Ten "In-the-Head" Friends and Foes on TV

By mad-pac

Aug 16, 2014



Some people say the truth is out there, but let’s face it, sometimes the truth is right in here. (*Taps on melon between ears.*). Now that Wilfred is over and that the cat is out of the bag, let’s ponder about this.

Why is it that we like stories with imaginary characters so much? Whatever the reason, this is a perhaps overused TV trove that we love most of the times it’s used. A few times, things don’t really work, but most of them, they seem to do. In fact, whenever a different and mysterious character on a show I like, I check for the following characteristics to find out if he or she is imaginary.
- Does he interact only with the protagonist?
- Is he just too weird, mysterious and unpredictable?
- Does he present key elements to the plot?
So, I probably won’t fall for that.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the ten “awesomest” in-the-head characters on TV (and a couple disasters), which may comprehend purely imaginary characters, or characters that may exist somehow, but for some reason can only be seen or heard by one person but cannot be perceived by others or interact with them in any way.

And, by the way, the reason I made a list is precisely because people always complain. “Hey, I think X should come before Y!” Or, “How come you forgot Z?” People, of course, never agree on this kind of list. What do you think of my list? Here they are:

10- Professor James Gellar, from Dexter, season 6.


OK, clearly I’m starting with the two disasters I chose. Well, it’s my list! The fact that Gellar was just a figment of Travis Marshall’s imagination that made him commit crimes was supposed to be this big twist, but everybody had already seen it coming. And then we were stuck with Colin Hanks p0laying Travis as the big baddie for the season. These two characters were so poorly written I couldn’t help but remembering them now, though I wish I could forget the whole season.

9- Marcus Dawkins, from Extant.


The other blunder I chose. Speaking of remembering and forgetting, I had completely forgotten his name and had to look it up. Anyway, Extant was supposed to be this big new show, but so far it hasn’t taken off. In the story, Halle Berry plays Molly Woods, an astronaut who gets impregnated by an alien force which she sees as her dead boyfriend Marcus. Honestly I don’t really know what Marcus is, but at this point I’m not really eager to find out.

8- Natalie, from Perception.


OK, perhaps the list should start here… I kind of like Natalie. She’s nice, though a little bland. Anyway, Daniel likes her company and she’s been his favorite hallucination for several years. And she always has a wise word of advice and impeccable hair.

7- Mr. Fairweather, from Continuum, S02E05, Second Opinion.



In this episode, Mr. Gaeta plays Mr. Fairweather, an AI, a cognitive therapist programmed into her CMR whose only purpose is to drive Kiera crazy! He cuts her communication with Alec and says that if she doesn’t get in touch with her feelings and finds balance (or something) he’ll lobotomize her. Or erase her memories. You catch my drift. Anyway, I wish they had used the character other times.

6- Norma Bates, from Bates Motel, S01E10, Midnight.


Oh, Mama Bates is very much real in Bates Motel. But in a few scenes throughout the series we have been able to see this figment of Norman’s imagination made in his mother’s image. In this episode, Imaginary Mama Bates gives Norman a little push to do what he was thinking of doing with his slutty teacher. “You know what you have to do, Norman.” She also appears to Norman in the second season finale, and helps him pass the lie-detector test. And we all know how all that’s gonna end, right?

5- Bear, from Wilfred.


Bear bears the honor of being the only figment of imagination of a figment of imagination… What does that make her? Oh, and by the way, in the beginning I had no clue whether Bear was a he, a she or an it, and even now I’m not totally sure, but in one episode in season 4, we get to see Bear as seen by Wilfred, and it’s a very muscular woman, so I’ll refer to Bear as a she. Besides being Wilfred’s lover, Bear also had a stint as an ambulance driver and a lawyer. At least in Ryan’s imagination, where all of this happens anyway.

4- The Wax Lion, from Wonderfalls.



In this weirdly interesting show, a girl named Jaye receives messages from animated figurines that compel her to do stuff. The mangled Wax Lion is the first we see. As a matter of fact, we never learn what The Wax Lion really is. But since nobody else can see the figurines move or hear them, I’m place that in the “imaginary” bracket. By the way, I simply love the scene of the picture above. In that, Jaye’s friend Mahandra reenacts a romantic scene with The Wax Lion and The Brass Monkey. But the figurines, which always speak in a gruff male voice, have an opinion about it:
Wax Lion: “Inappropriate touching.”
Brass Monkey: “This isn’t fun for anybody.”

3- Harry Morgan, from Dexter.


What a fatherly father imaginary Harry is! He always has a word of wisdom for our (anti) hero Dexter. He sounds exactly like a good father should sound. And even though he only interacted with Dexter all through the show, he became more interesting and real than most “real” secondary characters in the show.

2- The Devil, from Supernatural.


I’m sure we’ll all agree Mark Pellegrino owned that role! And became, in the process, many people’s favorite choice to play an imaginary character of any type, and after that he went on to play imaginary Bishop, in Being Human. The Devil driving Sam Winchester mad got us some rare moments of dramatic comedy. I’d say Lucifer is the role by which we’ll always remember the actor best. Perhaps Supernatural should bring him back just to relive its days of glory? Just a thought.

1- Number 6, from Battlestar Galactica.


Come on, look at her. How can Number 6 NOT be our Number 1? As a seductive and diabolical character manipulating Gaius Baltar when only he could see and hear her, she represented heaven and hell for him. And in the end she turns out to be, what? An angel or something? My head hurts. I’m not sure I understood that completely, but I’m in love with the character.

Honorable mention (in memoriam)- Dr. Eddy, from Wilfred, S02E01 (Special Preview), Progress.


Dr. Eddy is one of my favorite ways by which to remember recently-departed Robin Williams. In this episode, Eddy begins as, apparently, a well-intentioned therapist leading Ryan in the path of his much desired sanity. But in the end it turns out that the good doctor is just another construct of Ryan’s broken mind. In the scene in which Ryan learns that Eddy is, in fact, an imaginary version of Robin Williams, the actor (he uses a line from his role in Good Will Hunting), the subtle expression that betrays the fake doctor is a mark of a great actor. Williams will be greatly missed.




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  • Rolamb Aug 21, 2014

    I've only seen three of them to be honest, but I would they all seem to be tormenting the protagonist in some way. Why do we not have nice ones, you know the ones that tell you what the lottery will be next months because their fellow ghosts told them? Maybe Harry Morgan came closest to that, but I alsways had to keep in mind that Harry was part of Dexter so only said things Dexter already had in his mind.

    The most beautiful of course is number 6, but I do not remember her to be very loving towards Baltar.

  • mad-pac Aug 21, 2014

    Yes, an imaginary character should only know what the protagonist already knows. It's the case of the victims in the short-lived show Raines. The detective would start investigating and the more he learned about the victim, the more complex the hallucinations became.

    AS for my "friends and foes" list, I'd say it's pretty well balanced. Friends: Professor Gellar, Natalie, Bear, Harry, Foes: The Devil, Number 6. The ones on which the jury is still out: Marcus (Molly develops a protective motherly attitude towards the alien baby), Mr. Fair weather (he threatens to inflict serious damage to Kiera, but in the end his "therapy" turned out to be necessary and she overcame a serious emotional impairment), Mama Bates (she compels Norman to kill, but she also helps him pass a lie detector test that would incriminate him), The Wax Lion (it bothers Jaye quite a lot, but his commands make Jaye practice good deeds, become a better person and discover about herself), Dr. Eddy (he's a very friendly figure; turns out he was deceiving Ryan pretending to be real and convincing Ryan he was crazy, but in the end he really was crazy and good old doctor was right).

    In-the-head characters, imaginary or otherwise, are usually very complex, so it's hard to say if they are good or bad. Even Number 6, who seemed diabolical in the beginning, in the end seemed to follow a bigger plan dictated by God himself or something. Of course one could say that those purely imaginary characters, even the super friendly ones, are harmful because they perpetuate a fantasy and alienate the protagonist from the real world.

  • DresserBoys Aug 19, 2014

    Love Natalie on Perception. Really love the show and Daniels' psyche.It does leave me questioning what's real and what's not. Although most of the times it's easy to see, but still.

    And of course Wilford and Bear are just great. See The First from BtYS and CTB already mention below.


    I'll go ahead and throw in Mr. Floppy Unhappily Ever After.

  • mad-pac Aug 19, 2014

    I imagine a tv.com staff member would have an advantage over us at least. He or she could ask his/her expert workmates their favorite imaginary characters, so making sure it's a really comprehensive list.

  • DresserBoys Aug 19, 2014

    dis is a cool article. A lot interesting and compelling in the head characters.

  • TQB Aug 18, 2014

    Nice concept! Terrible list (hey, remember, you asked for it!)

    1. Snuffalufagus.

    2. The First as Buffy tormenting Spike, Buffy

    3. The Man in Black as John Locke, tormenting Ben Linus, LOST. Or the MIB as anyone, tormenting everyone. (Man that show was so interesting at one point.)

    4. Cutthroat Bitch Amber, tormenting House. And also that time House got so high he hallucinated sleeping with Cutty. (Don't do drugs, kids!)

    Mentioned for sucking:
    The ghost of Denny, Grey's Anatomy
    The Woman in White (Antoinette I guess she was in the end) harassing the heck out of Blackbeard, Crossbones

  • mad-pac Aug 19, 2014

    Great choices, but I'll stick with mine. Unfortunately the list had to have a limit, so only ten were possible this time. Maybe for a future post, "Ten More "In-the Head" Friends and Foes?