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.
So we come to “Hush.” If there is a BVTS episode that is universally loved, it is this one. Everything about “Hush” is pitch perfect (hah!) – from the truly scary Monsters of this Week, the coherent but not bludgeoning theme, the fairy-tale-esque victory, and the first introduction of our beloved Tara. It was an experiment that worked on every level. It paved the way for more visually and narratively challenging episodes that would follow, including season four’s finale “Restless,” season five’s “The Body,” season six’s “Once More with Feeling” and “Normal Again.” You excited? I’m excited. Let’s talk about it.
Our theme is established immediately. Buffy is a show of quick-witted characters who engage in smart and funny banter, but quick quips can often obfuscate actual communication. They talk, but don’t connect. Or they lie to protect their identities. Or they tell the truth, but it is so exotic and frightening, that the truth is regarded as exaggerations. So we have Maggie, a liar herself, lay out our challenge in bold terms:
So this is what it is.. talking about communication, talking about language… not the same thing. It’s about inspiration… Not the idea, but the moment before the idea when it’s total. When it blossoms in your mind and connects to everything”¦ It’s about the thoughts and experiences that we don’t have a word for.
There’s only 17 minutes of dialog in the entire episode. Most of it is filled with people talking past each other, words failing them, words confusing them, words that stick in the mouth and twist the tongue, so that sentences are stuttered out and lies clutter up the air.
Buffy and Riley, in her dream, finally kiss at the close of Maggie’s lecture. In real life, they dance around their attraction to each other, making a few steps forward, putting off dates and fudging the reasons why, because they can’t be honest about their secret identities. They almost kiss, in the quad, in the sun, but Buffy blurts out a question, and they retreat back to their corners.
Willow finds the Wicca group that she mentioned back in “Wild at Heart.” She’s looking for other witches like her, ones who deal in magic and wonder. Instead she finds bake sales and feminist empowerment statues. When Willow, stammering, tries to suggest there’s more to witching than mouthing New Age mumbo jumbo, she’s shouted down and humiliated. Tara, making her first appearance, tries to back Willow up, but the group talks over her and then, embarrassed, refuses to say anything when she’s finally asked to speak.
Anya, sporting her third hair style in as many episodes, confronts Xander about the nature of their relationship. But neither are willing to state what it is that they’re really after. It was a relationship founded on a miscommunication, a lie, with Anya seeking Xander out for sex, thinking it would purge him from her thoughts. And then when he doesn’t act in the way she expected but didn’t tell him, she stomps off. They’ve never really met on even ground since. It’s all cross purposes.
Late in the episode, as Olivia, Giles’s girlfriend, lays in his arms, she says, “So everything you told me was true.” It was. He told her the truth about his life, about the things that lurk in the shadows, but she didn’t believe him.
And into all of this descends The Gentlemen. Words, in all their confusing, glorious cacophony, are their only weakness, so they take the slips of voice from each person in Sunnydale and lock them in a little box. These are monsters that do their horror in silence, carving the hearts out of living victims, to arrange as a pretty little display.
With their voices gone, the town of Sunnydale falls first into confusion and despair, and then into violence. Buffy and Willow wander the town and see a silent prayer group, a man milking the chaos for profit, and other citizens, like them, wandering around without purpose. Later there are fights, though both the Initiative and Buffy patrol to keep the peace (sort of). Aside from Spike, we see no other monsters this week but The Gentlemen and their lackeys ““ it’s as if they all knew something awful was in town, and they hide instead of taking advantage. After all, Giles’s research doesn’t say that the Gentlemen need human hearts.
With words out of the way, we start to see the actual communication. At Giles’s apartment, he places a hand on Buffy’s arm and smiles at her, and we see how close they are. Willow furiously scribbles something, and we see that it’s a simple “hello” for Giles, because he’s a father figure for her, too, and he hugs her. On the street, Buffy and Riley run into each other. Without the pressure of having to talk to each other, they finally kiss (in the dark, after sundown, like Buffy’s dream foretold). After Xander mistakenly thinks he’s caught Spike feeding on Anya ““ practically a Three Stooges pile up of coincidences that works because everyone in this episode is so on their game ““ and beats him up in a manly display of revenge-jealousy, he and Anya are able to admit how they feel about each other. The sex is fun and all, but it’s gone beyond that.
Giles dramatically summons the gang to Sunnydale U to give them an update on the situation. Because he is Giles, he chooses dramatic musical accompaniment and hand drawn slides to present a fairy tale of monsters who steal hearts and voices. Though they don’t speak, of course, each Scoobie’s reaction is a perfect encapsulation of their characters. There’s Giles with his research and his classical music, of course. Anya is bored and unconcerned with the Gentlemen’s visit (she brings popcorn), because it doesn’t involve her directly. Willow is eager to be helpful and right, still the teacher’s pet. Xander is preoccupied with sex, mistaking both Willow’s gesture at her heart (boobs), and Buffy’s .. well, let’s just cut to the video replay:
Buffy. Buffy, of course, just wants to save everyone.
While Buffy is out hunting, Willow continues to research back in their dorm room. Until she overhears Tara’s frantic pounding on doors and comes out to find her being chased by The Gentlemen. The two of them manage to get to the laundry room with the monsters right behind them. Willow tries to push a vending machine in front of the door with her mind. Tara sees her expression and knows, immediately, what Willow is trying. The two of them join hands and the vending machine flies into place, their wills intertwined more powerful than either of them apart.
On patrol, Riley and Buffy both individually get caught up in fights with the henchmen, battling the monsters until they whirl and find each other. They can’t stop and ask the what’s and whys, so they fight side by side, in an easy alliance. When Buffy spies the box from her dream, it’s Riley that breaks it ““ eventually, after being proud of himself for smashing the wrong esoteric thingamabob. Riley releases all the voices but Buffy is the one who weaponizes hers, shrieking until The Gentlemen’s heads explode in a shower of green goo.
The episode ends with Buffy folding her laundry ““ perfectly mundane, perfectly normal thing to be doing ““ when Riley stops in. They have to talk, they agree. All the secrets they’ve been hiding from each other are gathered in the distance between them, each perched on a different bed, each barely able to hold eye contact.
The Initiative is getting progressively lazier in keeping up their disguises. When we first see them, they have on face masks. The next time, grease paint. Now Riley is just wandering around in full fatigues, carrying a huge gun, with his blandly handsome face out in full view. News flash: just because no one in town can’t shout out your name right now, Riley Finn, doesn’t mean they can’t tell someone who you are afterwards. Disguise Fail.
Can you imagine what the rest of the country must think about Sunnydale? (Except for Cleveland ““ Cleveland knows what’s up.) We see here that some of the weird things about the city hits the national news. So Sunnydale is quarantined by the CDC for a massive “laryngitis” outbreak. Did the high school blowing up during a graduation ceremony get airtime? What about when a giant underground temple briefly resurfaced? Localized earthquakes? What about that one time where a whole city imploded and dropped into a “sinkhole”?