BrainDead Recap: A Charming Bohemian Affectation


Six Points on the New Congressional Budget: The False Dichotomy of Austerity vs. Expansionary Policies
Season 1 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****
Six Points on the new Congressional Budget: The False Dichotomy of Austerity vs. Expansionary Policies
Tony Shalhoub as Red. Photo: CBS

“It’s official,” Gareth says, two-thirds of the way through this week’s BrainDead. “I’m insane.” But he isn’t crazy — he’s just finally joined the ranks of those who both know about and want to stop the bug infestation. It occurs to me that I should’ve come up with some sort of special name for those people (the Bugbusters? The Anti-Ants?), but with only one episode of BrainDead remaining, it’s a bit too late for that.

Gareth finds out that Laurel’s been telling the truth in the creepiest way imaginable. Working late, he pops his head into Red’s office for a quick chat, and sees the queen bug laying a hefty pile of eggs on some cherry blossoms. Random quibble: Why do the bugs need to lay eggs on a specific sort of flower? Wouldn’t they have an easier time if they could lay eggs on cement or carpeting or the cover of Us Weekly? Anyway, Gareth meets up with Laurel, a little sheepish about having blown off her bug stories. (“I just thought that this was a charming bohemian affectation of yours!”) Laurel brings him into the inner circle of Gustav, Rochelle, and Gustav’s pal, the CDC doctor, and immediately, he’s in over his head. He flips out even more when Gustav mysteriously whispers, “They’re not of this world.”

What’s great about this development is the way it leverages the humor and the humanity of someone who learns a horrible new truth about the world in which they live. It’s properly funny to watch Gareth’s brain do the requisite mental gymnastics, and it’s achingly human to see him lying in bed, alone with his new knowledge. When Laurel comes over and slips into bed next to him, he suggests, “We can have sex if you want!” Instead, Laurel shushes him and promises to keep the bugs away. Last week, I said I liked BrainDead best when Laurel and Gareth hang out and discuss their relationship, but let me expand that: I like BrainDead best when we get to experience its characters as real people with real feelings. I’ll miss these two after next week’s finale.

Gareth’s discovery gives Laurel, Rochelle, and Gustav powerful information: If you kill the queen of the alien, you kill the whole hive. The trio decides to do just that, sneaking into Red’s office and waiting for him to let the queen out through his ear. After that happens, there’s a genuinely funny sequence in which Gustav holds Red down, and Laurel and Rochelle scour the office with rolled-up magazines, ready to squish the queen. Do I think the three of them are bright enough to come up with a more sophisticated plan? Yes. Absolutely. But it was funny enough that I won’t split hairs. I will, however, send some heavy side-eye toward Red’s earlier offer: He promises to give Laurel $2 million to finish her documentary if she leaves town. Why are the aliens bothering to negotiate with her?

Speaking of properly funny moments, I know I’ve sung the praises (pun intended) of BrainDead’s “previously on …” segments, but this week’s, which recapped an old episode of Gunsmoke instead of last week’s BrainDead, is really something. Jonathan Coulton has single-handedly revolutionized the recap, and I can’t wait to see how other shows follow his bold lead.

Meanwhile, Luke’s frustrated with the release of a bipartisan budget that he had no part in creating. He tells Laurel he feels like he could make more of a difference in people’s lives by opening a lemonade stand, which is a spinoff I’d happily watch. He orders his staff to read the physical copy of the budget (because there was no searchable pdf) to find whatever Red has buried in it. This ushers in BrainDead’s weekly installment of “You Know What’s Really Boring to Watch People Do on TV?” You might remember previous installments such as “Discuss a Committee Leak” and “Vaguely Debate a War.” This week, it’s “Watch People Scour a Very Long Book for Something.” It’s possible to tell stories like this in an engaging way — political series like The West Wing and Veep and even CBS’s own Madam Secretary consistently pull it off — and it’s disappointing BrainDead never quite figured this out, especially since it was something at which The Good Wife excelled.

Fortunately, Luke has some good news to take his mind off the budget: He’s being vetted for the position of CIA director. The news immediately seemed like a massive trap to me, but Luke was so excited he took off his jacket and gleefully screamed into it. An extensive vetting process follows, one that leads the CIA agents first to the women of Luke’s past (I still don’t quite get why this show chooses to be so obsessed with Luke’s sex life) and then to Laurel, for her time in FBI custody and her semi-outspoken views on the bugs. Luckily for Luke, Laurel convinces them that she’s an eccentric film director who only believes in metaphorical bugs.

It all leads to Luke going to CIA headquarters and sitting down with a briefing with the “director’s director,” a CIA employee who minds and briefs the director. (If this is a real job, I think I’d be really good at it, because it sounds heavily recap-based.) He calmly confirms to Luke that the bugs are real, walking him through the moment of infestation, the symptoms they cause, and the aliens’ end goal. And then, he says, “We need you and your sister to stand down.” The CIA, he explains, are close to taking out those responsible for the bugs, and they would’ve been able to do it the night before, had Laurel and her friends not gotten in the way. It’s almost identical to what the bad guy might say at the end of a Scooby Doo episode, and it’s also a total lie, because the episode closes on the CIA director and Red, gleefully agreeing that Luke fell for their ruse. Have they thwarted Luke? Will Luke thwart Laurel? Will the Cars make a cameo appearance!? We’ll all find out next week, when the season takes its final bow.

BrainDead Recap: A Charming Bohemian Affectation