You’ve probably seen the commercials, the ones that breathlessly ask, “What if an imaginary friend wasn’t imaginary?” You’ve probably seen the billboards, the ones that warn, “Not all imaginary friends are imaginary.” You’ve probably seen the ads on this very website, blocking your view (maybe it’s even blocking this page right now) until you can no longer get the phrase “imaginary friend” out of your head. Well, congratulations, you’ve made it—to the real, not imaginary ABC summer series The Whispers!!!!!! Oh, sorry, shhhh… the whispers.
So yes, welcome to the first recap of The Whispers, your average show/PSA against imaginary friends about kids who get manipulated by some murderous invisible entity named “Drill” that wants them to do its mysterious bidding and drop truth bombs on their parents. But let’s not get to that just yet: We open on an idyllic suburban neighborhood—bubbles blown from off-screen and all!—where some playful children are running through sprinklers. One little girl named Harper stands off to the side to chat with some bushes about missing her dad. “Daddy’s always gone,” she tells the bushes. The bushes want her to do something. “No, I can do it, I promise!” she insists.
Harper’s mom walks over and finds out that no, Harper wasn’t talking to the rustling bushes (sorry, bushes); she was talking to an imaginary friend named “Drill,” who says joining them for lunch would be “very amenable” to him. (Well well well, I dislike Drill already.) After Harper goes back inside, though, neither she nor Drill are interested in the lunch. Harper rummages through a pail of colored chalk, grabs a backpack of tools (!!), and disappears outside. When her mother catches up to her in the treehouse, she tells her mom she has to play Drill’s “game,” and in order for her to win, her mom must step on the X marked on the floor. One step, one creak, and one glance at the tools placed next to the spot, and, well—there goes mom, falling through the broken floor panels to her (maybe?) death.
After committing attempted murder, Harper seems to have no idea what just happened, telling Drill she won and, sadly, imploring her mother to wake up. Welp. At least it’s the perfect time to roll opening credits… and move completely away from Harper so we can meet Claire, played by Lily Rabe, who escaped one American Horror Story only to end up in another. Claire, it seems, has been on leave for three months from her job as a child specialist for the FBI because reasons. She’s pulled back in after Harper’s case catches their attention. (Harper’s father works with a nuclear plant, so national security’s involved.) Claire has to say goodbye to her son, Henry, an adorable ginger moppet who lost his hearing and admits the two can’t hang out forever.
Back at the FBI, Claire hastily tucks in her shirt and tries to make a good impression on her return, even though the agent assigned to be her partner, Agent Rollins, looks less than enthused. Claire insists a 6-year-old couldn’t have come up with a plot to tamper with a treehouse on her own, but he says she probably learned how to do it on the Internet. (Really, Agent Rollins? Really?)
Luckily, Claire gets a chance to talk to Harper in a “safe room” with markers and toys to make Harper feel comfortable. Harper’s not, though, as she tells Claire Drill told her not to talk to grown-ups. She does reveal that he sometimes talks through the lights, plays the game to get “domination”—or as Harper put it, “domi…domi-notion”—and that Drill’s looking for a new friend. She also leaves behind a crudely drawn picture that Claire takes with her, and reveals Drill told her about a boy who failed the game, which leads to Claire searching for said boy and finding one: Jackson, who set off a bomb under the influence of an imaginary entity named—you guessed it!—”Drill.”
In the meantime, let’s take a look at Drill’s newest friend first: Minx. She’s Drill’s new target, and she’s the daughter of Lena, whose husband, Wes, works in the Department of Defense, Special Projects—and who, on top of that, is at least “not around her anymore.” Oooooooh. Complicated backstory aside, Minx is happy to play Drill’s game, and she gets it quickly enough to make other kids on the playground uncomfortable.
As for Wes himself, he’s making his way through the Saharan Desert while all this happens. He arrives at a base with his assistant Peter Kim (Dong from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!) and immediately gets involved in a mystery involving a U.S. military plane wing found in the area. But before he can investigate it properly, the lights begin to flicker. He’s led to a geologist who also happens to be interested in the fighter plane, and to show him why, he’ll have to take him somewhere else, to something else, as soon as they suit up.
That’s when the lights go out completely, and we see the four figures, led by Wes, dressed in their hazmat-like suits, walking toward the “something.” It’s like a scene out of Alien—the four look up, and the camera pans around them, and we finally see it:
Milo Ventimiglia! a giant, blue, glowing… thing … that’s coming out of the ground.
That reminds me: All this, and I haven’t even gotten to Milo Ventimiglia, who’s playing an anonymous figure who keeps showing up looking haggard and saying little. We’ll find out who he is soon enough, as long as you don’t look at the show’s IMDb page first. I’ll get to him. Like Harper said, I can do it, I promise!
NEXT: Drill‘s game “never stops,” which means it’s… Jumanji???
Wes & Co. get a closer look at the… thing… thanks to their triple flashlights and illuminated hoods. The men are tiny compared to the hulking mass that seems to be carrying a plane in the middle. Wes moves even closer and reaches out to touch the mass (in that moment, I suddenly heard Viola Davis’ voice in my head, going: “Wes, don’t you touch that thing!“—anyone else? no?), and the… thing… sparks and the lights come back on again. What!?!? Other than that, we get a tiny bit of info here, as Wes finds out the plane was grabbed by the ground by some force, and spots a set of footprints that prove someone must have walked away from the non-crash.
Back in the still non-Alien-esque world, Claire and Rollins chat about their respective broken relationships (her: cheating on her husband before her husband died; him: in the middle of a divorce) while they wait to talk to Jackson’s mother, who survived the bomb her son planted in her building. When she fails to respond to Claire at first, Claire shares her own pain. “‘You’ll get through this.’ That’s what people say, don’t they?” she says. “They said it to me, it really pissed me off. What exactly does it mean to get through this? Through what? What’s on the other side?”
They finally make eye contact, and Jackson’s mother tells her about how Drill lured Jackson into playing a game that led to him detonating a bomb. She also remembers seeing a man across the street—a man whose eyes looked “like there was nothing there” and whose body was covered in tattoos. Ooooh, just like Prison Break! Or wait, Blindspot! Or that one X-Men character! Or… what were talking about?
Oh, right: Milo, who’s still nameless on the show. He’s the eyes-and-tattoos guy. He wakes up in a hospital after creepily watching one too many of Drill’s targets, passing out in an alley, and losing his list of affected kids’ names with a windy flourish previously reserved for Forrest Gump. Dr. Maria Benavidez asks him for his name, but he’s confused and doesn’t remember that he was whispering in Arabic the phrase, “It’s too late, they’re searching for the lights,” while unconscious. We know more than he does at this point—we know that he’s been tracking the children, and that, after a visit from Harper who happens to be in the same hospital visiting her mom, he’s the one who can get in touch with Drill.
Harper could just try Minx, if only she knew her (does she? everyone’s connected, I know it!). Minx is happily under Drill’s spell, and she’s not afraid to tell Lena about her new friend. Just like Harper, she draws a mysterious picture showing the White House under a red squiggly…circle..thing… and an X, which is “where the light comes from,” as she puts it. She also tells Lena she knows “Dad doesn’t like us,” because Drill makes children drop painful truth bombs. While Minx is in the bathroom, Lena calls Wes about their daughter’s knowledge of his affair (which has to be with Claire…right?), and just as she hangs up, Minx scares her. “Daddy doesn’t want to talk to you,” she says. Oof. That’s truth bomb No. 2. Want one more, Lena? “You’re not gonna understand, mommy, you’re too old.” Boom, boom, boom.
Of course, emotionally torturing her mother isn’t the only thing Minx has to do, per Drill’s instructions: While Lena’s getting ready for the bath after a long day of dealing with Minx-as-Drill (Drill-as-Minx?), the lights flicker off and on, and a light-up toy in Minx’s bedroom goes haywire (spooky!) waking Minx up and telling her to “come here.” Floor lights turn on one by one (scary!) to guide Minx—ding!—to the computer, which boots up and lets Minx access Wes’ files (sneaky!) by entering his password. The Defense Department: easily penetrable by children who know their father’s favorite football teams.
Back in the Sahara, Wes learns more about the plane. It had flown to the Arctic Circle but when it reached its target, it disappeared and ended up in the desert, even though it only had 300 miles worth of fuel. It didn’t have enough energy to cause all that petrified lightning to hold onto it, but he can’t figure out what did. The secretary of defense tells him to come home, but just before their talk, Wes had seen the pilot’s face in a file, and recognized him. Which leads us all the way back to…
Claire, who has just arrived home to hug Henry, and to talk again about how much they miss his dad. While she settles in with a glass of wine, she notices a magazine spread of the president and realizes it looks eerily like Harper’s drawing. And just as Agent Rollins sends the sketch of the man Jackson’s mom saw over to her, she gets a call from Wes, who, yes, was the man she had an affair with (anyone else call this one early?), and who tells her her husband Sean may not be dead. And then it all hits her—and us—at once when she looks at her computer screen again: Sean Bennigan, played by Milo Ventimiglia, is the man Jackson’s mother saw. And the real Sean, sans identity and memory, puts on a cap and strolls out of the hospital at that exact same moment.
But that’s not the only twist in this pilot: In the final moments, we see little Henry gazing out of the window with a giant smile on his face, before he… talks (?!) to (?!) Drill (?!). “I can’t believe it, this is the best present in the whole wide world,” he says. “Thank you for fixing me… good night, Drill, I love you.” And the lights flicker one more time before the show fades out and the end credits roll and all of us are left with goosebumps.
Some stray thoughts:
- So, no, Drill isn’t an imaginary friend, and Claire points out that some kids are more easily manipulated than others into believing what’s real and what’s not. But what does it mean for Minx to be a kid who won’t ever be “turned”? Does that mean she’s strong enough to handle what Drill wants, or does it mean she realizes he’s an “entity,” and not an imaginary friend of some sort?
- At first glance, I thought the petrified lightning looked like a kaiju claw. Clearly, I was wrong.
- Drill isn’t just capable of communicating through lights: Notice, the interference in Harper’s mom’s call, as well as whatever opens the front door. Is Drill a… ghost? An electricity-manipulating ghost? I’d love to hear your theories, because so far all I have in my notes is “Drill might be an artistic ghost with magical energy and healing powers,” which isn’t really a thing.