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‘BrainDead’ Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: The Ants Go Marching to Washington

‘BrainDead’ brought an alien invasion, gross out moments, comedy and Tony Shalhoub to the current political landscape.

Setting itself apart BrainDead used every minute of its pilot to kick start the 13-episode narrative. The tongue-in-cheek humor goes from light and fun to gruesome and back again! All of it tinged with enough real-world meta to make the ludicrous premise actually seem plausible.

Opening in present day, the show immediately aims to answer what is going on with politicians these days? And why does it seem like everyone has lost their mind? The answer comes in the form of a large meteor that hurdles toward Earth. More specifically the big problems within congress aren’t between liberals and conservatives but alien-ants who bring the issues that matter to the forefront…No wait, sorry they just bring brain matter to the forefront.

Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a typical Millennial, but in this case it makes her extremely relatable. Clearly coming from a place of privilege she rejected politics and moved out to LA, dodging her staggering student loans while trying to balance living out her dream as a documentary filmmaker. All qualities that make her the perfect candidate to uncover a deeply concerning congressional conspiracy and potentially save the world! Incidentally, her brother, happens to be the Democratic Senator, Luke Healy (Danny Pino).

Luke and their father are more than willing to help her but Laurel is more concerned about getting back the financing for a documentary she’s working on. It’s her brain child and she’s unwilling to choose something more mainstream – like gun control – just to help her make money. She does her work for all the right reasons, it’s not the most prolific problem but it’s one that’s important to her. And when it’s meaningful the hope is that it could – in some way – change the world.

Laurel’s father (Zach Grenier) asks her to go work with Luke for the time being. But she’s not giving up on her personal goals that easily. They negotiate on six months of indentured servitude in exchange for the money Laurel needs to finish her documentary. But the real compromise will come in time. The deeper Laurel gets into the system the more likely the political scheme will steal her soul while the aliens are stealing people’s brains.

Her first day on the job puts her in charge of helping constituents and it goes just as badly as you would expect. Among the revolving door of complaints, the highlights include: a chocolate dog and a frustrating call to social security.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel Healy in BrainDead Photo: CBS

Meanwhile, there’s some weird and inexplicable occurrences: one involving a tow truck and another a school of freaky fish arranged in perfect rows like soldiers.

Laurel’s day is making her regret her agreement until Breanna Burke (Nilaja Sun) shows up with a real problem. Her husband, Randall (Dominic Fumusa), returned from his time at sea and he’s not himself. Breanna has a recording of something inside a large container attacking Randall. It gets shadier when Laurel finds out Breanna came to her for help because the container’s ownership was traced to that office.

Enjolras Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit – who keeps using his last name as a punny word so I went in a different direction…I’m not sorry and I can promise that won’t be the only one)! His sudden appearance alongside the major plot point makes him an immediate suspect, also he’s republican!

It’s a Jungle Out There (Okay I promise that’s the only Monk joke because there are some really good Galaxy Quest ones I’m saving!) and you can’t be too careful. But the assumptions about Gareth are so far unfounded and he just has his own agenda and he’s a republican (which is not a joke, I’m just reminding you of it because it’s easy to forget when he’s in suits and sitting on desks being sarcastic and I don’t remember how we got here…).

He approaches Laurel in the hopes of getting her help with Luke, proposing a deal through his boss – he works for the Republican Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) – that could save a lot of people’s jobs and bring both parties together. The catch is the offer expires after 90 minutes.

Laurel makes a frantic run to the Capitol and then through the Capitol, only to learn Luke is at home filibustering Scarlett Pierce (Paige Patterson). Ah, politics, you can always count on the married man with a baby on the way to have a mistress. And then to justify that choice even after his own father’s affair tore the family apart. There’s 9 minutes left on the deal by the time Luke gets his people on the phone but it’s all a waste. At least the government shutdown means there’s plenty of time for Luke to binge-watch House of Cards and work out the polyamorous thing.

The outside weirdness goes from subtle instances to a giant hive that was inside the crate from Breanna’s video. It seemed innocuous but ends up releasing thousands and thousands of bugs. Because of course it had to be bugs. It couldn’t be something pleasant or delightful. What happened to creating zombies through the use of our phones and our food?  In a twist no one was expecting all of this pretty much occurs in the first 17 minutes and then the title card shows up!

Laurel’s investigation on Randall turns up some suspicious behavior but nothing concrete. Gareth is also looking into the same rumors, which doesn’t exactly make him trust worthy (also the republican thing), until we learn he has an autistic sister and was trying to use his leverage where he thought it would benefit the image of as many people as possible as well actually helping people.

Still, any trench coat wearing person whose hair looks better after being windswept should be watched closely. Gareth’s hair is definitely full of secrets, someone touch it for science and the good of the free world! I mean how do we know his hair isn’t an alien? What if it’s their leader waving about, giving instructions to ants and playing 80’s songs? We don’t know the rules of this show yet!

Still, Gareth seems to have the right intentions. He’s looking out for people who can’t pay their Rent, he can’t help it if there’s a little Glory in it (stop looking at me like that he walked right into these puns!).

The alien-bugs start to invade, first coming for Breanna who is simultaneously eased about what’s going to happen and held hostage by her alien addled husband. The next day, she shows up dressed much differently and thanking Laurel for her help. Randall isn’t fazed by the encounter but Laurel is convinced the real reason they showed up was to dissuade her from the investigation Breanna started.

Tony Shalhoub as Red Wheatus in BrainDead Photo: CBS/Entertainment Weekly

Douglas Adams wrote that, “Apparently you can’t be president with a whole brain,” and that idea extends to the rest of government too. Red is the first victim we witness literally lose his mind…Well part of it anyway. The ants enter through his open window and crawl into his ear, which was just the beginning of skeeving me out because in the next moment part of Red’s brain is pushed out the other ear, which I suppose is one way to get bedhead.

It’s as traumatic as it sounds, until Laurel is in an ambulance with another one of Randall’s shipmates. The man is painfully aware that there’s something in his brain – eating his brain – but he’s fighting it and his head explodes.

I’d strongly question the science behind that last part except we’re dealing with aliens and my experience of dealing with the kind that want to take over the world is you should be afraid and hope The Doctor decides to show up and save the day!

Red has a new agenda and wants to make history but not the way it originally seemed. Laurel is concerned by the recent popularity of The Cars song “You Might Think.” Gareth is a Republican and Luke gets screwed. It’s the beginning of the end!

Beth Malone as Claudia Monarch in BrainDead Photo: CBS

DeadHead Briefs:

  • The episode’s title is absolutely spectacular: “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics Is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century.” I would read that essay! It almost makes me reconsider my thesis on Game of Thronesalmost.
  • I loved the use of real media footage, that’s going to be a fun tool throughout the season! Especially the dueling political analysts, Conservative Misty (Megan Hilty) and Liberal Claudia (Beth Malone).
  • There may or may not be singing on the show this season! It’s great because it’s something this material and cast could handle and an opportunity the show shouldn’t pass up! Good thing I handle these things super well. At least if I lose my mind it’ll have absolutely nothing to do with aliens.
  • For all the answers we got about why congress is so dysfunctional there’s a whole new set of questions!

I’d like to formally welcome everyone to our weekly BrainDead recaps! Rarely does a series catch my interest with just a press a release but this one did and I was not disappointed! A comic-thriller is an untapped market and the perfect series for summer!

The comedic notes are just right. Playing to the casts’ strengths. Some of the gags are a bit gruesome but I think the sad fact is I’m just more desensitized to it. The sarcasm is so on point making the more absurd aspects seem legit! Love when conversations sound natural on TV, especially banter! I could literally watch an entire hour of Laurel and Gareth going back and forth with party-related insults. There was real laughter throughout most of the episode and I look forward to more. The whole thing is so intelligent and nuanced, I am so ready for the bug-brain-eating madness to ensue!

BrainDead airs Mondays at 10/9c on CBS. Be sure to tune in!

What did you think of the series premiere? Share your thoughts in the comments!