Every new show invariably faces the daunting needs-must task of engaging an audience quickly in its plot while providing sufficient (but not overwhelming) backstory, character development, and intriguing foreshadowing to make it stand-out in the sea of choice a television viewer is presented with daily. Understanding these challenges, start-up shows ideally should be given the “Three Episode Trial”, allowing them the time to find their footing and prove themselves worthy of our time and attention.
Braindead has been a lovely summer surprise throughout its trial period, skillfully combining a rather preposterous premise – mind-controlling bugs from space – with a motley mix of well-drawn core characters – both personable and flawed – and utilizing clever devices to simultaneously hold the hand of new viewers (cue opening musical recap montage) and entice those who have been watching from the beginning with potential plot twists. In Episode 3, the show really solidifies what audiences can expect from it – a rapid pace of action, a sizzling satire, a sense of the absurd, and genuine relationship dynamics.
To date, we have witnessed the meteor crashing, the alien insects mobilizing, two exploding heads, and a government shut-down. We’ve met our hero, Laurel, the documentary-making fish out of political waters; romantic interest, Gareth, the well-intentioned but D.C.-savvy Republican henchman; doctor, Rochelle, deeply invested in finding out what caused her father’s head to explode; and conspiracy theorist/everything savant, Gustav, also witness to a C.H.I. (Catastrophic Head Injury), who has figured out most of what the audience knows about the bugs.
Episode 3, like the previous episodes, has a beautifully ridiculous and insanely clever title – “Goring Oxes: How You Can Survive the War on Government in Five Easy Steps”. These titles are a tip of the hat to Laurel’s documentary-making background but also hint towards the episode’s overarching theme.
Step One: Make Peace with Your Opponents
After calling for Luke’s replacement as Democratic party whip in the last episode, Senator Ella Pollack (Jan Maxwell, Gossip Girl) phones him at the start of this episode to thank him after receiving some lovely (alien-bug-infested) flowers sent by Luke’s lovely (alien-bug-controlled) Chief of Staff, Scarlett.
Meanwhile, Luke is on the Crossfire-esque political debate program, DoubleSpeak, with Senator Wheatus’ Chief of Staff, Jonathan Broadbent (Nick Sullivan, Madam Secretary) who is participating from a remote location. Broadbent loses his train of thought a couple of times, prompting the show’s producer to order him a glass of water which isn’t much help when Broadbent’s head suddenly explodes.
Step Two: Keep Your Story Straight
Laurel is visited again by the likeable F.B.I. Agent Onofrio, this time with another (less likeable) Agent Blades (Glenn Fleshler, Hannibal) who grills her on Dr. Daudier’s death. When questioned, Onofrio lets slip that another exploding head incident had occurred.
Photo Credit: Michael Parmalee/CBS
Hearing that the incident had killed “Red Wheatus’ man” on DoubleSpeak,Â Laurel assumes it was Gareth and rushes to Senator Wheatus’ office, distraught. Finding him very much alive, she informs him of Broadbent’s death, news of which is just reaching the offices but the official story is he died of a stroke.
Cut to the Democrats and a suddenly rejuvenated and energetic Senator Maxwell hijacks Luke’s speech to state in the strongest terms possible her vision for the party, accusing Luke of appeasing the Republicans when the Democrats should be taking back power in an aggressive and uncompromising manner. Poor Luke is caught off-guard by her fervent attack.
Step Three: Listen Carefully
Back at work as Luke’s constituent case worker, Laurel meets “Doctor Bob Bob” who seems more interested in her (and her email address) than anything Senator Healy can do for him.
Also back at work, Gareth finds himself promoted to Senator Wheatus’ Chief of Staff and given yet another opportunity to demonstrate his political acumen by spearheading the Republican campaign to see Luke Healy unemployed.
In Luke’s office, Scarlett confronts Laurel, ostensibly over some lovely (alien-bug-infested) cherry blossom boughs, and whispers menacingly “You’re outnumbered…by the people you’re outnumbered by.” (Side note: most alien-infestations have improved the host’s physical and intellectual abilities. Scarlett appears to be the exception.)
Outside Luke’s office, Gustave makes contact, shedding his “Doctor Bob” disguise to discuss the bug problem. Being a consummate conspiracy theorist, Gustave draws Laurel’s attention to some unusual behaviours by individuals close by which convinces Laurel that he’s nuts. However, upon returning to the offices, she is attracted by the sound of The Cars’ “You Might Think” blaring from Senator Maxwell’s office and catches sight of Scarlett and Ella in discussion.
Step Four: Use What (and Who) You Know (and Knew)
To help Luke combat the Ella threat, Laurel warns him away from ScarlettÂ (who, as it turns out, can lip read) and calls up her old friend Stacie (Nikiya Mathis, The Good Wife) to help plant a story about Ella. When they meet, Laurel immediately suspects that whatever caused Abby’s personality change has also gotten to Stacie. Remembering Gustave’s information that the bug-effect could be negated by appealing to a person’s memories, Laurel begins reminiscing about their college days while Stacie persists in spouting statistics about Scandinavian socialism. As Laurel starts to get through, Stacie begins bleeding from the ear and then runs away.
Convinced now that Gustave may be nuts but may still be on to something, Laurel brings him and Rochelle together to examine the CAT scan images from his friend’s head explosion. Once they’ve found what could be a lead, Rochelle continues investigating from the hospital while Gustave goes home to set traps for the bugs. Scooby Gang, activated!
Gareth and Laurel meet at Broadbent’s wake for drinks where Gareth is able to hook her up with a reporter to leak the story meant for Stacie. While she’s completing her mission, Senator Wheatus calls Gareth and sets in motion a grassroots appeal campaign which spells trouble for the Democrats. Work done, they have a few drinks, discuss how they can get more political tongues wagging, and share a romantic moment. Laurel flees the scene shortly afterwards.
The next day, Luke’s story about Ella hits the news cycle first but her strike-back is far worse, leaking information of Luke’s affair with Scarlett which devastates his pregnant wife, Germaine (Lily Cowles, Enchantments). Laurel gets sent in to do damage control with the female senators but her success is cut short when she is apprehended by the F.B.I. for more questioning about the rash of recent C.H.I.s. Luke rides to her rescue thanks to some intel from Agent Onofrio.
Step Five: Go Big or Go Home
The episode leaves us with all sorts of on-ramps going into the Fourth of July hiatus.
- Red Wheatus has instructed Gareth to create their own grassroots group, the One-Wayers, to push Republican interests.
- Ella and Scarlett continue to push their fanatical and sinister goals to create an extremist Democratic agenda.
- Laurel now has two potential love interests – Gareth & Agent Onofrio
- Agent Blades’s extremist actions may be a sign of alien-infection… or he might be a controlling jerk by nature. Either way, it feels like the F.B.I. are going to be a problem.
- Gustave’s cat is most probably alien-bug-controlled now.
BrainDead airs Monday nights at 10/9c on CBS.
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