THE TAKE AWAY  



BrainDead and Extremism


By Kersley Fitzgerald



Fair warning: Spoilers. All the spoilers.


I think Dev and I are the only people we know who watched CBS's summer show BrainDead. It's the latest offering from the creators of The Good Wife (which, strangely enough, we've never watched), and stars Mary Elizabeth Windstead, Danny Pino, and Tony Shalhoub. The premise is simple enough: a meteor has been recovered from the North Sea and taken to a museum in Washington DC. While waiting to be processed, it breaks open and thousands of eight-legged space-ants come crawling out. They proceed to crawl into people's ears and eat and/or expel part of their brains. The victims are sometimes random people, like chess players under their cherry tree spawning grounds, and sometimes strategic players, such as Tony Shalhoub's Senator Red Wheatus. If the victims strain too hard, say thinking or weightlifting, their heads explode.

The heroes of the show are Laurel Healy, a documentary film maker who is raising money by working for her senator brother; Gareth, Senator Wheatus' aide; Gustav Triplett, a conspiracy theorist who is right waaay too often; and Nikki, a doctor and the daughter of the bugs' first DC victim. Throughout the season they have discovered how to tell if someone is infected (balance problems, loss of interest in sex and alcohol, and obsessions with celery smoothies and The Cars' "You Might Think") and what the bugs' agenda is. It's simply to distract people with a lot of drama so they can quietly take over the world.

The bugs work by turning their hosts into the extreme version of themselves. While the hosts are unified in their goal to further the bugs' agenda, their politics are driven further and further apart. Interviews become more vitriolic, arguments more inane, and compromise impossible unless the issue at hand can be twisted for the bugs' benefit.

The bugs are used by the creators (and at one point by Laurel) as a metaphor for extremism in politics. The uninfected wander around stunned by the behavior of formerly logical acquaintances, while the hosts' behavior grows more and more emotional and convoluted. The timing is, of course, perfect as we see our own friends, family, and neighbors slide into political ridiculousness. But the metaphor has a spiritual component that I don't think the writers intended.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
No, our enemy is not Trumpets or Clintonites. It's not third-party advocates or those who refuse to vote at all. It's alien bugs that crawl into our ears. It's spiritual forces that have existed among us long enough to know how to turn us against our better natures through subtle and not-so-subtle manipulations. They distract us with issues and insults. They silence the logical parts of our brains and drive our emotions onward. The direction doesn't even matter. Extremism for anything will serve to break down communication and cooperation.

But neither politics nor differences in minor theological issues should ever come between believers tweet because that would mean worldly authority is more important than our citizenship in heaven. It's the equivalent of Red and Laurel's brother fighting over who the lobby coffee cart should be named after when the world is being invaded by hostile aliens. Issues need to be addressed and discussed and decided on, but not at the expense of unity in the body.

In the end, the uninfected but enlightened team defeat the bugs because of a combination of civic duty and love. Laurel is motivated by love for her father and Gareth; Gareth has compassion on Red. And they discover the one thing that will expel the bugs from their victims: shame. Being confronted by sins that have come to light. That same feeling is a powerful tool against the extremists among us. It keeps emotions and reactions in check and convicts us to rethink our beliefs and motivations. And when the offense was against someone the offender actually loves, it can change entire worldviews.

I can't categorically recommend BrainDead — it has the same issues you'd expect in any TV drama/comedy/thriller, plus one incredibly odd sex scene. But I think it's a good warning for Christians even more than those just caught up in the political scene this year. Know who the enemy is. Don't fight amongst yourselves about foolish things. Act out of love. And beware of anyone bearing celery smoothies.



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Published 9-13-16