Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Hush

Summary

Walsh is lecturing on communications. She has Buffy come down and lie down on the desk. Riley is sent to kiss her. He says:

"If I kiss you, it'll make the sun go down."

When the kiss ends, the classroom is dark and empty. Buffy says:

"Fortune favours the brave."

Buffy hears a little girl speaking a rhyme:

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.

The little girl is carrying an ornate box. Riley touches Buffy's shoulder and turns into a demon. Buffy awakes to find the class just ending. Willow kids her about sleeping. Riley comes up and he and Buffy walk together while Willow pretends to be going elsewhere but actually listens in on part of the conversation. Riley wants to know if he was in Buffy's dream, but she won't give him the details. He asks what she's doing that night and she unthinkingly says patrolling, but changes that to petroleum. He says he is marking papers that night. He moves in to kiss her, but she suddenly asks what papers - they only have the final left. He says late papers and the kiss never happens. Somewhat dejectedly, she repeats her post dream kiss line, fortune favours the brave.

Buffy calls Giles and tells him of her dream and he promises to research it. He asks Spike (who is now wandering about freely) about it, but he doesn't know anything. They argue over the weetabix which Spike has eaten (he crumbles it up in his blood to give it texture). Xander and Anya arrive arguing. Anya feels Xander is just using her for orgasms (an image which intrigues Spike, embarrasses Xander, and disturbs Giles). She wants to know how he feels about her. Xander seems incapable of clearly expressing his feelings. Giles tells Xander he wants him to take Spike to his place for a few days since Giles has a friend visiting. Anya asks if it is an orgasm friend. They all start arguing.

Willow is at a wicca meeting where most of the members seem more interested in a bake sale than witchcraft. When Willow suggests casting spells, she's pretty much laughed down. One girl, Tara, seems to side with her but opts to stay silent.

Buffy tells Willow about her unsuccessful encounter with Riley and says she wishes she didn't always have to lie to him. Meanwhile, he is saying something very similar to his friend.

Xander ties Spike up because he doesn't feel safe sleeping with Spike loose. Spike says he'd never bite Xander, making it sound like an insult. Xander insists he is very biteable. Spike teases him by imitating Anya and quoting lines from their earlier argument. Giles is researching the verse from the dream and Olivia arrives. She tells him her flight was awful, it had a baseball movie.

That night, we see the gentlemen open the ornate box of Buffy's dream and it sucks the voices from the mouths of the sleeping citizens of Sunnydale. The next morning, the people realize they cannot speak and are stricken with terror. This includes Buffy and Willow. Xander blames Spike, who is equally speechless. Xander tries calling Buffy, but neither of them can actually use a phone now. Riley and his friend get into the elevator to go to the secret lab. Only Riley cannot speak so the voice recognition doesn't work and they are almost killed. When they do get out, Walsh points to a sign saying 'In case of emergency, use stairway'.

Buffy and Willow make their way to Giles'. The bank is closed. People are sitting in the street crying. A minister is holding a silent service for a scared congregation. A profiteer is selling message boards at $10 a piece. They each buy one. When they get to Giles', there is no good news. The news says Sunnydale is being quarantined and the outbreak of laryngitis is blamed on flu shots. Buffy writes that she should be in town that night. Walsh seems to have reached the same conclusion Buffy has and uses a computer voice synthesizer to tell her crew to go into town (in civilian garb) to help maintain order.

That night there is chaos. Car accidents and fights. Buffy and Riley work together to break one up. Then we see the gentlemen (cadaverous mortician garbed demons floating just a few inches above the ground) move into the town with their assistants (straitjacketed bent over maniacs). As the dream predicted, they look in windows and knock on doors. Olivia sees them, but as the dream said, cannot scream. They move into the dorms and we see them enter a room and perform surgery on an unwilling student retrained by their assistants.

The next morning, Buffy sees the body of the murdered boy, Olivia draws a picture of what she saw, the paper writes of murders in which the hearts of the victims were taken. Giles recognizes the picture and goes to a collection of fairy tales. Later that day, he gathers the gang in a lecture hall at the university, puts on some music, and starts a presentation using foils he has drawn. He reveals that the gentlemen are fairy tale monsters who seek hearts. They steal voices so people cannot scream. He explains that the only way to kill them is to scream. But he doesn't know how to bring back their voices. But he does tell Buffy to patrol that night.

Riley and his gang also seem set on patrolling that night. And Tara leaves her place to go see Willow. She sees and is seen by the demons and flees. Buffy is attacked by an assistant. Tara runs into the dorm and knocks on doors, but everyone is too frightened to let her in. Riley is also attacked by an assistant. Willow opens her door upon hearing all the banging and Tara bumps into her while fleeing the demons. The two flee together. Buffy ends up in the same building as Riley and soon they are fighting the demons together.

Spike gets himself a cup of blood from the refrigerator and goes into the living room where Anya is napping on the sofa. Xander comes in, sees Anya apparently unconscious, Spike with his vampire face on, and jumps to the obvious conclusion. He also jumps Spike and starts beating him up. He stops when he sees Anya is ok. She's touched by his display of concern and they hug and kiss, with Xander looking an apology at Spike and Olivia and Giles looking on fondly. Then they leave to have sex.

Tara and Willow are chased into the laundry room. They try to block the door with a vending machine, but aren't strong enough to move it. Willow tries to use her power, but it isn't enough. Tara takes her hand and between them, they have the power to move the machine and block the door. Buffy sees the ornate box and gestures to Riley to destroy it. It takes him a while, but he gets it. Their voices are restored, Buffy screams, and the demons are destroyed.

The next day, Tara tells Willow she has been practicing witchcraft since childhood. She says Willow is really very powerful and special. Olivia tells Giles she never believed his stories before, but now realizes he was telling the truth.

Finally, Riley visits Buffy in her room. They agree they have to talk. Neither seems able to begin. There is silence.

Analysis

I've always maintained that television is radio with pictures. Close your eyes while watching most tv shows and you won't really lose anything. Turn off the sound and you'll likely find the story incomprehensible. Hush proved that sometimes, that's just not true.

When I learnt this episode would have an extended silent segment, I imagined they would cheat by making the characters' thoughts audible in voice overs. I was really impressed to see they avoided that loophole and played fair with the audience. Instead, they incorporated the techniques used in silent film: the strong emoting of characters, the virtual miming of activity, and the title cards (nicely simulated by the message boards they wore). And much to my surprise, they managed to keep the wittiness that Buffy dialogue is justly famed for. Including the only visual double entendre I've ever seen.

But before I start talking about all the things that made this episode so much fun, I've got to say something about the strong theme that really made it work. That, of course, is the difficulty of verbal communication - the confusion caused by words which conceal as much as they reveal and which always have to be interpreted. This starts with Walsh talking about communication and how it is not the same thing as language. It continues with the little girl in Buffy's dream and her enigmatic verse:

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.

The girl carries the box the demons use to capture everyone's voice. Riley morphs into one of the demons. And the girl's verse quite clearly describes everything that will happen. The prophetic dream is a mixture of verbal and visual clues. Buffy (and her gang) have the job of interpreting them. Much as Walsh says. As an aside, this dream reminded me of the dream sequence in Graduation Part 2 which had a similar enigmatic nursery rhyme bent. And that dream and its consequences have yet to be explored or explained.

It continues with the conversation between Buffy and Riley which is mostly about concealing information or just failing to communicate. Buffy blurts out patrolling when asked what she is doing that night and then pretends she said petroleum, an even less meaningful word. Riley has a similar fumble when he tells Buffy he's marking papers that night, even though there are no papers. And then comes the bungled kiss attempt and Buffy's reprise of her 'fortune favours the brave' line from the dream. The successful dream kiss has been replaced by the failed attempt at a real kiss.

Next is Xander's inability to express his feelings in words to Anya and the way her precise choice of words upsets Xander and Giles. When she talks of orgasms, Xander is embarrassed at what he sees as a private conversation taking place in a public milieu. Giles, who keeps his private life even more private than Xander, is equally upset. Only Spike is intrigued, presumably out of boredom. It's interesting that Anya's plain talking (reminiscent of Cordelia who could easily have had the same lines had she remained in Sunnydale with Xander as her boyfriend) is no more desirable than the enigmatic speech of Buffy's dream or the fumbling of her waking time talk with Riley. It's also interesting that the plain talking of this scene just leads to conflict.

Willow's wicca group is misnamed. Words don't match with actions. The group members seem more interested in a bake sale and a party than in witchcraft. Willow complains of the endless talk of the group, Buffy complains of the same thing in her relationship with Riley - lots of talk, no action. She says they are both just babbling. And she has to lie about being the slayer. Riley is making the same point to his friend. There is a parallel between the wicca group and the Riley/Buffy relationship. In both cases, we have people concealing their secret identities: Willow and Tara hiding their witchiness and Riley and Buffy hiding their demon fighting ways. When Willow and Tara finally reveal their powers to each other, they become far more powerful as a unit. Analogously, the same may be true of Buffy and Riley. Certainly they were effective together in the final confrontation with the demons.

When Olivia arrives she wants to cut out the small talk and she and Giles are soon kissing (Olivia doesn't seem all that different from Anya in her directness). That night, all the talk gets cut out as the demons use their power to steal everyone's voice. At this point the episode shifts from the problem of communicating with words (Buffy and Riley babbling to each other, the wicca group which really isn't a wicca group, Xander not able to say how he feels) to the problem of communicating without words. Words are difficult to interpret and often deceptive. But they are at least familiar.

The silence leads to panic at first. Buffy and Willow silently shout at each other. We see the other students crying and stumbling about. Riley and his friend forget about the stairs and almost get killed in the elevator. Xander immediately blames Spike who seems the only one almost calm. During Buffy and Willow's walk through the silent streets, we see the first repercussions of the silence. Some stores are closed, there seems to be a run on the liquor store. People are desolate and crying. Some people turn to prayer. Others seek to make a profit from misery. Things worsen that night as the silence leads to accidents and violence. Buffy instinctively realizes this will happen and Walsh analytically comes to the same conclusion. Both marshal their forces to try to stop the chaos the silence brings.

When the gentlemen and their assistants roam the town, they bring terror to all who can see them. And the terror is magnified by the inability to scream. I have to wonder if Whedon ever saw The Tingler. In that movie, a mute woman is scared to death and her being unable to scream gives birth to a monster. There is a scene in that film during which the monster enters a theatre where a silent film is playing. Giles simulates a silent film in his presentation in the university lecture hall (a theatre of sorts). And it is there that the monster is revealed to all.

This is probably the funniest scene in the episode (one of the funniest scenes in the series), yet it is also very grisly. His crudely drawn pictures of the gentlemen carving hearts out of their victims are ungraphic graphics but still effective. Maybe more so for their crudeness and simplicity. And the communications fumbles that dominate this scene show how difficult this most normal (for Buffy and her gang) activity is. Without their voices, the briefing has to be reduced to cartoon level and even then is replete with confusion and misunderstanding.

That final night is even worse than before. Rather than the violence of the towns people, we have them withdrawing from the street, hiding in their homes, afraid to open the doors, and ceding the town to the demons. But the battle turns as the various forces for good start teaming up. Tara and Willow meet, Buffy and Riley find themselves fighting together, and Xander finally manages - without words - to tell Anya how much he cares for her. His attack on Spike convinces Anya of his genuine feelings and reunites them. Xander becomes the first to communicate effectively, expressing his emotions without words. Tara is second, communicating her witchcraft by taking Willow's hand and helping her magically block the door.

Buffy has the hardest time. When she realizes how to regain her voice, by destroying the box, she gestures at it to Riley. But he destroys the wrong object misunderstanding. Finally, he gets it. Her voice restored, she destroys the fairy tale monsters with a scream. But the fairy tales she and Riley have been telling each other are also destroyed.

Now, with voices restored, communication seems to become harder rather than easier. Willow and Tara stumble their way through a conversation. And Tara is oddly vague when talking about her mother. And her references to Willow's power and being like Tara's mother struck me as slightly disturbing. Olivia's realization that Giles' stories of demons were true (she never believed the words) make her wonder if it is all too scary for her. She's unable to answer Giles' implied question, can she stay with him now really knowing what he does.

Finally, when the time of silence is past - both the silence caused by the magic of the gentlemen and by the need for Buffy and Riley to keep their secret identities secret - Buffy and Riley sit down to talk, but there is only silence. How do they explain what they do to each other, even if it is safe to do so? And is it really? In Buffy's dream, Riley said if they kissed the sun would go down - not a very positive omen. The last time she got close to a demon fighter it was Angel and the sun nearly went down forever. In the dream, after the kiss and the coming of darkness, Riley morphed into a demon. This was a revelation of the gentlemen, but perhaps it was also a portent of what Riley could become or maybe already is.

I seriously doubt Riley will be the victim of a curse - that would be repetitious. But if the technology exists to make a vampire incapable of harming others, doesn't it also exist to make a good person capable of doing the most horrible of things. Will Riley fall victim to a technological curse as the result of Walsh's experiments?

Okay, now I can focus on some of the fun stuff. I loved the look and feel of the gentlemen and their assistants. Having the gentlemen glide just slightly above the ground gave them just the right air of spookiness. And dressing them as cadaverous (and oh so polite) morticians just topped it off. Their assistants, straitjacketed almost subhumans sort of rolling along on the ground while their masters almost fly, enhanced the horror of the gentlemen while being genuinely terrifying themselves. Neither of these needed words to scare. The pantomimed politeness of the gentlemen offering each other scalpels and hearts and the flapping sleeves of their assistants' straitjackets were scarier than anything they could have said.

I also liked the way the wit of the show, seemingly dependent on dialogue, was maintained during the silent segment. We had Xander's fruitless phone call to Buffy and Willow. Giles using the silent movie type music to enhance his presentation. Then Giles putting his foil on the wrong way. Willow, always the good student, pointing to her heart to indicate what the gentlemen seek and Xander thinking they are looking for breasts. Anya merrily munching popcorn through it all. And, my favourite, Buffy's visual double entendre - shaking her fist up and down meaning to mime staking but giving an impression of a very different act to the gang. Finally, there is Buffy's anger at Giles' picture of her which makes her look fat.

Add to that Anya and Xander making up and going to make out after his mistaken beating of Spike and Giles confessing he wasn't an original member of Pink Floyd, and you've got a genuinely funny episode. It also happens to be an incredibly creepy episode. Giving us the best of both worlds.

Lines of the week:

"I just thought you were being pretentious."
"Oh, I was. I was also right."
"So everything you told me was true."
"Well no. I wasn't actually one of the original members of Pink Floyd" - Giles possibly revealing more of himself to Olivia than just what the words say.

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