BrainDead Recap: Barely Concealed Contempt

The Path to War Part Two: The Impact of Propaganda on Congressional War Votes
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel. Photo: Michael Parmelee/CBS


The Path to War Part Two: The Impact of Propaganda on Congressional War Votes Season 1 Episode 10
Editor's Rating 2 stars

Quick poll: Who else would watch a version of BrainDead that’s just Laurel and Gareth walking around D.C., talking about why they have to stop seeing each other? Scenes like that are folded into almost every episode, and they reliably suck me in. Is it a bad sign that the most compelling moments of a show about zombies, political intrigue, and high-stakes drama come when two characters are hanging out, calmly discussing their on-again, off-again relationship?

Maybe don’t answer that. But for the record, Laurel and Gareth are currently off again.

This week, Laurel must babysit a documentary filmmaker named Ben, who’s making a propaganda video — props to Luke’s willingness to straight-up refer to it as such — that encourages people to tell their representatives to vote against war with Syria. We’re meant to assume that Ben is either infected with the space bugs, or he’s really concerned about the one percent. Laurel repeatedly asks him to widen the scope of the project, but take after take (and syllable after syllable of constructive criticism), Ben insists that Red and Co. only want to go to war because of Wall Street and big banking.

And so, what follows is one of the most realistic scenes presented on BrainDead: Laurel does all of the work herself, creating a beautiful, on-point short documentary … and the next day, her less-talented male colleague reaps all the credit. At least Gareth recognizes it as hers: “I know it was you. I recognized your barely concealed contempt.” Even though we only get a few moments of Laurel cutting together the piece (on what looks to be frightfully outdated software), it’s a refreshing reminder that she’s a person of skill and talent, and that talent extends beyond tracking down space bugs. Speaking of which: Where was Gustav this week?!

Laurel’s video comes at just the right time, as warmongering is in full swing in Washington. Ella and Red have scaled up their love-hate relationship, bringing the No Wayers and One Wayers in for a meeting. Red explains that they should work together, since their common goal is “burning the government to the ground,” even though they have different reasons for wanting to strike the match. After explaining all of this, Red turns and kind of growls directly into the camera. Say whatever else you want about this series — it’s clear Tony Shalhoub is having a whole lot of fun.

The problem lies in the way the show chooses to tell its stories, which doesn’t allow for much subtlety and nuance. Whether that’s due to the show’s oversized ambition or the fact that many of its characters are literal zombies, it makes for plodding scenes, much like last week’s leak investigation. There are only so many times a person can hear, “We have to go to war!” and “We must not go to war!” and on and on and on. Although I’ve read BrainDead’s creators and fans explaining that the show is, in part, about the ways in which we fail to communicate when we discuss politics, watching an hour of that is exhausting. Once again, I can’t help but wonder if I’d be more receptive to what BrainDead is trying to accomplish were I not watching it during an incredibly contentious political season.

The good news? Laurel’s documentary works and the no vote carries, despite her dad’s attempts to convince Luke to vote yes. (Reminder: Laurel knows their father is infected; Luke doesn’t.) But that’s not the only family issue Luke faces this week: His wife, Germaine, is just about to deliver their baby, and Laurel loses her mind when she mentions that the baby kicks like crazy whenever Donald Trump is on TV.

It’s strange that Laurel immediately panics about the baby, without considering whether Germaine herself might be infected. After all, Germaine shows up to see her all full of indignation, wanting to know whether Luke is cheating. That’s accurate indignation, because boy is he ever, but the fact that Laurel never even appears to consider Germaine’s well-being feels like another instance of the show asking us to believe, at least temporarily, that Laurel’s not all that smart. I don’t like that. I also didn’t love Luke’s good-bye tour of his former lovers. Did the show really need to spend so much time in one of its final three episodes assuring us, that, yes, Luke has slept with many women? Maybe that’ll pay off unexpectedly as the season winds down, or maybe they’re trying to make some sort of Anthony Weiner parallel that I’m not picking up on. For now, I’m perplexed.

The doctors swear that Germaine’s baby is fine, despite the telltale presence of a certain Cars song as her OB-GYN’s ringtone. She ends up delivering a baby that, like all TV babies, looks like a beautiful, happy three-month-old. After they bring her home, Germaine puts her to bed in the most unsafe-looking infant crib ever — seriously, no blankets or bumpers for newborns, people! — then she shoos Luke off and semi-aggressively tells the baby to fall asleep. The whole scenario feels weird for a first day (?!) home with a new baby on several different levels, and it gets even weirder when Germaine turns on the special mobile she bought, and it tinkles out the opening notes of “You Might Think.” The baby’s soothed and, frankly, so was I. Maybe it’s a weird form of Stockholm Syndrome, but as the show’s worn on, I’ve become more and more attached to the song. As Rochelle said earlier in the episode, it’s rather … infectious.

BrainDead Recap: Barely Concealed Contempt