on the wrong day, just to hear her voice. Laurel is obviously moved by this too. So basically, her entire family is made up of slimy, philandering politicians, and her dad is only capable of expressing affection by artificially creating circumstances where they’ll interact, but without actually admitting that he gives a shit about her. No wonder she’s so desperate to get Gareth to like her.

Anyway, Laurel now grits her teeth and asks if her father has “stopped coming to you.” “Coming,” repeats Terri skeptically. (Dirty!) But she confirms that he’s stopped, and says, hesitantly, that she suggested Viagra. Laurel thanks her and leaves, presumably to go vomit in the reflecting pool. Terri calls after her that she loves Dean, and Laurel is actually mildly polite as she thanks her and leaves.

BD 108 confrontation

Just another “Look at Laurel’s awesome outfit” screenshot.

“You’re infected, Dad,” Laurel says, standing at his doorway in a badass leather jacket while her father picks up a pencil over and over in trembling fingers. She points out his book—Forever Juice, the book about drinking liquefied spinach that Wheatus is obsessed with—and then slaps his hand when he shows her his tremor. She accuses him of faking it. He tries to “confess” that he has Parkinson’s, but his natural ironic tone makes it even more unconvincing. Laurel tells him about her conversation with Terri and calls him out on being a lying liar who lies. Apparently he used to bring Luke and Laurel on mall tours when they were kids to see Terri, and they knew he was seeing his mistress. Gross! No wonder Luke is such a fuckup.

They go out to Dean’s gorgeous porch, which fittingly has a perfect view of the phallic Washington Monument, and he tells her she’s just afraid of things that are different. She translates acerbically: “You mean a fear of my dad having bugs crawl into his head and eat his brain?” He laughs raucously and insists he’s still her dad, reminiscing about various childhood incidents and saying he loves her (which presumably is a pretty rare thing). He apparently really did have Parkinson’s, but getting the bugs totally cured him, and that they’re “good parasites.” She says this still isn’t a good thing, but he says it’s inevitable, and people will be better off.

Eerie music plays as Laurel realizes that she has the chance to talk openly to someone who’s infected. She asks dramatically if the bugs are from space. He resists giving her any details, and says that there’s a “force” that wants to help them. She kneels down to plead with him, saying that he could come back by battling with the right side of his brain, and trying to reminisce with him about some childhood memory where they acted illogical. Finally he gets pissed off and asks her if she wants him to die in a wheelchair in a year. She says sadly that she wants her dad. He tries to hug her, which is terrifyingly reminiscent of what happened to that woman whose husband was infected in the pilot, but Laurel fights him off before the spacebugs can march out of the bushes and infect her.

Back at Rochelle’s, Gustav is trying to get the prisoner to drink. He insists he doesn’t want to drink not because he’s a bug person but because he’s two years sober—it’s just that his sobriety chip is in his “other clothes.” Heh. Nice try dude. But they hold his nose and pour it down his throat, as he insists it’s torture. Oh man. Pretty good illustration of how easily people turn to torture.

Meanwhile, Gareth is interviewing Wheatus’s next witness, an older guy in a lab coat who announces happily that he is the one who got the animals that Ahmed was testing on, from his colleagues in the “Council for Cultural Imperatives.” Gareth says there’s no such thing, and then asks for the original Syrian name then. Stumped, the guy pleads that he thought Gareth was on his side. Gareth points out acidly that if he’s caught lying, their side won’t exactly look good. Wheatus, however, comes into Gareth’s office to rescue the good doctor, a bit too late: it was the Council for Cultural Affairs, now wasn’t it? Yes! the doctor agrees happily.

Gareth pulls Wheatus into the next room and tells him the witness is lying. Wheatus insists that he just has “post-partum.” Gareth corrects him to the right term, and asks why they want a war. Wheatus just says that they might have to have one, and if they do, he won’t shy away. And if Gareth is a good chief of staff, he won’t either. Gareth agrees to this.

BD 108 date

But what he will do instead is pass information to his Democratic girlfriend. Who is next seen meeting with him at sunset on a bench outside the reflecting pool. They share burgers (see? SO NORMAL) and then Gareth informs her that the witness at the next select committee meeting will be lying. He can’t tell her how he knows, though. Instead, he thinks Laurel should get ketchup on her lip so he can wipe it off. She cutely dabs some on with her finger, and he kisses her, and then they have the sex. No salami this time (dirty!).

Laurel immediately starts some very romantic pillow talk: asking about his parents’ marriage. Gareth’s parents are happy. She reveals that her parents hate each other; her dad has a mistress, and her mom seeks refuge in her friends. This somehow puts them in the mood again, and they start making out—but then Laurel sits up, panicked. She’s forgotten something big. Her mom. Ooh, yikes.

She dashes over to rescue her mother and finds her father chomping on a carrot in the kitchen. She tells him she’s going to stop him from infecting her mom by telling her what’s going on. Dean makes fun: “Tell her she has to move out because I have parasites in my brain?” Heh. But Laurel is too clever for him. She throws open the door to her parents’ room and tells her mom that Dean’s still seeing “Terri the tour guide.” After tossing all the cherry blossoms in the room out the window, of course. Mrs. Dean growls at him that he’s a bastard. Point for Laurel!

Back at the select committee hearing, Ella draws impressively detailed doodles of cute animals while the Syrian “doctor,” Dr. Samira, tries gamely to remember the name of the Center for Cultural Affairs and, after getting that tonguetwister out, does his job by announcing that only war can stop the Syrians. Wheatus wraps up, satisfied with this airtight case of one random Syrian doctor who thinks the Americans should attack Syria. I mean, who wouldn’t declare war in those circumstances, right?

Now it’s Luke’s turn, and he goes for the kill. Is that actually the doctor’s lab coat? Dr. Samira stammers that it’s not, then is forced to admit that Wheatus gave it to him while Wheatus frantically tries to signal that he should stop talking. Luke asks if he’s even been to Syria. Then, suddenly, the chair of the committee calls for a break, but holds Luke, Ella, and Wheatus behind. I thought she was going to yell at them, but instead it’s for a briefing on highly classified information. Everyone is asked to repeat that they understand that it’s classified (and Ella is asked to stop drawing puppies on her notebook), though Wheatus’s “I understand” is pronounced, after great hesitation, more like “Ahunnershn.” The person giving the briefing tells them that the witnesses have been frauds, there’s no chemical program in Syria, and there’s no reason to suspect Syria of state-sponsored terrorism—and that’s all he can say. Luke looks smugly over at Wheatus, who is not meeting his eyes.

BD 108 drunk kevin

This guy’s drunk face is great.

Back at Rochelle’s, a now completely wasted bug man is strapped to the pole. He slurs that this alcohol isn’t healthy for him, and they ask if that’s because of the bugs. “They want a well-run car,” the guy declares. Then they ask if the bugs are from outer space. He earnestly says yes, but then warns them, wide-eyed, that they don’t like the word aliens. He’s really good at playing drunk; he keeps saying things and then making an “oh shit” face—and then deciding that it’s more fun to keep talking even though he shouldn’t. I think we’ve all been there! Laurel arrives as Gustav asks what the bugs want, which is apparently “a place to call home.” He reveals that the bugs want political extremism because if everyone is fighting each other, they won’t fight the bugs. Then Rochelle asks about the song. “It’s a beautiful song,” the bug man says earnestly. When they point out that it sounds like the bugs’ home planet, he gets excited, having apparently never realized that before.

Finally, they ask if the bugs want to take over the planet, and he accidentally refers to the bugs as “us.” Everyone’s ears perk up. “You’re a bug, and you’re more bug than human,” Gareth says dramatically. The prisoner tries to back it up, but the three musketeers are not having it. Then Laurel says randomly, “My dad is a bug.” At least try to keep your eyes on the ball here, Laurel.

The next scene is almost too gross to recap. Basically, Ella and Wheatus have a private meeting. If you know what I’m saying. They agree that they have nothing in common (“You want welfare for the poor,” Wheatus shouts angrily, like, ooh, burn. Or Bern). But there is one major thing they share: they both have giant flying bugs crawling out of their ears. Ella’s appears to be a boy bug, judging by the shape of its, er, hind segment. The bugs mate against a pencil holder while Wheatus and Ella indulge in cringingly awful dirty talk. Then they straighten their clothes as if they were the ones having sex, and reabsorb their bugs into their ears. Ella leaves Wheatus in his office, sharpening a pencil (dirty!).

BD 108 sex

So gross.

Back at Rochelle’s, Laurel is interrogating the prisoner: why do they want a war in Syria? He says it’s basically that they want to tie humans up in squabbles. Then he changes the subject: “You know you’re gonna have to let me go? Because it’s not in you to kill us. I’m Kevin… I’ve got a sister and a family. I like foreign films.” Interesting! I think the implication is that the bugs don’t care about your sister or your family; remember what Stacy’s bug people told Laurel. “Stacy’s gone.” But Laurel, since she’s human, immediately melts and turns to the others, making a pleading face. He pops out from behind her, insisting again that they’ll let him go.

Outside the Capitol, Misty and her cameras are having an interview with Wheatus. She knows that he had a brief from the CIA today. “I can’t speak to any specifics,” he says. “Of course, we understand that… but can you tell us what the CIA said?” she asks, hilariously. He refuses, but instead simply says that he was incredibly shocked by what he heard. Which of course makes it sound like the briefing was about how Syria is making lots and lots of chemical weapons and blowing up kittens and bunnies.

In his office, Luke is shouting angrily about Wheatus, but the chair points out that Wheatus hasn’t broken confidentiality, technically. Then there’s another bombshell: Ella appears beside Wheatus on camera, declaring that she too was awestruck by the briefing, and that she’s still pushing for war. She holds up a picture of a baby seal for emphasis.

At Rochelle’s, Gustav is cutting Kevin free, saying sadly that he’s been outvoted. Kevin emerges into the sunlight with some of the duct tape still on his suit, and goes straight to the Capitol—with Rochelle on his tail. She follows him down to a basement passageway (isn’t there any security in this building?) but he closes the door behind him.

Laurel arrives at Luke’s office to find her father there with Luke. Luke is wondering whether to leak, but Dean insists he can’t. “Unless it’s to stop a war,” Laurel insists several times. Luke leaves to “think” (isn’t this his office?) about this and Laurel and Dean dramatically face off over Luke’s desk. “You’re going to fight me the whole way,” Dean surmises. And Laurel’s pretty much like, …yup.

BD 108 another confrontation

Review

After last week’s tautly dramatic episode, this one returns to the messier, more exuberant form of the rest of the season: funny scenes mixed in with light scares. And it worked quite well, particularly with the Kevin storyline, where Johnny Ray Gill got to put his comedic talents to excellent use, and similarly for the actor who plays Kevin (Santino Fontana) and his… acting-drunk talents.

It’s a smart choice to ratchet up the stakes halfway through the season by making Laurel’s dad infected, and making this personal for her. Zach Grenier has such a wonderful creepiness about him that is perfectly fitting for a political operator who is carrying a humanity-threatening parasite … and enjoying it. I also think this development is good because it marks a turn from the somewhat directionless paranoia of early episodes, which was excellent but perhaps not sustainable, to a paranoia that has an identifiable enemy: Laurel’s father.

But dear TV gods, please let’s have no more bug sex scenes, or at the very least no more incidents where humans talk dirty on behalf of their bugs. I did NOT sign on for this.

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