Tuesday, September 05, 2006

#3 "Hush" -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1999)

As the story goes, Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was supposedly annoyed at critics who attributed the success of his show to the clever and witty dialogue between the characters. In order to prove that his show was much more than just scintillating conversation, he wrote and directed a "silent" episode, largely absent of any dialogue. And so "Hush" was born -- one of the most frightening and well-crafted episodes in the Buffy catalogue. He proved the critics wrong and garnered two Emmy nominations to boot ("Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series" and "Oustanding Cinematography").

"Hush" is a modern fairy tale. Several fairy tale monsters known as The Gentlemen come to Sunnydale in order to steal seven hearts. Before doing so, they steal the voices of everyone in town. Thus a hush falls over Sunndyale. The episode opens with a creepy dream of Buffy's in which a little girl pleasantly sings a chilling 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

As a fairytale, Buffy of course fulfills the role of the princess who defeats The Gentlemen and saves the town. But what this episode is really about is communication. In the early part of the episode, while everyone can still talk, we see characters miscommunicating with each other right and left. Sometimes it is due to innocent word choices; other times deliberate deception. Some miscommunicate as a defense mechanism, afraid of revealing their true feelings. The point is that we often use words, ironically, to avoid communicating with one another. We use language to misdirect and conceal the truth.

But when the characters' voices are taken, suddently they have to learn to communicate in a new way. Whedon has said that "Hush" is about how when you stop talking, you start communicating. Without words to hide behind, the characters reveal their true feelings and motivations. They are able to be honest in a way they avoided before.

Newly dating couple, Buffy and Riley, have both been keeping secrets from each other, concealing them with words. Yet in the silence, both of those secrets come to light. The episode ends with Riley coming to Buffy's dorm room (Stevenson Hall, by the way!). As they sit on the bed, their voices now restored, Riley says, "I guess we need to talk." Buffy replies, "I guess we do." Then the camera holds on them for what seems like an eternity as they sit in silence. Communication was much easier when words didn't get in the way.

This episode is a masterful creation because of the challenge of making a silent episode interesting and captivating in our current cultural climate. Whedon employs a variety of devices and crafts such a compelling story that watching characters interact in silence is engaging rather than boring. I could have more to say but as "Hush" demonstrates, sometimes it's better to stop talking.


At 6:09 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I'm sorry, but I just have to say, Joss Whedon is a genius.

And I'm hanging on the edge of my seat to hear #'s 1 and 2.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Stuart B said...

Hush was a great episode. Only problem with it was that it set up Tara...I've never had a problem with the character, I just don't like Amber Benson.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Tara was definitely my least favorite character on the show. I thought she never really exuded much in the way of personality.

At 3:16 AM, Blogger Ron Cox said...

Tara can sing (so, what's your number one pick, huh?). My way of putting up with Tara is to think "Oh well, at least it's not the pilot-Willow - the """"actress"""" who portrayed Willow in the BVS pilot was a dramatic black whole. While Tara didn't add anything to BVS, she didn't suck the life out of the other performances.

BTW, "Hush" is what made me a true Buffy fan.


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