Title (S01.E01): The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics Is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century
Director: Robert King
Written by: Michelle King, Robert King
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Tveit, Nikki M James, Johnny Ray Gill, Danny Pino, Tony Shalooub, Charlie Shamin, Jan Maxwell, Zach Grenier, and more
Executive producers: Ridley Scott, Michelle King, Robert King, David W Zucker, Liz Glotzer
Episode length: 42 min
Executive produced by Ridley Scott, this is a strange cocktail of a show, with a heavy influence of classic science fiction tropes.
After watching the premiere of this series last night, I wasn’t sure what to think. Are they serious with this stuff? Or maybe its a joke they are having the expense of genre fans? What ever the answer, the premiere of the 13 episode summer series started out initially leaving me somewhat perplexed as to what is going on here?
First of all, this show started out seeming like another primetime political soap opera about attractive young people caught up in modern politics, and about the relationships they have with each other. On the surface, that’s what it initially seems to be, and indeed, the show uses that as a context for the science fiction elements it introduces soon after it starts, and due to those elements soon shifts gears into something else.
That something else, seems to be a very tongue-in-cheek, almost camp science fiction series, dripping with sci-fi tropes we have all seen before. Most notably, it reminded me of a modern day take on Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956, 1978), involving bugs from outer space, that arrive in a meteor. Bugs, resembling ants, that methodically go about entering the heads of several characters in the show, and begin eating their brains, and affecting their behavior, again in an almost comical manner.
The activity of the bugs and their affect on the people they encounter, is noteworthy because it becomes a startling part of the show. In one case the insects are depicted ejecting a large mass of what appears to be brain tissue from the ear of one their victims, and in a another case, they cause the head of one of their victims, who resists their invading his brain, to explode. These bugs are not messing around.
People are behaving strangely all of a sudden, their behavior changing radically from what it was before the bugs are introduced into their brains. They quit drinking, and everyone affected begins acting like people from The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004), and becoming a more ideal version of themselves. Some of the people affected seem as if they are silently in communication with each other, and part of a conspiracy that only they know about.
That’s another thing, despite being set in our current time frame, the show somehow manages to seem like its set in the 60’s. It seems the show is an odd mix of intentionally being an amusing parody of the stuff from 50’s B science fiction movies, while at the same time, being a show that is poking fun at modern politics, with the heavy handed metaphor of the alien bugs, affecting the brains of our political leaders.
BrainDead starts out with shots of an extraterrestrial object crashing somewhere in Russia, it causes a small tsunami at the crash site, landing underwater in an undisclosed body of water in the asian nation. This is followed by shots of it being recovered by a diving team soon afterward.
Next we are introduced to a woman, Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a fresh face on Capital Hill, the sister of a young senator, Luke (Danny Pino) who drafts her as a constituent case worker, and she is the only one that notices something strange is going on. She follows the trail of a case shipped from Russia that is the source of the alien bugs.
She notices strange behavior on the part of some affected people. she notices groups of people are staring at her, and, at these points, the show becomes a study in paranoia. All the victims seem to have one thing in common, they all like an old song by the 80’s band the Cars, which gives the show a somewhat surreal touch.
She tries to reach out to her brother, the senator, but he shrugs off her concerns as unsubstantiated dribble from a hysterical woman. Its not made clear whether he is one of the ones affected or not. She is alone in her suspicions.
So, we have a show that is a mix of several elements: alien invasion, political soap opera, paranoia, all mixed to gather with the new girl in town trope, that, at times, is intentionally comical in its portrayal of this strange cocktail. The jury’s still out on this one, but it sure was an interesting mix, and it succeeded in making me want to see more, in fact I intend to watch the pilot again today.
One thing’s for sure, the show wasn’t boring, and once I got a handle on it, this was kind of fun. It sure was different and pretty unique.