Braindead 1×09: “Taking on Water: How Leaks in D.C. Are Discovered and Patched “

Recap

Previously on Braindead: This week’s previouslies are purportedly sung by Jonathan Coulton’s ghost after he was attacked by spacebugs and his head exploded. I hope this doesn’t mean that he won’t be singing the previouslies anymore! (Unless he’s handing off singing duties to Aaron Tveit, in which case: so long, Jonathan.) So yeah, anyway, Rochelle and Gustav tied up Bug-Man Kevin and followed him to a secret room, and then there was a whole thing where fake Syrian witnesses were used to try to convince Senators to vote for war. And re: Ella and Wheatus, Jonathan Coulton’s ghost agrees with us that “The way they get it on is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”

Laurel and Rochelle are standing outside Kevin’s secret room, room SRB-54 in the Capitol, because Gustav put a tracker on his phone. So… why did she have to follow him in person then? Oh, never mind. We don’t watch this show for continuity.

Laurel’s clever plan is to deliver an envelope by interoffice mail, saying she doesn’t know who it’s from. A dude answers it who’s not Kevin, and behind him, Laurel can see the Syrian doctor, still in his fake lab coat. Curiouser and curiouser!

She runs back to the office, not to do her job or anything, don’t worry, but to ask Luke about the room. She tells him it’s a “war room for a war,” and that the fake Syrian doctor is in there. Luke pulls essentially the same trick Laurel did, calling a colleague to report an imaginary delivery from room SRB-54. But his colleague tells him, “There is no Room SRB-54.” This is obviously supposed to be very dramatic.

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So Luke and Laurel march down to investigate (I guess Laurel doesn’t feel the need to disguise the fact that she was totally lying earlier about having a delivery), but the same guy answers as before, revealing a whole array of white dudes in ties typing at computers. He says his name is Don Pickle, forcing Luke to interrogate him while calling him Mr. Pickle, which is pretty hilarious. But before he can get very far, two scary security guys come up and stare them into submission.

Back up at Luke’s office, they see Scarlett pointing emphatically at the TV screen. Apparently there’s been a leak: everyone knows that the Syrian witnesses were fake and Syria has no connection to the head explosions. Luke gives Laurel a hard look. Um, buddy? You’re the one who told your sister and father something so classified that most Senators aren’t even allowed to hear about it, so if any heads roll for this they’ll probably include yours. Anyway, they watch Claudia Monarch, the Fake Rachel Maddow, spin this as being about Senator Wheatus lying, while Gareth watches Misty, the Republican talk show host, declare cynically that Democrats are going to have a field day with it.

He goes next door and asks Red if he should work up a statement. Red ignores him and asks for Jed the intern, who dashes in looking very excited for someone whose head is probably going to explode fairly soon. Gareth says, “He’s a good kid. His parents gave to the campaign.” Then a woman named Ashley enters to talk to Red about how she is a freelance investigative analyst doing oppo research. Red jovially declares her his favorite African-American person. He already knows that Healy was the one who leaked, he just wants dirt on Healy. He won’t let Gareth leave, either, due to sheer cussedness, since he goes on to ask Ashley to get dirt on Laurel too. Including any affairs with professors, and/or porn addictions. That’s… awfully specific. Gareth pretends to be totally cool with this, but of course after about four seconds of pacing around his office he starts to call Laurel. She, however, calls him first and asks him to meet her at the Smithsonian.

Meanwhile, at yet another intelligence meeting, there’s a huge hubbub about the leak. Luke is yelling that the point is there’s no reason for war and Wheatus lied, and Wheatus is growling that the point is Luke leaked. Wheatus is still insisting the Syrians are behind the head explosions and wants to censor Luke for leaking the thing that he is denying is even true. He wants to prosecute Luke. Ella is only too happy to throw Luke under the bus; she nominates someone named Boch to prosecute Luke. Everyone claps. Luke asks how she can be on his side. “We’re playing a different game now, try to keep up,” she coos at him. Yes, it’s a game where your earbugs have sex with other people’s earbugs. Won’t you join in, Luke?

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At the Smithsonian, Laurel asks Gareth about the war room, which he obviously knows nothing about. Then he warns her about the oppo research. She is kind of flattered by the fact that anyone cares enough to research her. He asks if there’s anything that could hurt her. She laughs and says that she’s currently sleeping with someone she shouldn’t be. They joke about breaking it off, but that segues into deciding to go have a quickie in the Planetarium. Well, that’s classy. I hope Ashley finds out about this. The worst part is that their dirty talk is about Neptune, so it involves saying the word “gaseous” in lascivious tones over and over. It’s not as bad as Ella and Wheatus, but it… could be better.

Boch comes to Luke’s office, not to talk to him exactly, but to warn him that they will be talking. When he says he knows Luke leaked, Luke says like an idiot, “You do?” Boch, who’s cheerfully admitting that he’ll prosecute whoever he’s told since he’s being paid two million dollars, warns Luke that those two words could be used against him. He should really lawyer up before he talks to everyone on his staff tomorrow. And so should Laurel. Then he leaves, with Luke looking a wee bit discomfited, especially when he sees Laurel shaking hands with Boch outside.

Gareth, tipped off by Laurel, is investigating the war room. “Talk to Red,” says Don Pickle. Gareth points out that since he’s chief of staff and this guy is only the quote-unquote legislative director, Gareth outranks him. But Don Pickle just says, “Not with this,” and Gareth backs down because of course he does (see also: that time Laurel was being tortured and Gareth only gave about half a shit).

Back in his office, he is confronted by Ashley and her giant piles of oppo research on Luke’s affairs. “It’s thick,” Gareth notes. Yeah, that’s what she said [to Luke last night]. Ashley agrees—then plops another giant file full of Laurel’s affairs on Gareth’s desk, like, do these people not have flash drives? Ever hopeful, Gareth assumes that she has a lot of supporting material in there. Ashley quickly deflates his hopes, producing another, even fatter file full of supporting material. Gareth’s face wears the Deep Frown of My Girlfriend Had a Sex Life Before I Came Along.

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Oh noes! I hate when women made their own choices about their own vaginas long before they met me!

Boch’s path of gentle destruction has led him to Fake Rachel Maddow. He warns her that she might want a lawyer present when he asks these questions. Fake Rachel laughs condescendingly at him, obviously thinking he’s really cute for trying to strut in with his rich-guy act and intimidate her by lying about what she’s required to tell him under the law. He asks who her source is; she says under the First Amendment she doesn’t have to say; he informs her that “by law” she does have to; but it turns out he means “by the power of the government thugs who can totally arrest you.” They totally arrest her. The whole time she’s clearly in disbelief, and on the verge of laughter, even as said thugs come to take her away.

In Luke’s office, a Quirky Lawyer has arrived and taken over his seat behind the desk. He tells her he didn’t leak, and she says he has nothing to worry about. Then he has to admit that it was probably his sister who leaked, and he told her. (Clearly Luke has a different definition of “leak” than most humans, like, I’m pretty sure that telling a random-ass Hill staffer about the contents of a top-secret intelligence briefing would be considered a leak in most cultures.) Quirky Lawyer makes a hilarious “uchhh” noise and sighs. She tells him he could be facing eight years in prison, not to talk to Boch without her present, and definitely not to talk to his sister.

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Who is currently making out with Gareth again, only this time it’s in a somewhat proper place: her kitchen. It’s really cute for like two seconds, except Gareth has a bad case of the Nostril Flares, which he must have caught from Patient Zero, Dawson Leery (also a champion slut-shamer in his own right). She notices he’s being weird, and he has to admit he’s trying to keep Wheatus from using things against her. Did she sleep with her poli-sci professor and abort his baby? Laurel crisply tells him to ask more questions: “Go for it.” Gareth somehow doesn’t quite sense the danger he’s in, and kisses her. She explains that she did sleep with said professor, but didn’t get pregnant.

Then he mentions that there’s other stuff in the file, under the guise of pretending he’s not going to mention it. Subtle, Gareth! She dares him again, asking with asperity, “How many people did I sleep with in college?” Twenty-four, he says after some hesitation. “Are those confirmed kills?” she says. Hah! He begs her to help him correct the record, and she takes justified (and rather belated, in my opinion) offense to this: how many people should she have slept with to make Gareth happy? EXCELLENT QUESTION, LAUREL. Gareth says it’s not about him, which Laurel completely and rightly scoffs at.

Things escalate until Laurel demands how many people Gareth slept with in college. His response is priceless in its level of lame, notch-counting hypocrisy: “Are we counting summers?” In a justified rage, Laurel kicks him out with a doggy bag full of the quesadillas she cooked him. You go, Laurel! He begs not to end it like this, and she says that they can talk when she’s in the mood. But then he pleads, “I come from a conservative family,” and Laurel realizes that no, she actually just doesn’t want to talk to him anymore. Bye, Gareth, you devastatingly handsome ass.

Ashley comes by to give Wheatus her magnum opus. He notes that the Healys get around, but wants one single sin that he can pin on Laurel, not just general unchastity. Ashley offers that whole aborting-the-Communist-professor’s-baby thing. Wheatus likes that, till Gareth says it’s not true. He sends Ashley off to look for something else, then asks Gareth why he was trying to get into SRB-54, and orders him to stay away from it.

Laurel arrives in her office to find Quirky Lawyer waiting for her. She asks snarkily if she needs a lawyer, and Quirky Lawyer responds perfectly, “Everyone needs a lawyer.” Love it! She closes Laurel’s door and asks about the leak to Claudia Monarch, since Luke told Laurel about the briefing. “He said that?” Laurel says, and then denies that she’s the leak. Interesting. At this point I thought either Luke was totally selling Laurel out, which would be super evil and therefore an enjoyable plot twist—or Laurel is a way better liar than most TV characters. Quirky Lawyer warns her that Claudia is being given the “full Judith Miller,” and probably won’t last very long. But Laurel insists that her name isn’t going to come up.

Gareth has decided that rather than confront SRB-54 directly (not his style), he’s going to… try to manipulate the IT guy into helping him commit some sort of elaborate sabotage. IT guy is happy for the chance to complain about the people he works for or with, but isn’t sure he cares to turn off the wifi in SRB-54. “I appreciate you, and no one else does,” Gareth wheedles. IT guy still hesitates, so he flashes his best, most Flynn-Rider-ian smile. Hey, it would work on me, and I’m basically an IT gal…

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Down in SRB-54, the wifi totally goes out. So I guess his charm worked on IT guy, too. Don Pickle comes upstairs to complain to Gareth, who smugly announces, “I need to reboot here and upstairs.” I’m confused. Do these weird bug people not know about the existence of IT departments? But they buy his line, and let him down into their cherry-blossom-filled office. He tells them to restart everything, and takes a not-so-subtle look at the blueprints they have lying around, which appear to possibly be blueprints of the planetarium. Gareth takes a picture with his phone.

Boch, Quirky Lawyer, and Luke are having the aforementioned meeting. Quirky Lawyer won’t even let Luke answer a simple remark about how Boch is glad Luke lawyered up: “I’ve asked my client to speak through me,” she says ever so gently. Boch goes along, but at the end of the meeting he throws over his shoulder, “Claudia doesn’t like being behind bars,” and if Luke doesn’t give him answers, Claudia will. Immediately Quirky Lawyer bursts in on Laurel and asks dramatically if she’s called Claudia Monarch in the last two days. Laurel looks worried, which later on of course will turn out to be a total red herring.

Gareth sits in the planetarium alone during a portentous voiceover about a star being extinguished, until Laurel slips into the seat beside him. She plays it a bit cold, but the blueprint he shows her intrigues her. Then he reveals something else: there was a calendar in SRB-54 that was counting down, and it said 38 days. “That’s September 12,” Laurel says, so I guess she’s like the Rainman of dates or something. She tells him she has to go and asks him to email her the blueprint, but he tries to stop her to apologize. “For?” Laurel says coldly. Then he says he apologizes for the night before and adds, “Whatever our pasts were, it’s not our present.” Um, maybe cool it with the fake magnanimity, Gareth. She SLEPT WITH SOME DUDES. It’s not like she used to be a hitwoman for the Russian secret police or something. Jesus. Unfortunately, this seems to win Laurel over.

Speaking of how Laurel isn’t a murderer, Ashley is here to give Gareth more dirt on Laurel. “What did she, kill someone?” he jokes. Let’s hope not, Gareth, because the level of drama you caused over her earlier non-infractions could hardly be topped by anything you could do if she did kill someone. “Not exactly,” Ashley answers and hands over the folder. But his smile fades as he reads it. Apparently, Laurel slept with Michael Moore when she was showing a documentary at a film festival. And there are three witnesses. Well, she might as well have killed someone. Gareth orders Ashley not to tell Wheatus yet, like, I’m so sure that will work.

Gareth rushes to the bathroom so he can graphically picture Laurel in bed with Michael Moore (who is actually in this episode, and I’m sure got a huge kick out of being portrayed as the Voldemort of the Republican world) and then dry-heave over the sink. This guy is way too possessive for someone who didn’t even bother to ask Laurel on a proper date till like five days ago.

Quirky Lawyer has called in the Healy sibs for a little colloquy. Who leaked? They both announce that they didn’t, and then say that they thought the other did. Quirky Lawyer acidly points out that there’s still a problem, because Luke telling Laurel the information was still totally illegal. Luke gives a humongous eyeroll to that. Laurel does, however, admit that she was the one who called Claudia from this office, because she was planning to leak and then didn’t. No one is very pleased about this. But Luke has an idea: Boch is an Upstanding Citizen who just wants the truth. Let’s drop some truth on him!

Luke meets Boch in Laurel and Gareth’s favorite romantic meeting place, a park bench. First he butters him up by complimenting his report on the false WMD evidence in the Iraq War, then tells him that Wheatus is doing the same thing from SRB-54, manufacturing evidence about Syria. He also has a bajillion photographs of blueprints that are for internment camps for Syrian refugees. Did Gareth take all those in his one short trip down to that room? Luke says anything can happen when people are angry, and suggests that Boch take his two million and go after “the real culprit.” Boch looks disturbed.

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Gareth continues to be a huge ass, as he pictures Laurel with Michael Moore again and has a slightly-less-vomity panic attack outside her apartment. She asks if he’s OK. He says he forgot about making her dinner. She finds this charming because she doesn’t know that he’s engaged in detailed fantasies about the men she’s slept with before him. When they’re safely inside drinking beer, Gareth, who learns REAL slowly, tries to bring it up in a totally nonchalant (but in fact totally awkward) way. “You know what’s funny? The latest oppo research has you sleeping with someone I know is wrong,” he says. When he reveals the name, Laurel stays straight-faced. “You know, Michael Moore?” he asks. “I do,” she says. Biblically, is the obvious implication, but Gareth is too busy freaking out to hear it. “The liberal?” he adds, apparently thinking Laurel might be so stupid that, despite being a documentary filmmaker, she’s never heard of the single most famous documentary filmmaker in pop culture. Then he proceeds to mansplain to her that Republicans hate Michael Moore like Democrats hate Ann Coulter, and if he had slept with Ann Coulter, she would think he was dirty and contaminated just like he thinks about her. She coolly confirms he hasn’t slept with Ann Coulter and then suggests dinner. Gareth finally gets suspicious and asks again if she’s slept with Michael Moore. She says it was just once, at a Sundance festival. And she does not apologize at all. Oh, girl. You’re doing so well! Now just kick him to the curb once and for all! And believe me, I do not say such things of Aaron Tveit lightly.

Boch and Wheatus are having an evening meeting in Wheatus’s office. Boch shows him the blueprints taken from his office and asks why he’s pushing for the war. He brings up the fact that his two staffers were “killed by Syrian agents.” Boch questions this. Wheatus says Boch can’t prove they didn’t, and Boch counters rather redundantly that “The burden of proof is on you to prove.” Wheatus doesn’t like facts, so he blames all of this on Luke’s “sophist ways.” They keep arguing, with Boch insisting he’s going to investigate the war-mongering and Wheatus comparing the Democrats to redcoats and socialists all in one magnificently nonsensical assertion (“They want us to bow to their socialist king”). Finally Boch asks if this is a war, why Wheatus doesn’t shoot him right now. SO WHEATUS DOES.

Well, that escalated.

Also notable are the very, er, squishy side effects.

Jed the Intern is sitting outside when he hears the bang. He rushes in, and Wheatus tells a story that he doesn’t even try to make convincing about how Boch took out a gun and shot himself. Jed is about to call the police, but Wheatus tells him to go get a dolly and a dropcloth from the closet. As soon as he’s left alone, he gets an idea: he takes a little taste the brain splatter off the wall. “Oh, that’s not bad,” he mutters—and packs it up in a Tupperware labeled with his own name to put in the communal fridge. I—what? You are murdering someone and then putting brain matter into a public area, labeled with your name? And the Tupperware isn’t even opaque! It’s just regular translucent Tupperware!

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SERIOUSLY? Way to be stealth, Wheatus.

Back at the Laurel Healy Hotbed of Iniquity, Laurel and Gareth are making out. Gareth decides to completely ruin everything and asks her to make him understand the whole Michael Moore thing. He keeps asking her if she was drinking, which basically makes it sound like he would prefer to learn that she was date-raped by Michael Moore than to learn that she did it of her own free will. Finally, when he asks if she’s even seen Fahrenheit 911, she kicks him out. At the door, he turns to her and says, “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to judge you.” No, you’re just such a natural at it you don’t even have to put in an effort! Then he says he’ll call her, and Laurel wins my heart forever by saying, “No. You handled this poorly.” Just that. No. I want to applaud.

Meanwhile, Wheatus has dropped a suspicious garbage bag and a bloody dropcloth into a dump truck outside the Capitol. When he arrives at the Intelligence meeting, Ella brushes a little blood off his clothes and he says, “Thank you, sweetie.” Ewwwww. Now that’s a pairing I completely judge.

The meeting starts, and everyone is wondering where Boch is. Wheatus wants to replace him, and Luke snots, “Excuse me, he’s been missing one day.” But Wheatus has yet another story, this one about Syrians threatening Boch. He accidentally refers to Boch in the past tense mid-rant, but corrects himself because technically no one knows Boch is dead yet. Worst murderer ever? He advocates replacing Boch with a liberal, but the committee holds a vote, and most senators seem to be voting to “stay the course.” Including Luke. I like how Luke is allowed to vote on who should prosecute him.

Pissed at being outvoted, even though since Boch is totally dead I’m sure he’s going to get his way soon enough, Wheatus takes it out on Ashley. He thinks Luke’s affairs are totally boring oppo research because everyone knows about them (fair enough) and wants something on Laurel. Ashley mentions off-handedly that she had a lead about Michael Moore (Wheatus makes a hilarious gagging noise at that) but it turned out not to be true. Gareth’s eyes light up as she reveals that the witnesses confused Laurel with someone else. You can just see him thinking to himself, “Now Laurel isn’t contaminated and I can still date her!” Good luck with that, Gareth.

Claudia’s back at work, and the bespectacled, nameless head of the intelligence committee drops by for a little chat, to confirm Claudia’s not going to talk. “About you leaking?” Claudia parries. Ooh, twist! She promises not to say anything as long as she stays out of jail.

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Luke has intrepidly ventured to Wheatus’s Office of Doom to confront him about the internment camps. I am really interested to know exactly how they know these blueprints are internment camps. Is one of the rooms labeled, like, “Syrian refugee interrogation room”? Anyway, Wheatus says that they’re for beautifying the landscape, not for Syrians. Luke thinks he won’t mind if this goes to the New York Times then. Wheatus doesn’t like this, so Luke says it’ll be fine as long as he goes to the meeting tomorrow and admits he’s wrong about war. Wheatus sips his bug juice and agrees sarcastically, “The New York Times, yeah. Cause once they print it, people will come to their senses.” He schools Luke: he’ll be a hero if he interns refugees, just like FDR did to the Japanese. What a sweetheart.

Laurel arrives in her office to find Gareth. He has a Michael Moore DVD wrapped in white ribbon for her. He apologizes, because he was an idiot and because… she didn’t sleep with Michael Moore. Laurel tells him they’re too different, and that she wants to take a break. Not quite the metaphorical ass-kicking he deserves, Laurel, but still, well played. He leaves and they bid each other sad good-byes.

Review

Braindead has raised my feminist hackles often enough, but this episode makes up for much of it. Laurel completely tells off Gareth for what is not his first instance of slut-shaming her (he also was highly concerned about the fact that she was supposedly willing to have sex with him to get rid of her imaginary migraine) and completely owns her own sexual past. Meanwhile, he is portrayed as insecure and controlling for demanding to know all the details of her past, and expecting her to actually apologize for them.

For me, the point really is that the across-the-aisle relationship isn’t just a star-crossed little romance between two people who are fundamentally similar but happened to choose different paths to power. Instead, it’s a real challenge—because sometimes, as with these two, it comes from a fundamental difference. In this case, it’s the difference between the typical liberal view of women and chastity, and a classic conservative one. Republican rhetoric these days is full of the notion that it’s men’s right to stand in judgment on women for what sex they’re having, when and how much (but of course, if they look like they’re having too little, you can call them frigid, and if they look like someone you personally don’t want to have sex with, well then you can just call them a fat pig! Win win win!).

It’s also extremely telling that he thought they could just reconcile after he found out she didn’t sleep with Michael Moore. It basically means he completely failed to listen to her when she kicked him out for being a judgy jerk, and thought that as soon as her past became morally acceptable to him, all of the obstacles to their relationship would be gone–conveniently forgetting that she has agency and desires of her own. Gareth, after all, works for the same party whose nominated presidential candidate constantly calls women fat pigs, the same party that thinks mandating that an ultrasound wand be shoved up inside a woman is a reasonable thing to do to get them to do what you want, the party whose politicians think that rape victims don’t get pregnant. In real life it wouldn’t be surprising that they might butt heads on this issue, and I admire Braindead for complicating their romantic hero with a streak of serious, yet unconscious, misogyny(not that all Republican politicians are misogynists, by any means, just that it’s not exactly uncommon). My only concern is that Laurel seems way too close to forgiving him even though he still doesn’t seem to get what he did wrong.

All in all, this was about as solid an episode as you could have without the sparkling talent of Johnny Ray Gill (along with Nikki M. James), and therefore without the usual pleasure of watching his antics as the nerdy Gustav. And of course, we’ve taken a big step forward into zombie mythology, because now the spacebug people are actually eating brains. So that should be exciting!

`See you next week!

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2 Comments

  1. […] Previously on Braindead: Everyone’s being weird, including Wheatus (wants to start a war with Syria, eats brains out of Tupperwares) and Ella (draws pictures of baby seals). Luke is a total cheater, Dean Healy is a big old bug man, and SRB-54 is a thing. Also, Gareth is a giant slut-shamer, so Laurel had to dump him. This part is accompanied by a lot of phallic imagery. Cute, guys, but Masters of Sex did it better. […]

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