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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of CBS’ BrainDead.]
That’s one way to start off with a bang.
During BrainDead’s series premiere, politically charged bugs crawled into the head of Republican Sen. Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) and ate away half of his brain. But what exactly happened when all that goo came out of his head?
“He’s the more extreme version of himself. He’s unwilling to compromise. He’ll drive the whole government off a cliff if that’s what it takes,” co-creator Michelle King tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Adds co-creator Robert King: “If that’s the only way to get his 100 percent agenda through, he will drive the country off a cliff. What we’re dealing with is someone who has half of his brain. The other half is this bug brain that is turning him extremist.”
Shalhoub sees both positives and negatives of the invasion. “I don’t like to look at it as an infection — I look at it as an enhancement because he regains so much of his youth and his strength and his resilience,” he explains. “He becomes sharper, smarter, more politically savvy, and a master manipulator. The longer he has the brain change, the better he gets at playing the game.”
In fact, the bugs are making him better in many ways. “The bugs would like to be in the healthiest host they can,” Michelle adds. “As a result, after someone gets infected, they immediately lose interest in drinking, recreational sex, and drugs, and they get fit.”
Now that both Wheatus and Scarlett (Paige Patterson) are infected, it won’t be long before Capitol Hill starts being taken over by brain-dead politicians.
“With the proximity on Capitol Hill of all of the infected people, it makes it very likely for characters you know and you love to become infected,” Danny Pino, who plays Democratic Senator Luke Healy, teases.
There is one way to stay safe, though. “The bugs thrive on cherry blossoms — they’re basically their mode of transportation. If you get near them, there’s more possibility that you will be infected,” Robert reveals. “There’s probably five percent infected after the first three or four episodes. You’re not sure who’s infected because also there are a lot of brainless senators to start with. Part of the joke is how do you find who’s infected and how do you find who’s not?”
Wheatus will also be “playing a game of cat and mouse” with Laurel’s brother, Democratic Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino), who is much more moderate in his beliefs.
“With the extremists, it’s life and death. They don’t want to see eye-to-eye or compromise — they want it their way or they’re going to blow it up,” Pino says. “Every episode, there is a new revelation. There’s something new that happens with the bugs, related to the bugs, or behaviorally with the intermingling of the bugs and the humans, and then how that causes for people to behave and then for the system to either break down or for the extremists to take hold and get their voices heard because they’re the loudest in the room.”
In this life or death battle, one person who will be safe at first: Wheatus’ Legislative Director, Gareth (Aaron Tveit). “Even though his boss has changed and this radical extremism has started, he still has a job to do and he’ll do it,” Tveit reveals. “ That’s kind of protecting him from the bugs right now. If Wheatus saw that Gareth was doing anything to inhibit or prevent his political agenda, he’d probably be marked — he’d probably get a bug in the ear.”
Gareth finds something strange about Red’s new driven behavior and extremist views, but can’t quite figure it out. However, Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is actively digging into the weird changes on the Hill, and that could put her in danger.
“There’s a very, very interesting dynamic with Wheatus and Laurel, because she thinks that something is up with Red and Red knows it,” Shalhoub says. “Red sees it and really wants to take her out of the game and make her leave, because he knows that she’s going to be a disrupter.”
“Laurel is challenged in just about every possible way throughout the season — politically, personally, and ways beyond her comprehension,” Winstead says. “It’s plotted out in a slow burn of trying to figure out what these bugs are, where they come from, and what they do to people. There’s a lot of different conspiracy theories abound before the truth comes out.”
But how in danger is Laurel, really, given that the Kings have imagined four seasons for the show?
“Laurel is in danger of dying and not being in season two, but we would never do that to Mary Elizabeth Winstead,” Robert says. “Some people die from it. Some people who resist, their brain explodes. Usually either your brain is weak enough that you accept it and you’re taken over, or if you resist too much — boom!”
BrainDead airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.
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