FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Hush
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow has been practicing magic more and more after her break-up with Oz. Buffy and Riley have been moving towards a relationship, neither of them suspecting their respective alternate identities as the Slayer and a Commando boy for the Initiative. Anya and Xander are now in a relationship, to the surprise of everyone and Spike is still residing at Giles' house, also to the surprise of everyone.
Buffy falls asleep in her Psych 101 class and dreams that she is kissing Riley, but this is interrupted by a girl with a mysterious box singing a nursery about a group called the Gentlemen. As Sunnydale goes to sleep that night, the group Buffy saw arrives in town, taking the voices of all of the residents. The town does it's usual head-in-the-sand routine and pretends to have a town-wide laryngitis epidemic, but our Scooby Gang knows different, setting about to solve the mystery of why none of them can talk. As they set about their business, they are also forced to confront things they can't say out loud, but everything takes on a new urgency when they realise the Gentlemen are stealing the hearts of Sunnydale residents.
Cor, this episode. There are certain moments in this rewatch that I've been so excited to get to that I couldn't possibly get it all down in one article just how good some of them are. One such example is Hush. It's an episode of a show that's operating at the height of its powers and confidence. One of the qualities Buffy has been known for since its first season is the quality of the dialogue, the snappy repartee of its characters marking it out from the crowd of usual teen fare. To take that all away and produce an episode of near silence is such a ballsy move before you even consider the quality of the episode. So, it's a good job it's a cracker then?
Even in the build-up to the Gentlemen's arrival, everything is about communication, even Professor Walsh's class that Buffy falls asleep in for her prophetic dream; Xander can't confess his true feelings for Anya, hiding behind jokes and witticisms; Willow can't express her frustration to her new Wicca group or speak to the shy girl they mock, Tara; Buffy and Riley get all babbly whenever they see each other, neither one able to make the first move. They also happen to have two pretty big secrets that they can't share with each other. Hush strips all of that away. Suddenly, gestures, touch, facial expressions, everything carries a new meaning and the Scoobies are able to say more than they've ever been able to say with words.
Over the course of the episode, all of this is resolved in various ways, but probably the biggest development is the meeting of Tara and Willow, a relationship that goes on to be hugely important for the remaining seasons. Of course, me being all innocent and little when this was first airing meant I didn't quite get the allegory of Willow and Tara performing "magic" together, but it's an excellent way of broaching what was, at the time, a difficult thing to broach. It's also a great little character moment for Willow in an episode full of them.
An episode like Hush couldn't have been pulled off in the first, or even second, season of the show, because we didn't know the characters well enough yet for Whedon to craft something as meaningful as the episode would become. A lot of that is in the themes of the episode, particularly communication, which is an overriding theme of the season as a whole. Much of the episode's drama and silent comedy is mined from the fact we know these characters so well. Giles' stern expressions during his projector-based exposition gives away to the extraordinarily gory pictures he produces. Buffy's "staking" gesture and Xander's "boobies?" are two things I'm still surprised the show got away with on a network, but they're all in keeping within the fabric of Buffy and its cast.
The other success that Hush manages to pull of is that it is one of the few Buffy episodes that can make the claim of being genuinely scary. Nothing else tends to operate above an unsettling level, but the Gentlemen are flat-out terrifying. The sequence that always haunts me in this episode is the one in which we see one of the students attacked in his room. He's surrounded by people who could come in and help, but no matter how hard he screams, no one can hear him. It also helps that the Gentlemen's make-up and their genteel gestures contrast so sharply to the horror they cause. There's no real gore (apart from Giles' drawings), but the idea of not being able to call for help operates at such a visceral level that there doesn't need to be.
Finally, one cannot talk about Hush without extolling the virtues of Christophe Beck. The music maestro's scores have always been a strong feature of the early season of Buffy, but it's in Hush that he really gets to let loose. With no dialogue, the use of the music becomes increasingly important throughout the episode to keep up the oppressive atmosphere that the silence creates. Even the use of Camille Saint-Saens' 'Danse Macabre' is perfect.
The initial nursery rhyme announcing the onslaught of the Gentlemen informs the score throughout. It's almost ballet-like in its elegance, as delicate as the Gentlemen's movements, but capable of turning into something thunderously dramatic as the episode requires. The 'Suite from Hush' is probably his finest musical achievement, outside of The Gift and 'Close Your Eyes', the Buffy and Angel theme, and it's one of the few Buffy scores I return to repeatedly.
When it comes to the fourth season, it's episodes like Hush that prevent me from dismissing it entirely. It's such a layered piece of work that I'm sure I haven't got down everything I think about when I watch this episode (though looking back, this is one of my more essay-length pieces). Whedon and his writing team's dialogue will always be Buffy's main calling card, but Hush makes you realise that they understand the absolute necessity of silence too.
Quote of the Week:
Olivia: So everything you told me was true?
Giles: Well, no. I wasn't actually one of the original members of Pink Floyd... [Ripper, you stud]
Inventive Kill: Buffy makes the Gentlemen's heads explode and all gooey when she screams.
Let's Get Trivial: The actors delivered their lines out loud as normal, but the dialogue is muted. This was so audiences would still be able to lip-read quite clearly.
Demonology 101: The Gentlemen are probably the most famous of all of Buffy's foes, regularly cited as the scariest demons the series ever produced.
Sunnydale Who's Who: The lead Gentleman is played by Doug Jones, famous for playing a variety of make-upped beasties throughout cinema, but his biggest role is probably in Pan's Labyrinth as the Faun and the Pale Man. Camden Toy also plays one of the Gentleman roles, later appearing in Buffy as Gnarl, a demon that attacks Willow and the first Ubervamp of the seventh season.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Something Blue, here.