Look of the Week: Sartorial delights while battling space bugs on BrainDead

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Jun 17, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week! Celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

Two years ago, BrainDead debuted on CBS. Considering how much happens during a 24-hour period in the news cycle, the summer of 2016 feels like a lifetime ago. BrainDead is a political satire with a sci-fi twist from Robert and Michelle King — creators of The Good Wife and The Good Fight — exploring political machinations in Washington D.C., which get hampered by the lack of compromise on both sides of the aisle.

An asteroid filled with space bugs only compounds this issue further. Opinions are magnified, anger increases and views become more extreme. The back-and-forth yelling increases. The D.C. politicos act like it is business-as-usual despite the new inhabitants in their heads, and the set-up is terrifyingly accurate. Even with the bug element.

Sadly this was a one-and-done series, but it is the perfect summer watch, even if you want to get away from the news. It is absurd, delightful, and will maybe have you longing for that pre-election period that seemed so fraught at the time—plus it is super stylish, particularly in the workwear department. A flight suit in outer space isn’t the only outfit in which to save the world from aliens.  

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is no stranger to battling a variety of monsters, including Death itself. Her resume includes Final Destination 3, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Returned and The Thing. In BrainDead, Winstead plays Laurel Healy, a documentary filmmaker with no interest in politics. She agrees to work for her senator brother Luke (Danny Pino), and in return her father will provide funding for her latest project. Unfortunately for Laurel, she stumbles upon something far more insidious than corrupt politicians.

Laurel is from a political family, but she is still a D.C. outsider. Costume designer Daniel Lawson makes sure her work attire is office appropriate, but with Laurel’s version of power dressing, don’t expect to see any matching pantsuits. Instead she patterns clashes with stripes and leopard print, pairing florals and textured pieces. A leather jacket is just as likely as a Saint Laurent pussy-bow blouse. Funky ankle boots and shorter hemlines are part of her overall look. Laurel isn’t playing dress-up as a wannabe politician. She’s not too fussed about the sartorial rules of those up on Capitol Hill, but she isn’t trying to shake the boat too much either.   

Statement jackets by brands such as Oscar de la Renta, Victoria Beckham and Akris are part of her daywear, Alexander McQueen for post-work drinks. This is not the wardrobe of someone struggling to pay her student loans or fund her documentary, but in a world with space bugs that take over a person’s brain (or rather replace the half the brain they have pushed out), we can also suspend disbelief with this high-end stacked closet. In fact, Laurel looks like she could easily fit in with the younger lawyers and investigators on The Good Fight.


Laurel is working outside the bounds of the political office and law enforcement. She has a trench coat, in cornflower blue and dusty pink rather than a neutral tone. But this isn’t a technicolor closet or one full of jewel-tones. Instead, Laurel sticks mostly to blacks and whites, with some wine color pieces.

Hazmat suits are not provided, but this is messy work. Heads explode, brains are consumed, and those stains are not easy to get out. When there is some time to let off steam, Laurel engages in a will they/won’t they with Gareth (Aaron Tveit), the chief-of-staff for Republican senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub). In a sea of pastels, tulle and sparkly embellishments Laurel stands out at the Tax Prom in a plunging navy gown. They dance to the Montell Jordan classic, “This is How We Do It.” However, it is “You Might Think” by The Cars that is the literal earworm of BrainDead, this ‘80s song plays throughout the season.

In today’s political climate, the extremes get even more so. Space bugs don’t sound that outlandish. BrainDead leans into absurd political practices. Along with the charming performances and Laurel’s sharp wardrobe, it also offers a semblance of hope in the face of adversity.

And if all of the above hasn’t done enough to see this weird and wonderful show to you, just know that there is quite possibly the most bizarre, awkward and surprisingly sweet sex scene broadcast TV (and maybe even cable) has ever aired. Despite its low viewing figures, BrainDead very much spoke for the summer of 2016—and it might be even more relevant now.