Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Whispers, Season 1, Episode 1: X Marks the Spot

We open to kids playing all innocently except one girl, Harper, who is in trouble with her mother and telling someone all about it – and by “somebody” I mean completely empty space. I would point out that this is sinister woo-woo but I think small children have a special talent for being creepy.

Her mother certainly puts it down to creepy child being creepy – even when she gets odd interference on the phone when “Drill”, her child’s friend possibly comes close. And even when it feeds her small child the word “amenable”. I think the “that’s it, I’m moving to a different continent” moment is when the door opens… sure, it could be the wind…

A creepy guy with waaay too much beard also watches the house, creepily.

Harper then plays a little game with Drill involving tools that small children shouldn’t have, a really unsafe-looking treehouse and luring her mother onto a weakened floorboard so she falls onto the stones below (ridiculously high treehouse over stone paths? Bad parents! Bad!). Well, if there was any doubt it’s not clear the creepy imaginary friends are not a force for good. Having finished his murder mission, Drill disappears (even to Harper now).

To Agent Claire Brennegan is watching her son Henry’s baseball match when she gets a call about the case  because Harper’s dad works in the nuclear regulation of some kind it’s an FBI case and the premeditated murder of a mother by a 6 year old makes it Claire’s case.

She takes the time to celebrate with her child over his home run, communicating in sign language because he’s deaf. There’s also an implication that her partner and son’s father has recently died/disappeared/turned into a weremoose.

More evidence of that when she’s greeted at work with a hug from her boss. I’m sure the FBI isn’t a very huggy workplace. Agent Rollings is there to fill her in and she is very dubious, looking at the evidence, that a kid did this alone (nor does she buy Rollings’s “kids can learn anything on the internet” explanation). Before they go boss man takes a chance to give Rollings a warning not to give Claire any hassle because she’s recently lost her husband (I actually wish someone would just turn round and say “he’s dead” because in speculative fiction “lost” can mean so many things).

Off to interview Harper who talks about Drill and again uses surprisingly complex words that suggest this friend who talks through the lights may be real. And Drill is now looking for a new friend. Rollings, of course doesn’t think there’s any case (because the show’s going to run with plucky-detective-stands-up-to-the-ignorant-trope) though Claire thinks there’s lots of red flags to investigate – she runs to ask Harper more questions despite her dad saying the questioning is over (then falling silent so Claire can keep questioning, as you do.)

Rollings keeps pretending that there’s absolutely nothing to concern them (at least no national security issues) while Claire does some research and finds another kid with an imaginary friend who tried to kill his mother with a home made bomb. More government contractors involved – and the imaginary friend was also called Drill. Rollings is still not convinced.

They take a moment to discuss families – Rollings’ divorce, her widowhood (and possibly broken marriage before hand) and her deaf son. They interview the surviving mother of the boy who also was friends with Drill, she seems to be in a sanatorium. And after a nifty speech about grief and empathising with her, Claire asks her questions about Drill. She remembers a man watching the house – creepy bearded guy

To some more characters – Lena talks to her friend about their kids and her husband Wes who, it sounds like, has just cheated on her but she decided to stay with him. He works for the department of defence doing some nebulous secret thing. Anyway she’s super happy that her husband is away in dangerous situations doing likely nefarious things so long as it gets him away from “her”, presumably the other woman

Her daughter, Minx (Minx? You called your daughter Minx? Now that’s just tempting fate!) gets a new imaginary friend called Drill and manages to terrify one of her playmates. At home she draws creepy drawings of something red and swirly over the White House and she has a sudden insight into her father’s infidelity because of Drill.

That night Minx is lured by Drill into accessing her dad’s computer and using his passwords to look at the top secret stuff.

Creepy guy adds her name to a list her has of possessed kids – before collapsing and the list being blown away. He’s taken to the hospital where he babbles about “searching for lights” and “it’s too late” in Arabic. When he wakes up the doctor asks his name – and he says he doesn’t know. He has complete amnesia – and he doesn’t speak Arabic. He has a tattoo of his arm with the numbers “111215” and he has an ominous feeling something is going to happen (on the 11th December 2015? Or the 12th November I guess since it’s American) and creepy girl Harper comes in (in the hospital because her mother is) sure that Amnesia guy knows where Drill is.

During the night, Amnesia Guy leaves

Over to Wes, Minx’s father. He’s in the Sahara desert with is assistant Peter meeting a General Damba who has brought them in because they’ve found a wrecked American plane and would rather like to know why there’s one of them in their borders. To add to the mystery the lights flicker creepily and General Damba introduces him to geologist Dr Karem who has another surprise for them. They suit up in Haz-Mat suits the plane has crashed into a… thing? It looks like a giant stone tree with luminous blue veins. When Wes touches it he gets an electric shock and the luminosity flares – it turns the lights on again though. Just to make it more creepy, Wes thinks the stone hand/tree/thing literally grabbed the plane out of the sky.

Looking into the plane they find it was on a secret mission to the Arctic circle when it vanished. And now it is in Algeria. And he recognises who the pilot was

Claire goes home to her son and mother, having a touching moment with her son, still upset over his dad. And her lights flicker ominously. She checks one of the child’s sketches and realises this is a picture from a magazine of the president. I’m not sure why this is such a startling discovery unless the magazine is newer than the kid’s picture

She gets a call from… Wes. Wait? What, these two know each other? It seems likely that Claire is the woman Wes had an affair with. And the pilot Wes recognised is Sean, Claire’s dead husband who supposedly crashed in the Arctic. It’s a small world after all! And since they didn’t find Sean’s body he’s now being upgraded from “presumed dead” to “missing.” Then he hangs up after not so much dropping an emotional bombshell on her as an emotional nuke.

In this terrible moment of emotional fragility she then sees the suspect sketch they had the bereaved mother make of Amnesia guy watching her house. Yes, Amnesia Guy is Sean Bennigan, her not-quite-deceased husband.

I think she’s quite justified having a bit of a melt down about now.

Wes shows the stony tree to his boss an explains that it’s fulgurite – caused by sand fusing from a lightning bolt- only eleventybillion times bigger than usual: and that footprints suggest the pilot (Sean) survived the crash and went walking away. Suspiciously his boss tells him to come home for top secret stuff rather than keep investigating, which is ominous

And we close with Henry who can hear – thanks to his new friend Drill.

Noooo, Claire is Sister Demon Nun! I cannot unsee this! Of course she’s awesome so I’ll get past it

I was intrigued that we were going to have a Deaf character since they are sorely underrepresented on TV – but not only did we have the clichéd and insulting “cure the disabled trope” (because disability can only be a temporary inconvenience and storyline on shows before some woo-woo makes it go away because writing a disabled character is apparently way too much effort for TV) but they did it in the pilot! The very first episode. They couldn’t even manage half a season before pulling out this trope? That’s a shame I was prepared to give points

See this is why I don’t tend to rave about inclusion in the pilot (and I’m not going to give points or too much criticism or observation yet – though it has to be said the pilot and the cast picture are not promising on that regard) because too much changes too quickly and a lot of shows are fond of teasing a pilot before snatching it away (and very very rarely, shows can get better. In theory. I guess).

As for the plot, I’m intrigued. It’s established a decent cast of characters, a very curious mystery and a whole lot of ominous and creepy undertones. I also like how the large cast is, kind of, all connected – we don’t have side plots or people who will come together later – we already know the connections. That promises a more focused story.