When a TV show runs for seven full seasons, the quality is bound to vary. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did better than most, overall, but there were bound to be low-points. For me, the majority of season four is about as low as it gets. But even in a season that can perhaps best be compared to an unexpected eclipse temporarily covering the Buffy-verse in deep shadows of boredom in which Initiative-driven absurdities and V-chip-in-Spike’s-noggin’ inanities lurk, waiting to jump out and force you to shake your head and groan for 43 minutes at a time, Whedon and his team manage to deliver amazing episodes that shine with a brilliant light straight from the heavens and overpowers the darkness. (Side note: I will never again forget the definition of ‘hyperbole.’) Whedon himself calls it “one of the best episodes of the season” (00:00:10), and I’d have to agree.
Whedon is a very perceptive person, which is one of the reasons his shows and films are so good, and it’s a testament to his strength of character that he’s not afraid to turn those powers of perception on himself. In discussing his inspiration for this episode, he brings up some very personal and introspective points that you’re not likely to hear from other writer/directors.
I felt as a director I was sort of degenerating. I was turning into a kind of TV hack…. One of the things that I don’t love about TV is that a lot of it is what I refer to as ‘radio with faces.’ If you want to shoot a scene quickly, you just put somebody up against a wall, have them say their lines, and boomf, it’s done. From the start one of the most important things about Buffy was that I wanted the show to work visually…. It is great when you have something that is visceral, and visual, and cinematic, and not just people a-yakkin’, although people a-yakkin’ can make for great shows sometimes. Meanwhile, as the show went on – this being the fourth year – I had sort of fallen into the people-a-yakkin’…style of directing, and I wanted to curtail that in myself. And so on a practical level, the idea of doing an episode where everybody lost their voice presented itself as a great big challenge, because I knew that I would literally have to tell the story only visually, and that would mean that I couldn’t fall back on tricks. (00:02:30)
Whedon wanted to shake things up, and eliminating all dialogue for roughly two-thirds of a TV show, especially a show well-regarded for its fresh and snappy writing, would definitely do the trick. It’s a little like taking away an acrobat’s safety net – it increases the stakes, which in turn increases the audience’s interest.
It can also scare the hell out of the performer, even a seasoned professional like Whedon, something he’s not afraid to admit. “What was fun about it, which I experienced again later in ‘Restless’ and again later in ‘Once More with Feeling,’ was the absolute surety that I would completely fail…. So I came into it with a real terror in my heart, which is a wonderful wonderful feeling to have on television shows because it means you’re actually doing something new” (00:05:45).
Although Whedon had been toying with the idea of doing a largely nonverbal episode (00:02:30), and had outlined the episode as production drew near, the real breakthrough came when he actually sat down to write it.
As I was writing it, I discovered…what it was about, which I had not figured out while I was figuring out the story…. I had a general notion that what it was about was the idea that when people stop talking, they start communicating – that language can interfere with communication, because language limits. As soon as you say something, you’ve eliminated every other possibility of what you might be talking about, and we also use language to separate ourselves from other people. We also use language as white noise…. We also misuse it horribly. All of those things appear in the show because once I realized that the episode was about communication, I then found that absolutely everything I wrote was completely on theme. That is to say, every line of dialogue embodies the theme of the show…. (00:06:25)
Whether it was because it was so tightly written and thematically cohesive, or because The Gentlemen were perhaps the creepiest and most original threats to appear in the show in a while, or because viewers got a break from Initiative-related babble, the episode was a great success. Not only was it well-received when it first aired, but years after the series’ conclusion it continues to be included in lists of the show’s top ten episodes, including BuzzFeed’s Louis Peitzman (who ranked every single one of Buffy’s 135 episodes), ScreenCrush’s Jacob Hall, Carley Tauchert at DenofGeek, and even Joss Whedon himself shortly after the release of The Avengers.
So, we’ve covered the ideas behind the episode, but Whedon still has lots to say about bringing them to the small screen. We’ll get into that next time.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4, Episode 10, ‘Hush’ | Directed by Joss Whedon | Written by Joss Whedon | Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head
What do you think? How does ‘Hush’ rank against the other 134 episodes of Buffy, or just season four? Do you agree that season four is the worst, or do you have another contender? Did you pick up on what Whedon describes as the show’s theme when you first saw it? How about now? Leave some comments below and let us know!