Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: It's Oh So Quiet

Season four reaches the midway point with "Hush", "Doomed", and "A New Man".

"Well, I guess we have to talk."
"I guess we do."

When I made the schedule for the Buffy Rewatch, I didn't realize just how well these three episodes would work together: all three involve the members of the Initiative and the Scooby gang finding out about each other. "Doomed" and "A New Man" are both solid episodes - I particularly liked seeing Ethan Rayne again in "A New Man", and I loved Spike's discovery in "Doomed" that he can fight, he just can't fight *humans* - but, let's face it: they both pale in comparison to "Hush".

"Hush" was written and directed by Joss Whedon, and it's the first of his more experimental episodes. I don't mean "experimental" to imply that he's turning into Stan Brakhage all of a sudden - but "Hush" marks the first episode where Joss really experiments with form and content, with what he can actually get away with in the Buffyverse. (In later episodes like "Restless", "The Body", and "Once More, With Feeling", he'll experiment again in different ways.)

"Hush" is justly famous for its dialogue-free sections (and we'll get back to that), but its first third features some fantastic writing. Like the exchange between awkward housemates Giles and Spike about Spike eating all the Weetabix ("Sometimes I like to crumble up the Weetabix in the blood. Gives it a little texture."). Or Anya referring to Olivia as Giles' "orgasm friend". Or Spike saying to Xander "All right, yeah fine, you're a nummy treat." The various plot threads in "Hush" are also nicely linked, thematically: they're all about relationships in need of better communication. Xander/Anya, Buffy/Riley, Giles/Olivia - and we also get our first Willow/Tara scenes! But what everyone in the episode discovers is that it can be even harder to communicate when you can't talk.

The teaser and the first act are both strong, but it's the episodes final two thirds that elevate it to classic status. Villains on this great series don't come any scarier than the Gentlemen, with their creepy gliding and their strait-jacketed minions. (One of Whedon's inspirations, clearly, is the silent movie THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, which you should all see.)

The Gentlemen are truly creepy (the stuff of nightmares), but "Hush" is not without its funny moments. The Scoobies may not be able to talk, but they can still make jokes - and Giles can still make a brilliant - BRILLIANT - presentation of overhead transparencies. (It would have been far less funny if he'd built it in PowerPoint.) I don't just want to list everything that's great about "Hush", but it holds up remarkably well 15 years later.

Genuinely spooky and unsettling, expertly paced and edited, with a deft balance of chills and laughs, "Hush" is the greatest episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

"Hush": A+
"Doomed": B
"A New Man": B+

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