Mon
Oct 22 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Everything’s Better with a Mute Button

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

It seems as though the last time I saw Buffy in a psychology lecture, she was daydreaming about Parker. Now she’s traded up to Sexy Roleplaying 101: Mad Scientist Maggie has recruited her for a class demonstration—everyone loves an oral exam, I guess—based around the complex and shipper-pleasing concept of she and Riley making out on a desk in the auditorium.

None of my college psych classes had live erotica! I’d feel ripped off, but wait – it’s all a big prophetic dream.

Smoochies ensue, the class disappears, and the sun goes down. Next thing you know, a little blonde girl is singing important clues at her and Buffy gets a quick glimpse of one of the Gentlemen.

Thank you, Forces of Lightness, for the Kiss-o-Gram.

She wakes, moderately better informed and at a scholastic disadvantage to Willow, who promptly teases her about napping. Then Riley takes the opportunity to show up and flirt. Willow is in full-bore matchmaker mode and leaves the two of them alone together to get on with it already, but instead our dream couple ends up lying to each other about what they’re up to that evening—petroleum fun!—and somehow the exchange of untruths kills any chance they might have of also swapping on-campus, both-parties-present-and-conscious kisses.

Giles is in pursuit of romance, too, as it happens, or at least a night of robust romantic hijinx with his Orgasm Friend Olivia. This means he needs a vampire-sitter. (The life of a Watcher is deeply bizarre, isn’t it?) He asks Xander to take Spike, and nobody’s thrilled. Spike-sitting? Not a plum job. More importantly, saying yes means tanking a romantic evening with Anya, who’s starting to wonder whether Xander cares for her at all. She’s asking “Where are we going?” and “What do you feel for me?” questions and he’s offering standard non-committal boy noises, deflecting for all he’s worth. This, as we know, is a Xander thing.

Willow, meanwhile, has been deeply disappointed by the campus witch club. The circle seems to be led by a power-mad pixie, a passive-aggressive brunette who would rather be bitchy and bake buns than kill the undead with pencils, turn her friends into demon magnets or find ways to raise the dead. How unreasonable is that? Tara tries to stick up for Willow when the pack turns on her, but she’s too shy. (And so adorable! Hi, Tara! I like how you’re alive in this one!)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

After these encounters Buffy and Willow debrief, discussing both the witch group and the perils of having a secret identity. Riley and Forrest are discussing the latter, too. Both BFF convos end in the same place: generally, it’s agreed that lying to your crush object is a big old bummer.

As is being tied up in Xander’s parents’ basement. Spike deals with the ignominy of it all by baiting Xander about Anya’s unhappiness. He is hilarious, and Xander is left to nobly endure while we giggle.

The score, as everyone beds down for a good night’s sleep is:

Giles: getting some! 

Everyone Else: nada so much.

Then the Gentlemen steal all the voices of Sunnydale. They are creepy. Their lackeys are creepy. The look and the gliding and the silence and the flapping straightjacket parts all combine to make these guys one of the most effective BtVS monsters ever.

The Scoobies, along with everyone else in the city, discover they’ve been zapped the next morning. Imagine how this would play out if it happened today....

@willowwitch OMG I’ve gone deaf!
@nummytreatxander Help u guys, Spike’s stolen my voice and I can’t talk!
@willtehbloody DID NOT, WANKER.
@buffyslayer Calm down @willowwitch @xander - it looks like it’s everyone. #justanothercrisisonthehellmouth
@willowwitch Oh whew. LOL. .
@ripperreformed Would you all please communicate in something resembling English?
@iowa is stuck in a lethal elevator deathtrap. :(

... and so on.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

But no, “Hush” all happened before we hit the point where an average human being, the sort of person who’d generally text their spouse if they were further away than across the room, might fail to notice being rendered silent until such time as it became necessary to yell at the cat. It’s pre-text, pretty much, and pre-Twitter, thereby making it one of the most obviously dated BtVS episodes. 

With no means of communicating, the extroverted students on the UC Sunnydale campus are downcast and depressed. (The introverted students are somewhere fun, soaking up the silence). Out in town, opportunists are selling white boards and making like they think the Apocalypse is back. Everyone converges on Chez Giles, where Olivia is freaked out and drinking and Giles is making a serious attempt to decode Buffy’s dream.

Night comes, and three important things happen. Buffy and Riley manage to kiss without one or the other of them saying something that destroys the mood. And the Gentlemen and their straight-jacketed lackeys start harvesting the still-beating hearts of the silenced population collection. They need seven, said the child in the dream. On night one of their hunt, they get three.

They also get seen.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

@olivia Shared an Instagram: Creepy Windowstalker!

Coming face to face with a monster does not improve Olivia’s general state of mind. She draws an excellent crime scene sketch, though, and Giles figures out what’s up.

The combination of physical comedy and gruesome horror in “Hush” is pitch perfect, and for me the Giles briefing is the peak. The overhead projector, the dramatic music, the Scoobies’ pantomimed responses to his presentation – it’s all absolutely beautiful. It is as perfect a scene as was ever made for television.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

Evening comes. Buffy and Riley are patroling, separately, while Tara is out in search of Willow. She knows the way to a girl’s heart, and lemme tell you, it’s not an empowering lemon bun. She’s got a spell book and a plan. Sadly, she also has a perfectly good cardiovascular system, complete with a tasty and currently bullet-free heart. The Gentlemen pursue her and she flees in terror, trying to alert the scared inhabitants of the dorm.

Willow to the rescue! Except, then, not.  The two of them are obliged to limp-run from the bad guys together, as best they can, after they collide and Willow borks her ankle.

Elewhere, Buffy and Riley have managed to track the Gentlemen to their clock tower lair. This lets them finally see the truth – they recognize each other as warriors. It’s one of three romantic comings-together. WillTara move a soda machine telekinetically and Willow realizes: Hey, you’re a witch too! And also, you’re way cute. Plus, I think I’m kinda gay! And Xander gets the idea Spike has bitten Anya, and thumps him soundly for it. This turns out to be exactly what his relationship needed. Anya concludes that actions speak louder than words, that Xander does really care about her and, finally, that she’s horny.
The final fight between Buffy, Riley and the Gentlemen in the clock tower is, like most BtVS battles, beautifully choreographed. It also contains one of those lovely character moments that raises these sequences above the level of being just exciting actiony noise. I mean that little comic bit where Buffy mime-asks Riley to smash the crucial voice-stealing box....

And he gets the wrong thing...

And then he looks up at her, all puppylike, pleased with himself and hoping for her approval.

Am I wrong, or is that their whole relationship right there in a nutshell?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Hush

Riley gets the smashing right on the second try, and Buffy screams the Gentlemens’ heads off. Everyone else gets their voices back, too, and Olivia uses hers to tell Giles she’s not so cool with his scary magical Watcher life. Buffy and Riley, having also recovered the power of speech, are pretty sure they need to talk. Unfortunately, they aren’t sure what to say to each other.

There’s a lot of story movement in “Hush,” and on the surface it’s all about the love. All of our core four Scoobies go through some romantic changes by the end of this hour, even if Willow doesn’t know it yet. But the tearing away of the BuffRiley veil of secrecy is what leads to Buffy hanging out with the Initiative types, and the arrival of Tara marks the start of many long-term plot developments.

Maybe it’s still a wheel-spinner in some sense: the overall story arc is furthered, but only just, in this one. But I doubt anyone will argue but that “Hush” is ingenious: it ranks among the best not-a-finale episodes in the entire BtVS run.

Next: Doomy doom doomed!


A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Tor.com. Her “baby werewolf has two mommies,” story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

39 comments
jmd
1. jmd
I love this episode, even if I get the wiggins every time I watch it. I think the briefing totally sums up the Scoobies - Anya with popcorn, Willow trying to think practically, Xander obsessed with girls, and Buffy thinking a stake fixes everything. And poor Willow with that Hi Giles whiteboard practically begging for a hug after Buffy gets one.
jmd
2. SDRainbow
All the Tara jokes make me a very sad panda.
Kat Blom
3. pro_star
Buffy thinking a stake fixes everything...you know, I was rather...well maybe not so young but naive when this was aired...was on a buffy-spree this weekend and her "staking without the stake" during Giles' presentation made me giggle.

No, I have not yet grown up.

I will agree though, the gentlemen are up there in the "creepiest Buffy evilgoers ever" category. Their lackeys were also kinda creepy...but kind of comical the way they shuffled around, jingling their straight jackets. It's like the stereotypical zombie...bumbling around looking for hearts instead of brains.
jmd
4. Gardner Dozois
One of the single best BUFFY episodes of all time, with The Gentlemen being easily the creepiest menaces ever, one of the few supernatural enemies Buffy fought that were actually SCARY rather than vaguely silly-looking. Them moving in total silence made them all the creepier.

Did you know that the poem that's quoted throughout the episode is an actual old folk poem or song? Although I'm sure that they took liberties with the legend. (If I'm remembering correctly, The Gentlemen in the poem refers to fairies or the Fair Folk, sometimes also called The Gentry. When they came through your town, you stayed inside, or they took you.)

This episode is creepier and less comic than the rest of the season's episodes have been to this point, but Giles's lecture is very funny indeed (wonderful that he's playing "Night on Bald Mountain" for background music), particularly for the expressions on the faces of the others while they stare at what they think Buffy is suggesting. Buffy's outraged reaction that the drawing makes her look fat is also priceless.

I hadn't thought before about how different this would have all worked out in the ubiquitious cellphone/texting era, but you're right, and I'm just as glad they did it when they did.

Hard to really call this a wheel-spinner, since it contains the crucial moment of revelation where Buffy and Riley both realize that the other has a Secret Identity and is leading a secret life, and that they're both vigilante superheroes of a sort--without this realization, none of the rest of the season arc could play out.
jmd
5. jillwebb
I adore your twitter recap of what would have happened had they had twitter!
Chris Long
6. radynski
My second favorite episode of the entire run, behind only the musical episode. This was done so brilliantly that the gimmick becomes believable almost immediately and you never give it another thought. I saw this episode and was blown away, and that's when I started watching this show with regularity.
Manar
7. thelastgoodkiss
"@iowa is stuck in a lethal elevator deathtrap. :(" Hahahahaha, oh my God, that made me laugh so hard Alyx.

This episode is definitely one of my favorites in the series. The Gentlemen are TERRIFYING (I did not remember them being that scary), and I love how well BtVS pulls off a mostly silent episode. Just about everything in this episode is great. The darkness, the comedy, the whiteboards. I love all of it.
jmd
8. Squall Thrawn
This definitely ranks in the top 5 of my fave Buffy episodes, ever. The Gentlemen were genuinely creepy, and completely memorable. Would watch this one over and over.

Also, the song played by Giles is actually Danse Macabre, by Camille Saint-Saens. Not Night on Bald Mountain, which is awesome as well
jmd
9. NullNix
I notice that the reduction in dialogue seemed to concentrate the awesome dialogue usually present in an entire episode into the ten minutes when anyone could say anything. I break down laughing every time I hear Giles' and Spike's conversation about weetabix and vampire feeding habits. (Side note: I once tasted weetabix in blood owing to an unfortunate knife accident during breakfast, though it was more weetabix and less blood. It is not terribly pleasant, though I suppose if you like eating iron or drink blood for a living you would probably like it more.)
Alyx Dellamonica
10. AMDellamonica
Nullnix, I can't believe you know how Weetabix and blood tastes.

Jill, LastGoodKiss, I'm glad you liked the Twitter Feed. I considered doing the whole essay that way but was pretty sure I'd run out of joke.

I have to admit I don't know Danse Macabre from Night on Bald Mountain.
jmd
12. Snap Dragon
I just recently watched this episode for the first time, and I agree that the Gentlemen are really creepy. Oddly enough, the scariest thing about them for me was that they floated rather than walked. I don't know why--something about the smoothness and unnaturalness of their movement, perhaps--but that was what really got to me. It made me think of Dementors from Harry Potter, actually: "the eerie way they moved, hovering inches over the ground" (HP&OOTP, chapter 8).

It is definitely interesting to realize how many ways we have to communicate without speaking aloud--writing, hand gestures, facial expressions, music, even lip reading.
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
I think this is one of the best episodes of tv ever, not just Buffy. The Gentlemen were very creepy but it was working out all the deafness issues that made it special. That and all the various plot threads coming together at the same time.
jmd
14. Gardner Dozois
My bad. Of course it was Danse Macabre. I knew better, but I had a senior moment.

Yes, the fact that they're floating, just gliding along above the ground with no visible effort involved, somehow combines with their total silence to make them even creepier. By far the most creepy/scary Buffy villains of the entire series.
jmd
15. JohnnyMac
I agree that the Gentlemen were definitely among the scariest villians in BtVS. They felt like something out of a nightmare rather than a special effect department.
jmd
16. thorfiemo
The music Giles played during the lecture was NOT-"Night on Bald Mountain," but Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre."
jmd
17. elliesaurus
The Gentlemen's glide is so terrifying because you can't hear them coming. The entire world is silent, but so are they. You have no warning.

This episode still gives me the creeps.
jmd
18. Doctor Thanatos
I agree with everyone about how everything came together to make this a perfect hour (okay, 43 minutes) of TV. Nothing to add to the above, except that the possibility for a pay-for-view cable sequel based on Buffy's alternate method of killing monsters ("Honestly, I was making stake motions!!!") continues to amuse...
Jenny Kristine
19. jennygadget
By some strange quirk of fate, this was the first Buffy episode I ever saw. By the end of it I was pretty much "must. watch. all. the episodes. NOW!"

I agree with everyone else on both how excellent this episode was, and on the hilarity of the tweets in this review. :)

I hadn't really thought about it being that dated before though - probably because it's been several years since I've watched it. Which means it's well past time to dig out my dvds again...yes?
Sydo Zandstra
20. Fiddler
What made the Gentlemen more creepy than generic creepy to me, was how they bowed to each other while gliding across Sunnydale.

By far the creepiest bad guys in the Buffyverse...

And that whiteboard session is epically funny.

This episode ranks in my top 3 as well. Another similar one up there is the one with Der Kindestod...
jmd
21. Gardner Dozois
It occurs to me that even in the texting era, you could get around this with a line of rationalization. "The cellphones don't work!" Magic can be evoked to explain a lot.
jmd
22. Cmm
Both this episode and the musical ones are gimmicky episodes that could be forgiven for stepping entirely outside the season's storyline and the overall long term story of the characters. But the true genius of both (and the thing that puts me more in awe of the writing the more I watch both) is that every character's main storyline is moved forward in the midst of a story that would be suspenseful and engrossing with only the scoobies vs freaky bad guys, and major reveals happen, not just alongside the main plot, but BECAUSE of the gimmick in the story. That is just sheer genius to me.

Oh! And I just realized that the main character developments in this episode all involve the characters being pulled together, making the connections between them more solid and stronger (which will pay off in the climax of the season.). In "Once More With Feeling" the revelations are the same characters recognizing the growing divisions between them, which also plays a significant role in the climax of that season's overall story arc.

Except...Spike. As everyone else comes together in Hush, his isolation is emphasized. And in Once More With Feeling, his character development is the reveal of the truth of his feelings toward Buffy, moving toward her as everyone else is pulling apart. AND the developments in these two episodes play a direct role in Spike's actions at the end of both seasons--to instigate divisions between the scoobies (if he is excluded then he wants to bring the whole "family" down) and to try to restore his soul (taking a drastic step to truly join the good guys' team.)

To do ALL that in one episode WITH humor and suspense (and singing!) is amazing.
Genevieve Williams
23. welltemperedwriter
There are certain things that always seem to be scary: lacking a face or having a face that is hidden or can't be seen (Nazgul, Dementors, Myrdraal, most of Moffat's Davies-era Doctor Who episodes), for instance. The Gentlemen's fixed grins are also scary: they have a predatory look.

Floating movement seems to be another one. I'm trying to remember other examples--the Dementors, obviously, and there was one genuinely scary scene in the otherwise pretty bad Earthsea TV adaptation where Ged is being chased by his possessed buddy who floats above the ground instead of running or walking. It makes me think of nightmares of something chasing you; the monster either floats, or else moves unhurriedly, despite which you can't escape it. Brrr. Wonder what lizard-brain response that plugs into.

None of my college psych classes had live erotica!

Clearly you didn't go to Northwestern.
jmd
24. Aeryl
The Gentlemen are creepy as all get out, but the creepiest award has to go to the "Talky Meat" spider demon from Angel's episode "Sacrifice"

The demon just happened to be played by Jeff Ricketts, sleazy Watcher # 2 from the This Year's Girl and Who Am I.
stephanie keenan
25. adriel_moonstar
I am totally creeped out by things that "move funny", with mice, lizards and German Shepards, topping the list. (I'd add snakes, but I've never had them in my house so they don't bother me quite as much...) I think the attention that BtVS paid to details lie that is part of the genius of the show.

(Oh and when I was in college the live erotica could be found on the quad, especially during finals...)
Allana Schneidmuller
26. blutnocheinmal
This episode introduced me to the awesomeness that is/was BtVS. Until then I hadn't been able to get past the name Buffy. But while watching other WB shows, I saw the promos for this episode and went "oOOOoo".
Alyx Dellamonica
27. AMDellamonica
Yes, crack out the DVDs and join the rewatch!

If Vancouver were hit by silence and a cell phone outage, I have to confess Gardner that I'd probably be far more distressed over the latter.
Brooke Robinson
28. ShinySpecialOne
I loved that the liquor store was the only open business in Sunnydale during MuteMageddon. Because...of course it would be!
Jack Flynn
29. JackofMidworld
What johntheirishmongol (and, well, pretty much everybody else here) said.

Alyx, you absolutely have to write a short story made up only of tweets. Reading what you just did, it'll be solid gold!

And don't worry, pro_star - I can't watch the whiteboard scene without busting out laughing, and loudly. From a storytelling point, it's spot-on: it's enough to break the tension from the horror of the night before and totally sets you up for the next night.
jmd
30. Ariaflame
An additional thing that I found an interesting link about Giles playing Danse Macabre during that scene was that it was the theme music for a TV show from the UK called Jonathan Creek. Which for the first season had none other than Anthony Head playing Jonathan's boss. I believe he was playing it as an american. They changed actors for subsequent series though.
jmd
31. Chrisb
The poem you may be thinking of is
(a) not a folk song: it's by Rudyard Kipling, and
(b) not about monsters: it's about smugglers, but
(c) obviously had an influence, probably because the line you remember is "Watch the wall, my darling, when the Gentlemen go by."

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!
Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie -
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!
If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five and twenty ponies, Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.

Rudyard Kipling
jmd
32. GrayJack
The look of the "Gentlemen", and to an extent the style of the entire episode, are an homage to the "Strangers" in Alex Proyas' film "Dark City". I remember laughing the first time I saw this episode and loving the fact that they were quoting one of my favorite movies.
Alyx Dellamonica
33. AMDellamonica
Chris, thank you so much for posting the poem!
jazz tigan
34. tredeger
I've always felt that pairing this episode with Once More with Feeling and airing them in a theater would make a perfect Halloween annual tradition. Am I right?
Emma Rosloff
35. emmarosloff
Of course I'm late to the party on this one -- one of my favorite episodes, Hush. Not much to add, except to agree that the Gentlemen are terrifying for the predatory way they move and the fact that you can't hear them coming. Like spiders -- you get the sense that they'll never tire and they're singleminded in their stalking. Gives me the creeps just thinking about them *shudder*, particularly the scene where they cut out the poor boy's heart.

"Hush" is a prime example of television at it's best -- the theme permeates everything. Actions speak louder than words, that's the message, and everyone feels it. Even better that it manages to be comedic, heartfelt and creepy all on the same breath.

I wouldn't call it a wheel-spinner at all. The plot moves on many fronts. There's a definite shift when the episode is over.

The only other thing I have to say is that the twitter convo was hilarious. Loved Xander and Spike's reactions in particular. "Spike's stolen my voice and I can't talk!" "DID NOT, WANKER!" LOL.
Emma Rosloff
36. emmarosloff
@tredeger: I totally agree that that'd make a great tradition! Man, I'd love to see both episodes on a big screen in a theatre full of people.

It's a great idea, either way. Might do that tonight with the BF and his brother while we carve pumpkins.
jmd
37. NullNix
JohnnyMac@15, the Gentlemen felt like something out of a nightmare because that's allegedly where they came from: one of Whedon's own dreams. It makes for a seriously excellent episode.

AMDellamonica@10, regarding weetabix in blood, what can I say? I was having a very Nicoll morning that day.

emmarosloff@35, to inject some totally out-of-place science into this, insects and archnids *don't* tire, or at least don't get out of breath (well, OK, they don't breathe -- but their respiration is always aerobic). Their respiratory system might not scale (so no giant insects unless oxygen levels are sky-high), but it is extremely efficient. So a spider really can come after you forever...
Alyx Dellamonica
38. AMDellamonica
Emma, I believe Fox has tightened the rules about fan-sponsored theater showings of BtVS episodes, but I may be wrong. For the one we did for my partner's birthday, we accepted donations and everything that came in above our costs went to a worthy cause.

In the day of DVDs though it's not that hard to rent a theater and show something if the bureaucratic end can be worked out. You don't need actual film.
Mo -
39. Astus
I was completely terrified by the episode when it first aired. I was around 8 at the time so I think it's somewhat understandable, lol.
Buffy was a sort of regular thing in my household, maybe not every week but often enough, and I had enough after just seeing the first few minutes of the episode. Didn't have very pleasant dreams that night.

I still don't think I've seen the episode in its entirety, haha.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment