Brain Dead premiered on CBS last night. Summer is coming, there is precious little on at the moment, so why not. I watched it once and will lay out the basics as I can recall them.
A young woman named Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a politically connected family who left Washington DC behind to become a documentary filmmaker based out of L.A. is bribed by her father to work for her brother. Her father appears to be a behind-the-scenes string-puller, and her brother is a senator, the majority whip for the democratic party.
She is given a job in community affairs, taking complaints from her brother’s constituents, most of whom are cranky about something, and one of whom believes her husband was changed by something that happened as he returned from a stint on a cargo ship. He’s acting very strangely, and she found video on his cellphone of the crew responding to a noise coming from a crate, and then something coming out of that crate and people freaking out. The woman came to the senator’s office, because she found out from the cargo manifest that the crate was bound for someone at the government in DC.
As Laurel is dealing with her complaints desk job, a man in a sharp suit named Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit) comes to her to propose a deal, or rather, get her to propose it to her brother. He is the aide to a Republican senator(played by Tony Shalhoub, always a delight) who will be willing to cross the aisle and vote with the democrats in exchange for an earmark dedicated to autism research. He is later seen speaking with the woman who came to find out about the shipment.
It later turns out that Shalhoub’s senator is a drunk who doesn’t seem to care about anything that doesn’t come from a bottle, autism is Gareth’s pet project as he has an autistic sister. Gareth believes his boss wants to make a deal, but can’t be seen as the person who instigated it. This deal eventually gets made over a dinner between Senator Shalhoub and Laurel’s brother over a drunken dinner, to be announced the following day.
If you recall that meteor that fell in Russia and was caught on the ubiquitous dashcams, that was what they found, pulled out of the sea, and shipped to the US.
The problems arise when the never ending battle between the Democrats and the REPUBLICANSBADRAWRR has forced a government shutdown, cutting the Smithsonian’s funding. The Russian salvage crew gets a fraction of their quoted price for the meteorite, so presumably cheap out on the shipment, causing the commotion on the ship in transit. When it arrives at the Smithsonian, the scientist studying it is sent home because of the government shutdown before he can get a good look at it. He does make the observation that beneath the fused outer layer is a network of honeycombs that appear carved, not naturally occurring.
Eventually, we see a swarm of fairly normal-looking ants pour forth from the meteorite and make their way around town, beginning with the home of the crewman whose wife filed the original complaint to Laurel. He holds her down while the ants make a line for her ear like a picnic basket, and the next day she comes to the senator’s office to praise Laurel’s professionalism and make a donation to the senator’s campaign fund, while claiming everything is now fine. Laurel notices their odd behavior and the rote explanation for why he seems different- it is identical in wording to excuses he has heard before from the cargo ship’s captain and another witness.
The space ants make their way to Tony Shalhoub and infest his brain, changing his personality drastically. Also, half of his brain falls out. He throws away all his liquor, and cancels the deal he made the night before, while arranging a new deal with a different democratic senator, convincing him to switch parties, giving the Republicans the majority and forcing Laurel’s brother to take a much crappier office, which is now only staffed by Laurel and the secretary her brother was having an affair with. If you recall the part about the budget issues, the Senator was forced to fire his entire staff other than his sister and lover.
And that was pretty much it. I lied, I really don’t do brief.
- There is a cardinal sin in entertainment for me, and that is making a movie about making a movie or a play. Adjacent to this sin is a movie about a writer or filmmaker being a hero because the actual writer thinks he’s a hero- obvious author surrogates like The Girl with the Dragon tattoo, Midnight in Paris, or Twilight. Braindead’s protagonist is a documentary filmmaker, while the first episode made a big show of calling out republicans as assholes. Let’s be clear, they are. So are democrats. Fuck all of them. The problem is the tunnelvision that comes with the hollywood notion that they are always right and are the heroes in their own narrative, and nobody could possibly besmirch the halos on their democratic paragons, completely ignoring the fact that 50%(+/-1%) of the country votes the other way. REPUBLICAN BAD / FILMMAKER GOOD is the kind of blind, masturbatory self-indulgence that will turn me away from a project.
- That being said, I really like Winstead. I don’t know why, she’s just always pleasant to watch. Never heard of Aaron Tveit before, but I liked him, too. I figure with the parasites taking over more and more people, presumably from both parties, that the one-sided party bashing will settle down. Again, it’s not that I care about the republicans, it’s that I find bashing them to be cringe-inducingly weak writing. Same goes for stand up comedians.
- Laurel is a filmmaker who makes documentaries about dying art forms. Her current project, which I think was about traditional music in the Solomon Islands, lost its funding. Her father wants her to work for her brother, either so she can have a real job, or so she can report inside information to him, so she negotiates 6 months of spying in exchange for $100,000, half the funding for her project. Laurel is being shown as politically savvy and a capable negotiator.
- Tony Shalhoub!
His character’s name is Senator Red Wheatus. This is somehow perfect.
- Gareth Ritter also spoke with the woman who originally brought the personality change issue to Laurel, and seems to have started his own investigation.
- While the Republicans are repeatedly called out by name for being unreasonable monsters ruining the country, it is the democrats who turn down the offer of compromise, shutting down the government and costing 100,000 people their jobs, solely because they know the republicans will take the blame from the public, giving them an advantage in the next election. It is later shown on a tv in the background that the news blames the democrats.
- For some reason, the infected people really love The Cars’ “You Might Think.” Laurel has to ask the ship’s captain to lower it on the radio when she’s questioning him, and notices it a few more times throughout the day. Finally, her brother’s secretary plays it on her laptop as they set up office, and the episode closes in on Laurel giving her an ominous look. She doesn’t know there are alien, mind-controlling parasitic ants who love this song, just that there is something strange happening and the song seems to accompany the strangeness. I’m kind of hoping she isn’t infected, but she’s just got the song in her head since everyone else seems to be playing it.
- I may be wrong about her position, she is probably more than a secretary. Either way, she is/was having an affair with a married senator whose wife is 8 months pregnant, but when Laurel caught them, he swore he ended it. She is a redhead named Scarlett.
- I have a feeling the Cars song is going to be a set up for a joke about an Mtv satellite beaming music into space, attracting the aliens’ attention. If aliens ever do come here, I am pretty sure this would be exactly why they find us.
- It seems alcohol will play a part in defeating this invasion. The major personality change that the woman noticed in her sailor husband was that he suddenly stopped drinking completely, and so did Shalhoub’s character.
So far, really not that bad. The first episode introduces us to beltway politics through the eyes of an outsider. As you see, there are idealistic issues I take with some of this, but it seems like it is going to go be a fun take on an alien invasion, and we haven’t seen anything like that since 3rd Rock From the Sun. I’ll be giving it a few more episodes, but unless I’m blown away, I won’t be doing more recaps.