The Whispers: The Subtext Behind ABC’s Sci-Fi Drama

The Whispers: The Subtext Behind ABC’s Sci-Fi DramaWhat if an imaginary friend is actually real and those aren’t just voices in your head? This is the premise behind ABC’s latest sci-fi drama that is set to wrap Season 1 at the end of this month.

The show toys with the innocence of children and their easily malleable minds as we meet Drill, at least proverbially. Only flickering lights, television static and the repeated insistence by a growing number of otherwise adorable 6 year olds that Drill made them do a host of dirty deeds indicates to the audience that the antagonist might be real and not a figment of childish imagination. After all, how could children from different walks of life, areas and even decades all be telling the same story?

American Horror Story’s Lily Rabe plays FBI agent Claire Bennigan, a dedicated intuitive agent who’s been haunted by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her husband Capt. Sean, played by hunk Milo Ventimiglia only to find herself central to the case of Drill and a number of suspicious deaths or injuries allegedly perpetrated by a kindergartener. Meanwhile, Sean is presumed dead after the U.S. military plane he was piloting disappears while on a mission supposedly over the Arctic. Somehow, we soon learn, he is re-routed to Africa where he crashes into big, glowing rock in the Sahara Desert.

Sound far-fetched? We’re just getting started.

In episode one we tag along with Agent Bennigan to investigate the case of Amanda Weiss, who fell from a tree house after her young daughter Harper decides to play a dangerous game of “catch me if you can,” following dutifully the instructions from an imaginary voice she heard that we later discover belongs to Drill.

Meanwhile, we learn that Claire’s once-lover Wes Lawrence, a Department of Defense operative, is called to the Sahara to investigate local reports of a crashed U.S. jet. Aha, we’re getting somewhere. The locals take Wes to the crash site and a bizarre glowing rock. We soon realizes this is Sean’s plane but he is nowhere in sight. He calls Claire to break the news. She’s understandably flabbergasted.

Cut to a delirious, tattooed man stumbling down an alley back in the U.S. As if Lazarus has again risen from the dead, “John Doe” aka Sean Bennigan resurfaces and he’s, shall we say, “crazy.” He is following Drill’s kids around town, spying on them even and taking notes. Creepy is more like it.

But we learn that in crashing into that glowing rock in the Sahara, or being pulled into it, he’s been transformed into some sort of alien medium. Despite Sean’s amnesia, similar to Memento, he uses various tattoos on his body to lead him towards answers. Never mind that he somehow knew how to get back home. Or was he inexplicably drawn there? Cue Twilight Zone music.

Sean holds hostage Dr. Benavidez, who was treating him at the hospital after he seized in the alley and emergency crews assumed he was a homeless schizophrenic.

With each passing episode we see Claire uncovering more about Drill and how he or it is communicating with more kids than expected, as with her supposedly deaf son Henry, played by Kyle Harrison Breitkopf. But suddenly, after Wes’ daughter Minx, who seems to be Drill’s chosen one, pays a visit to Henry at the Bennigan home, he suddenly begins to speak again and is suddenly cured. Minx (played by Kylie Rogers) delivers instructions from Drill to Henry leading us to the nuclear plant where Dr. Benavidez escapes Sean’s grasp and everyone narrowly escapes a nuclear meltdown.

As the world turns.

Now in custody after allegedly attempting an act of terrorism (authorities assumed) on the plant, Sean’s memory returns to him after he touches a sample of the rock that grabbed his plane out of the sky.

The Whispers is yet another show about government conspiracies mixed with alien life forms, but the morale of the story seems to be that society must resist mind control over our children, which is ironic as creator Soo Hugh chose television as the medium to share the thesis.

This, of course is not the first time motion pictures have been used to tell such a tale, or push the premise that other forces are responsible for how we act. In 1956, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the first time Jack Finney’s science fiction novel The Body Snatchers was adapted for the screen. Twenty-two years later it was redone and the debate over the subtext resumed. Specifically, the 1956 original was said to have been about the fear of communism taking over the U.S. and the loss of individuality, while other movie and historian buffs have debated that it was really a reflection into the era’s conformity and the danger of McCarthyism.

Fast forward and the similar metaphor is being played out, only in The Whispers it’s our children that’s being controlled. It reminds me of Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, when evil takes over children and they ban together Lord of the Flies style to eventually kill adults.

By episode seven of The Whispers we know four main things about the “enemy” or Drill; it only speaks to children; it can only be in one place at one time; it travels via electric current, and; it can be identified by heat signature. It almost sounds like an environmental commentary on reducing our consumption of natural resources and that our children will suffer the consequences if we don’t find “green” sources of power.

But there are other facets that scream alien invasion and government cover up, which was a popular theme in the 50s. The government feels the need to protect this rock that may or may not be Drill or at least its vehicle from whatever galaxy it originated. Either way we find that this space rock is somehow connected. And parents of these children that speak to Drill are affected because ultimately the story line forces us to examine something much closer to home.

The Whispers is loosely based on the short story Zero Hour by Ray Bradbury about alien invasion, but when truly stripped down one can speculate that the story is really about bad parenting, to the extent of tying the plot to Bradbury’s underlying themes in most of his work that dealt with the concept that only children understood certain things. By episode nine the theme is more that of protecting children from losing their innocence.

I am not sure how far The Whispers can run with these concepts. I am speculative of the show’s ability to sustain itself, though it’s shown great promise and decent ratings. It’s a good story, yet it feels more congruent to Wayward Pines being a single season event (though that might change), but I have a feeling they’ll try to stretch this one out as far as they can. I just hope the show doesn’t write itself into a corner. I’ll just have to stay tuned for episode ten coming up on Monday, as our protagonists hatch a plan.

About Sonyo Estavillo

I am a creative professional with extensive project experience from concept to development (scripted and non-scripted). My talents are diverse and include: producing, directing, production management, videography, social media/viral marketing, research, non-linear editing, story development, and content writing. *Masters in Television, Radio, & Film @ Newhouse, Syracuse University *Bachelors in Film Production @ CSULB

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *