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.
When we open, Laurel is watching a very cheesy anti-war ad that accuses Wheatus of basically orchestrating the war in Syria to benefit the one percent. Luke comes in to get Laurel’s feedback, and she wonders why he doesn’t just let her do it, because it’s a dumb ad and the one percent has nothing to do with the war. But Luke tells her it’s PAC money paying for it, so they can’t coordinate. They can, however, do the other kind of coordinating, where they tell the PAC all of their thoughts and feelings about the commercial, and the PAC does what they want. (Gareth had to make a similar distinction, if you’ll recall, back when he accidentally got a bunch of bug-infected Republicans to make a website about assassinating liberals.)
Luke wants Laurel to give the filmmaker feedback because “it will sound better coming from you.” Really hard to tell with this guy whether he means “because you’re an expert filmmaker” or “because you’re a girl and I’m a sexist pig who thinks Laurel can use her looks to get away with stuff.” Possibly it’s both. Anyway, Laurel says it’s a “start-over job,” but he tells her to meet with the filmmaker anyway.
Speaking of the author of the terrorist website, Miss 303, she is currently meeting with Wheatus. They passionately agree with each other that the One Way is the only way. Then he tells her to hold her breath (which she takes way too literally) because he’s bringing in someone to speak with them. Yup! It’s Noah, Mr. 302 himself, the biggest NPR fan in history, and his next-door neighbor from 303, Jules. He’s here with Ella. They go in with Wheatus, who tells Gareth not to come in—he can handle it himself. Dear Lord please let this not be a bug orgy.
Luckily, it’s not. Instead, Ella and Wheatus sit the other two down for a little chat. They explain kindly that they agree with each other on nothing, just like their two constituents (the One Wayers and the “No Wayers,’ how cute). “You are the devil,” Ella says cheerfully. “And she’s a bitch,” Wheatus completes smoothly, but that’s not the point. The point is who you should really hate: the people on your own side who compromise. As for Ella, Wheatus, Noah, and Jules, they all “want 100% of what we want.” Both Noah and Jules are angry, so they at least have that in common. Both want to burn down the government, because everything is rigged. Wheatus and Ella that the enemy isn’t each other—it’s out there. Then Wheatus, seriously, turns to the window and emits a protracted growl. I hope this actor is having fun, because all of his choices are absurd.
The intelligence committee is having a meeting, and of course Luke and Wheatus are shouting at each other. Wheatus plays victim, claiming sympathy for the two staff members who have been killed (sure, they were killed by him, but who’s counting?) Gareth comes to stand near Laurel, who answers his greeting with a polite coldness I highly approve of. Then Noah and Jules stand up with a giant sign for the war, he yelling that he wants to stop human rights abuses in Syria, she yelling that she wants to stop… whatever, while Luke protests that they are all going against “basic common sense.” As they’re escorted out, Noah nods at Gareth and Gareth has to admit to Laurel that he just met him in Wheatus’s office… with Ella. Laurel looks suspicious.
After the meeting, she tells Luke all about how the guy threatened her. When they realize he’s a lefty extremist but he also was conspiring with Wheatus and Ella, they both look concerned. But Luke thinks he still has the votes on the war thing. Of course, it’s hard to be sure of anything when people are getting infected left and right.
He sends Laurel into her office to meet with the filmmaker, who’s just hanging out there totally unsupervised. As soon as she sees him she turns away with a panicked look, which would be suspenseful if, you know, the IMDB episode summary didn’t already tell us this is one of the twenty-four men whose existence threw Gareth for such an unpleasant loop last week, i.e. one of Laurel’s exes. She books it into Luke’s office to protest that she can’t talk to Ben Valderrama because he’s famous and she knows him. Luke doesn’t read between the lines here, even though he’s used to being in this situation and should probably recognize the signs of someone desperately pedaling away from an awkward situation with a ex-fling.
So Laurel has to go back in the room and greet Ben, suffer through the usual exchange of compliments for each other’s appearances and recent work. Ben does the faux-humble “Yeah, I wasn’t really sure of that last shot” thing, pretty classic for a guy who’s gotten famous since you last talked to him and is used to having smoke blown up his butt. They apparently used to share a dream of “changing things.” Wow, that’s… specific. Finally Laurel has to give him her feedback, but as soon as she mentions the one-percent thing he’s off on Wall Street and the recession and why isn’t anyone in jail? Laurel is like, “…yes, but, I think this should focus more on the war.” After arguing with all her feedback for awhile, he cheerfully admits to being defensive, and then claims hollowly to be “here to learn… What’s this war talk about?” Uh, okay. He didn’t bother to learn that before his first commercial? Kind of seems like Laurel sleeps with a lot of arrogant jerks.
They’re interrupted, however, by some loud drama in the waiting room, where Noah is yelling at Luke that he’s lost his vote for compromising with Republicans. He’s escorted out, still yelling, and Luke just rolls his eyes. Laurel advises Ben to look into extremism.
Luke gets on the phone with Diane, the other moderate Senator from the committee-within-a-committee. He’s freaking out about the votes, and suddenly realizes she’s being a little cagey. She’s thinking of changing her vote too! She says something about being up for reelection, and how she needs to hear all viewpoints. Somehow, Luke can’t believe what he’s hearing. I guess some absurdities you never get used to. Of course, as soon as they hang up, Diane turns out to have Jules in her office, and she sweetly invites her to make her case.
Luke’s wife Germaine is STILL super pregnant, and she shows up to ask Laurel some questions, namely: is Luke cheating on her? Laurel lies, terribly, that he isn’t. Then, with a few baleful glares in Scarlett’s direction, Germaine asks oh-so-casually, and where was Laurel last night at 11 pm? Laurel makes a valiant effort, saying she was here working, but Germaine says that Luke said he was with Laurel at her house. Beaten, Laurel starts to protest that she’s not comfortable getting dragged into this, when Germaine suddenly winces in pain. Turns out her baby kicks every time Trump’s voice is heard. (And of course Laurel has Fake Rachel Maddow, Claudia Monarch, playing on her TV in the background at all times.) Laurel gets nervous, obviously picturing what it will be like if this kid’s bug-infested head explodes while it’s still in Germaine’s uterus, like, ouch. So she shepherds her out to the hospital in a hurry (I mean, or just turn off the TV? Has Laurel forgotten that doctors don’t actually know how to cure you of spacebugs?)
Outside Germaine’s exam room, Laurel gets a call from Ben, who has set up some interviews with extremist groups and even admits that she was right about her constructive criticism. He wants her to come see some footage. Just then the doctor comes out, along with Luke, who apparently survived seeing Germaine without getting kneed in the crotch, probably only because she’s too pregnant to lift her leg that high. He says everything’s fine, but Laurel takes a look at the sonogram and asks if there’s any clearer picture of the fetus’s head. “I just think it would be good to do a general prenatal rundown on Germaine’s health.” The doctor’s like, “…I just did,” because Laurel basically just suggested to him that he, you know, do his job. Finally he reluctantly says he could do a stress test, Laurel agrees quickly to take Germaine back in for that. Which doesn’t sound like a GREAT idea when that baby’s head might explode at any minute.
When the doctor leaves Laurel pulls Luke aside to ask him about Germaine’s question. She asks him where he was at eleven. He says, “What did you tell her?” all nervous, and Laurel rolls her eyes dramatically, as he totally deserves. He tries saying he was at work, and then that he was meeting with the moderates to try to deal with the crazies, and Laurel rightly points out that, you know, he could have just said that. He basically admits it. Then he says he doesn’t like to explain himself to his wife after a long day, and then he legit compares himself to Holden Caulfield. Yes, Luke. You’re a fucking American hero and that’s why you sleep around on your wife. Then he compares himself to JFK. Also a no-go.
Finally he gives up and declares himself “not a perfect person.” Laurel shuts that down too, lifting her hand: “Being perfect is here. This?” (hand wayyy lower) “Is not screwing around on your nine-month-pregnant wife.” She tells him he’s making a difference but he has to “stay true.” God, Luke so needed to hear that. But it’s not clear if he has, as he turns around and waves at Germaine.
Thank you, Laurel. The women of America (or at least, all seven of them that watch Braindead, which has tragically low ratings) salute you.
Laurel’s next mission is to meet with another spoiled man, her friend Ben, who has brought her in to see one of the interviews he’s doing. He warns her to be cool because the person he’s interviewing doesn’t know this is about extremism—he thinks it’s just about political relationships. They come into the room to see, of course, Gareth waiting for them. Laurel protests, somewhat anemically, that Gareth isn’t an extremist, and Ben scoffs and says that Gareth helped astroturf the One-Wayers. Laurel can’t argue with that.
Gareth looks surprised to see Laurel, but sits down for the interview willingly enough. Ben remarks that not a lot of Republicans agreed to sit down, and Gareth shoots Laurel a grin and says he’s “trying to be more accommodating across the aisle.” You know. With his penis. Anyway, then Ben starts asking about the One-Wayers, and as Gareth gets more uncomfortable he keeps looking at Laurel, who looks guilty. Even though as far as we know, I don’t think Gareth has told Laurel anything about his involvement with the One-Wayers. Gareth defends himself by saying that all grassroots movements have some source of funds and it’s OK if his office is one of them, but when Ben presses, Laurel finally cuts it off. Gareth runs out, not meeting Laurel’s eyes, and Ben asks why Laurel cut it short. Laurel says the interview wasn’t fair, and Ben says that he’s “a Republican tool. You don’t do the cause any good by pulling back.” He leaves, and Laurel stands there alone, clearly thinking to herself that every man in her life is the worst.
Luke, at least, apparently listened to Laurel’s reprimand, and he’s trying to break it off with a pouty-faced blonde woman named Margie. (He has the door open during the entire first half of this conversation, which seems dumb not just because Germaine could walk in, but because Scarlett, one of his other girlfriends, literally works just outside of that door.) She resists first by sultry innuendo, then by pretending to cry. Once he gets a glimpse of her generous cleavage, he’s toast: he hugs her to comfort her, and then they have “goodbye” sex. Oh, Luke. You’re so easy.
Laurel, luckily, is elsewhere: finding Gareth in his office. He says, not too coldly, that he’s heading home and she offers to walk him. They have a moonlit walk, as they so often do, and she apologizes. “What are we talking about here?” he says, probably hoping that she’s finally apologizing for having the gall to sleep with Michael Moore years before she ever met him. Laurel says she’s sorry about Ben, that she didn’t know he was going to be there. But he stops her and says that they like each other, but that can’t work, because their worldviews don’t align. Laurel protests that they’re friends, but he says, “If I throw that stuff overboard, I’m not me anymore,” and “This friendship is hurting my job.” Tearing up a little, she protests she’s not trying to hurt him, but he says, kindly, that it’s structural. He is very sad and gentle during this conversation. It almost makes me like him again. He says maybe when things calm down they can be friends again, and leaves.
Laurel arrives at the hospital to see Germaine and apologizes for being late (so, her appointment is at 9pm, I guess?). Germaine says the biophysical profile and everything is fine. The doctor comes in and asks to speak to Laurel alone, which made me worried that he was going to tell her something’s wrong with Germaine and ask her to keep it a secret out of some condescending desire to protect her, which is one of those horrible tropes that I’ve seen in TV shows sometimes. But no, he just tells Laurel to stop freaking Germaine out because there’s nothing wrong. Laurel, embarrassed, apologizes—but as soon as the doctor leaves, he gets a call on his cell phone, and his ringtone is, you guessed it, the Cars song that all the bug people love. Uhoh. Evil obstetrician on the loose, injecting fetuses with space bugs!
Hooray! Rochelle is back! Laurel is telling her about the obstetrician and his ringtone. Rochelle, always a skeptic, is fairly calm about this, saying she’s not sure it’s worrisome and she’s not sure infants can be infected. She says that she’s even had the song in her head lately. All fairly normal, except the camera angles from Rochelle’s POV are super weird, which makes me slightly suspect that she’s infected, too. But she agrees to check out the obstetrician. OK, fine. But can we have Gustav back onscreen, please?
So Luke has realized that the best way to get laid eight times in one day is to declare your newfound devotion to your pregnant wife. He’s in a hotel room with someone named Jaime, although we only know this from the closed captions because the vast majority of her lines are more like grunts. After they’re done, she gives him her new business card, and he protests—but accepts it “for a rainy day.” Then he flops back on the bed, clearly exhausted from all the athletic activity he’s been doing.
Laurel’s taking over camera-person duties for Ben’s next interview, which it turns out is with Noah. Laurel is worried that he might get violent, but Ben is just excited to have a real extremist in his office. But don’t worry, he checked his tote bag for knives! And it’s for “the cause”! As soon as they get in and Ben asks Noah to put down his tote bag, he refuses. Well that should make everyone feel great. Ben presses him on why the Republicans are financing him, why he wants war, and why he wants to work with Republicans and bankers who like to kill people. Clutching his tote bag—which starts jangling ominously—Noah gets madder and madder. Finally he stands up angrily and Ben says, like the consummate professional he is, “You’re such an ass. What are you gonna do?” And of course Noah leaps on him like a jungle cat.
Later, watching the footage in Laurel’s office, Ben is thrilled and Laurel not so much. She thinks Ben baited Noah, which he definitely did. He argues that what the guy did was “honest.” She questions whether this is good filmmaking; he argues that it’s just an event, and it’s what they do with it that’s the filmmaking. Then he points out that he was asked to make a “viral documentary” (ahh, I love when marketing people think they can just order virality from a filmmaker off a menu) to stop the Republicans from starting another war. And he does have a point there.
This is by far Luke’s most likeable scene this week, so enjoy it: Dean has shown up to tell Luke to vote with his head instead of his heart. Apparently there’s a new Wall Street Journal poll, presumably showing people in favor of the war. Luke interrupts: “I’m gonna bomb 100,000 Syrians because of a poll?” Go, Luke! Way to stand by at least one principle! Dean points at the White House out the window and says, “It’s yours for the taking. So take it.” Very Lady Macbeth.
Laurel is watching Ben’s draft of the documentary on a mounted flatscreen instead of on her laptop like any normal person would. It starts with a cheesy voiceover about America getting angry, the One Wayers versus the No Wayers, including Noah tackling Ben. “And who benefits?” it concludes. “The one percent.” Hee! Laurel rolls her eyes at the non-sequitur. For some reason Ben has chosen to use like forty seconds of Gareth’s interview, including the very dramatic moment when he Makes Eye Contact with a complete unknown (Laurel). Laurel storms out and tells Ben that not everything is about Wall Street. Ben just brushes her off and says they should get fresh eyes on it.
Laurel goes back inside to watch the part with Gareth’s interview again, because she just can’t get enough of those blue eyes I guess—but then Rochelle calls her. Germaine is in Rochelle’s office, screaming and in labor. Did Laurel even ask her to see Germaine? Very suspicious! She says Germaine couldn’t get ahold of Luke, and to get here fast. Lowering her voice, Rochelle says she didn’t get to look closely at the sonogram. “Get this thing out of me!” Germaine screams, and Laurel hangs up to head over.
Next thing you know, there’s an adorable wriggly baby in Germaine’s arms, and Luke is there cooing over it. Apparently Germaine went through labor and everything in Rochelle’s office? Or maybe the hospital where she works, but they let Rochelle be her doctor even though Rochelle’s not an OB-GYN? Oh well. Meanwile Laurel is being super weird, asking over and over if everything’s normal and even trying to check the baby’s ears herself. Rochelle tries to calm her down, and when that doesn’t work, she drags Laurel out of the room.
Meanwhile, Luke decides unilaterally that the baby’s name should be Grace, because that’s what she is (oh, that’s original). Germaine’s face gets a little cold, so he says he hasn’t always been the best husband, but that’s going to change now. I’m sure it’s always nice to hear that your husband didn’t give a shit about cheating on you before, but now that you’ve borne his spawn, he thinks your feelings matter all of a sudden.
Out in the hall, Rochelle tells Laurel to stop worrying them, and everything is fine. Laurel asks if the baby’s had an MRI of the brain, and Rochelle says she’s not going to sedate a baby to ease Laurel’s fears. She promises that everything is fine, and they hug. I never realized how much shorter Rochelle was than Laurel until Laurel had to basically bend from the waist to hug Rochelle.
Laurel comes back in to find Germaine alone. Well, that was fast. “Scarlett called,” Germaine says dully. Laurel protests there’s a war resolution, and then asks to hold the baby. Germaine hands her over, even though Laurel was acting like a total crazypants five minutes ago. Laurel says softly, “Welcome to the world,” and it’s very sweet, because, well, it’s a baby. But ominous music starts playing just as the baby smiles at Laurel.
Afterwards, though, Laurel goes to Luke’s office to yell at him. He pleads that he can’t stop. She tells him it’s not that hard to keep his pants zipped: “Don’t meet women in their apartments. Don’t meet women in hotel rooms. Don’t meet women in bars!” Ooh, you forgot to mention “don’t meet women in your office,” cause he’s done it there too!
Before she can leave, he stops her to tell her the documentary is useless. He doesn’t want the one percent stuff, he wants a propaganda piece about the war, because he’s losing. He tells her even Dad thinks he should vote for the war. Uh-oh. He’s caving.
Ben is waiting in Laurel’s office for her, to say good-bye. He totally goes in for a kiss, like, did you really think things were going well between you two, Ben? Laurel leans back and instead of saying, “You’re kind of obnoxious and we have no chemistry,” just pleads being “in something.” Um, I feel like you didn’t really understand your last conversation with Gareth, Laurel. Anyway, he takes it reasonably well, says that they made a hell of a film (at least he gives her credit with the plural pronoun), and tells her to “Keep fighting the good fight.”
Left alone in her office, Laurel looks at the Avid file that’s open of his cut of the film. She starts messing with it, deleting his audio and whipping out her own little-used microphone to record something new. She says that the country is overrun with an infection, and “the infection is an idea.” (Oh, is that what the kids are calling brain-eating spacebugs these days?) She explains that it’s extremism, both Republican and Democrat. Then she deletes Gareth’s interview from the film—and deletes the original files from the computer. A bold move, especially if Ben is the only filmmaker in the world who doesn’t backup his raw footage.
Scarlett and Luke are in a restaurant (Luke’s drinking regular wine, and Scarlett is drinking what looks like a carrot smoothie), and Luke is proceeding to break the law in the dumbest possible way. He tells her that they haven’t been together in awhile, but just to be clear, they never will again. Oh, and she’s fired, but he’s giving her a severance and a nice referral. Yes, Luke. Firing someone because you slept with them is an EXCELLENT idea. Scarlett gets very silky and evil, calls him a “weak man,” and then telling him to give her regards to Germaine. “Germaine isn’t a part of this,” says Luke. “All right, I’ll give my regards,” she grins and leaves. Uh-oh.
Montage time! Laurel’s made a new version of the documentary featuring the soothing tones of the Melanesian choir she loves so much. As people view it, including the damning footage of Wheatus and Ella conspiring (what did she do, follow them around with her phonecam?), the moderates, including Luke and Gareth and Diane, look happy, while Wheatus and Ella look highly displeased. Laurel even has footage of Wheatus bragging that “I could go out on Fifth Avenue with a flame thrower and they’d still kiss my feet. Jesus should be asking me for forgiveness.” It looks… pretty bad for him. Laurel argues that voters should decide against war, and politicians should echo their voices. Wheatus throws a flowerpot at the TV like a big old baby.
Time for a vote. Wheatus votes “No, dammit.” “Belligerence noted,” says Diane—and we note the pun. Luke votes no, and the chair votes “no, dammit.” The nos have it: there won’t be war with Syria. The chair even gives Wheatus a little lecture on how they should be making informed decisions. Unfortunately, we know her exhortations are falling on literally deaf ears.
Laurel is sitting at home watching as Ben smugly soaks up adulation for his brilliant video on Claudia Monarch’s show. “Someone needed to focus on the big picture,” he says faux-humbly, and spouts some other stuff lifted directly from Laurel. As Claudia raves about his provocative, “elegantly done” video, Gareth calls Laurel. He asks how she can stand Ben, and Laurel says she’s used to it. Gareth says he knows the video was her, and says he “recognized your barely contained contempt for anyone that thinks differently than you do.” Uh, weird, Gareth. She’s not the one who didn’t want to be friends. As Ben keeps bragging, the two smile into the phone. He jokes about Reagan, and then asks why she didn’t use his footage. “You didn’t fit in the story I was telling,” Laurel says. Big alarm bells of Meta Commentary ring in Gareth’s head, and he says good-bye and hangs up.
Germaine is standing over the baby’s crib in a very, very pink room, watching her cry. “Shh, okay?’ she says awkwardly. “Shh.” Heh. Luke comes in and smiles at them. “She won’t go to sleep,” Germaine complains. He notes the mobile; Germaine says she bought it because it was soothing. He starts kissing her neck, and she looks grossed out. I feel like we’re supposed to think she’s grossed out because Scarlett really did give her “regards” and infected her with space bugs, but come on! Her cheating husband is kissing her neck, all happy that her giant belly is gone so that he can immediately have sex with her despite her presumably very sore ladybits. Who wouldn’t shove him off?
He declares that he’s back, and he’s missed her. Then he a) brags about “fighting back the Philistines” and b) pays half-hearted lip service to how it “wasn’t easy” for her to bring Grace into the world. And then he starts kissing her neck again. Luke is the actual worst. Germaine protests that she feels sweaty. Like, again, since this lady gave vaginal birth at most a couple days ago, it seems like she has way better excuses she could use if she wanted to get a little graphic. He leaves after kissing her again, and she leaves after whispering to the baby, “Stop it.” Creepy! Then it’s dark, and the baby’s mobile plays the Cars song. Uh-oh.
Laurel comes into her own this week as the moral voice of the show. Where Ben is busy posturing about being an artistic genius and blithely claiming to have a monopoly on “honesty” in filmmaking, she’s listening to what’s going on around her and coming up with her own, unique perspective on it. Her documentary voiceover tells us that the problem is extremism and “revolution.” Which is interesting partly because it is inherently conservative, despite Laurel’s liberal alliances, to be against revolution. Though it also goes with her liberal values like peace and, you know, not bombing people of a different race willy-nilly. Her passionate advocacy in favor of balancing one’s own ideals with the need to work together to govern a nation of diverse people seems almost quaint and old-fashioned, like Obama before he met the Tea Party. She also achieves some rather impressive feats of investigative journalism by getting that footage of Ella and Wheatus, although the show completely doesn’t explain how she did this. And it’s a pleasure to see Laurel do something she’s extremely good at (filmmaking) instead of something she’s not that great at or that interested in (being a constituent caseworker, which you’ll notice she basically doesn’t do this episode). She’s coming into her own as a heroine.
There is also a lot of nuance and delicacy in the portrayal of Luke. On the one hand, he’s an incurable philanderer who is only convinced to stop when his wife has a baby and his sister gives him multiple stern lectures. Trying to get his unwilling wife into bed almost immediately after she gives birth is also not a high point. Yet he’s also one of the few senators who is still crusading against an unnecessary war, bravely ignoring the fact that he risks political consequences. His resolve seems to waver a little bit towards the end, as you’d expect from someone as essentially weak as Luke; but he is, indeed, fighting the good fight. It’s just too bad that his greatness is his internal excuse to treat the people in his private life like shit.
Gustav still doesn’t make an appearance, and that’s definitely leaving a noticeable hole. It means there are fewer jokes, and less of a balance between Laurel’s investigation of the bugs and her political endeavors. Plus, Rochelle’s character works better when she has Gustav to play off. But apart from that, this was a smart, clever episode that turns up the stakes on a few things. Especially this question: with Luke’s wife and baby possibly infected, how can he expect to stay safe for long?
Finally, I enjoy parallel between Laurel’s paranoia about Germaine’s baby–the paranoia of the uninfected–and the growing paranoia in political life. Paranoia and reasons for paranoia are multiplying all around. Every non-infected person must be paranoid that everyone else is infected—but the infected people are infected by their own paranoia, that everything is rigged, that everyone is their enemy. If Noah and Jules think the whole system is rigged, then nothing is true and everything is to be suspected–and Laurel, because she knows anyone might be infected with space bugs, behaves the exact same way. Even the miracle of a new life coming into the world is to be distrusted, examined: is this really a miracle, or is it a trick from the other side?