The Whispers is a show that I was very excited to watch when it first aired on ABC. And indeed, its first episode showed a lot of promise. Our leading character is a woman named Claire, who’s dealing with the grief of losing her fridged husband. Unfortunately, her family can’t seem to catch a break, and her son falls ill and becomes deaf as a result. Meanwhile, a supernatural entity is befriending children and tricking them into doing bad things—like murder. All in all, other than a lack of racial and LGBTQ+ representation, The Whispers had a really good start, and I wanted to see where the story went.
Sadly, everything I liked about the first episode went out the window by the time the second episode finished, and now, eight episodes in, it doesn’t look to be getting any better. Claire’s husband comes back from the dead, her son is mystically cured from his deafness, the only characters of color have minor roles, and it doesn’t look like non-heterosexual people even exist in this world. The overall story in The Whispers isn’t bad, even if it’s a little cliché—our supernatural baddie is a space alien that’s come to destroy humanity because of nuclear bombs—but the characters! Oh God, these characters! They’re so bad.
They’re also giant walking representations of how white privilege works. This is made only worse by the show’s refusal to acknowledge its flagrant racism and erasure of minority issues.
Spoilers for the first eight episodes ahead.
Our story begins when Claire, an FBI agent, gets called into work after a little girl with a supposed imaginary friend named Drill almost kills her mother. Claire soon figures out that the girl, Harper, is not the only child to have Drill as a friend, and that other children are breaking the law for him as well. Claire believes that Drill must be a real person—only to discover, much to her horror and the horror of all the children’s parents, that Drill is a supernatural entity. The one thing all the children Drill targets have in common is that their parents are important people with lots of influence. Harper’s dad runs a nuclear power plant, and all the other children have parents who work for the government or military and keep national secrets on their home computers. One kid is easily able to hack into her dad’s computer for Drill, because her dad, Wes, thought it was a good idea to make his password easily predictable—it’s after his favorite sports team.
The storyline is pretty solid and significantly creepy, but holy God, the characters are awful. They make such profoundly horrible decisions. Wes keeping classified information on an easily hackable computer in his not-very-secure home is just one of the first things to come to mind. It doesn’t take long into the story before all the characters start doing things they shouldn’t be doing. When Claire discovers that her late husband is actually alive and he becomes her prime suspect for Drill, she withholds information from the FBI to track him down on her own, and even breaks into someone’s house without a warrant. Furthermore, sometime after she figures out that Drill is targeting children by befriending them and that Drill has a connection to her husband, her son Henry tells her he has a new friend—a friend she’s never met—and she doesn’t immediately question whether or not it’s Drill. She thinks nothing of it.
Probably the worst storyline, however, is between Wes and Claire. The two of them had an affair before the start of the series, and from there we get pointless drama. Both of them are looking into Drill, but instead of being open with each other about what they know, they go right back into their pointless affair drama that has thus far been leading nowhere. Literally all the main characters could have known about Drill and been on the same page by the second episode. Instead, that doesn’t happen until around the fourth episode. Everything in between is just the characters running circles around each other.
But as I said earlier, the badness hardly stops there. We often harp on shows for not having more characters of color, and while The Whispers could certainly use a few less white faces, I can’t imagine Claire or Wes being anything other than white. Because white privilege seems to be the only thing that has stopped either of them from being arrested. In the course of the episodes
thus far, Wes has committed treason against the U.S. a couple times already, and his only repercussion was to be fired so he can go home and spend time with his family. It is astounding that he’s not immediately arrested or put on trial. And while Claire’s actions eventually put her on the run, I don’t foresee that being a detriment for her for much longer. The one time we see a white character arrested, he’s released from prison just a few episodes later, because he’s useful to finding Drill. Right now, Claire knows more about Drill than any other main character. As such, I have no reason to believe that her fugitive status will be anything more than a minor inconvenience, especially since she was able to break the law numerous times in the first few episodes without repercussions.
Meanwhile, Claire’s partner, Jessup, who is Black, doesn’t get nearly the same leniency from the narrative. Jessup is ordered to spy on Claire by Wes’s boss, which he does, because he was told to. However, when Claire goes on the run, Jessup is then told to kidnap Henry and bring him into custody. Instead, Jessup goes against orders and takes Henry to Claire. For his efforts to do the right thing, Claire’s husband punches him for the aforementioned spying incident. We are meant to agree with this violence against Jessup because the narrative has already set him up as being in the wrong. Even though he just risked everything for the main characters. While Jessup is thankfully not arrested for disobeying orders and saving Henry, it’s pretty telling that he’s the only character who receives a punishment—a punch—for doing something bad.
What strikes me about all these issues is how unaware The Whispers is. The show is just filled with white people, white culture, and white privilege to an uncomfortable extent—even the fucking president is white in this universe. In a day and age when audiences are clamoring for more diversity in media, this was probably not the best decision to make. It also doesn’t help that all the characters are either undeveloped or lacking in any kind of common sense. These characters are literally some of the most generic characters that I have ever seen. They’re also all upper middle class, so most issues that people would relate to in order to make these characters more human—such as financial issues, for instance—don’t exist. While the upper-middle-classness can actually be justified by the plot, since Drill is only targeting children with influential and powerful parents, it’s still really telling that they’re all white. The story is pretty much saying that only white people can have power and influence. The only time we really see a Black child targeted is because his mother is Wes’s secretary and Drill needs one thing from that kid. Unlike everyone else, his mother isn’t in a position of power, and right afterward Drill stops talking to him.
You would think a show that has an alien hellbent on destroying humanity wouldn’t lack for meaningful moments to develop its characters—but instead most of their issues are upper-middle-class, privileged white people drama that only upper-middle-class, privileged white people can relate to. I’d say that I’m thankful that the affair between Wes and Claire is the main conflict other than Drill, because hey, at least affairs don’t just affect rich people. Unfortunately, it falls flat. We don’t know anything about Claire or Wes at the beginning to really care about their affair, and nothing we learn about the characters in the following episodes really expand upon it. They clearly still have feelings for each other, but why? Does Wes hate his wife? What about Claire does he like? We don’t know. At this point I swear that the only reason Wes’s and Claire’s characters had an affair was because the show needed desperately to have some kind of conflict.
During the course of the story, we meet Wes’s wife, Lena, and his daughter, Minx. There is actually a scene where Lena, after discovering that a supernatural entity has been manipulating her daughter into hacking into top secret files, confesses to her friend that she’s worried about Minx, because now that she’s getting older, she’s doing things like talking back. She’s eight years old, so now she has an attitude problem. What if, God forbid, Minx becomes one of those children? You know, the kind of child rich white people gossip about? What if Minx becomes a trouble maker?
I swear to God that this conversation actually happens. I could argue that Lena only said this because her friend doesn’t know about Drill, but in the end, I think Lena meant it just the way she said it. She’s worried that Minx is becoming a trouble maker. To The Whispers’s credit, Lena is possibly the most developed character. Not only is she struggling with feelings of betrayal because of Wes’s affair, as a housewife she spends more time with Minx than Wes does, and by extension gets some firsthand experience with Drill. Out of all the characters, Lena is the one who acts most human, vulnerable, and relatable. But considering who the other characters are, that’s not saying much.
The Whispers has a lot of potential, and as I said, the plot itself isn’t bad. It’s certainly not the worst show I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from the best. Can a decent plot carry a story by itself if all the characters suck? I would say no. There’s another episode on again tonight, which I’ll probably watch, hoping desperately that things will start looking up. But at this point, I doubt it.