July 1st, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
I’ve fairly certain I’ve seen the final few minutes of “Hush” before.
It was some time early in the decade, and Canada’s SPACE was airing the “Top 10 Buffy Episodes” in a day-long marathon which my brother was either watching or recording. I have no memory of watching an entire episode, or even which episodes I was seeing, but I remember Riley crouched down in some sort of crawl space with a gun, and I recognized the Gentlemen in that vague type of recall which is created when you aren’t really paying attention to what you’re watching.
I don’t know if I want to go back in time a la the Doctor and force myself to sit down for the entirety of that marathon, as watching the episode out of order would rob it of some of its appeal, but I do certainly wish that I could go back in time and experience this with everyone else at the turn of the century. More than any other episode of Buffy so far, I wish that I could have been there to write a review and to analyze the myriad of ways in which this is easily the most well-executed hour of television Buffy has produced to this point. While other episodes have been more emotionally resonant or explosive, no other episode has felt this expertly and ingeniously crafted. Compelling both as a standalone piece of entertainment and as an advancement of the season’s story arcs, “Hush” didn’t leave me speechless so much as it made me wish that I could go back to the turn of the century and be part of the initial response to what is rightfully heralded as one of the series’ finest moments.
And since I don’t have a TARDIS sitting around, writing about it now will have to do.
What makes “Hush” so interesting is that it doesn’t only derive fear from the Gentlemen. A true achievement of production design/performance, the Gentlemen are the most legitimately terrifying creation that Buffy has brought to television (to this point), and yet the silence they create allows many of the characters to express themselves in ways that they couldn’t find the words for. I won’t spend too much time focusing on this particular theme, considering that it’s pretty obvious to anyone who watches the episode: while there is a lot of subtlety in this episode, Whedon quite plainly lays out the ways in which words can often get in the way with Riley and Buffy’s first kiss, or Tara getting the nerve to connect with Willow, or Xander showing Anya how he’d avenge her death. At the same time, though, Whedon emphasizes the ways in which words are indispensable, with Riley unable to operate the voice-activated elevator, or Spike unable to contextualize his bloodied mouth, or Riley and Buffy being unable to properly communicate during the climactic battle in the belfry. The two sides come together in that final scene, as Riley and Buffy are able to talk about what they’ve just experienced with the Gentlemen having been defeated but neither of them can find the words, creating an open-ended notion of speech and its role in our lives rather than a vilification of the Gentlemen for stealing a precious gift.
This is not to say that the Gentlemen aren’t a villain, but so much of the episode is spent with the characters unaware of what, precisely, has taken away their ability to speak that they don’t really take on their villainous role until Giles learns of and communicates their identity (which I’ll get to a bit later). It’s not dissimilar to an episode like “Band Candy,” where the means to an end (stealing the maturity of Sunnydale’s adults) becomes the focus of the episode as opposed to the plot itself (the sacrifice being taken for the Sewer Demon). In both cases, a town-wide epidemic is designed to distract everyone from the real function, the difference being that “Band Candy” was humorous and playful where “Hush” is creepy and disarming. It isn’t that “Hush” is that fundamentally differently structurally speaking than past episodes so much as its creative decisions within that structure heighten its impact considerably.
Playing out like a silent film for a large bulk of its running time is a huge risk, but Whedon and Christophe Beck do a tremendous job of bringing the story to life without words. In Whedon’s case, his use of silent comedy is perhaps the funniest thing the show has done to this point, delivering on so many levels that I couldn’t possibly list them all. It starts from the very beginning really, with Xander calling Buffy and very quickly realizing that this isn’t the smartest of plans, and it continues throughout. I love the moment where we think Willow’s about to write something important on her message board and it ends up being “Hi Giles” (Hannigan’s smile kills me in that scene), and how the Initiative gets to take part in the fun (“Come On Come On” on the notepad, the “In case of Emergency take Stairs” sign). And there simply cannot be enough superlative things said about Giles’ presentation about the Gentlemen, which is filled with so many amazing moments that listing them would take away from the humour of their silence (if I had to pick a favourite, it’s Anya’s casual popcorn eating after the images of the Gentlemen ripping out the heart – so simple, so great). While the comedy is necessarily broad (in order to register), it never feels particularly silly, the episode capable of balancing its suspense and comedy as well as it balances its various views on the importance of speech.
While Whedon was working without his usual tools in constructing the episode without any dialogue, Christophe Beck was given his largest canvas yet with an episode devoid of dialogue. While I’m pleased that Whedon was rewarded with his lone Emmy nomination for the series for his work in writing the episode, that Beck wasn’t recognized for having to carry so much of the episode’s weight is a real shame. There’s been a number of calls throughout these pieces to discuss the music in greater detail, but to be honest I haven’t really noticed it: it has been good, the themes swelling when they’re supposed to be swelling, but I think I’ve become so accustomed to the use of character or event-specific themes in the work of Giacchino or McCreary that this sort of more general dramatic underscore is just not as memorable (or, rather, its memorability is so explicitly tied up in the collective impact of those scenes that I don’t notice it in isolation, which isn’t an insult so much as a compliment). However, “Hush” shows Beck doing some really tremendous work defining the Gentlemen (before Giles provides the expositions regarding their origin) and capturing the action of the later portions of the episode, stepping up to the plate when his music really becomes the center of attention.
Beck’s score is one of many areas where “Hush” could have theoretically come apart at the seams: Whedon wrote a script that placed a great deal of onus on his cast and crew, as well as his own skills in the director’s chair, and that he would conceive of the episode shows his level of confidence in those individuals. This isn’t a throwaway episode that could go either way: unlike other shows which can be more experimental due to a lack of direct serialization (the aforementioned Doctor Who springs to mind), “Hush” is caught up in ongoing and newly emerging stories to the point where its failure would have been a major setback for the season. Riley and Buffy’s relationship, whatever you think of where it evolves from here, would have been quickly derailed if this pivotal moment had played out in a mess of an episode, and Tara’s entrance into the series could have felt like a contrived meet cute as opposed to a meaningful connection. In both cases, their experience during the silence becomes intricately tied into their connections, Tara and Willow sharing a bond which must to some degree remain unspoken (out of fear of persecution) and Buffy and Riley sharing an experience which raises the questions that both of them have been tip-toeing around since the start of their relationship.
There’s a moment after the silence ends where Giles and Olivia discuss how, for the latter, witchcraft has finally become real, Giles’ stories becoming more than just fairy tales. This isn’t news for the viewers, who have seen numerous things they presumed to be unreal come to life within the series, but this is the most potent example of the series’ reality being subsumed by such an insurrection. Rather than interrupting storylines, disrupting the logical progression of things, “Hush” actually brings each character’s ongoing lives into the Gentlemen’s terrifying plot, using it add complexity to the season’s storylines that wasn’t there before. I don’t yet know how that turns out (I stopped after “Hush” to write this review without moving onto “Doomed”), but that’s part of the fun of the way this episode was initially scheduled: coming right before the Christmas break, I imagine “Hush” would have had plenty of time to settle in viewers’ minds by the time the show returned in January. And the episode isn’t just sitting there because of the stunning depiction of the Gentlemen or the novelty of a silent episode: it sits there because of the meaning it created for the characters, and the ways in which the episode takes the series’ existing structures and executes them to a level that it hadn’t achieved previously.
On my Twitter feed, I compared to episode to Doctor Who’s “Blink,” (which I reviewed, in a way, here) a comparison I make for two reasons. One is that “Blink” takes your basic Doctor Who storyline (the Doctor and his companion assist a stranger by saving them from some sort of fantastical calamity) and turns it on its ear by taking advantage of elements inherent to the series’ premise as opposed to the introduction of shocking new elements (if you haven’t seen “Blink,” it’s tremendous stuff and I suggest you seek it out). The episode changes our perspective on what is possible through the series less through reinvention and more through reminder, tapping into the “timey-wimey” potential that had to that point manifested in a less elaborate fashion, and I’d argue that “Hush” similarly builds on the series’ past structures and storylines as opposed to inventing something entirely new. However, my second reason is more personal: much as “Blink” blew me away on first viewing and fundamentally altered my expectations on Doctor Who as a series, so too did “Hush” cause me to step back and consider Buffy differently. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the show was good before (you would have noticed), or even that I had any nagging doubts about the show’s potential. However, as a critical observer of television, “Hush” is what every great show should be capable of creating: an hour of television which on its own is an ingeniously crafted piece of dramatic narrative but which, taken as part of the series as a whole, becomes something even more substantial.
- There will be a point where Anya’s inability to understand the notion of a private conversation will cease to be funny, but so long as she uses terms like “Orgasm Friend” I think that point is a long ways off.
- Spike takes a definite backseat in this episode, but it’s interesting to see that he’s up and walking about – there’s a sense that Spike is becoming more domesticated, and while he doesn’t play a major role in the episode Marsters still gets to have some fun with Xander’s misinterpretation of his actions. Spike is a character very much known for his witticisms, so the silent aspect of things takes some of the bite out of the character, but Marsters does a nice job of selling it non-verbally (as does the entire cast really).
- The two instances of speech within the silence, coming from the television and from Prof. Walsh’s computer, were interestingly deployed. The former nicely stressed Sunnydale’s isolation (in that the outside world is unaffected), while the latter was another interesting way in which the technology gap between the two sides plays out (Giles relying on an overhead projector, Walsh with her talking software).
- Speaking of the Initiative, I’m not sure how much of the episode’s plot they piece together: it’s clear that Riley has no idea what kind of enemy he’s really facing and certainly not that they need to destroy the box (which only Buffy knew), but did the Initiative piece together the fairy tale or simply that there were people being harvested for their organs? Walsh seems to be of the capture/research mode, while the Slayer is very much the research/kill kind of operation, and I thought that was nicely captured without words in the way the episode played out.
- Anyone know how spoilery the commentary is on “Hush?” I’d love to watch it, but I don’t want Whedon to ruin something for me, and the episode features enough foreshadowing in terms of Tara and Riley/The Initiative that I figure there’s some red flags to be worried about.
- Since a few people asked, I’ll talk about the Buffy/Angel credits at some point in the future, likely when I find an episode that captures some of my (minor) misgivings about them. I haven’t been ignoring you!
- Interesting to see Whedon get nominated for writing, but not directing, the episode – it’s a deserved nomination, but so much of the episode depends on its execution that to nominate him for one task and not the other seems bizarre. However, those categories at the Emmys are peer-determined, so it’s clear that Whedon has more respect in the writing community as opposed to the directing one.
77 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Hush” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)”
I strongly recommend avoiding all commentary and special features until you are finished with both series. They were writing season 7 when they made these DVDs, I think.
I made the mistake of watching some special features when I first saw the series and ended up getting spoiled for one of the most significant events in the series.
Agreed. No special features of any kind. They are generally awesome, but usually extremely spoilery.
Brilliant analysis of the episode – I’ve read so many that I feared yours would bore me, but as usual you have a fresh and interesting take on things.
As for the commentary, personally I wouldn’t want to watch it until I’d seen all of the Buffy episodes first, just because it’s not the same experience if you have *inside* knowledge, even if it ISN’T spoilery. This is coming from someone who hasn’t heard any of the commentaries for any Buffy episodes at all yet, but just an opinion.
Slightly off-topic: When trying to introduce my mother to the world of BTVS, I started with this episode, but it didn’t end well. I ended up showing her School Hard instead – but she just couldn’t get past the name. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Either way, my question is: What episode do you think would be best to introduce someone to the show with, to get them hooked?
I’d start with ‘Restless.’ It’s kinda the Rosetta Stone episode for the show. Plus, it’s got the funny, the sexy, the scary, and everything else but the kitchen sink all in one place.
I’d be very careful about showing someone new to the show “Restless” first. Not everyone ‘gets’ that episode even when they watch it in order, let alone out of context, despite how brilliant it is.
If you only have one episode to show someone, “Hush” is usually your best bet. But if you have more episodes I’d start at “School Hard” and hand-pick the important early S2 episodes until you get to “Surprise.”
The most important thing to consider when trying to get someone new into the show is to consider the personality of who you’re showing it to. Let that determine which episode you feel will resonate with them the most. For my mom 5×16 did the trick perfectly because it personally connected to her, but that certainly won’t be the case for most people.
mike, what’s happened to critically-touched?
In what regard, Jason?
I’m growing impatient for new Angel reviews! I’m aware that you don’t write them yourself, but I’m hoping you can give me a clue. I also look forward to your season 7 overall review! 🙂
As you pointed out, I don’t write the Angel reviews. Unfortunately this means that I honestly don’t know if/when they will continue. That would be a question you’d have to ask Ryan.
As for my comprehensive Buffy Season 7 Review, I’ve made a lot of recent progress on it. It won’t be too much longer now. For more granular status updates keep your eye peeled on my Twitter page (http://twitter.com/CriticallyTouch). 🙂
I started with “Hush” with my mom and she liked it but wasn’t overwhelmed. I’ve since started from the beginning (skipping only IRYJ) and we’ve watched through “The Initiative” now – she loves it. I also used this tactic with a friend and, while the progress is slow, we’re partway through Season 3. You just have to trust that they can get it from the early episodes, I think, and then just force them to, haha. I definitely wouldn’t start with “Restless” unless your friend/family member likes that sort of thing. My sister and bro-in-law just finished watching all of Buffy (and Angel) on my recommendation and she didn’t get that one…even after watching all the episodes. Just my experience, though.
I started with my dad at the beginning (we skipped The Pack because he HATED The Witch, and maybe Teacher’s Pet too, I can’t remember anymore) and while it worked with him, it was only because he had seen Firefly and knew how good that series was–he kept asking me when Joss became a good writer during the early eps.
I think picking the right episode to start with depends on the person you’re introducing–if we weren’t sticklers for starting at the beginning and not skipping around with a new series, I’d have started dad out with School Hard (he loves Spike’s humor and attitude) but to interest my mom (which I have yet to do–she has the same name hangup yours does) I’d start her with Angel or Prophecy Girl.
I’ve suggested “Lie to Me” and it seems to work well. It’s not pushing the edge like “Hush” (or some others), and it has a nice blend of character, plot, humor, romance, terror, and everything else that mixes so well in Buffy. I love the transition from “Don’t lie to me” to “Lie to me”.
I think Hush is perhaps the best episode to show newcomers simply because it is a great standalone episode, but also a great example of the show as a whole. So many great episodes work mostly for those in the know about the characters and plot, but Hush really is a moment of great TV as well as a great moment of Buffy. The Body, btw, to me is mostly about great TV, whereas Once More with Feeling is mostly great Buffy.
Nicole, my appetite has been vetted by this project: since you say you read so many analyses, do you have a particularly good site for someone wanting more of the stuff I get here?
I’m not Nicole (last I checked), but I’ll recommend Keith Topping’s books for both Buffy and Angel. They are bedside references when I rewatch.
Is Topping the guy that disparages Seasons 5 and 6? I think I couldn’t get past all the snarky comments.
No, Topping loves the snark in the shows, but doesn’t go there so much, himself. He’s fine with seasons 5 and 6.
Hm. Well when I was watching Buffy and Angel I browsed Wikipedia as well as City of Angel’s online reviews. The Watcher’s Guides (1&2) are interesting if you want to know more about the background of the show and what went into making it happen, but they don’t have very much actual analysis of episodes, just summaries. I also enjoyed Why Buffy Matters by Rhonda Wilcox, and I haven’t read the Smart Pop books of the essay collections on Buffy, Angel or Firefly yet, but I’m dying to.
Oh, and EW.com often has some interesting Buffy/Angel related stuff, though nothing very extensive.
I might as well use this opportunity to pimp my own site, lol. I’ve reviewed the entire series (click on my name to go there). Note that my reviews drastically improved as I went through the series, so my S4-S7 reviews are quite a lot better than the earlier ones. I do plan on touching up the earlier ones at some point though. 🙂
I got shelves filled to the brim of hard copy printout of articles from the Online International Institute of Buffy Studies – loads of great essays there, more than half of which I actually agree with.
in terms of books, I give high marks to: Slayer Slang (Adams), Sex And The Slayer (Jowett), Fighting The Forces (Wilcox, Lavery), Reading The Vampire Slayer (Kaveney), Seven Seasons Of Buffy (Yeffeth), Five Seasons Of Angel (Yeffeth), Buffy And Philosophy (South), Why Buffy Matters (Wilcox) and Buffy Gies Datk: Essays On The Final Two Seasons (Edwards, Rambo, South)
Love mikejer’s reviews. He’s incredibly detailed and there are some good comments by readers as well.
Greg, excellent list, with several items I was about to post. I’ll vouch for every one of your references, with the exception of the last one, which I haven’t read.
Thanks for the tips so far!
I’ve read the Smart Pop essay collections and I enjoyed them. They influenced my thinking on one or two points. Some of the articles are frivolous, some are thoughtful.
There was one on Slayage that used Jungian dream interpretation on Restless. That one was awesome.
I was an avid fan of Sanguine’s Buffy reviews while the show was on. They are archived at http://www.sidhe.org/~amanda/sanguine/ (Buffy) or at the BAPS archive (Buffy and Angel) at http://offline.buffy.cd/outlink_en.php?module=/webserver/offline/bloodyawfulpoet.com/
Only just commenting as it took me ages to find these sites again but here are some sites I remember really liking back in the day with their reviews (the site designs leave a little to be desired but don’t let that deter you – most were written around the time of the series as well).
Jenoff’s reviews on both Buffy (S3-7) and Angel (S1-5): http://www3.sympatico.ca/jenoff/tvrev.htm
Sanguine’s reviews of Buffy S5-S7: http://www.sidhe.org/~amanda/sanguine/
Tchaikovsky’s reviews of Angel S1-5: http://members.fortunecity.com/tchaikovsky/odyssey1.html
I’ll third mikejer’s rec (for his own site ;)), it’s very interesting and insightful.
For more essay-based, academic stuff there is:
Junior Watcher: http://www.watcherjunior.tv
All Things Philosophical in BTVS: http://www.atpobtvs.com
Slain by Buffy: http://www.daydreamnation.co.uk/buffy/writing.html
And via the waybackmachine as I can’t find these elsewhere at the moment:
Essays by Shadowcat: http://web.archive.org/web/20091022080843/http://geocities.com/shadowkatbtvs/index.html
That should keep you going for a bit 😉
this may be more in depth than you’re looking for, but there are two online academic journals about Buffy and Angel-Slayage tends to do essays from graduate and post-graduate peeps, and Watcher Jr does undergrad essays. After reading Slayage so long I find myself annoyed with both the writing style of and arguments made by many of the watcher jr writers, but if you’re not used to reading academic essays (god I’m a nerd, I do it for fun) its a decent place to start.
Twice I was home and Buffy was coming on and I was going to have my mom watch. Each time (this always happens to me) it was the same episode, What’s My Line (Pt 1 or 2, I can’t remember) and I had to not show it to her as she’s extremely freaked by bugs. My dad was in the room once when I turned on either Buffy or Angel. Within 30 seconds he said something like, “What the hell is this crap? Change the channel.” He just can’t get into things that aren’t reality bound. I actually got him to watch the whole movie “Serenity” but he had major issues due to the whole in space and stuff thing for the same reasons. So, as someone else mentioned, also keep in mind the person you want to show it to. If you think the person will likely like it and want to watch the whole thing , Welcome to the Hellmouth is good because it really is the intro to the show.
Like everyone else said, it depends on the person. I’m more than a bit obsessed with musicals, so my friends started my with Once More With Feeling.
I’ll see if I can watch the commentary again tonight and let you know. I don’t remember major spoilers, but then, I wouldn’t. He talks a lot about the music, the rehearsals, the Gentlemen… it’s fun.
Nicole — I got my mother to watch Hush and then OMWF, immediately after each other. She said it was the best two hours of television she’d ever seen. But she still didn’t have any interest in watching the rest of it — she just isn’t that interested in shows that deal with teenagers’ life issues.
Myles, I’m glad the episode can still blow you away. My favorite moment is Buffy’s “staking” moment, during the exposition, before she, er, clarifies with an actual stake.
“Hush” is always the episode I’ve had the most success with in getting new people into the show. It works quite well at conveying many of the best qualities of the show to the uninitiated, yet the very best quality (i.e. how the weight of the remembered back-story is used to evolve the characters) is still somewhat lost on them, which is kind of unavoidable. Yet the very insularity of the episode that makes it so accessible to outsiders is also why it’s not, say, a Top 10 episode for me. While certainly not overrated in its singular greatness, I do feel it’s a tad bit overrated in relation other Buffy episodes.
Although “Hush” does a great job at moving the character arcs forward, there are many other episodes that do it with far more emotion and intimacy. For me, those are the ones that I remember at the end of the day. Because of this, of episodes you’ve seen, I’d argue that “Passion,” “Becoming,” and possibly even “Innocence” are all stronger episodes within the context of the series.
But, yes, “Hush” is still great nonetheless and you certainly had the right take on it. Thanks for the nice analysis. 🙂
As always, Myles, wonderful analysis. I do wish that you’d been completely unspoiled for Hush, but at least it wasn’t us who done it this time!
Hush is truly an exceptional piece of television. I understand that it’s used for graduate-level seminars in script-writing. Joss has said (somewhere) that Hush originated as a reaction against the show’s reputation for sharp and witty dialog. I love it when Joss pushes himself beyond what he knows he can do, and I love that he continues to do that in every series he does. Hush is the first instance of this, but it’s not the last, or even the best, even within the Buffy series. (As an anti-spoiler, I’d strongly suggest that we don’t even name episodes names or numbers.)
I’d suggest waiting on commentaries until after you’ve seen the whole series. They tend not to be too spoilery, but they do carry more meaning if you already know where the series will go.
“My favorite moment is Buffy’s “staking” moment, during the exposition, before she, er, clarifies with an actual stake.”
The legend goes that so many fans told Joss that they loved his witty dialogue on Buffy, and he responded with an episode with (mostly) none.
Seems more like something someone would post on the IMDb message board as fact.
Whedon himself actually says something like this in the episode commentary, IIRC–that he was getting so many props for great dialogue he decided to write an episode without any.
He can be puckish that way.
Oh, how I wish someone had given him props for Willow’s costume design. 🙂
Myles, I haven’t listened to Hush commentary for a while, but I think you’d be safe listening after season 4. Joss is one of the better people at not being too spoilery, but he might hint at where season 4 was going to go. I highly doubt he touched on anything past that until his commentary on the last episode, which hints at some season 5 stuff.
Great review for one of my favorite (what I call auteur) episodes of Buffy. Thanks again for the insight.
I think the origin of the dialogue rumor was actually one of the writers on a special feature clip about the episode. Whether that speaks to its validity or not I suppose depends on the context, which I can’t remember. It’s a good story though.
Or what Susan said. 🙂
“Hush” is the episode that made me a Buffy fan. I saw the movie, didn’t like it. Scoffed at the notion of the show, even when my friends were recommending it. I tested it out sometime in the third season – from what I remember it must have been “Enemies” – but I didn’t get what was going on and I didn’t like Faith. Then, seeing the previews for “Hush” got me curious and I tried Buffy again. I was hooked and watched every episode from then on out. It’s just an amazing episode all around. Glad you feel the same.
I also want to add that Christophe Beck is incredible! I can listen to the Buffy Score album over and over. I LOVE his music in the 2nd and 3rd seasons – just beautiful. And the music for “The Gift”? Amazing!
Oh I LOVE his music for The Gift. The music in Buffy, and the score itself is so tied to the events for me that just listening to them is enough to bring back memories of certain scenes. Christophe Beck is simply amazing.
I’m surprised you said what you did about the music Myles. Not to go all fan boy on you but the music in Buffy (And, indeed, all of Joss’ shows) has been highly praised for its intricate connection with the narrative. Music plays a substantially important role in both series’ – Seen through the Bronze and a certain other recurring place in a certain other show with certain musical significance – and also seen through the fact that Joss made an actual full on musical for the show. Point being, that although Hush may represent Buffy’s emphasis on music at its extreme the show has emphasised music from day one. Think of the continual occurence and intricate maturation of the Buffy/Angel love theme “Close your Eyes” or the subtley beautiful Willow/Oz theme. Maybe you’ll notice these connections more on a second watch through (Which I naturally assume will occur some day – I do not know a single Buffy fan who felt content with just one watch through) but as a whole Music plays a damn big role in the series – More than any other show up to this point in time.
I think you’ll notice this more as the show goes on. Restless, The Gift, Chosen – They all have themes that will (Hopefully) blow your mind. Also, there’s a piece of music in the episode “This Year’s Girl” and at the start of “Where the Wild Things are” which is definitely one of my favourite pieces from the series and which is annoyingly not on any of the albums. I very much hope you point this particular theme out (by your own accord) when the time comes.
On other news, I’m very glad you were blown away by Hush. It is certainly one of the more narratively original episodes Joss came up with and is both very funny and very scary (And of course says so much about these characters and introduced us to the wonder that is Tara Maclay). However, this is not the show’s peakiest peak as you will witness with continued Buffy watchage. My personal favourite episode – “Restless”. I sooooooooooooooo cannot wait till you get to that one Myles!!!
Oh and “Remembering Jenny” from Passion. That song gets me every time. And pretty much every piece from “Becoming” (Which earned Christophe Beck an Emmy for best music – Or whatever its official name is).
As I note, it’s not that the music hasn’t been good – I’ve been engaged by the stories, and the music is a key part of those scenes. However, whether due to the speed of the viewing or the broader focus of the project, it just hasn’t been something that has stood out – the show doesn’t tend to do montages which rely entirely on music, which means that writing/performance sort of end up being the most prominent elements of the scene even if the music is strong.
However, I would tend to agree that it would likely end up being more prominent on a rewatch (although I don’t quite know when I’ll have time to get to the show again soon enough that I could revise my opinion).
Myles, don’t worry too much about missing out on the meaning of the music (both score and soundtrack). One can’t catch everything on a first viewing! I mean, I just barely skimmed past the surface of the show on my first viewing!
With that said, I will second Morda’s comments on how rich the show utilizes music. It rarely draws attention to itself (as you pointed out Myles) and you have to go purposefully looking for it to see the new layer of meaning, but it truly is there and very well thought-out. Even after watching the entire series many, many times I’m *still* learning new things about how the show uses music.
Another roadblock to understanding a lot of the music (soundtrack-wise at least) is how foreshadow-y lyrics often end up being of where a character is headed by emphasizing certain qualities of what’s being shown in the present. Obviously this is impossible to really grasp the first time through.
Anyway, there’s a lot there to discover that’s bubbling beneath the surface to enjoy and explore down the road. 🙂
There’s a future episode where the lack of music makes it very powerful. I think once Myles sees that one, it’ll be easier to understand how important the music is to the themes of the show.
The music and score suit the show so well, it’s easy to miss how vital it is, because, while it calls attention to itself, it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the elements of the show. It does so much, like when Myles noticed that Buffy and Riley were getting their own little romantic theme.
I’m very much a fan of all this music-talk (finally, I’ve been asking about opinions on it in a number of my comments now hah!)
I really love the music in Buffy, and there’s never too much rehashing of the same score, sometimes in the action scenes they re-use atmospherically punchy scores, but a lot of it feels very individual and memorable for a particular scene (or for a couple of scenes) or evokes a specific moment, so that when you listen back with the albums you can really visualise the series just from the piece of music playing.
I actually think some the best music is in Season 4 too, though obvs the Season 5 finale music is a beaut (as is the season 2 finale music and some of the stuff in “The Prom” and “Graduation Day”), but a lot of Beck’s work in Season 4 feels the most inventive, innovative and unique, in a really experimental way (‘and the award for Most Descriptive Words Used In A Sentence Goes To…’).
The “Restless” score in particular is mind-blowingly trippy and effective, and the Willow/Oz theme used in “Wild at Heart” and again in a future ep (Myles knows he returns so this isn’t a spoiler) is very moving, the Buffy/Riley theme is sweet, all the comedy stuff within eps like Living Conditions, Something Blue and A New Man is punctuated perfection, and I really dig all the dreamy magical music used for upcoming Willow & Tara scenes (plus that bit used in “This Year’s Girl” and “WTWTA” as Morda mentioned is exquisite).
I’m glad all the music work is getting addressed and a bit more recognition in this blog now, and I actually really like the argument that the scenes are so engaging and poignance-filled that sometimes the music just fits so well and it’s the least of what a first time viewer is paying attention to – that it just embellishes the story at the moment – as Myles said, this is definitely more of a compliment than a detriment to the show.
there are some character specific-ish themes, also (when Buff and Riley kiss in Hush, for example, its the first instance of the Buffy/Riley love theme)
Myles, out of curiosity, and since we’re about halfway through Buffy, how do you evaluate the series as a whole thus far?
I note you often make reference to what a “great show” is or does (as for instance in this write-up); is Buffy a “great show” in your view, through Hush?
I was convinced after watching Becoming pt. II that Buffy was the greatest series of television I’d ever seen, and later seasons only re-enforced my judgment. But then, that was some time ago–your generational perspective is slightly different than my own. Most television prior to BtVS didn’t even attempt the kind of television Buffy excelled at, but now the landscape is completely different, and series are held to a different standard. (For instance, the leitmotif music you note in modern TV was nigh-unheard of prior to Buffy; Close Your Eyes was the first time it struck me, and its use in, say, The Zeppo remains absolutely brilliant to me… but perhaps it’s no big deal to someone who has grown up with generally better television.)
So yeah: where does Buffy rank, per television, so far?
I’m pleased and relieved that you are so impressed by Hush, Myles. I consider it superlative TV and it’s definitely in my top 5 episodes of the entire show. The obvious theme – that talking impedes communication – is dealt with on so many levels throughout the episode; ironically the inability to scream is more important to many characters than the inability to talk. And the final shot – Buffy and Riley sit down for their talk and neither knows what to say is a beautiful comment on what has gone before.
I second (Fifth?) those who say that the commentaries can be spoilerish – they tend to be devised for the benefit of those who have watched the entire season at least and I think there are at the very least some relationship spoilers. One nice little detail I recall, though, is that Spike’s two-fingered gesture was allowed through because the network did not really grasp its equivalence to the US single digit salute. They managed to be ruder in British English than in American English quite a few times in the series, but here they actually manage it with sign language!
The introduction of Tara is very well done, and the way she is able to enhance Willow’s magic and help her focus is significant if you think of the impact of her most recent big spell.
Janet K. Halfyard literally wrote the book (or co-edited a collection, anyway, and wrote a few essays) on music in Buffy and Angel. A sample. She also gave a fantastic paper on the significance of Beck’s “love themes” in Buffy at the recent Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses.
Funny, all this talk about what episodes to use as an introduction to the show for new viewers. And especially Myles’ mention of the Doctor Who episode “Blink”
I was talking about this very thing a couple of weeks ago.
I told my brother that “Blink” is probably my favourite episode of that show and that it’s the one I’d show people to get them into Doctor Who.
My brother responded with: “yeah, kinda like that silent episode of Buffy!”
Interesting that both get mentioned here for the same reasons.
*I have a mug with Giles’ transparency sketches….lol
*Blink is awesome.
*Hush was the first episode I watched, by accident one day in reruns.
*And of course, outstanding review.
i’ve never been able to get into Doctor Who, is Blink a Tennant episode? which series? i will give it another go.
i’m one if those odd Sci-Fi lovers, i don’t own or much like Star Wars or any Star Trek either.
Interesting take on the difference between Buffy and the Initiatives take on the demon world, i don’t think research is the right word to describe the Initiatives interest, more on that later…
Yeah Blink is Tennant.
I am/was a huge SF Lit fan, especially of the Golden Age, and yet never liked much of Who as it played too fast and loose (imo) with its storytelling. Blink sucked me into New Who (Russell T. Davies era with Eccleston as the 9th Doctor and tennant as the 10th.) I loved Eccleston and adored most of the Tennent seasons. Not too sure how I’m feeling about Matt Smith’s 11th.
I know that I hold the unpopular belief that “Hush” while a good episode, is over rated. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me on this episode. My main issues simply come form the fact that I didn’t find the Gentlemen to be particularly scary, no scarier than any other demon on the show to me at least. Also I hated the hype about he lack of dialog and the silent movie aspect and then using the cheap get out of exposition free card of having a bunch of important exposition done via the radio. As Myles mentioned, the radio/TV gag had been used once before, but that was as much to remind the viewers that Sunnydale was not a place where it was going to snow. It does snow even in LA County, so something specifically pointing out the oddness of the snow just reinforced the point that the Powers That Be created the snow to save Angel. In “Hush” the radio instead serves the purpose of dealing with exposition and I found that annoying with all the no talking hype. It is a good episode, but not in my top ten. Most people seemed to find the Gentlemen to be especially creepy and had no problem with the radio thing and without those issues alone, the episode is going to rank much higher to any viewer.
At the time a lot of fans were pissed off that Joss didn’t win the writing Emmy. Joss would have loved to have won it, but he absolutely loved the show The West Wing* which had at least two of the other writing slots for its first season and won that category. He posted repeatedly that he was happy that they won and felt they deserved it, but many fans would stop cursing the academy.
*JD Peralta at the time was Marti Noxon’s assistant, but she had a second job that year. She was the Buffy West Wing connection. Every Thursday she would come in with her tape of the previous night’s TWW and get dubs made and pass them around so that all the writers and staff could watch. 1999, the age before TIVO/DVRs. Between her and a friend of mine, they got me into that show. I’ll have more to say about her after you review ep 6.10 whose credits end with her In Loving Memory card. Not a show spoiler, just a life one.
Oy, with the typos already. Fans would NOT stop bashing the Emmy people is the one typo that changes the meaning.
May I ask – Who are you? How do you have all this inside knowledge of the Buffy and Angel productions? I mean, I find the stuff really interesting but I’m still a bit confused.
I used to work as the writer’s production assistant for S1&S2 of Angel.
Unfortunately, I am currently without the internet at home so I won’t be on here again for a long time from now.
[i]I didn’t find the Gentlemen to be particularly scary, no scarier than any other demon on the show to me at least[/i]
Wow, the Gentlemen still creep me out after numerous watchings. _Hush_ is one of the few Buffy episodes that I find frightening.
Most people seemed to find the Gentlemen to be especially creepy and had no problem with the radio thing and without those issues alone, the episode is going to rank much higher to any viewer.
I don’t find usually anything on TV to be creepy or scary. In fact, usually the more some show tries to be scary, the more I dislike. That said, I still loved this episode. I didn’t find the Gentlemen creepy, but they were interesting for a single episode monster.
As for the radio/TV thing: They didn’t really reveal anything important on that news broadcast that we already knew. The only new piece of information was really the fact that city officials were calling it laryngitis. I thought it was very natural that they heard the official explanation from TV. All the other expositions in the episode was done in the overhead projector scene. Did you completely forget about that scene? Nearly all the expositions in the episode was in that scene. So I don’t really get your problem.
My issue was that so much was made out of there being no dialog for so much of the episode. Since, as you said, little was said on the radio of import, they might as well left that out to avoid any exposition being to via a voice. I didn’t forget the classroom scene as my complain about the radio was simply about a voice speaking. Though if I remember right, the radio was before the classroom and done for clarification for any easily confused viewers – aka no one I know or anyone on here.
“This isn’t a throwaway episode that could go either way…“Hush” is caught up in ongoing and newly emerging stories to the point where its failure would have been a major setback for the season…their experience during the silence becomes intricately tied into their connections, Tara and Willow…Buffy and Riley…”
I am surprised (though not really) that none of the other commentors make mention of the fact that Giles’ story as it emerges and unfolds over the rest of the series (not just season) is singularly rooted in the affect The Gentlemen and their silence have on the connection between him and Olivia. And I am a little dissapointed in you, Myles, that you did not include Giles/Olivia in your Tara/Willow, Buffy/Riley musings as quoted above.
I would ask why, but I am not sure that I want to know the answer.
And if the answer is as simple as you just didn’t take notice, well, that too is significant in and of itself as you shall soon find out!
Oh, and my introductory episode of Doctor Who was actually Torchwood’s ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ which made watch the whole second series of that which introduced me to Martha Jones who made me want to watch ‘Smith and Jones’ followed by almost all of Freema’s other episodes. I haven’t watched all of them, and I have barely seen any episodes that feature other companions because I am definitely more of a Torchwood kind of girl.
Frankly, Olivia remains such a non-character at this point that if this results in new character development I have no real sense of where it’s headed – I’ll talk a bit more about Giles when we get to “A New Man,” but the fact is that right now Giles’ new story arc is aggressively nascent, and I have a much more substantial sense of where the other arcs are headed and so can more accurately suggest the foreshadowing/development taking place.
I don’t think I agree with any of that.
I also don’t really agree with what tjbw said. Olivia being scared off by the Gentleman is certainly important to note (which will become more apparent by season’s end), but it’s in no way the only factor driving/influencing Giles going forward.
Giles does indeed have a very clear arc this season. Sure it’s not in the foreground as much as the other characters, but it has a lot of interesting things to say about him. For my money, I think a particular conversation in “A New Man” and a particular dream later in the season say a whole lot more about Giles and what’s to come out of him than his specific interaction with Olivia.
I’ve re-watched the commentary, and the only spoilery thing that happens is some revelations about Willow and Tara, it’s mostly Joss talking about why and how they did things, should be totally safe – not one of the best commentaries ever, but hardly something to avoid.
Agreed. The only actual spoiler I heard was right at the beginning, when he says, “Oh, and that extra right there went on to play such-a-role!” But I don’t think it’ll ruin anything.
And yeah — how come this commentary didn’t seem to be particularly good? Maybe it’s just because I’ve watched/thought about this episode too much.
And I forgot that one almost instantly, perhaps partially because I did a whole-hog Buffy followed by a whole-hog Angel (Firefly was my intro to Joss) and didn’t even see the extra in question even in a re-watch.
I kind of think that Joss is a little bit blinded by his brilliance to have anything to say about this episode which is why he’s kind of boring in this commentary. I mean, it’s fine, but I’ve never really cared about how the Gentlemen levitated.
Yeah, I couldn’t see that particular extra either. Though I’m intensely curious about why that person was on set that day.
I love Joss, but he definitely* has that Type-A, auteur, insanely driven personality. “You think it’s all about my dialogue? Well I’ll show you!” Let’s just say that I want him to keep making TV and movies for as long as possible and I think I’d kill him if I had to live with him.
Firefly was my intro too 🙂 And then Buffy Season 7…. that is a seriously confusing way to do things.
*I suddenly realized that “definitely” is far too strong of a word when I’m basing all of this on public appearances. Nevertheless, the way he insists on knowing the season/ep numbers… and saying them every time an ep comes up….
Mimi’s right, in addition to a very minor spoiler about an actor who will appear on Angel the only things I recall are some knowledge about where Willow and Tara are headed along with a few brief references to episodes later in the season. It’s a pretty safe commentary, although if you want to stay as unspoiled as possible you’ll still want to wait until the end of the season.
As for the commentary’s quality, I’ll say that I think it’s decent. At times he focuses a lot more on the directorial aspect of making the episode more than the writing, but he does invest time talking about it thematically and where some of the inspiration came from. It’s not one of his best commentaries but it’s far from his worst.
Does anyone have a favourite commentary? I’ve not listened to all of them, but I have listened to all of Joss’. Firefly’s ‘Objects in Space’ is just mind-blowing and my favourite. Buffy 4.22, 5.16 & 6.07 are all worth listening to (after watching the whole series). Angel 3.13 is good and 4.06 is hilarious. Buffy 7.01 is a real let-down. Funniest non-Joss commentary that I’ve listened to has to be 7.18
Ooh good discussion point. Objects in Space wins, hands-down, no question. I don’t disagree with any of your picks, either.
I’ll just point out that Angel 5.17 is one of the best commentaries I’ve ever listened to, and it’s entirely because the guest star for that ep keeps the conversation moving along and asks insightful questions. You could teach a class on how to do a great commentary based on that one alone. My respect for the guest star went way up.
Heh, funny that you should compare to Doctor Who as I see new Who as very heavily, uh, ‘influenced’ (putting it kindly) by Buffy. RTD was a big fan and highly influenced by the series, I think you’ll probably recognise that several times as you watch further.
As someone mentioned in one of the comments, it must be hard for you to come at the series now and get the full impact as quite a lot of the things that Buffy did are normal in TV now. Not that it’s not still immensely enjoyable, emotional and engrossing (and my favourite TV show of all time) but it’s been cribbed off so much it doesn’t feel quite as fresh anymore as it once did.
As for Hush! I do love this episode, I feel I take it for granted a bit (it doesn’t feature in my top 5 episodes), but it is so cinematic and epic feeling it’s just a joy to watch.
Not much to add about the music; I’m aware of the score and like it but am seldom cosncious of what it’s trying to say. And I don’t bother with the commentaries because of my hearing problem.
I have to agree with Myles re Olivia; she hasn’t been developed enough for me at least to feel as involved as I should be in the misgivings she shows at the end, especially considering how good a character she basically is. Wheew, sorry, that’s hard to follow. I know some of my cyberfriends are quite fond of her.
And yay that there’s something I no longer have to talk around, since my Quirky Quartet* of Personal “Phavorites” is now complete with the arrival of La Numera Una! One thing I only noticed after repeated watchings; in the scene with the Wicca Group, only the real witches (Willow and Tara) have “real hair,” with strands out of place. The Wannablessedbees are all absolutely perfectly coiffed, like their hair was done right on set in those chairs. The little distinctions that occur in these shows!
(* Tara, Harmony, Jonathan, and Anya in that order, and Amber, Mercedes, Emma, and Danny are my favorite performers in that order.)
Something I love about the show’s ability to play with itself … um…
Something I love about the show’s playfulness showed up in “The Zeppo”. Every time I watch the show, it’s hard not to notice the shmaltzy nature of Buffy and Angel’s love score. And it’s rocking the melodrama hard aaaand Xander interrupts. And there’s a moment of light comedy, and then he leaves and the melodrama immediately jumps back in as the score goes right back where it was.