BrainDead Season Finale Recap: Election Day

The End of All We Hold Dear: What Happens when Democracies Fail: A Brief Synopsis
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel, Danny Pino as Luke. Photo: Michael Parmelee Broadcasting/CBS


‘Talking Points’ and ‘The End of All We Hold Dear’ Season 1 Episodes 12 and 13
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Maybe it’s just the fact that our long and crazy summer together has finally drawn to a close, but I cried three separate times during BrainDead’s final two episodes. I first teared up at how pathetic Red was after the squashed queen went back into his brain, a show of emotion I felt pretty foolish about after Red shot Ella in the head, then ate her brain. I cried again when Laurel, Gustav, and Rachelle had their “Avengers assemble!” moment before setting off to stop the bugs, and also at the very, very end, when Laurel and Gareth went to vote together. It’s a little confusing to have such strong emotions at the end of a TV show I’ve been (at best) deeply conflicted about, but, hey, that’s BrainDead for you.

And speaking of conflicted: I’m unsure of what to think about the senatorial sit-in that comprises most of the two-part finale, a stance Luke and his colleagues take to stop the budget vote and get to the bottom of Red’s mysterious funding and blueprints. Is it possible that BrainDead conceived this exact story before Representative John Lewis’s sit-in this past June, down to the use of Periscope after House Speaker Paul Ryan shut down C-SPAN cameras? Sure. It might just be a coincidence. But it doesn’t feel like one, and Representative Lewis is a hero and an icon. Seeing his stance co-opted as a campy plot device felt emblematic of all the ways BrainDead failed to make its political storytelling come together.

That said, most of BrainDead’s final offering was good, silly fun. Laurel & Co. learn that Red’s secret blueprints aren’t for internment camps — they’re for greenhouses, to grow cherry blossoms across the country for the space bugs to lay eggs in. Delightfully, this leads Gustav and Rachelle to visit a greenhouse with Gustav disguised as Red, to try to salt the beds and stunt the growth. When that doesn’t work, they decide to destroy the buds in D.C. that Red plans to transport. That, in turn, leads to Gustav and Rachelle in a car full of ammonia-based fertilizer mere steps from the Capitol, and that car is very quickly surrounded by policemen and FBI agents. But Gustav calls them off by brandishing his NSA agent ID card! The reveal is not at all surprising, but it’s a delight nonetheless. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Rachelle also asks Gustav on a date, and they later hug in a shower of cherry blossoms, and it’s all pretty adorable.

But the real turning point in the quest to stop the bugs is Laurel’s realization that shame causes them to flee from a brain. She sees a few eke out of her father’s ear during a conversation about how he upbraided Luke when he lost his first senatorial race. Spurred on by this discovery, she digs up her very first documentary: a video she secretly made of her father coming home drunk after missing her birthday party for a liaison with his mistress. She forces him to watch the entire thing, and by the time it cuts to static, he’s collapsed onto the floor. It’s a really powerful sequence, and one final example of what a powerhouse Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been throughout the season.

But Red’s not so easily debugged. He limps his way through “Talking Points” after his queen is injured, barely able to speak in complete sentences, constantly weeping, and acting like a complete, pathetic mess. Ella’s thrilled and sees it as a chance for her side to finally take over. In keeping with this, she dispatches a young opera fan to murder Gareth. What ensues is — and I can’t stress how much I loved this — a murder ballet. Gareth is pursued through the columns of the Capitol as opera music swells, thunder rolls, and lightning crashes, in a fight that’s one part fight choreography and one part actual choreography. It is weird and delightful, down to the actual dagger that nearly stabs Gareth and the melodramatic tumble down the marble stairs.

Undeterred, Ella sets out to kill Red instead. She doesn’t know how to take the safety off of her gun, though, so Red grabs it and kills her, complete with a snarky remark about liberals’ inabilities to handle their guns. Eating her brain puts him back in fighting form, and the final episode comes down to the showdown he’s wanted for weeks: him and Laurel, alone, in his office. Laurel’s secret weapon is the story of Lana, the woman who was Red’s first love. Red ultimately reported Lana to authorities as being an undocumented immigrant, and she was deported. Laurel looks an awful lot like Lana, which she hopes will shame the queen out of Red’s brain. Instead of opting for remorse, Red quickly pulls the gun again, leading to a struggle between him, Gareth, and Laurel. Ultimately, Gareth shoots him in the butt. It is very juvenile; it is also pretty funny. And it sends the queen directly under Red’s intern’s shoe. The rest of the space bugs come from all around D.C. to the office, make an enormous heap on the office floor, and die. Red groans about his butt, and Gareth and Laurel happily kiss.

Yes, it’s a very happy ending for Laurel and Gareth (Garel? Laureth?), who spend the final two episodes taking every possible stance on the status of their relationship. Laurel decides to leave D.C. behind for her documentary, and so they break up. Gareth proposes. Laurel thinks she’ll maybe say yes. Gareth says that his proposal was just a dumb, drunk thing he said. At one point Gareth actually announces, without irony, “I can’t be your kept man!” But they finally say they love one another, and although Laurel answers the “how many kids do you want?” question with “zero” and Gareth answers, “The normal amount, like … five … or six?” there’s hope for these two crazy kids yet.

In the end, the series (I know there’s no word on cancellation or renewal, but those ratings … ) is summed up by Jonathan Coulton, our troubadour recapper, who appears as himself this time. His final ditty is as delightful as the others, save for a lyric in which he says that the senators whose bugs are gone but whose brains can never be restored are “powerful and stupid, but at least they’re not insane!” I winced at the use of insane as a pejorative there. (I’m pretty sure former representative Patrick Kennedy is with me.) But aside from that, it’s a charming reminder of the fact that everything winds up just fine for all of our BrainDead friends, bug-avenging and bug-infected alike. Congress rolls on, Luke moves to the private sector, Laurel and Gareth are going strong, and Red is alive, even if he’s still sick. We have love and kindness, but the world is still a mess, so all we can do is shake our heads and vote. And on that, the show and I are in complete agreement. Thanks for reading along this season, fellow BrainDead fans. Register to vote, and sleep with your ears closed!

BrainDead Season Finale Recap: Election Day