I came for the evil imaginary friend. I’ll stick around for shades of The X-Files.
In The Whispers pilot, FBI child specialist Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe) is going through some super-complicated life stuff; her husband died in a mysterious military plane crash three months ago (after she took a suspicious leave of absence), she’s raising her hearing-impaired son Henry all by herself, and she’s pretty sure everyone at work is trashing her behind her back. So she’s less than thrilled when she’s called in to investigate what appears to be a six-year-old girl’s premeditated attempt to murder her mom. Why not let the local authorities handle it?
At first, Claire thinks this is just her boss’s annoying way of forcing her back to work. But she quickly surmises that Harper — the wee, adorable, would-be murderess — is acting under the influence of a more mature mind. Claire’s new partner, Agent Jessup Rollins (Derek Webster), assumes the kid figured out how to booby-trap a tree house by looking stuff up on the internet. Harper claims she took directions from her imaginary friend Drill, who speaks to her through the lights about winning a “game” and achieving “domination”. Knowing this ain’t your average six-year-old speak, Claire wants to find out more about Drill. Rollins thinks she’s nuts for believing Drill is anything more than imaginary, which makes him the Scully.1
Meanwhile, another slightly older, less adorable kid named Minx is seen chatting with Drill. Just like Harper’s dad, Minx’s father Wes does top secret government work and is rarely home. Minx’s mom Lena is too distraught about her troubled marriage and Wes’s recent bad deeds (infidelity, presumably) to notice her kid having weird, one-sided conversations at the playground. Pretty soon, Minx is up at all hours of the night, logging into her dad’s computer, gathering intelligence for Drill.
By-the-by, Claire and Rollins learn there was another kid who tried to kill his government employee mom, but wound up blowing himself up instead. Guess who he named as his BFF shortly before he died? Drill, baby, Drill! Also, the dead kid’s mom mentions a crazy-eyed, tattooed dude (Milo Ventimiglia) who used to hang around their neighborhood right before that went down. We see that same tattooed guy near Harper’s house at the beginning of the episode, and he later appears to be looking for Minx. Then he winds up at the hospital, babbling “It’s too late, they’re searching for the lights” in Arabic while unconscious. Then he wakes up with a bad case of amnesia. And, ZOINKS, he doesn’t even speak Arabic!
Meanwhile, we meet Wes (Minx’s dad/Mr. Infidelity, played by Barry Sloane), who’s doing a special project for the Defense Department in Saharan Africa. Local military leaders call him in to check out a big, giant weird thing in the desert. “What is it?” he asks as they ponder from inside their hazmat suits. Well, it’s dark and creepy and shoots blue light, so I’m gonna call it another homage to The X-Files. Also, it contains the remnants of a U.S. military jet… one that was supposed to have crashed in the Arctic… but now looks as if it was “grabbed from the sky and ripped to shreds”!!
At the end of the episode, Claire matches one of Harper’s post-murder-attempt drawings with a photo of U.S. President Winters. Just as she’s processing that, she receives a call from Wes, who is DEFINITELY NOT SUPPOSED TO BE CALLING HER EVER AGAIN (guess we now know who the other woman was); he informs her that her supposedly dead husband Sean’s crashed plane was found in Africa, and his body is missing. Twist! Maybe Sean isn’t dead. Double twist! At that moment, Claire receives the suspect sketch of tattoo guy. It’s Sean.
Triple twist! While all this is happening, Henry’s in his bedroom, chatting with his new friend Drill, who somehow magically restored his hearing. And if that ain’t the most effed up mixed bag of family drama, I don’t know what is.
When I heard about The Whispers, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of evil imaginary friends; as the mother of a daydreamy toddler, I sometimes have sick fantasies about her pals, Mr. Gum and Whipple, coming to life and turning against me.2 The opening scene, in which Harper successfully coaxes her mom into the rigged-up tree house, was truly creepy; mom would have done anything to get her kid to the lunch table, and I related to that feeling a bit too well.