BrainDead “Playing Politics…” Review (Season 1 Episode 2)

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So, as with last week, apparently “BrainDead” is looking to hit the record books for the longest episode titles ever in a given series, with “Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown- A Critique.” Get your college thesis ideas here, kids!

Those laborious titles notwithstanding, “BrainDead” continues to be a breath of fresh air in a fetid summer TV landscape- or is it a breath of fetid air in a fetid summer TV landscape? The jury’s still out on how those brain bugs affect one’s breath, I guess. Though they do seem to try to keep their hosts in good shape and eating right, so you never know.

Either way, the show returned with another lovely head explosion- this one in an MRI machine while someone was being given a CAT-scan, no less. On the plus side, none other than Dr. Daudier’s daughter, Rochelle (Nikki M. James, also of “The Good Wife,” from show creators Michelle and Robert King) spotted the incident, and you better believe she picked up on its resemblance to her father’s own mysterious death.

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As such, she wasted no time in seeking out Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who was still somewhat reeling from the incident herself. Though she couldn’t shed much light on it, Rochelle did, in that she spotted what appeared to be moving creatures in the poor unfortunate soul’s brain, who had indeed come in complaining of precisely that.

Though no signs of the buggy beasties were found on site, the guy’s friend who brought him in, chess whiz Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill, “Rectify”), did take home his clothes to inspect, finding what looked to be brain matter or something like it on them. Studying it under a microscope, he was horrified to indeed see a bug crawling out of the mess, which he caught on film.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw a brain bug in my house, I would be staying with a friend pronto. I don’t know what Gustav ended up doing, but he was clearly alarmed enough to post about it online, which Laurel later picks up on, leaving word with him for later, though the two never touch base as of yet.

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Meanwhile, Laurel continues to spot people acting a bit off, which is saying something in DC. Among them are Scarlett (Paige Patterson), who we know already to be infected, and who starts preaching politics at random people with little prompting, when she’s not engaging in awkward seduction moves with Luke (Danny Pino), who senses something off and corners his sister, convinced it’s her doing.

Laurel isn’t quite to the point where she gets what’s going on, but she’s getting there, insisting that she said nothing to Scarlett but he should keep his distance anyway, being, you know, married and with a baby on the way and all. She does, however, notice something off about old pal Abby (Brooke Bloom, “Alpha House”), a former wild child who’s gone all conservative, joining a group called, winkingly: “Help America Rise Again.”

Another old friend, photographer Stacie (Nikiya Mathis, “Compliance”) picks up on her weirdness as well and the two stage a sort of intervention, leaving the viewer wondering if she simply changed her ways, as many a wild one has done before her over the years, but alas, later on, she locks the unfortunate Stacie in her bathroom and lets the bugs take it from there.

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Fortunately for our heroine Laurel, she ended up having to take a rain check on the invite, thus avoiding potential infestation her own self, much like her brother earlier in the episode. Sorry bugs- you win some, you lose some. Thankfully, Laurel’s still got potential allies in Rochelle and Gustav, so all hope is not lost in her getting to the bottom of things.

On other fronts, in a hilarious-because-it-sounds-like-it-could-be-true development, still reeling from Red’s last-minute turnaround in going with someone else in the Democratic deal formerly intended for Luke, he gets wind of a little girl (Ripley Sobo, “Steve Jobs”) denied access to the Lincoln Memorial because of the government shutdown and uses her as a political pawn, dubbed by the media “Shutdown Annie.”

Laurel, who brought the girl to Luke’s attention in the first place, is furious, especially when Luke can’t even remember the girl’s name, no less, even with the media moniker. But then things get even sillier, as the opposition redubs her “Atheist Annie” and claims that she was taught that Lincoln was a homosexual in school!

The terrifying thing is how plausible this all sounds, least of all in a world in which a vicious hate crime by an in-denial homosexual is swept under the rug in exchange for an excuse to double-down on allowing assault rifles to remain legal, because it’s a “amendment issue.” Don’t get me started, we’ll be here all night. So, moving on…

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Laurel gets a crash course on dirty politics when she falls for a bait-and-switch move via Gareth (Aaron Tveit), who “accidentally” lets Laurel overhear a conversation about a certain Senator, then lets her see his phone number, which she dutifully reports back to her brother.

But it’s a trick and one that backfires, resulting in Luke being removed as “whip” and replaced by cohort Ella Pollack (Jan Maxwell, “The Divide”), who might be possessed by the brain bugs herself- it’s honestly hard to tell, TBH. Either way, these bugs are making big moves, to be sure, if completely insane ones. (See also Red’s offer to end the shutdown in exchange for the Dems eliminating several key programs, as if it’s no big deal.)

All’s well that ends well, sort of, as Annie finally gets her Lincoln Memorial visit, sans all the unwanted- and unwarranted- press, under cover of night, thanks to Laurel, who luckily evades the bugs one more time by forgoing a visit to Abby’s to do so. Who knew a selfie could actually save a life?

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Beyond that, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely hilarious opening montage-cum-song recapping last week’s events in lyrical form, which was just brilliant and LOL funny. Please make this a regular thing- especially if I have to go on typing out all these insanely long titles, show-runners. You owe us show reviewers that much, at least.

This was another fun episode, and I like the way things are developing, showing good reasons why the leads are managing to evade the bugs- and somewhat paying the price for their unintentional “stubbornness”- while still having others fall prey to them in likewise understandable, and sometimes forcible ways. It will be interesting to see who is left standing at the end of the season.

As the creators have already announced this season will be self-contained, with potential future seasons set in different places (Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, respectively), I assume that the bugs won’t be among those vanquished, but we’ll see. Also, Winstead might still have to deal with those pesky “Cloverfield” critters on down the line and might not be available, so I wouldn’t necessarily count on her surviving, either.

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Meaning that this could go any number of ways by season’s end, which is actually kind of exciting. I like things unpredictable, so I’m definitely in. What say you? Sound off down below and join me next week, for my latest review of “BrainDead”!