Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? The opening of this episode was sheer, dumb fun, and I loved every second of it. Sure, the mythology whereby you can expel the ants from your brain if you watch enough bad TV and listen to enough terrible music and have enough vigorous sex is a little flimsy. Claiming that the only cure is to use your right brain skirts a little too closely to “The secret weapon is love!” for my tastes. But who cares? Once Rochelle and Gustav hit on tapping into Laurel’s right brain to drive out the bugs, things get fun.
There are black-and-white slapstick movies! There’s a dance party! There’s televised elephant sex! And there’s a whole lot of alcohol. When Gareth just happens to stop by, Laurel seizes the opportunity and sexily recites the lyrics to the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” to him. It spirals into weird quasi-karaoke (a friendly reminder that Aaron Tveit is one of the best Broadway singers of his generation and should feel free to start singing anytime), then winds up in a weird frenzy of food and very efficient sex before Laurel passes out, snoring. A baffled Gareth slinks out. It’s both funny and highly relatable, because who among us has faced down something that a bite of salami, a bite of chocolate, and some really vigorous sex couldn’t fix? And just as soon as Laurel finishes with Gareth, a whole score of the bugs skitter out the door, but not before Gustav snags one to study.
The scene works so well because it leans into the sheer goofiness of BrainDead’s premise, and because it follows through on last week’s cliffhanger so effectively. A bug wasn’t just near Laurel’s ear, and she wasn’t dreaming. She was truly infected! As Jonathan Coulton points out with a bit of self-congratulation in the “last week on … ” song: “That isn’t supposed to happen to the main character.” I’m pleased that BrainDead actually went there and paid off those stakes, and equally pleased with how much fun they had doing so.
The fact that drawing on her right brain scared off the bugs gives Laurel hope that she can help her zombified friend Stacy. She lures Stacy to a bar, tries to get her drunk and dancing, and even invites an old boyfriend there, whom she called in advance with promises that Stacy wanted to go back together. (This raises a question: To what extent are you obligated to observe personal boundaries in a friendship when the friend in question has aliens in her brain?) At first, Stacy politely resists what she sees as Laurel’s attempt to run her life, but then she stops speaking for herself. The bugs take over: “We know what you’re doing. It’s not going to work. She’s gone.” Laurel asks what the bugs want and not-Stacy creepily responds, “Everything.” The whole thing would’ve been BrainDead’s creepiest moment yet, had not-Stacy then made her fingers into L shapes, placed them at her temples like antenna, then laughed, and run away. Again with the tone problems! But it’s exciting to have confirmation that the bugs want more than just a race of dullards who enjoy kale. They’ve got goals. Big, scary, Earth-shaped goals.
And we also learn that the bugs really are aliens. It’s about time: Rochelle is the truest skeptic among our merry band of ant investigators, Gustav has believed that the ants were from another planet for weeks, and Laurel’s pretty much willing to accept any semi-reasonable explanation at this point. But when Rochelle and Gustav start studying the bug he captured, they find that 10 percent of its chemical makeup is completely inexplicable. It’s material that’s not found to Earth — and what’s more, the ants don’t stop moving once they’re dead. Rochelle understands and accepts this because it’s visible, empirical evidence, but taking the leap to believing that, “Yep, these guys are from space!” only comes after she slows down the waveform of the Cars’ “You Might Think” and plays it up against sounds taken from space by NASA. It’s all but a perfect match. (Big night for all the asteroseismologists in the house!)
This week, it becomes clearer that Red wants to shut down the government and keep it shut down, not move things forward with his own mega-Republican agenda. Maybe that’s been obvious to everyone else and I’m just slow to catch on, but his behavior was put in perspective for me after not-Stacy told Laurel that there is no government anymore. Red specifically targets Laurel for the first time, too. Tony Shalhoub and Mary Elizabeth Winstead haven’t done much direct work with each other, and watching them do so was a lot of fun. And Red is right! His life would get much easier if Laurel headed back to California, but chances of that seem slim. Nevertheless, he’s busy stalling a vote to get the CDC up and running, lest the organization actually manages to investigate the bugs. He’s even up to some gerrymandering antics, too. Laurel spends a full day redrawing voting districts on oversized maps, only to realize they’ve been shaped to look exactly like crop circles. (Weekly reminder that it’s hard for stories about things like voter suppression to feel fun, since they’re a daily source of anxiety as we roll toward November.)
Meanwhile, things are awkward between Gareth and Laurel after she uses him for (consensual) meat and candy sex. He said he’d always imagined something more romantic for their first time together — a date, a kiss on her stoop, worrying that calling her too soon after would make him seem needy, calling her too soon anyway. Instead, “You were yelling at me to go faster while you ate chocolate and salami.” It’s a very fair point. But, he helps her get the maps and materials she needs to investigate the gerrymandering, and by the end of the episode, they’re sitting across from each other, dressed nicely, holding cocktails, and exchanging pleasantries. It seems like a perfectly lovely date until she announces that she thinks she’s going crazy, because she thinks bugs are eating people’s brains and making them stupid. Gareth laughs, and then stops.
“Huh,” he says. Huh indeed, pal.