Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush

For many Buffy fans this is the best episode of the lot, and for once I am in complete agreement with popular opinion. I could name a few other episodes that give Hush a run for its money (I won’t, because they are all still in the future), but this is probably as close to perfection as an episode of any television show can get. It has everything.

Most people enjoy it for two reasons: it’s scary and it’s funny. The scares are simply very effective horror movie stuff, with the moment Olivia is looking out of the window a case in point. Like her, we are focussed on something in the distance, and then one of the Gentlemen appear right by the window to make us jump. The design of the Gentlemen is of course excellent, with a skull-like grimace. They smile while they cut into their victims with a scalpel; all very sadistic and frightening. The way they float just above the ground is unnatural and disturbing, and it was a stroke of genius to employ mime artists, who bring a sort of twisted beauty to their hand movements. Their straitjacketed servants are an animalistic contrast, wildly waving their arms around. Some reviewers have suggested that the Gentlemen and their servants work well as a metaphor for the class system, and that’s not unreasonable, but mainly they are just there to provide us with a gut feeling of wrongness, in every aspect of their movements and appearance.

As for the comedy, nobody speaks for over 25 minutes, so this is visual, silent comedy at its best. The episode is a masterclass of how light and shade works in excellent storytelling. There is just one moment that stops the episode from being complete perfection, and that’s Riley and Forrest in the lift. It’s funny, but the punchline makes a nonsense of the Initiative’s security. What would be the point of voice recognition in a lift, if you can bypass it by using the stairs? Other than that, the jokes are just a steady stream of laugh-out-loud moments: Xander trying to phone Buffy; Spike communicating his feelings very effectively with just two fingers; and that whole sequence with Giles and his overhead projector, with Danse Macabre as the perfect accompaniment. And while we’re on the subject of music, with no dialogue the incidental music has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and boy does it pull its weight. The best episode of the whole show also has the best score.

I have rushed through the obvious talking points, because I want to get to something that is rarely mentioned about this episode. It’s not just a brilliant episode in isolation, it’s the one on which the whole season hinges. It manages to be individually excellent, and also pivotal to the ongoing story arcs. We get the introduction of Tara, and her moment of magic with Willow (in more ways than one); we get Buffy and Riley’s first kiss and their secret identities finally being revealed to each other; and finally we get Xander answering Anya’s challenge of what she means to him with his actions rather than his words, furiously punching Spike when he thinks he has bitten her.

That brings us to the theme of the episode: communication. That’s an extreme example of physical communication. As Maggie says in Buffy’s dream sequence at the start, “talking about communication, talking about language: not the same thing.” We are shown examples of too much talking: Giles trying to read while Xander, Anya and Spike argue around him; the wicca group that talks about magic but doesn’t try to do any spells. In contrast, we also have examples of not enough talking: Tara is the only one in the original wicca group with a useful opinion to offer, but she stays silent; Buffy and Riley are keeping big secrets from each other, and “every time we talk I have to lie”. Every one of those examples has been resolved by the end of the episode, but it’s a pivot not a conclusion, because we are left with the question of what happens next. Xander and Anya are now in a deepening relationship, with no question of their bond being just about physical attraction any more; Willow and Tara are embarking on something new; and Buffy and Riley have a lot to talk about… and we leave the episode with them sitting in silence. Even when people realise that communication is the answer to their problems, it’s not always easy. That’s the thought Hush leaves us with.   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

It’s my own fault really.  I had foreknowledge of this episode in that I’d heard it was one of the best ever episodes of anything anywhere so my hopes were perhaps too high.  Don’t take that the wrong way, Hush is an excellent episode!  The acting, the comedy and the terror created by the Gentlemen… it’s all top notch, but the plot is little more than any other plot of the series.  Where I felt it excelled is in the acting of the cast who manage to convey true speechlessness with conviction.  I also credit the masterclass in scary looking monsters!   And I was happy for that bit of laughter to round out a very good episode.

Plotwise, we have an entire town losing the ability to speak.  This is the result of a outstandingly creepy group called The Gentlemen.  (You’re going to die screaming but you won’t be heard!”)  Think about the Smilers from Matt Smith’s era of Doctor Who but even creepier, and with the ability to float.  They hover around the town with a few flailing-armed minions that are equally disturbing.  The Gentlemen smile broadly with an ominous quality that chills us to the bone.  Anyone who’s ever seen the 1928 horror movie The Man Who Laughs knows a smile can be far more terrifying than a frown and these gents are quite smiley.  They trap voices in a wooden box and Buffy realizes that if they destroy the box, they’ll get their voices back and a scream can bring down the baddies.  Plot-wise, that’s pretty standard stuff.

Through the episode, there are marvelously funny moments like when Buffy tries to indicate stabbing to kill the Gentlemen.  It looks like something far more lewd, let me tell you, and everyone else is confused by her action.  She needs to take out a stake to really (if you’ll pardon the pun) drive the point home.  When Willow points to her heart to indicate what they believe the Gentlemen are after, Xander clearly mouths “boobs?”  The brilliance of the episode lies in the misunderstanding that creates comedy while still maintaining a very scary threat.  At the end of the episode, Buffy sits to speak with Riley so they can actually speak but all they could do was sit in silence!  That’s when the true brilliance of the message hit me.  I realized that throughout the episode people couldn’t understand one another because they couldn’t say words, but when you boil it down, even with the words, people were not communicating.  Look at the dialogue between Xander and Anya.  Anya complains that he doesn’t hear her and she’s not sure what she means to him.  Then when Xander thinks Spike bit her, he beats Spike up, thus showing her how much he cares.  His actions spoke louder than words.  (It also leads to a great shrug he gives Spike in way of apologizing after he realizes his mistake!  Anya’s little finger gesture was hilarious as well…)  Willow makes a new friend who was too timid to speak earlier in the episode (I hope we see more of her) but her actions speak for themselves when she unites with Willow with a simple hand-holding.  Buffy and Riley can’t tell each other about who they really are, but their actions spoke loudest of all.  How they overcome this is going to make interesting viewing.

So it’s important to realize that I think the message and the acting are all top notch, but in fairness, that’s been the overwhelming feeling I’ve had for at least a season or two already.  I even have to give extra credit to the music in this one: an inspired choice using choral music for an episode that had no voice!  But I didn’t find the plot that different from any other.  Supernatural beastie comes to destroy town, Buffy has to defeat it.  Job done… next!  This just did it with a certain style and a clever message about speaking without communicating and how we often communicate more with actions than with words.  However, that shouldn’t take away from the importance of words.  When Buffy signals Riley to break the box, he misunderstands and smashes something else first.  Words matter; it’s just nice when words and actions are aligned.  This is an excellent episode and I definitely understand its appeal.    ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Doomed

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Hush

  1. scifimike70 says:

    There can indeed be a most significant appeal in any story that challenges our consensus of communication, certainly the potential loss of it. Thank you both for your reviews on one of Buffy’s best.

    Liked by 1 person

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