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!)
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.
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.
@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.
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?
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.