Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be remembered as one of the most iconic cult television series of all time. The series debuted just before the Golden Age of Television began in the turn of the 21st century, and influenced an endless number of other TV shows. Today, we never would of had the 2000s reboot of Doctor Who, Spaced, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and numerous others without the magic of the fantasy horror television series.
The series was Joss Whedon’s brainchild, with the central premise of subverting and skewering horror cliches. Mainly focusing on Buffy Summers, a teenage girl, who also happens to be a vampire slayer by night, and her various attempts to save her town, Sunnydale from monsters and the like. Joining her are her friends, Xander and Willow, Xander’s girlfriend, Anya and her mentor/ father figure, Giles. The series began in 1997, and ran for three brilliant, well-crafted and popular seasons. However, it was the fourth season’s episode, “Hush” (episode 10) that took Buffy to another level.
At this point in the story, all of the characters were dealing with more grown-up and adult challenges, detailing the characters’ journey in college and beyond. Buffy has a flirtation with a college tutor, Riley, who unknown to her, is actually a member of The Initiative, a secret government-orientated team that also protects Sunnydale from demons. Meanwhile, Willow and her boyfriend, Oz have just broken up, and Anya and Xander have started a relationship, however, Xander struggles with Anya’s blunt honesty. In this episode, some mysterious demons, called The Gentlemen, come roaming into town. They steal the voices of everyone in town (including our main characters) in order to achieve their ultimate goal – to collect 7 human hearts.
Hush was Whedon’s attempt at doing something very different with Buffy. The show, much like all of Whedon’s work, had been largely praised for it’s particular style of dialogue – called “Buffy-speak” – containing a variety of witty one-liners, pop culture references and fast-paced banter. In Hush, however, Whedon completely removed that element (at this point, probably the most iconic moment from the show) in an extremely daring and risky experiment.
At this point, Whedon most probably felt very fulfilled as a screenwriter, writing some of the best dialogue on television. However, he still wasn’t fulfilled as a director. The terrific maverick originated from a family of writers and screenwriters, and he originally started off his career as a script doctor for a variety of television projects and movies. There was a worry for him, however, in the fourth season of his television series, that he was becoming, what he called a “hack”, and not pushing himself him creatively.
And, with this new experiment, he was able to focus solely on visual storytelling. He was able to focus on directing, cinematography, sound and music. From the time that voices are stolen, the camerawork is very different, and a lot more ambitious than any other episode of the show. There is a brilliant moment where the camera goes from a wide shot to a close up in one long pan, and this is one of the many innovative camera shots from the episode.
And, then, The Gentlemen arrive. In possibly the most iconic scene from the episode, we are introduced to The Gentlemen, who levitate through town, hunting for their first victim. Again, there, the camera uses these a lot of gliding panning shots, and point of view shots that makes for really quite terrifying viewing. Also, the score by Christophe Beck is particularly scary and tense, and the prosthetic design of The Gentlemen are very grotesque.
Up until this point, Buffy hadn’t really delivered on the horror part of the series. Although, it was often called an horror series, it took more of a subversive, postmodern and often, very funny take on the genre, but up until Hush, it hadn’t been that properly scary. But this scene, felt like something from a proper, old-fashioned horror film, like something out of Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
But, what makes Hush so special is that, despite it’s experimental nature, it still feels quintessentially Buffy. The whole concept of The Gentlemen as villains are very much in keeping with the concept of Buffy, in how they are masculine figures who are trying to fighting against our female protagonist. In fact, the whole concept of these figures taking everyone’s voices without their permission almost feels like an analogy for sexual assault – The Gentlemen takes everyone’s most important weapon (their literal voice), and it heavily affects them.
Also, this experimental plot is still very important to the overall plot. Here, the idea of people’s voices taking is all an commentary on the importance on communication. Throughout the episode, Buffy and Riley are struggling to communicate properly because of they just keep talking (but with no real meaning behind it) when they are around each other. However, when talking is taken away (involuntary), they are forced to face their feelings for each other, and finally kiss. This is also shown through the supporting characters. In the episode, Xander is struggling to communicate with Anya, and tell her exactly how he feels about her. However, when all the voices are taken away, he is finally able to show her his love for her when he “saves” her from Spike, and kisses her.
At the same time, Hush is an absolutely brilliant episode of the show – it is witty, funny, experimental, strange and properly scary, but for many reasons, it is also an absolutely iconic episode of television. One of the reasons for this is it’s experimental nature. Buffy and The X Files, both airing at the same time, were famous for does something weird and against the usual norm.
In later seasons, Buffy would carry this on – producing the musical comedy, “Once More with Feeling” (Season 6, Episode 7) and the hard-hitting existential drama, “The Body” (Season 5, Episode 16), but Hush was the one that set the ball rolling. It has now become a little old hat for a TV Show to do something experimental, and against the norm – one of the most recent successful examples includes the “ronny/lily” episode of Barry – and this wouldn’t of happened if it wasn’t for Buffy’s Hush.
But also, the reason why this episode has become so iconic is because it feels properly cinematic. Before the Golden Age of Television began, “television” almost felt like a dirty word – it went to describing something that felt a little bit insubstantial or unsophisticated. But, here, with Hush, Whedon created an episode of television that was properly cinematic. It’s concept felt like something for an old silent horror movie, while it’s cinematography and camera work felt like something for a proper movie, and something for the screen.
This set the ball rolling for many TV shows to centre around having brilliant, ground-breaking cinematography and ambitious plotting. It influence is as far-reaching as the 2010s, where we wouldn’t of had TV shows like Hannibal, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo and numerous others, without it.
Overall, there are many reasons why Buffy is such an iconic show, for example, without it, we wouldn’t of had a musical trend on television, a witty and popular culture-savvy way of dialogue, an re-emphasis on vampire in horror fiction, and genre fiction channelling big, weighty themes, including feminism and death. However, Hush is properly the most iconic and legendary episode of the show, ever. Like series writer, Jane Espensen has stated about the episode – it “redefined what an episode of television could do”, and television owes a hell of a lot to this one episode.