[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 12/14/1999]
This is, without any doubt, the best MOTW (monster of the week) stand-alone BtVS episode in the series, and is a great introduction for people who aren’t interested in the series because it represents a large part of what makes BtVS so great and does it without the viewer needing any backstory. “Hush” is technically comprised of a ‘gimmick:’ everyone in Sunnydale loses their voice. If nearly any other show used a device like this, I can guarantee you it would be played completely for not-funny laughs and we’d learn nothing new about any of the characters. On this series we instead get the opposite and everything is actually done right. Whedon makes full use of the unique situation the characters are in to keep their development moving.
This ‘gimmick’ is used to move characters into new places. All of this development is subtly wrapped in a package that’s creepy, funny, involving, and just plain entertaining. Those are all things BtVS is on an episode-to-episode basis (well, except for the creepy part), but Whedon manages to do all of it without his trademark dialog. So I’d argue this episode is not a gimmick, as that term is generally used in the derogatory sense. “Hush” is the first in what is an extremely accomplished list of episodes which use various “unique situations” as a way to continue the story of these characters. These episodes include: “Restless” [4×22] (4×22, done entirely in dream sequences), “The Body” [5×16] (5×16, no music, incidental or otherwise), “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] (6×07, the musical), and “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] (7×07, none of the main characters speak to or see each other).
This episode has a very clear theme, which Professor Walsh explains at the very beginning. She says, “Talking about communication, talking about language…not the same thing. It’s about inspiration…Not the idea, but the moment before the idea when it’s total. When it blossoms in your mind and connects to everything. It’s about the thoughts and experiences that we don’t have a word for.” Shortly after this, Buffy almost lets Riley kiss her but interrupts him with a meaningless question. We’re already seeing Walsh’s words ring true. These two are certainly using language (a.k.a. babbling) with each other, but they’re not communicating their true feelings — words and nerves keep getting in the way. When their ability to babble disappears, real communication finally appears. This is the moment when they finally kiss.
Buffy and Riley aren’t the only ones afflicted by the deficiencies of language. Anya says to Xander, “You don’t care about what I think. You don’t ask about my day … What do I mean to you?” Xander’s reponse is simply, “I… we, you know we spend… we’ll talk about it later.” This isn’t Xander’s fault, though, as Anya’s been equally misleading. Their relationship was initiated by an aggresive Anya who thought that sex with him would get him out of her thoughts, but that didn’t work. She’s continued to grown attached to him and he’s just kind of gone along with it. Later in the episode, when they can’t speak to each other, Xander is able to communicate what Anya means to him without saying a word. He thinks Spike bit her so he punches the crap out of him. Once Xander realises that she’s okay, he kisses her with relief and Anya looks very happy to get a confirmation that Xander does actually have real feelings for her. Their relationship is finally beginning to move beyond just sex.
Early on in the episode we see Willow at that wicca group she said she wanted to check out back in “Wild at Heart” [4×06] . It turns out that none of these girls seem to have any real power, and that the group only chants together and has bake sales. This scene is also the introduction of Tara, the girl who looks like she actually knows something about spells but gets ridiculed by the rest of the group. Willow is let down by this group because they have no power, and that bores her. Willow is hungry for more power right now, although it hasn’t reached the point of obsession or addiction yet (that happens in S6). This has been a theme we’ve seen being hit on really strong ever since “Doppelgangland” [3×16] . It’s popped up in significant ways this season before this episode with “Wild at Heart” [4×06] and “Something Blue” [4×09] .
We find out that Tara really does have some power later on. She and Willow put their hands together and connect on a magical level in a very cool, well-shot scene. This event is the catalyst for more exploration of magic, which Willow has been looking for. It’s interesting to note that Tara’s personality reminds me a whole lot of Willow back in S1. This is why Willow will be the dominant figure in their relationship. At the end of this episode Tara’s adoration of Willow’s power and confidence in herself is already being shown. It also displays just how much Willow has grown since the beginning of the series. That growth has been very gradual as well, so you don’t really notice the overall change until a character like Tara comes into the picture to remind you what Willow used to be like.
There’s a few scenes that are really subtle and display just how well Whedon does characters. I just absolutely love how, even though no one can speak through a large portion of the episode, it is completely clear what everyone is trying to say to each other. Most television shows don’t have writing good enough to fully accomplish the same thing even when their characters are speaking. A subtle example of this episode at its best is when Buffy and Willow enter Giles’ place. He puts his hand on Buffy’s shoulder with a very warm smile while Willow’s writing frantically on a white board. It turns out the urgent thing Willow needed to say was simply, “Hi Giles.” He then gives her some comforting glances as well. Just by watching these subtle gestures and expressions it’s not too difficult to see that Giles is very much a father figure for Buffy, and to a lesser extent, the entire group.
For once the plot of a BtVS motw stand-alone is actually really good. The Gentlemen float into town and manage to creep everyone, including myself, out. The scene which best describes how creepy these guys are is the one that apparently came out of Whedon’s own dreams. You wake up and are essentially tied to your bed, forced to look up as these very tall ghoul-like monsters with metal teeth float over to your bed holding a knife and wearing a giant grin. You can’t even scream while they cut into you and rip your heart out while being polite to each other and continuously grinning. Wow, that’s a chilling sight. I also love the scene where Olivia pulls the curtains back at night over at Giles’ place and that one Gentleman floats right by the window. Very cool.
I’ve also got to give props to the wondefully haunting music. It’s so good that they even reused some of the themes for when Faith awakes from her coma in “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] , and a couple other times as well. While giving away all these props, I’d better mention the utterly brilliant overhead scene in the classroom. Instead of getting bored by the exposition needed on the Gentlemen, I find myself hysterical. There’s Giles’ upside-down placement of the first slide. Giles playing a cassette of Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre during the presentation. Anya’s indifference to the entire affair. Xander’s thoughts being stuck completely in sex, which causes everyone to think that way as Buffy makes a staking gesture. Buffy’s protest of Giles’ drawing of her. The fact that I easily understand all this exposition without a word being spoken. Plus more. You guys know why this scene is great, I need not go on further.
To wrap this review up I’d like to go back to Buffy and Riley. In the middle of the big fight Buffy discovers Riley is one of the commandos that they’ve been trying to find out more about since the beginning of the season. Riley also discovers something possibly even more shocking. The tiny, quirky, and blond girl he’s persuing a relationship with turns out to be much stronger than him. I love Riley’s wide-eyed ‘WTF’ face when he sees Buffy kick one of the henchman guys across the room. All he knows is that there’s something huge she’s been keeping secret from him as well. The episode ends on their ‘conversation’ about who each of them are. Now that things are revealed, no one can say anything. I’d also like to point out how happy I am that this conversation is continued directly in the following episode. “Hush” is perfect in all the ways that matter, and is an absolute joy to watch each and every time.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Creepy ryhme from the little girl in Buffy’s prophectic dream.
+ Willow playing with Buffy, telling her that she missed the entire study review session while sleeping.
+ Spike making fun of Xander when tied to a chair in his room.
+ Cool special effects used for stealing peoples’ voices.
+ Just seeing Buffy do a mundane thing like brushing her teeth.
+ Xander blaming Spike for his voice loss, calling Buffy, then getting ridiculed by Spike again for his stupidity.
+ Forrest writing “Come on! Come on!” to Riley on the notepad when trapped in the elevator.
+ Men running into the liquor store the morning after the voice loss.
+ The Gentlemen’s movement and creepy Nosferatu-like hand gestures.
+ Riley being all Captain Can-Do thinking that he broke the correct object.
+ Buffy’s scream and subsequent explodey heads.
+ Olivia obviously not being able to handle what she saw. She never returns again.
+ The people out in the street act really weird. Some of them just walk around aimlessly. What’s that about?