Brief Synopsis: “The entire town of Sunnydale is unable to speak after a group of floating creatures called ‘The Gentlemen’ appear and steal everyone’s voices. The only way The Gentlemen can be killed is by a human voice. Can Buffy get her voice back and stop The Gentlemen before they collect their jar of hearts?”
Two quick notes before we get started...
1) This review will contain spoilers for episodes before and after this one.
2) If you enjoy this review, please be aware that I’m currently reviewing every episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”, in depth, on my personal blog (“Shangel’s Reviews”) – www.shangelsreviews.blogspot.com. Reviews of “Firefly”, “Game Of Thrones”, “The Walking Dead”, and “Doctor Who” episodes are also imminent.
I’m sat here with “Hush” paused, ready to start, and a blank Microsoft Word document in front of me, wondering how I can possibly do this flawless episode justice. How can you put TV perfection into words...especially when the characters can’t vocalise anything for over half of the episode? In short, “Hush” is a masterpiece. While it’s not my favourite episode of the show (it is in the top 2-3), it’s probably the greatest episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. It was the first episode to be nominated for an Emmy Award (for outstanding writing for a drama series) and it’s widely considered one of the greatest standalone episodes of a television show in history. “Hush” starts a trend of unique episodes known as “the big four”. “The big four” consists of “Hush” (due to its lack of dialogue for over half of the episode), “Restless” (due to the majority of the episode being a cryptic, foreshadowing dream sequence), “The Body” (due to its lack of music throughout the episode), and “Once More With Feeling” (Buffy’s musical episode).
In essence, a group of fairytale monsters known as ‘The Gentlemen’ arrive in Sunnydale, steal everyone’s voices, and start cutting out people’s hearts with scalpels...sounds like an uplifting, heart-warming (see what I did there?) episode, no? In fact, it is. It’s beautifully poetic. We’ve seen the Buffyverse tackle the idea of ‘be careful what you wish for’, but this episode is the reverse of that. Buffy and Riley aren’t communicating what they really want, and Anya and Xander aren’t communicating what they really want, so Joss takes away their ability to communicate verbally. The wonderful thing about this episode is that once the ability to communicate verbally is taken away, both of these couples start communicating.
So how did “Hush” come about in the first place? Joss was well known for his witty dialogue and he was hailed because of it. Joss being Joss, he wanted to challenge himself and see if he could make a successful episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” without his trademark dialogue. I think it’s safe to say that he succeeded. Research has shown me that there is no dialogue at all in this episode from 21:29-40:26 (region 2 DVD). Half of the episode is dialogue-free and yet it’s always easy to figure out what the characters are trying to convey! Do you know how many people could successfully pull this off?!
The episode opens with Professor Walsh subtly explaining to the audience what the episode is going to be focusing on: communication. The next 10-15 minutes are setting up the communication problems between Buffy/Riley and Xander/Anya in order to make their communication while unable to speak mean as much as it possibly can. As this episode focuses on three main themes (Buffy/Riley, Xander/Anya, and the ‘story-of-the-week’), I’m going to look at each of them separately...
Buffy & Riley
The beginning of the episode shows that Riley and Buffy have become much closer than they were at the end of “Something Blue”. Instead of listening to Maggie Walsh, Buffy is fantasising and dreaming about kissing Riley. A fun fact about this episode is that Andy Hallett (“Lorne” from “Angel”) is sat two rows behind Buffy while she’s in Professor Walsh’s classroom. Buffy’s dream leads Buffy and Riley into kissing each other in front of the entire classroom!...
Riley: “Don’t worry, if I kiss you it will make the sun go down.”
Thank God that was a dream because that line was brutal. I may have had to start hating Riley on principal after that cheesy line if it was legit. Riley and Buffy’s kiss does make the sun go down. It was roughly at this point in the episode where I realised that Buffy was dreaming...I know, genius, right? All it took for me to notice that Buffy was dreaming was the sun to go down in a matter of seconds. Einstein’s got nothing on me.
Creepy Girl: “Can’t even shout, can’t even cry, The Gentlemen are coming by. Looking in windows, knocking on doors, they need to take seven and they might take yours. Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word, you’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.”
That little singy-rhyme is infamous by this point. Having a child sing it makes it so much creepier than if an adult had sung it. Having a child sing it over speaking it makes it creepier still. The creepiest part of all? Riley tapping Buffy on the shoulder, Buffy turning around, and oh my God what happened to Riley’s face?! Why is he a skeleton?!
The first time I saw “Hush”, it’s safe to say I pooped myself. Not literally. As I’ve mentioned before, I started watching “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” when I was 8 years old (1998). I started with season two’s “Killed By Death”, then watched the previous week’s “Passion”, and quickly became obsessed. After two years of battling, I finally managed to convince my mother to let me stay up late to watch the uncut version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Can you guess which episode it was? Yep, “Hush”. Widely considered the scariest episode of the show. I didn’t sleep much that night. Thanks, Joss Whedon, Camden Toy, and Doug Jones! However, now that I know what’s coming, I love watching this part of the episode with people who haven’t seen it before. They all jump when Riley turns into The Gentlemen! It’s the funniest thing. Especially after the light-hearted “Pangs” and “Something Blue”. They’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.
Quickly after Buffy’s dream, we realise that Buffy and Riley suck at communicating with each other. When Riley leans in to kiss Buffy, she starts babbling about grading papers. Is this because of her recent bad luck with Angel and Parker? Is she unwilling to enter into a relationship right now? I think that’s a huge part of it. We learn in the next episode, “Doomed”, that Buffy doesn’t want a relationship with Riley. She’s tried dating and being the Slayer at the same time and it ended terribly. So much so that her boyfriend left town after the breakup. She’s not willing to risk the same thing happening with Riley. Throw in the douchey Parker shag-and-run and you can start to understand why she’s reluctant to open herself up to Riley...I meant emotionally!
The actual premise of this episode is ‘what will the Scoobies do when they can’t communicate with each other verbally’? The Gentlemen are nothing more than a plot device to bring this to the surface (the greatest plot device “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” ever produces, but more on that later). Buffy and Riley have their first kiss while they’re unable to talk to each other (as the Buffy-Riley love theme plays for the first time), which isn’t a coincidence. Their inability to communicate takes away their babbling and insecurities. They’re forced into communicating in other ways, which results in them kissing.
Don’t go towards the creepy clocktower with shadows gliding past the windows, Riley! You’re in The Initiative! You should know better! IT NEVER ENDS WELL!
One of greatest moments of this episode is when Riley and Buffy draw weapons on each other. The look of surprise and realisation on Buffy’s face is matched by a look of ‘what the hell is going on?!’ on Riley’s face. Neither one of them was what they seemed to be. Riley is one of the mysterious commandos that Buffy has seen lurking around Sunnydale recently. Riley realises that the tiny, quirky, clumsy blonde that he’s been dating is a superhero that is significantly stronger and more agile than he is. All of this is discovered without the use of words! Poor Riley...he tries to be badass and destroy the object on the table that Buffy is frantically pointing towards. He looks so pleased with himself...until he discovers that he smashed the wrong object.
The episode comes to a close on Riley telling Buffy that they should talk. Fittingly, as soon as their voices come back, Buffy and Riley stop communicating again and fall into silence. The start of the next episode, “Doomed”, will pick up right where “Hush” left off with this conversation.
Xander & Anya
Much like Buffy and Riley, the beginning of this episode shows communication problems between Xander and Anya. Anya is having insecurities that Xander doesn’t really care about her...
Anya: “This isn’t a relationship, you don’t need me. All you care about is lots of orgasms.”
Xander: “Okay...remember how we talked about private conversations? How they’re less private when they’re in front of my friends?”
You can tell that Joss Whedon personally wrote this episode because of all the adolescent humour throughout it. Notice that Xander brushes Anya’s insecurities aside during the exchange above? The problem with Xander and Anya’s relationship thus far is that it hasn’t really been relationship-like. An awkward prom date led to awkward sex months later. This led to awkward casual dating that morphed into an awkward relationship. There’s been no declaration of love from either of them at this point. Xander is unsure of what him and Anya have, so he’s deciding to not address it at the present moment. On the other hand, Anya has realised that she loves Xander and wants to be with him properly, so she’s trying to force Xander’s hand into doing the same.
After their voices are stolen, Xander walks into Giles’ house and thinks that Spike has bitten Anya (has he forgotten about the chip?). Xander starts furiously punching Spike in the face. Not only is this ridiculously funny, but it shows Anya that Xander does need her and care about her. Watching his reaction after he thinks that Anya has been hurt is proof enough to convince Anya that Xander cares. Anya’s lack of tact shines through again and she crudely asks Xander if he wants to go and have sex by using hand gestures in front of Giles, Olivia, and Spike. I beg you, please go and watch Giles’ reaction to these hand gestures after you’ve finished this review. He is sickened.
Xander was unable to communicate how he felt about Anya through words. His actions were able to convince Anya that he cares. I’m starting to feel like The Gentlemen were good fairytale monsters. They helped fix Buffy and Riley’s relationship, they helped fix Xander and Anya’s relationship, they brought Willow and Tara together...they’re clearly just misunderstood. Perhaps their power is secretly travelling to a town, stealing everyone’s voices, and forcing them to communicate in new ways to work out their issues. What lovely creatures! The removing of people’s hearts, you say? A quirky by-product of the happiness they cause after they leave. You heard it here first, people! The Gentlemen are good guys!
The Gentlemen & The ‘Story-Of-The-Week’
What makes The Gentlemen the greatest one-episode monsters in the Buffyverse? Is it the skeletal look? Is it the fact they wear suits and look like disturbing Barney Stinsons? Is it the creepy smiles that never waver from their faces? Is it because they hover? Is it because they’re completely silent and don’t even make noise with their footsteps? Is it because they move slowly? Is it the monkey-looking followers? Is it because they’re so polite to each other? The answer is everything. Everything seems to work. Camden Toy and Doug Jones are two of the finest character actors that I’ve witnessed in my entire life. They bring these characters to life in a way that I don’t think any other two people would have been able to so successfully. Camden Toy will return to the Buffyverse in season seven’s “Same Time, Same Place” as Gnarl, as well as portraying the main Turok-Han from season seven and playing the Prince of Lies in “Angel” season five’s “Why We Fight”. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Camden Toy a few times over the past year or so and he’s a truly wonderful man!
Before The Gentlemen arrive in Sunnydale, we’re treated to some excellent scenes involving Giles, Spike, and Willow. In the last episode, “Something Blue”, Spike was chained to Giles’ bathtub. In this episode, Giles has allowed Spike to roam around the house. Considering Spike’s kleptomania-like tendencies, this is a rather silly move on Giles’ part. Giles and Spike seem to be bonding, even if neither of them wishes to.
Spike: “Sometimes I like to crumble up the Weetabix in the blood. Gives it a little texture.”
Giles: “Since the picture you just painted means that I’ll never touch food of any kind again, you’ll just have to pick it up yourself.”
I love their ever-growing relationship. Giles is living with someone he loathes, yet he’s starting to appreciate him despite himself. He hates Spike, yet watches “Passions” with him. Giles is that bored and lonely. To counteract this boredom and loneliness, Giles invites an old friend from England back over. We first met Olivia in the season four opener, “The Freshman”, after Buffy walked in on Olivia wearing very little. Giles tries to give off this air of being intellectual and above trivial things, yet the second Olivia arrives, ol’ Ripper forgets all about researching The Gentlemen and starts to snog Olivia like a teenager. What’s the worst that could happen?
In addition to this, Willow has started attending the UCSD Wicca group’s meetings. This is all part of Willow’s quest for power in relation to her witchcraft. By this point, Willow is already a pretty badass witch, so why is she trying so hard to become more powerful? I like to think that it’s a prelude to Willow’s magic addiction in season six. Willow isn’t aware of it yet, but she’s addicted to magic. She’s already using magic in order to alter her life for the better and to skip working through pain. Willow quickly discovers that the Wicca group is filled with frauds and wannabes, except for Tara. I’m really happy to see Tara introduced to the Buffyverse. In “Hush”, Tara is a lot like Willow was during the first couple of seasons of the show. She’s shy, insecure, and barely talks unless she’s spoken to. I believe that her behaviour here is primarily due to her family. As we discover in the next season (“Family”), Tara’s family are very controlling. To the point where they pretend that Tara is part-demon in order to try and control her behaviour. Through Willow’s influence, Tara becomes stronger and more self-assured with each passing episode.
The Gentlemen glide into Sunnydale and steal everyone’s voices. I once watched this episode with my friend Luke, who asked me if The Gentlemen steal people’s bad morning breath, due to the scene where a white mist was leaving everyone’s mouth while they were sleeping. Safe to say, I couldn’t stop laughing for a full two minutes and we had to rewind the episode. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how flawless the musical scoring of this episode was. Christophe Beck has done some spectacular work up to this point, but “Hush” is head and shoulders above everything else we’ve heard so far. As over half of the episode is dialogue-free, the music was even more important than it normally is in order to set the scene and convey the point that Joss was trying to get across to the audience. Christophe Beck did a superb job.
After everyone is rendered mute, Xander wakes up and blames Spike for his lack of vocal ability. Spike responded by raising two fingers to Xander and looking away. Shortly after this, Xander tries calling Buffy to figure out what’s going on! Erm, Xander, you need a voice for the telephone to be effective, you idiot. Spike’s reaction sums up my own thoughts perfectly. Speaking of idiots, “In case of emergency use stairwell”. Riley and Forrest tried going down to The Initiative in an elevator that demands vocal verification. They should team up with Xander to stop The Gentlemen.
What I found surprisingly effective was how well the episode was able to convey exactly what each character was thinking and trying to communicate, even without the ability to talk. Giles reaching out and touching Buffy as she enters his house is beautiful. Willow frantically writing “Hi Giles” on her whiteboard is equally adorable. It’s such a nice moment to reinforce that Giles is a surrogate father to both Willow and Buffy.
Then, shit gets real. The Gentlemen start gliding around town. The scene where The Gentlemen cut out the student’s heart is directly pulled from a dream that Joss Whedon had. Being attacked by monsters that grin at you while you’re unable to scream...dude needs to eat less cheese before bedtime, I’m thinking. Adding to my theory that The Gentlemen are really just misunderstood, look at how polite they are to each other just before the dissecting! Look at how they politely golf-clap each other after the successful removing of the heart! Look at how hygienic the scalpels are! They don’t want to cause infection to the victim before removing their heart. The Mayor would approve of their manners and cleanliness. Uggghhhhh, the sound the scalpel makes as it cuts into the student’s flesh is spine-tingling.
All of this leads us to the exposition scene where Giles is explaining to the Scoobies what The Gentlemen are. This is my favourite scene of the episode without a doubt. Firstly, why is Giles playing music over his own exposition scene?! Is it to make the Scoobies pay more attention? The song that plays over Giles’ projection is “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens. Over here in England it’s also used as the opening theme for the television programme “Jonathan Creek”. Honestly, this scene is just perfect. Giles putting the first projection picture upside down, Willow’s over-acting of The Gentlemen dying to music from a CD, Buffy’s ‘staking motion’ with her hand and the Scoobies’ reaction to it (which I can never successfully watch without giggling hysterically), Xander thinking that boobies is the answer to all of life’s problems, Anya’s complete lack of caring at anything that’s going on and eating popcorn, and Buffy’s reaction to Giles drawing her with big hips, which is completely ad-libbed by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the reflection of perfection.
Without a doubt, the jumpiest moment of the episode is when Olivia draws back Giles’ curtain and a Gentlemen glides past! Sweet mama, I nearly had an outer body experience.
Willow realises that she has feelings for Tara after they’re forced to combine their power to stop The Gentlemen from reaching them. It’s yet another example of communication being more powerful when speech is taken away. They’re forced to link hands, which created an electricity and spark between the two of them. The hand-holding moment is very powerful and the first sign that there is more than just friendship feelings between the two of them. Willow and Tara’s relationship was groundbreaking at the time and helped a generation of gay and lesbian people come out of the closet. What I love about their relationship is that it’s not a publicity stunt. It wasn’t used as a reason to shake up the show and cause controversy, with Willow returning back to being straight after a few episodes. It was simply two people falling in love.
Willow: “I’m definitely nothing special.”
Tara: “No, you are.”
During the fight at the clocktower, The Gentlemen stabbed Buffy with a scalpel and it didn’t seem to faze her at all. It appears she recovered almost instantly! Clearly her Slayer strength is enhanced when she loses her ability to talk...someone should inform the Watcher’s Council of this new discovery! Buffy screams, The Gentlemen go boom in epic fashion, and Sunnydale is restored! That was a very impressive scream. Sarah Michelle Gellar is not the one screaming, by the way.
Discovering that monsters are real prompts the beginning of the end for Giles and Olivia as a couple. Things are suddenly far too real for Olivia to cope with. Poor Giles.
To conclude, I don’t think it would be hyperbole to call this episode a masterpiece. It ticks every box and sets a new standard for “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”.
Quote Of The Episode
Spike: “I don’t see why I have to be tied up.”
Xander: “It’s just while I’m sleeping.”
Spike: “Like I’d bite you anyway.”
Xander: “Oh, you would.”
Spike: “Not bloody likely.”
Xander: “I happen to be very biteable, pal. I’m moist and delicious.”
Spike: “Alright, yeah, fine, you’re a nummy treat.”
Xander: “And don’t you forget it.”
Spike (impersonating Anya): “Xander, don’t you care about me?”
Xander: “Shut up.”
Spike (impersonating Anya): “We never talk.”
Xander: “Shut. Up.”
Spike (impersonating Anya): “Xander...”
Xander: “Shut up!”
I love that Xander repeatedly tells Spike to shut up and after they wake up they cannot talk. Who’d have thought that these two characters would be living together in three years?!