BrainDead Recap: What Would Jack Bauer Do?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel. Photo: Michael Parmelee/CBS


The Power of Euphemism: How Torture Became a Matter of Debate in American Politics Season 1 Episode 7
Editor's Rating 2 stars

A note before we get to tonight’s episode of BrainDead: I’m very frustrated by television’s overreliance on violence against women as a plot point — a frustration many other critics share. I’m sure that frustration informed the way I watched this episode, and I really don’t care for the fact that the only thing driving any action in “The Power of Euphemism” was the fear that Laurel might be brutally tortured.

Yes, it’s just television, and yes, Laurel’s friends rescue her, and, yes, it’s not outside the realm of the probable for an innocent American citizen to be tortured. But there are ways to build suspense that don’t involve strapping a female character to a table, dropping a washcloth over her mouth, and threatening to waterboard her. There are other stories to tell, and there are certainly ways to tell those stories when your show is rooted in fantasy. I’d hoped for more than this from BrainDead, and I don’t think focusing on the threat of torture rather than torture itself makes it any better. I’m legitimately baffled by it all. Is this supposed to be funny?

What’s especially unfortunate, though, is that the cheap suspense generated by Laurel’s time in FBI custody is the only remarkable thing “The Power of Euphemism” has going for it. Don’t get me wrong, Johnny Ray Gill and Nikki M. James are proving to be the unsung MVPs of the series, but Gustav and Rochelle spend almost the entire episode decoding and disseminating the high-frequency sounds that control the infected. It’s a leap forward in the show’s mythology — now the Ant Avengers (we still need a much better nickname) are not only able to identify the infected, but control them a little, too. Nevertheless, watching Gustav and Rochelle watch an iPhone screen and nervously whisper to each other doesn’t make for compelling television, no matter how gamely Gill and Jones dive into it.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself: Let’s start at the beginning, just before a bug straight-up flies out of Senator Wheatus’s ear. Red is on the phone with the FBI, ready to orchestrate a takedown of Laurel because … um, who knows? Her connection to Luke? Their conversation in last week’s episode? His weird Spidey sense that she knows too much? Partway through his conversation, the bug flies out of his ear, declines Red’s offer of a baby carrot to snack on, and then lays a whole mess of eggs on a bouquet of cherry blossoms, which Red instructs his All-American intern, Mike, to take home with him. Then the bug just straight-up crawls back into Red’s brain. The way Red speaks to the bug and seems to control it raises a whole host of questions, and aside from that, it’s strange that this week’s episode didn’t make a big of a deal of the fact that THE ANTS CAN FLY NOW. Maybe they’ll pick up there next week.

Bug safely back in ear, Red gets the head of the FBI to meet him at the Senate gym with Intern Mike. Red pushes Mike to go hard on some exercise equipment, and straining with effort, his brain explodes. Now the FBI has to act. So Laurel gets Tased, taken, and put in a room with doctors and agents and interrogators who try to assess her ability to withstand torture. It is, as I mentioned above, very upsetting, in no small part because Luke unwittingly signs off on her torture.

Meanwhile! Gustav, genius that he is, is the first to realize Laurel is missing, so he and Rochelle go to Gareth to sound the alarm. I liked the continuity of them not immediately going straight to Luke, since he already knew them as the “crazy bug people,” and I also liked how quickly Gareth dove out of his office once he heard that Laurel was in trouble. Gareth approaches Luke, who calls the FBI and somehow manages to convince the agent he’s speaking with to confirm (without, you know, confirming) that Laurel is in their custody. Luke immediately subpoenas the director of the FBI, requiring a hearing and testimony and evidence and a vote before torture can be authorized, buying Laurel some time.

Luke stalls and makes his case as best he can, but he’s really no match for Red, or for the bugs in Red’s brain. Taking a page out of Justice Antonin Scalia’s book, Red simpers, “Look at Jack Bauer. What did he have to do to keep America safe?” (In 2007, Scalia famously used Jack Bauer and 24 to justify the use of torture.) Once Red finally calls for a vote, it looks like the use of “controlled immersion” in Laurel’s case is about to pass … until half of the members of the Senate subcommittee start acting strangely. First, they’re raising two hands at once, then they’re walking out of the room, then they’re walking into walls. I don’t understand the science behind Rochelle and Gustav’s new ability to control the infected, but I did laugh out loud at the image of a senator walking into a wall over and over again — although maybe it was more out of relief that Laurel was going to be okay.

And so, it’s a mostly happy ending. Laurel’s free, she’s reunited with Luke and her friends in his office, and their dad even stops by to celebrate, until … PLOT TWIST! Gustav and Rochelle’s zombie detector starts going crazy, indicating that Luke and Laurel’s dad is infected, too. This isn’t a huge surprise — I’d suspected it pretty early on — but it’s a welcome development, if only because I’ve been champing at the bit for Zach Grenier to have a little bit more to do. Sure, I’ve enjoyed watching him kick back as the mild-mannered dad, but I can’t be the only Good Wife fan who’s been waiting for him to get a little evil, right?

BrainDead Recap: What Would Jack Bauer Do?