Bri Castellini: Alison Sumner and the Unreliable Narrator – @BrisOwnWorld

by Bri Castellini

In celebration of Brains getting picked up by SeekaTV, I decided to do something totally unexpected and write about Brains on my blog! I contain multitudes. This is a blog about why, specifically, I’m bummed about not getting more seasons. Warning: spoilers, obviously, so if you haven’t watched Brains yet (or you’re due for a rewatch), why not give it a go, right now, on Seeka?

A few months ago, a Twitter…. friend?… of mine wrote a rather critical review of Brains entitled “Brains: Great Concept, Not Enough Character.” This blog isn’t exactly a response to that critique, because I’m above that (I’m not above that), but it will reference the critique occasionally because one of its major issues with my show (“not enough character”) is kind of the topic of this post. I have the utmost respect for Nick (the reviewer) and his opinion, but I also have to point out that in a lot of cases, the lack of characterization for characters other than Alison was kind of the point, particularly of the first two seasons.

“Most of the characters in Brains are, pardon the pun, lifeless zombies. Almost none of them seem to have much of a personality outside of their role in the story…”

So that’s… harsh, and also a little short-sighted, especially when he concedes just one paragraph later that

“To be fair, Allison is actually pretty great. Castellini has a natural charisma, and Allison benefits from by far the most screen time in the series. She’s one of the only character who feels remotely like a real person…”

Brains is told entirely from Alison’s perspective. Despite the fact that other characters have screen time (unlike, for example, Lizzie Bennet’s mother in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, whose only characterization is seen via Lizzie’s reenactments), the in-world videos are filmed and edited by Alison, who has a very specific focus: herself, and her version of the motivations other characters have in relation to her story, which is about her. Even the episode in season 2 between Carl and Damian while Alison is out is about her, and considering that she still chose to edit and upload that video, it says a lot about her ego in these first two seasons. Alison believes that her interpretation of events puts her solidly in the right, and that everyone else’s reality is skewed. She is undeniably an incredibly unreliable narrator in this way, and her egotistical recording (and subsequent release) of events only serves to underline that.

The other characters in Brains in the first two seasons seem like they don’t have much personality outside their role in the story because Alison herself is casting them in those roles because of the way she films and edits her videos. Of course, they all work to break out of those molds in their own ways: Carl chooses to film moments where Alison isn’t present to give his side of the story, Greta refuses to play along with Alison’s pity party about their lost friendship, and Damian struggles with opening up to someone for the first time since he was turned into a zombie when all of that opening up is also happening on camera. But no matter what, for these first two seasons, Alison’s fingerprints are everywhere.

As teased by Season 2, Minisode 10, Season 3 would incorporate Sophie Bricker’s secret video diary taking the place of the minisodes in season 2. Essentially, in between Alison’s “main” videos, you would get Sophie’s take on the situation, since she’s very much aware of Alison’s videos but Alison is very much not aware of hers. You’d also get a story of a girl struggling to navigate her own death and reanimation, which is naturally very different from Alison’s boy drama. And Alison, reacting to Carl’s accusations at the end of season 2, begins to expand her perspective in season 3 as well. Her videos are still about her, of course, but with the help of her friends starts sending cameras off with people other than herself to get a fuller picture of events on campus, culminating in the season 3 finale where they’ve got three cameras set up to capture a massive battle taking place at the same time as final exams: one in an exam room, one in the food and rest area, and one passed off between students taking turns battling a horde of zombies.

Season 4, road trip season, would have also handed off the “minisodes” to people other than Alison, in this case recording events on campus as Alison and the main cast head off on their road trip. And even on the road trip, Alison and her new co-producer Sophie would have made a habit of handing off the camera any time they’re at a pit stop, regardless of whether or not Alison and Sophie are with said camera. Season 4 expands further Alison’s new ethos of capturing the whole of her apocalypse, not just her personal life, aided by Sophie’s sociology studies.

Season 5’s minisodes are less structured than the Sophie vlogs of season 3 and the on-campus check ins of season 4 as each episode shows the unique perspective of a different student or group of students entirely separate from Alison. Alison’s main videos also got a major makeover, now self-aware of how irresponsibly she used to treat the narrative and very focused on righting the previous wrongs.

Season 6 finds Alison’s videos at the center of national politics and revealing anything else would be WAY too spoiler-y, even for this post, but here’s the point:

Seasons 1 and 2 needed to be largely from Alison’s extremely unreliable perspective, because her character arc deals directly with her stubbornness and control-freak tendencies. This is a girl whose first impulse once the internet was put back up post-extinction-level-event was to film herself talking about a cute boy. I love Alison Sumner, but her ego is undeniably gigantic.

Eventually, by season 6, the videos aren’t so much about Alison as they are about the efforts of her immediate surroundings to put themselves back together after the horrors of the previous years as well as the normalization of human-passing zombies in this new, rebuilt society, but without the first two seasons of Alison-centric drama, I don’t think it would have been earned.

This is why, more than anything else, I wish we were able to film the rest of the seasons. Because two seasons is incomplete, for plot as well as character development, and that’s a shame.

So…. anyone want to send me a few thousand dollars to keep making Brains?

Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on Bri’s most excellent blog. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE!