BrainDead: Season 1, Ep 7 – The “Real” Horror Begins (Review)

BrainDead Logo screenshot

You might think (sorry) that BrainDead would continue on the comedy heavy presentation it has thus far relied on. “The Power of Euphemism: How Torture Became a Matter of Debate in American Politics” still has a deft comedic touch but it shifts into horror. Beginning with a threat to Laurel.  This key change resulted in the first really disturbing episode this season.

A succinct recap of episode seven, has Gustav transmitting the bug signal instead of just using it to track who is infected. Gareth learns that Laurel believes bugs are eating people’s brains. Rochelle and Gustav learn who is infected. They also find hat their abbreviated signal changes the bug people’s  behavior.

Red has a huge female alien bug scarper out of his earhole and lay eggs. Wheatus then sacrifices “Mike the Intern,” so his head will explode in front of the FBI director; Louis Marchant (Jeremy Shamos).  Laurel is then  targeted by Red Wheatus for questioning under torture by the FBI.

This is where BrainDead shifts gears substantially.  Tapping into modern America’s fixation with terrorism and fighting fire with fire puts this episode firmly into real terror.  The USA has been governing by the use of well place fear mongering since 9/11.

Torture of suspects and people brought in for questioning is a real issue. Have trouble believing that? Google Guantanamo Bay.  The white hatted good guys that the US have always strived to be took a vacation at that little resort.

The “Bay” was not the only instance where the “heroes” resorted to tactics used by the “enemy” to extract information either.  In a time where the American government uses drones to spy on its own citizens (All in the interests of national security.) is this episode too much?

No, it is not.

Laurel’s predicament is a seat squirming exercise for the viewer.  We want to believe that there will be a last minute reprieve. (There is but it is very last minute indeed.) Right up until things  go pear shaped for Red and his bug cronies, the FBI are primed and ready to “control immersion” (waterboard) Laurel. This as a startup to the proceedings. One can easily imagine things going rapidly downhill from there.

Sidenote: The splendid and prolific character actor  Kurt Fuller plays J.K. Cornish as a smiling Mr. Nice Guy. He even shakes Laurel’s hand after her ordeal is over. This was a bit of brilliant casting and Fuller just kills it as the “master interrogator.” 

The suspense level is high. Laurel keeps stalling her potential torturers with legalities.  Her brother; Senator Healy, signs the papers authorizing the Q&A initially. He then has second thoughts and learns that the FBI intend to question his sister.

This was one long edge of the seat moment where the comedy/horror element was dropped by the inclusion of this storyline.  The FBI, and the Republican, catchphrases in this episode were: national security, ticking clock and links to terrorism. The most frightening part was the tenuous link the authorities made between Laurel and a muslim ambulance driver.

Scary? You bet. Far-fetched? Do not bet your White Anglo Saxon Protestant life on it. With a real life presidential candidate who seems to have escaped from Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” this episode is not OTT at all.

Show creators Robert and Michelle King (no relation to Stephen apparently), along with Laura Marks, have taken the comedy down a notch. There are still funny moments in the episode; think Gustav and Rochelle getting bug people to walk into walls and hold their hands up, but these take a back seat this go around.

In a country where  local police departments have been outfitted to fight a small war, where the NSA spies on the populace via Xbox, laptops, phones, drones and devices that can look through your walls, this series just left its comedy dangling. It has  instead slipped into fictional horror that could be imitating real life.

BrainDead has given its protagonists a weapon now, via Gustav’s frequency device, so when the show resumes its comedy and horror mix the good guys have a fighting chance.  Laurel escapes her worse than death fate this episode leaving her to fight another day.

CBS moved the series to Sunday and as a result the show’s popularity has risen substantially. Tune in and see how Laurel and her team do in the fight against the bug people. Barring that, stop by to see what crawls out of Red’s ear next.

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BrainDead: Season 1, Episode 6 Bug People (Review)

BrainDead Logo screenshot

BrainDead is floundering as a new series. CBS have given their program  a vote of no confidence  by moving it to Sundays.  It could well be that the real life horror show that is American politics at the moment have left viewers with a foul taste in their mouths.  Comparing fact to fiction is not so amusing or clever when looking at the candidates on offer in the US.

It is difficult to get past the politicians on the show, like Shalhoub’s Wheatus and Jan Maxwell‘s Ella Pollack.  These two aggressive politicos are the new norm on the show. Their real life counterparts are both running for president and it is disturbing not funny. Nice guy Luke Healy is not realistic compared to real occupants of Washington.  

 His character feels like a “Mr. Smith” type of fictional politician rather than the real deal. Although he does share more with John F. Kennedy than Jefferson Smith  in that he cannot remain faithful to his pregnant wife.

Leaving aside the problem of  the show being affected by the real  world of politics,  the plot is marching forward with all the precision of the ant aliens on the show. Laurel, Gustav and Rochelle are busily collecting evidence and cautiously approach Luke.

On top of the cat scan, the trio have a list of symptoms that include  difficulty hearing, a loss of balance, lack of sexual interaction  and increased aggression.  It is the hearing loss that Laurel notices when Anthony changes.

Anthony gets infected and later tries to forcibly infect Laurel.  Gustav, who annoyed Laurel by calling Anthony “bug man” and his fellow infected population “bug people,”  gave Healy some brass knuckles and she uses them to defend herself.

Triplett and Dr. Alaimo (Margo Martindale) track down cluster points and she becomes infected later. Once again the transformation is very The Faculty  as the doctor changes into an “improved” version of herself. 

The subplot this week deals with a veteran who is dying of liver cancer; Lance Corporal Brett Middleton (Brandon J. Dirden).  The man has a small child and Luke takes on the vet’s cause. After being deadlocked by his arguing colleagues, Healy allows Republican senator Red Wheatus take the credit for saving the man’s life. 

The highlight of this episode of BrainDead was the brass knuckle fight in Laurel’s kitchen.  Anthony, who shows up with pineapple pizza and and a copy of Love Actually,  grabs Healy and tries to hold her still  so the  ants can infect her.

As Hugh Grant dances to The Pointer Sisters song  “Jump” (For My Love) on the film.the soundtrack  swells and Laurel’s fight with Anthony is accompanied by the music.  Laurel’s FBI guy can take a punch and despite being smacked in the face a number of times Anthony refuses to leave  immediately.

BrainDead ends on a cliff hanger. Gustav, who discovers that the cherry blossoms are how the ant aliens travel, gives Laurel mosquito netting and some ear protectors.  Laurel goes to bed and puts the netting up over her bed. She decides not to use the ear protectors.

Gustav calls Laurel to tell her about the ants. She cannot hear the phone and the ants move up to and under the mosquito netting. At least two of the alien creatures  crawl in Laurel’s ear. She sits up suddenly, eyes wide and Laurel clearly knows that something has happened.

This last bit could be a dream since no ants can be seen anywhere else on Laurel when she wakes up.  If it is not  a dream this may add an interesting twist to the plot.  While Laurel being infected could be  a nightmare or dream, it raises the question of whether BrainDead will use this as an Invaders From Mars plot device. for the whole series.

With CBS shuffling BrainDead about it seems certain that we may never learn where the series was meant to go. Although if Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character gets taken over by the ants no one will want to watch anyway.

BrainDead now airs Sundays on CBS. Tune in, while you still can, and watch this clever little comedy horror series. Although for real horror, without the black humor, watch the political conventions on television and feel free to shudder.

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BrainDead: Season 1, Ep 4 – Increased Aggression (Review)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in BrainDead

BrainDead picks right up with more ant alien “invasions” between two neighbors who are obviously interested in one another. After the ants take over these two shy potential lovebirds they get angry at political rhetoric and bash their cars into each other on the road.  This week’s episode: “Wake Up Grassroots: The Nine Virtues of Participatory Democracy, and How We Can Keep America Great by Encouraging an Informed Electorate” sees increased aggression and a new symptom or two.

Last week’s episode finished with Gustav’s cat possibly being infected  and the romance between Laurel and Gareth going strong.  Now Laurel finds herself falling for FBI agent Onofrio (Charlie Semine) and Gareth gets jealous.  (The Eastern European 10 cent gag was funny.) Gustav takes Zeke the cat in for a cat scan. (No pun intended here but we cannot say the same for the Kings.)

None of the ants are found but Zeke is missing a part of his brain and has a punctured eardrum. Gustav deduces that infected people will have balance issues and be deaf in one ear.  Gareth pledges money to Laurel’s film startup project. (He gives $750.10 referencing his 10 cent  joke.)

(On a sidenote: You have to admire the show’s creators. Naming Gustav’s cat Zeke has to be a homage to the hapless cat in the 2002 comedy horror film,  Eight Legged Freaks.  “Come here Zekey-Doodle” calls the cop in this different kind of invasion story.  If this was not done on purpose by the Kings, it should have been…)

Luke Healy works hard to end  the government shutdown over the  budget stalemate.  Meanwhile Laurel is noticing a number of politicos who are unsteady on their feet.  (This is a new development in the show and was not obvious last week.)

Both Red Wheatus and Senator Pollack (Jan Maxwell) walk into walls this week.  There is increased aggression and antagonism being exhibited by those infected. No heads explode this week and Luke’s plan to end the shutdown works. 

Dr. Rochelle Daudier,  Gustav and Laurel go to meet with Daudier’s friend Dr. Dexter Wu (Marcus Ho) who works with the CDC. He goes along with their screwworm idea and asks for an infected person to study.

Laurel and Rochelle go visit Abby Summers (Brooke Bloom) whom they believe to be infected. They propose a short 15 minute  painless test that Summers refuses to take. The two women leave Abby’s apartment. They then meet with Anthony and ask him to bring her in using his new power under the new 26-2 law. 

Agent Onofrio goes to Abby’s apartment and asks her to come in. She tells Anthony that she will get her phone and purse and  then jumps off the balcony killing herself.

As the search for infected people in Washington DC continues the Red Wheatus instigated group of One Wayers,  that Red ordered Gareth  Triplett to create, have  organized and started a website. They offer links on the site to bomb making sites. Red’s aid is horrified and tells the group they cannot do that.

Laurel learns of Abby’s suicide and meets Anthony at the scene. He tells her that Abby was depressed.  Laurel asks who told him that  and he replies, Stacie Zara (Nikita Mathis) another infected person that Laurel knows. 

Red and Ella are arguing  as guests on  Misty ‘s show (Gareth’s one night stand and news reporter) when they get word that Luke and a republican are opening the government back up with their supporters. The two rush to stop the action and are too late.

Luke comes out and asks Red, “How was your 15 minutes of fame.” Wheatus threatens Senator Healy’s life.  Rochelle and Laurel talk about Zara and what she told Anthony.  The FBI agent stops by Laurel’s apartment and brings her some cookies.

She asks Anthony about the report that a jealous Gareth dropped off at her office.  Anthony replies that he tortured no one in Iraq and was a whistleblower.

The two kiss and it moves to  the bedroom.

Afterward, Laurel calls Luke to talk about his power play. Healy warns her that things are about to get rough. She watches a news clips and sees the constituent with the  cut on his forehead.

She goes back to bed and speaks to Anthony who does not hear her. He cups one hand behind his ear and Laurel looks alarmed. Is he infected?

While things were a bit calmer this week (As mentioned above there were no exploding heads.) the aggression level has grown exponentially.   The new development of missing parts of the brain and the punctured eardrum are opening up new avenues of interest and amusement.

Red Wheatus has threatened Luke…Twice.   Now is seems that  Anthony has joined the alien ant team and the infected seem to have a hive mentality.  Abby killing herself was the only fatality and it is not clear what happened to Zeke.

BrainDead continues to entertain and amuse while pushing the mystery forward at a pretty impressive rate of speed.

The series airs Mondays on CBS. Tune in and see who gets infected next and see what has become of Zeke.

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BrainDead: Goring Oxes – Screwworms (Review)

BrainDead Logo

BrainDead continues to entertain while poking fun at the lunacy that is politics (regardless of which country one lives in) with an outside quotient of ant aliens taking over the minds of all the denizens in Washington.  (BrainDead focuses on the politicians.) In episode 3, “Goring Oxes” (which should really be oxen…just saying) “How You Can Survive the War on Government Through Five Easy Steps” sees the screwworm theory, by Gustav, the romance heats up between Laurel and Gareth and the aliens infect a democrat;  Senator Pollack.

It is interesting to note that these  little brain eaters are not perfect in their taking over process, nor are they very kind to their hosts.  The CHI incidents  that the FBI are investigating  are caused by the bugs (according to Gustav anyway) emitting too much methane. The pressure firstly pushes out the victim’s brain through his or her ears and then causes the head to explode.

(Not combust. Spontaneous combustion, which is how the FBI are classifying  the head exploding events,  is all about bursting suddenly into flame. Combustion equals fire, not an explosion. To really drive this point home:  The victim’s heads are blowing up not erupting into  flame spontaneously. Someone should have checked their dictionary. Even Wikipedia gets this one right. Unless, of course, the King’s are suggesting that the agent has been infected…)

The storyline still follows the subterfuge, back stabbing and political wheeling and dealing that constitutes day-to-day activities in the capital. (See what we did there?)  Laurel is still pursuing Gareth, and vice versa, Luke’s affair with Scarlett Pierce is leaked (by the infected Scarlett   going to Pollard;  who has also become aggressive now that she is infected) and the fight goes on.

Red Wheatus’  Chief of Staff has his  head explode (almost on national television but the eight second delay saves the world from seeing it) and Gareth is promoted.  Luke and his father arrange for Laurel to leak some damaging PR on Pollack who retaliates with the affair information.

Scarlett tries to infect Luke and spells out her hostility towards Laurel.  Gustav approaches Senator Healy’s sister to divulge his screwworm theory. (Dr. Bob Bobb…Seriously funny moment in the waiting room with his nom de guerre. ) Laurel meets with her infected friend Stacie. She forces her old pal to remember things other than political rhetoric and Stacie beings leaking red goo from her ear. Laurel Googles screwworm  and contacts Gustav.

He shows Laurel and Rochelle Daudier (Dr. Daudier’s daughter) the parasites in the cat scans of the infected brains. The two women doubt  that the shadowy image is a mandible so Gustav sets out to catch one of the alien parasites.

One of the episode’s funnier scenes has Gustav taping red plastic beer cups over his  ears, placing a plethora of bait traps on his floor and playing “You Might Think” by The Cars as a lure.

Thinking he has captured one, he takes a bait box to Rochelle and his specimen  turns out to be a cockroach. Gustav has been outsmarted. Undeterred, he returns to his apartment and tries to capture an alien  ant. Unfortunately it looks like his cat may have been the recipient of one or more ant parasites.

While many critics are still riding on the political satire train (and may never get off) really this is more about the ants and is a huge nod to science fiction “possession” tales. Puppet Masters, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and so on.

Yes, BrainDead is set in Washington DC and it features politicians acting like, well, politicians. There is the rub.  As evidenced during the Obama years, the two major parties have been at each other’s throats constantly. Extreme right, extreme left and moderates all in an uproar as each side fight tooth and nail for control.

The government shut down did happen in real life. Although in the show an amazing amount of folks are still population that building. As noted at the start of this latest offering from the Kings, politics has gone a little cray-cray this year and not just in America.  Witness the madness across the pond where the Brits had their own version of Trump; Boris Johnson,  lie the country into turmoil…

BrainDead is clever, funny and picking up pace. It airs Mondays on CBS and is worth a look. IMDb shows the popularity going down which is a bit mystifying until one looks at the overall political situation (Brexit again). Perhaps setting the show in the world of politics is a tad painful considering the world markets and the current climate of upheaval.

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BrainDead: Reading Far Too Much Into It (Review)

Poster for BrainDead

Perhaps it is because the TV critics’ darling; the King’s (Michelle and Robert that couple who brought the award winning “The Good Wife” to small screens) are behind BrainDead that they all seem to be reading far too much into the show.  Being critics they do have that irresistible urge to prove how clever they are, but seriously?

It is a comedy that borrows rather heavily from other tales and films.  The Puppet Masters by Robert A Heinlein is the first thing that springs to mind. A science fiction story where parasites take over the minds of their hosts.  Heinlein’s book is referenced in another “borrowed” bit of work, Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty.

The 1998 film, starring Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick and Usher, was about a parasite that invades a small town school. The teachers are infected first (spelled politicians in BrainDead) and each controlled individual switches to a water only diet and try to become better people. They also forcibly “recruit” new members to the alien water appreciation society.

Science is also tapped into with a nod and a wink to the recent-ish discovery of “zombie ants.”  While the ants in this study were not parasites themselves (the tiny creatures were preyed upon by a parasite that controlled their little ant brains) the delivery system of the alien parasites in BrainDead was clearly influenced by the 2014 scientific study.

So should we take point off for lack of originality?  The King team did create The Good Wife (an award winning series that finally ended after seven seasons) and this humorous look at Washington and American politics in 2016 may well have layers yet to be revealed.

There are references to the madness that makes up our presidential wannabes this year.    Lots of soundbites that include Hilary Clinton and the buffoon on two legs;  Donald Trump, but this election year is an easy target.  As the subtitle reads in the first episode, [sic] “No one knew why the candidates in 2016 were so odd.”

There is a snappy earworm of a tune that plays wherever a parasite infected person happens to be and that too is clever-ish. BrianDead stars Winstead as the documentary filmmaker sister of a senator played by Danny Pino

The Kings may well have a splendid comedic hit on their hands. While the “so-called” critics of TV land spout rhetoric  meant to show just how clever they really are, it is equally apparent that they reading far too much into the the show.

The scene with Tony Shalhoub is a clear indicator that the King’s are working a slow build up to the main thrust of BrainDead. This is comedy horror complete with an ’80s earworm and exploding heads. It is also a sly look at the division in the Whitehouse and the country right now in terms of political parties  and  candidates that no one really likes.

The first episode ends with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character parasite free but her brother the senator’s aide clearly is.  An announcer states that bipartisanism is dead and the camera pulls away and  out to end the shot.

BrainDead airs Mondays on CBS.  This could be great fun, a’la “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where the infected zoom in on the uninfected.  This does look to be interesting and fun although it is unclear just why Mary Elizabeth Winstead looks so much like Wynona Ryder in the first episode. It will be just as interesting to see how much of the “source” material goes into future episodes of the show.