Braindead 1×13: “The End of All We Hold Dear: What Happens When Democracies Fail: A Brief Synopsis”

Jonathan Coulton appears in person to sing the last previouslies of the season, sitting outside Gustav’s apartment: Ella died, Red recovered, Luke’s protesting, Laurel’s staying, and the threesome are scheming.

Recap

Inside the brownstone, Laurel is telling Rochelle and Gustav that the key is the thirty-eight-day countdown, not the war or the internment camps, which were just a distraction. (Technically, the internment camps weren’t a distraction, they were something Laurel made up because she saw some blueprints for hothouses.) After Gustav bangs on his window to shush the troubadour outside, Laurel says that it’s all about the hothouses, because the bugs need cherry blossoms to spawn. Gustav says they need the full blueprints, so Laurel agrees to get them from Gareth, and says that Luke is working on stopping the budget. Before she leaves, Gustav calls her back. They put their hands together and say they’re in this together. “It’s us against the world,” says Rochelle. Yay!

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Laurel arrives in Red’s office to find Gareth’s parents, Nora and Sam. Sam is wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, which wipes the smile off Laurel’s face. Red makes introductions and slips in that Laurel’s a Democrat. As soon as this comes up Nora starts shushing Sam, who protests that he didn’t say anything (although he was clearly thinking it). When Gareth arrives, Wheatus gleefully ups the awkward factor. “You’re a sly one, not telling your parents you’re dating a Democrat. Especially so soon after she dated Michael Moore.” Hee! Sam’s horrified by this, but Laurel pulls Gareth aside.

As soon as they’re in his office, he says, “That was weird.” She agrees perfunctorily that it was and then immediately demands the blueprints. Gareth agrees to try, for once without mentioning that he hates that she’s a slutty old liberal, because he’s so worried that his parents hurt her feelings. In answer to this, she pushes him up against the wall and kisses him. He suggests having sex right there, and she’s almost, almost into it until she sees her brother on the TV, the sit-in reportedly ending. Gareth, who’s all too used to her peacing out at a moment’s notice, doesn’t protest.

Laurel meets Luke on the Senate floor. Apparently the senators are deserting him. She asks what would bring them back, and he says drama. So they cook up a simple plan: he asks the security guard to arrest him. The guard laughs, but Luke is serious. He pays the guy to do it. Well when that inevitably comes out it’ll make quite the drama, no? Anyway, as he’s handcuffed and dragged out, he gets a chance to yell right into the TV cameras about the fascist Republicans. Immediately a thousand indignant Democrats come out of their office to join the sit-in. They just can’t believe what the Republicans are doing!

Gareth’s in Wheatus’s office, presumably looking for the blueprints. A bunch of the desk drawers are locked. Sure, the guy can’t remember to close the door when he’s literally spawning spacebugs in cherry blossoms, but at least he remembers to lock his desk. Gareth goes to the coat rack, presumably looking for keys—and finds Wheatus’s security badge. He opens the middle drawer of the desk to find a handy little gun for shooting people whose brains you want to eat, and a photo of a brunette woman.

He calls Laurel and says there aren’t blueprints, but he did find a security badge to the Manassus construction site. He’s interrupted in the middle of this by Intern Gary, who should probably be suspicious when Gareth awkwardly sends him out while on a secretive phone call alone in their boss’s office, but isn’t, because he’s Intern Gary. Laurel thanks Gareth and hangs up, but not before accidentally saying “Love you” and getting all embarrassed. Gareth jokes back that he loves her.

So let’s go over all this in order, shall we? First they broke up, then they shared a tepid kiss in a hospital hallway, then Laurel proposed moving in together, then Gareth proposed marriage, then he said it was a joke, then they dropped the L-word for the first time but only as a joke? I’m no traditionalist or anything, but does this seem out of order to anyone else? Oh, and also, Alicia and Will totally already had this scene.

Laurel leaves a message for Rochelle as she heads to the sit-in, where Luke has also arrived back, looking smug indeed at the success of his gambit. Diane has joined the sit-in too. Wheatus calls and invites him to talk, after semi-complimenting him on the drama he’s created. Luke says he learned the drama thing from Wheatus; Wheatus says he learned the compromise thing from Luke. Luke agrees to come have lunch in Wheatus’s office; Wheatus pulls out his gun and (hilariously) his Tupperware, clearly savoring the thought of shooting Luke and eating his brains. (Speaking of which, no one seems to have noticed that Ella is totally dead.) Meanwhile, Wheatus notices the scratches on his desk from where Gareth broke in. Uh-oh.

Isenstadt sits in Luke’s office, looking displeased. Luke turns on the TV, showing Diane condemning the police for arresting Luke. Wow, he is REALLY smug in this episode. Isenstadt brings up Luke leaking, and Luke says the special prosecutor didn’t decide to pursue it. Isenstadt corrects him that he disappeared, he didn’t decline to pursue. He implies he has a witness. Luke immediately brings in Laurel, saying that Isenstadt is threatening him. Luke is not concerned at all, but Laurel looks totally freaked. “He’s bluffing,” Luke says. Laurel points out that their father could turn on him.

Laurel arrives at her parents’ home to find a whole bunch of empty veggie juice cups and the faint sound of the Cars. Her father is standing in the kitchen, and doesn’t answer to his name at first. Laurel approaches and asks if he’s all right, but he turns and goes straight to the stairs, where he starts tying on his running shoes again. She follows and asks if he told the CIA that Luke leaked information to them. “I told them the truth,” Dean says.

Laurel asks if he’s also going to tell the truth about how many times he’s screwed Luke over. She brings up a memory of when Luke lost an election, and Dean told him not to embarrass the family anymore. Getting up in his face, she passionately tells him that Luke was devastated by that, and that all Dean ever cared about was winning. Then suddenly she looks alarmed, and Dean realizes that he has bugs crawling out of his ear. Well that’s better than brain fluid, I guess. He claps his hand over his ear and tries to escape, but Laurel grabs him and pleads that Luke used to admire him, and he could stop being infected. Dean seems tempted for a moment, but then leaves to buy more sneakers. As one does.

The Terrible Three are conferring outside somewhere, hushing up only when joggers pass in case they’re bug people. Laurel tells them the story of her dad leaking bugs out of his ear. “Shame,” Rochelle realizes. “It’s the most deep-seated human emotion.” Gustav says, “Come on, politicians can’t feel shame.” Easy, but funny.

Gareth interrupts with Wheatus’s security badge and warns that Wheatus will put his jacket on to go home at 8pm. Then he pulls Laurel aside. She starts to talk about the I-love-you thing and then claims to be a commitmentphobe, so he doesn’t have to tell her they’re getting too serious. He gets alarmed, so she asks him what he was going to say, and he mumbles something. Laurel presses him, saying she didn’t hear him. “Maybe I love you, too,” he says. “If the world’s gonna end, I thought I should say it.” Then he tries to walk away, because that’s normal. She stops him and says, “I think I love you, too.” They smile and then kiss under an archway.

Always a good idea to settle that before getting married.

Mission preparation montage! (Or at least, sort of a montage.) Rochelle googles how to keep a cherry tree from growing (salt), while Gustav takes a selfie and pastes it right over Wheatus’s picture on the badge. Then they go to the grocery store and solemnly stock up on large quantities of salt, until Gustav loses patience and starts throwing the entire shelf into the cart. Back at home he puts on a suit and practices holding the blueprints convincingly, while Rochelle tries not to laugh.

As they head into the site, Gustav mansplains to Rochelle how to be cool about this. Then as soon as they get inside and one of the workers asks what they’re doing, Gustav totally freaks out. “Working. Like you. Just working. See?”

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The guy tells him he’s being unchivalrous for letting Rochelle push the cart, so Gustav makes a joke about how you know women, she was too stubborn. The worker takes the cart for them and leads them into the hothouse, which has tiny sprouts of trees already growing in rows. He introduces himself, and Gustav almost says he’s Dr. Bob before Rochelle nudges him and he remembers he’s actually Red Wheatus. The worker somehow recognizes Wheatus’s name but isn’t surprised to see it attached to a black man, and is delighted to meet the Senator. Growing in confidence, Gustav blathers about how he took a break from his government work to see how the construction is coming along. Then he almost introduces Rochelle as her real name before correcting himself, very convincingly, to “Rasheen Boline.” They see Onofrio and start to try to make an escape, but the worker excitedly tries to introduce him to the Senator. They turn their backs on him and pretend the Senator has an important call and, while Onofrio watches suspiciously, run towards the exit. Gustav freaks out when he can’t get the door open, but Rochelle opens the other side calmly and lets him out. Onofrio goes over to their cart and uncovers the giant stockpile of salt.

Laurel arrives at the sit-in, where everyone is singing and clapping. She wants to talk about their dad and how to make him feel shamed. “Dad doesn’t shame easily,” Luke says cynically. Laurel says he cried when he was reminded of what he said to Luke after Luke lost the senate race. Luke thinks it was just about his losing, but Laurel says that it’s about the shitty thing he said to Luke, and that their father is “still in there.” Luke says he was never in there. “He never was our father. He was our manager.” He doesn’t even think this is about him, because their dad always loved Laurel more. Apparently the best way to make him feel ashamed is something about a camera she got for her ninth birthday.

When Dean Healy arrives home he finds Laurel playing a video of herself at nine in his living room. Laurel starts reminding him of that night. “I missed this birthday? Don’t remember that,” he says. On the video, he arrives home and Laurel films his fight with her mother, Liz, from upstairs, through the banister rails. On video, Liz accuses him of missing Laurel’s birthday to be with his girlfriend. In real life, Dean pleads to Laurel in the present day that he didn’t know she was there. Baby Laurel says into the camera that she loves her dad, and cries. She has the exact same haircut that grown-up Laurel does. Nothing in this family, apparently, has changed. Suddenly Dean collapses on the floor.

Luke shows up for his promised lunch with Wheatus. But he immediately says he only has five minutes and refuses to sit—“I’ve been sitting for way too many hours, thanks to you.” So Wheatus, fiddling with the lock on his desk drawer, asks him to stand still at a certain spot, right where Ella was when she died. Well that’s not suspicious at all. “Here’s my offer,” he starts as he whips out the gun. DEATH, is apparently his offer. But Luke gets a call and rudely takes it, wandering around the office with his back to Wheatus. Wheatus pulls out the gun, aims, realizes the safety’s on (I guess Republicans aren’t that good at that either), flips it off—and then Luke turns around, so Wheatus puts away the gun in haste like the big coward he is. Luke says his dad is sick so he needs to delay. “Damn Healys,” Wheatus mutters as Luke leaves. Even though it should really be “Damn me,” because he easily could’ve shot Luke if he hadn’t chickened out. Note: people STILL have not remarked on Ella being gone. Did he throw her in the dumpster again?

When Gareth comes into Wheatus’s office, he looks super nervously right at Wheatus’s jacket. Way to be cool, Gareth. Wheatus asks if anyone’s been into his office—like Gary maybe. Gareth says he hasn’t, but Wheatus asks him to send Gary in. Hastily Gareth promises to talk to him. Wheatus calls Gareth a good person and then comes up and smells his neck, which is… alarming.

Even more alarming is the fact that Wheatus is now putting on his jacket and the badge isn’t back in it yet. Luckily just then Gustav and Rochelle bust into Gareth’s office next door and hand him the badge. Gareth offers to help Wheatus with the jacket, and then pulls the old pretending-to-discover-a-dropped-item-on-the-floor gambit just as Wheatus notices the badge is missing. Everyone is saved!

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The Healy sibs are waiting outside a hospital room. Laurel says that she always wanted their father to be ashamed of what he did to their mother, and now that she has it feels awful. She’s tearing up, and Luke hugs her. It’s a sweet moment.

It’s the next morning, and Gustav is waiting for Rochelle outside somewhere. She brings him coffee and says she has an idea: they don’t need to sabotage the hothouses if they just sabotage the trees where the bugs already are. “We need to make them absciss,” she says and then explains what that is even though Gustav says he already knows: make them shed their blossoms early. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer can do this, she says.

Soft music plays as Gareth and Laurel make out in bed while talking about her dad and his shame. Hot. “Red doesn’t really do shame, it’s not his brand,” he says. Laurel thinks there might be hope since he was crying last week. They make out more. Well… I’m glad this topic works for them.

Afterward, Gareth remarks that Wheatus keeps calling Laurel Lana. He whips out a laptop to show her a clip of Wheatus breaking down on Claudia Monarch’s talk show during his crying-in-public phase, saying he “misses her.” You might assume this was just about his dead earbug, but just as Claudia Monarch awkwardly breaks for commercial (Wheatus’s crying is too pathetic for even the most strident Democratic talk show host to enjoy!) he weeps, “Where are you, Lana?” Gareth says that he thinks he saw this Lana’s photo in Red’s desk drawer.

Cherry blossoms are in bloom as Gustav and Rochelle pull up in her car. They are going to pour fertilizer all over the tree roots. “Hey, let’s not draw a lot of attention to ourselves,’ Rochelle says as Gustav goes for the giant bags of fertilizer in her backseat clearly labeled with ammonium nitrate (which, of course, can also be used for bombs). But it’s too late: sirens bleep lethargically as a cop car pulls up behind them. “This is not gonna look good,” Gustav says unnecessarily. The officer asks for a license and registration. Gustav sasses him, and Rochelle tries to shush him. Then the officer says they were speeding, so Rochelle gets mad and Gustav tries to shush her. “I was most definitely NOT speeding!” she cries and starts to record, insisting she needs only one-party consent. “Oh, here we go,” Gustav says.

Next thing you know there are half a police dozen cars gathered around as Rochelle and Gustav stand with their hands on the car. He remarks that this is why he doesn’t have a car. Up comes Onofrio, smugly saying, “Well well well. What are the odds?” This is going to be awkward, since Gustav is definitely not a senator.

At the Capitol the sitters-in are STILL SINGING. They’ve been singing the same song for like forty-eight hours. I love how efficiently Braindead uses its music budget: just license one Cars song and one hymn, and you’re basically done with season one. Luke arrives with pizza, and is stopped by Isenstadt and Wheatus, who accuses him of stealing the security badge. Luke can truthfully say he knows nothing about that. Isenstadt won’t let him move forward with the pizza. Luke says that his witness is no longer available, at which point Wheatus decides to make fun of Dean: “I love you, Lukie Pookie.” But it’s not about Dean, Isenstadt says, it’s about a sex tape they have. Not a good one, according to Isenstadt. Scarlett, in her red lipstick, looks over and calmly waves. Uh-oh.

Faced with the prospect of having Germaine see that sex tape, Luke quickly decides discretion is the better part of valor. He gets up and tells everyone they’ve done a good job, but it’s time to vote. Cries of disappointment rise from the sitters.

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Rochelle and Gustav are still waiting by the car. “Don’t make any furtive movements,” Rochelle says. “Excuse me, I know how to be black,” Gustav says drily. Onofrio comes back with the original officer and asks about the fertilizer. “My friend bought a tree,” Gustav says. “Must be a big tree,” says Onofrio. Heh. Gustav wearily tells them to check his work ID in his back pocket. As soon as he says the word “pocket,” the police officers all drawer their guns in a flash. It’s terrifying—and sadly, completely believable. Gustav, a little out of breath from fear, suggests again that they check his back pocket. They pull out an ID for the NSA. He confirms he’s a senior intelligence officer, and they apologize for bothering him and leave. Rochelle pokes him in the chest, shocked. “You’re NSA?” “Of course,” he says with a cute smile.

I mean, can you blame her for being shocked? As soon as they were confronted at the construction site Gustav basically fell apart. He would be like the worst intelligence officer in the world.

On Laurel’s TV, the Senate vote is concluding in favor of keeping the budget without bifurcation. Wheatus brags, “We shall not be moved, my ass!” and starts chanting, “We shall be moved.” Classy.

Laurel interrupts Luke and Cole Stockwell plotting in his office, demanding to know why he didn’t even bother voting. Luke says they had the numbers, and also, he has a different plan. Stockwell explains, with a few overly cited budget-nerd references, that they made a certain motorcycle helmet law public health policy, meaning that now it overrides the farm bill on issues that cross state lines. “He lost,” Luke says. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Later that day, Wheatus is in his office, figuring out that he’s lost. He growls for Gareth, but finds only Laurel waiting next door, calmly waiting for a confrontation. “Looks like it’s come down to the two of us,” he says and invites her in for the final showdown. Not before kicking her chair over to his favorite murdering-other-people-in-his-office spot, though. Laurel pulls her chair back to the center and sits. “You go first,” she says.

Back at Gustav’s, Rochelle says again she can’t believe that he didn’t tell her he was NSA. But Gareth interrupts to ask for Laurel. When he hears she went up to look for him, he gets alarmed (clearly thinking of that gun in Wheatus’s desk) and leaves.

Upstairs, Wheatus remarks that Luke tricked him, and sneakiness seems to run in the family. But he has the grass roots and the gerrymandered districts! Laurel interrupts to ask if she looks like Lana. Wheatus plays dumb, but Laurel has done her research: she says that Lana was his first love, that she worked in his dorm and was an illegal immigrant, and that he turned her in. Wheatus’s denials are “My first love was and is my great country,” and then, “She’s not my type.” Very convincing. Laurel surmises that he’s ashamed of what he did, but he says (looking longingly at the photo of Lana inside his desk drawer, which he’s opened so as to be able to conveniently pull out his pistol and kill Laurel dead). Laurel tells him that Lana is dead now, because actually, she was born here and her parents were from Guatemala, and … apparently if you go to Guatemala and you don’t know it well you get killed?

So… how was Lana not a citizen? Is this actually taking place in a future, post-Trump America where only white people who are born here get to be citizens?

Wheatus looks like he’s working up the nerve to kill Laurel, but just then Gareth comes in and starts trying to wrestle the gun out of Wheatus’s hands. “Why are you doing this?” Wheatus pleads. Laurel joins the fray, and then the gun goes off. Dead silence for a moment until Wheatus screams, “You shot me in the butt!” He sinks to the floor in pain, and his earbug buzzes out of his ear, only to be squashed by Gary the Intern’s foot as Gary enters to bring Wheatus his smoothie. He apologizes, says that he will get a paper towel to clean up the giant quantity of yellow goo that just spurted out of that relatively small bug, and leaves. EW.

A chorus of low screams starts to be audible. Gareth and Laurel look around in panic. Meanwhile, a speechifying Democratic Senator suddenly starts to emit bugs out of his ear. Then the other Senators in the chamber do the same. Diane looks on in horror. A sea of bugs swarms down the hall, leaving people screaming and running away. They all come into Wheatus’s office and surround the gooey remains of the king earbug. Laurel and Gareth, seeing that both doors have ants streaming in, climb up onto his desk and hold hands.

Gustav and Rochelle are sitting by the pool, watching the trees and wondering how long it will take for the fertilizer to work. Then she brings up his NSA connections and asks why he didn’t use them before. He says he was on leave, “and this is only bothering you because you have a massive crush on me.” She rolls her eyes and stands up to leave, but then sees a blossom fall and stops. Gustav starts bragging that she can’t get enough of him, but she holds up a hand to shush him. Then all of a sudden all of the blossoms fall at once. They shriek with laughter, and he lifts her up to spin her.

In Wheatus’s office, Gareth and Laurel watch the giant pile of bugs die, and then they kiss. “What’s goin’ on?” asks Wheatus as he comes back to consciousness.

Jonathan Coulton appears in Gareth’s office to sing us into the end. He tells us that Laurel’s leaving politics and might finish her documentary. She did move in with Gareth after all. “How many kids do you want?” he asks her. She says zero, and asks how many he wants. “The normal amount, like five or six,” he says. Oh Gareth. Meanwhile, Red stays on as Senator, “Turns out having half a brain just doesn’t matter all that much.” We see Wheatus in the Senate, pondering whether global warming is real or possibly a conspiracy put forth by the Chinese (oh, I see what you did there guys), and also pondering, “Why can’t I have a doggy-woggy?” Aloud. In a Senate hearing. Love it. We see Dean back in the hospital, unfortunately now that the spacebugs are gone he’s once again battling Parkinson’s. Then we see Laurel and Gareth voting together, and jokingly trying to see each other’s ballots. Meanwhile, Luke has left for a “Wall Street firm with slightly fewer principles and higher pay,” and Laurel comes to help him right before a market crash (season 2’s purported plotline, if it gets renewed). The conclusion is that there are no more space bugs… but just as Jonathan Coulton leaves, one zooms towards the camera. Nice.

Review

We should all be grateful that the Kings tied up all the loose ends in case this show doesn’t get renewed, which, what with the not-exactly-upward trajectory of the ratings which were low to begin with, seems rather likely.

This double episode had every element that makes Braindead itself: gory bug action, absurd political theater, and the Terrible Three at the center of it all, doing their detective work and sabotage missions. Luke cooking up his own arrest to get sympathy for his cause was a great touch, and the traffic stop that inevitably winds up with guns pointed at Rochelle and Gustav was a necessary detour into the too-serious-for-satire topic of police brutality. There were some great one-liners, especially Gustav’s “Thank you, I know how to be black.”

I also thought that Luke had a particularly strong episode. Danny Pino played him with that fiery swagger of a man who is doing the right thing… but is enjoying his own image of himself as a hero perhaps a little too much. And Tony Shalhoub got to flex his acting muscle, by playing Wheatus’s illness with so much comic exaggeration that it became strangely, irresistibly moving.

All season I’ve been wondering if my reading of this show is colored by my desperate love of The Good Wife, the Kings’ last project before this one, which was an hourlong drama whose every character had layers upon layers of motivation for each action, that arose from deep, complex, well-developed characterizations. It’s hard not to demand the same from Braindead, which is always futile. This episode had the usual problems with motivation: Laurel’s thin reasoning for wanting to jump ship, that she never finishes what she started, which has never seemed to be a concern for her this entire season; Laurel and Gareth’s rather undeveloped “love” for each other; Rochelle and Gustav suddenly developing sexual tension out of thin air; etc. But are these really problems, or am I just watching it wrong? The fact is that Braindead doesn’t want to be The Good Wife; it’s more satire than anything else, and so the machinations of the plot should rest on characteristics of society, not of individual actors.

Here, the aspects of society that drive the plot forward are the power of television to sway opinions; the performative nature of politics, and of advocacy; the relatively small role that truth plays in any political maneuver; and the narcissism of individual actors in politics. And the show does do quite a good job of showing how easy all this makes it for people to drive the entire government into the ground. Just like, presumably, next season may show how easy it is for people on Wall Street to drive the entire government into the ground.

So good-bye to Braindead, at least for now. You were funny, you were crazy, and you made it almost palatable that our government is a giant shitshow. Hope to see you next summer, if American society hasn’t entirely fallen apart by then. Ta-ta!

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