Season 1, Episode 1 “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century”
Written by Robert and Michelle King
Directed by Robert King
Act 1: A meteor streaks across the sky in Russia (using real footage from the meteor that brightened up the night sky in Russia a few years ago). It crashes in a lake, retrieved and packed up to the Smithsonian Institution in America for study and display.
Meet our heroine, Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an aspiring documentary filmmaker who’s out of money for her work. She’s come to Washington to see her family, father Dean (Zach Grenier) and her brother, Democratic Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino). Her father makes her an offer: work for her brother for a year and he’ll pay for her documentary. She says 6 months and that’s it.
Laurel is asked to do constituent work, listening to the handful of constituents that have come to see the senator and seeing what can be done about their concerns. After talking with them all, she speaks with Mrs. Breanna Burke (Nilaja Sun). Breanna’s husband works on a freighter coming back from Russia. She says her husband has changed and is not himself. She wants Laurel to investigate what happened.
Before she can do that, Laurel is met by Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit), adjunct to Republican Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shaloub). She comes to him with an offer from the Senator. If she can get her brother to accept it, the Democrats can have Red’s vote and avoid a shutdown of the government.
The two senators squabble over the deal which falls through. The government shuts down.
Meanwhile, at the Smithsonian, Dr. Daudier (Michael Potts) has taken possession of the meteor, only to be pulled away from it when the government shuts down. It sits in its open crate in an empty room. All of a sudden scores of ant-like bugs pour out of the rock, making a line for the window, they look out on Washington D.C.
The invasion has begun.
Act 2: Washington has become a ghost town as the shutdown begins. Luke closes his office except for his Chief of Staff, Scarlett (Page Patterson) and Laurel. So Laurel decides to investigate Breanna’s case. Investigating Breanna’s husband’s vessel Laurel asks for a copy of the manifest, only to be told it was handed over to Gareth.
Laurel goes to Senator Wheatus’ office to find the Senator drunk and passed out on his couch.
Gareth and Laurel take a walk and talk. Gareth offers her another deal: if she’ll bring her brother, he’ll bring Red and they’ll work out a deal to end the shutdown.
That night, Breanna and her husband settle down to bed. He snuggles up to her and holds her tight…too tight. He puts a hand over her mouth as her eyes fall on the trail of bugs coming in through the window. The bugs crawl into her ear.
Act 3: Gareth and Laurel continue to talk. They work out a way to get both sides to the table.
Mrs. Burke stops by with her husband, but Laurel senses that something is wrong.
The two senators, Wheatus and Healy, have a beer summit and work out a deal to reopen the government. Red goes home, drunk again and falls asleep on the bed, the bugs crawl in and enter his head. Suddenly Red wakes up and starts hitting the side of his head and a portion of his brain slides out his ear. He goes back to sleep.
Act 4: Senator Red Wheatus is a new man. He heads to the office and throws away all his alcohol and orders the press conference with Senator Healy canceled.
Meanwhile, Laurel is investigating the meteor at the Smithsonian. There sh finds Dr. Dodis screaming about something in his ears. An ambulance is called, but they never reach the emergency room, his head simply explodes.
Act 5: Wheatus come to Luke and offers him money and chairmanships, if only he’d come over to the Republican side of the aisle. Luke says no.
After cleaning herself up, the phone rings; the balance of power in the Senate has shifted. The Democrats have been betrayed by one of their own (the bugs strike again?), Senator Healy must move into a new leaky office.
Analysis: I really liked this episode. Tony Shaloub’s Senator Wheatus was the highlight of the episode. The scene where he wakes up after getting infested by the bugs is very funny. He just wakes up, hits the side of his head and looks relieved as part of his brain slides out of his ear. The facial reactions are great.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom sci-fi fans might remember as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and the more recent 10 Cloverfield Lane, does a good job as our reluctant heroine; all she really wants to do is get back to making her documentary, but she gets sucked into the world of Washington and the craziness of this mystery. As a documentary maker, her character is prone to asking questions instead of just shrugging them off and walking away.
The use of real footage of politicians on the campaign trail and the use of real footage of that meteor coming down is excellent and helps to keep the show anchored in the real world.
There are plenty of questions in this episode that need to be solved. Who or what are these bugs? Do they have a queen? What is their mission? Will Laurel get the funds she needs for her documentary? Why do the bugs like that Cars song so much? These questions shall hopefully be answered in the coming episodes.
There is one more thing to look forward to in BrainDead. Beginning with episode two, geektastic singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton will provide an original recap song at the beginning of each episode. I heard a snippet of it on NPR and it was fantastic. Between JoCo and Tony Shaloub, I’m looking forward to episode two.
BrainDead airs Mondays at 9:59/8:59c on CBS.