Saturday, July 7, 2012

Buffy Blog: "Hush"

The Chorus: The Joss Whedon penned and directed “Hush” is, in my opinion, one of the finest episodes of Buffy, one of the finest 44 or so minutes of American television, and one of the finest near hours of television in general.

Whedon penned and directed episodes of Buffy often, as we will increasingly see dear unreaders, stretch and push at the boundaries of contemporary American television and television in general. “Hush”, by being partly silent, does this in spades.

Fairy Tales: “Hush” is one of the several fairy tale episodes that have threaded their way through Buffy season two and season three before it including “Killed by Death” and “Gingerbread”. “Hush” begins with a prophetic fairy tale rhyme that Buffy hears in a dream while she is sleeping during Psychology class, a dream in which she also kisses Riley by the way, a prophetic dream about how someone or something called the Gentlemen are coming to Sunnydale to take seven. Take seven what? “Hush” ends with a fairy princess scream, a scream that literally blows the heads off of the Gentlemen.

“They Need to Take Seven and They Might Take Yours”. The Gentlemen, “Hush’s” monsters of the week, are Buffy’s updated take on the scary fairy tale monsters of dark dreams. They are, as Whedon writes in his script to “Hush”, “Nosferatu meets Hellraiser by way of the Joker, and with the look Mr. Burns” They have, as Whedon notes in his commentary to “Hush”, “a Victorian kind of feel [to them], because that to me is very creepy and fairytale-like. The politeness, the suits, the crazies who are like the crazies in the asylum in Dracula. The metal teeth representing 'Science Defeats Cavities!' Everything is very Victorian era. To me that just bespeaks total creepiness…”

The prim and proper Gentlemen and their straight jacketed minions have come to town to take, as we soon learn, seven hearts from those who can’t even shout, can’t even cry, who can’t even be heard, and who are going to die. They can’t shout, cry, or be heard because the Gentlemen, thanks to a spell, have taken the voices of Sunnydale’s residents and placed them in a box, the same box Buffy sees the Little Girl of her dream holding in her dream.

Mise-en-scene: Given that 27 minutes of “Hush” are largely absent of dialogue save that coming from the television in the beyond Sunnydale world at one point, something, of course, very atypical for contemporary television and film to say the least, “Hush” relies extensively on its mise-en-scene, on its sounds, body movements, and music to get its thematic and narrative points across.

“Hush’s” mise-en-scene, after the Gentlemen steal the voices of Sunnydale’s residents once, as Buffy’s dream prophecies, the sun has gone down, creates a sense of eeriness and tension out of the normal and routine. “Hush” takes the sound of breathing, the sound of non-verbal crying, and the moaning that comes out of the mouth’s of UC, Sunnydale students who can no longer talk, the sound of doors opening and closing, the sound of feet waking or running on floors or pavement, the image of the Gentlemen floating on air led by their earthbound and straight jacketed minions swinging their arms madly, the image of Giles pulling a book with the title Fairy Tales from his shelves, the images of pieces of paper, message boards (message boards which are in good skank capitalist fashion now selling for $10 bucks a shot), artificial voice computer screens used by the uber technological Initiative, and signs used to talk or display messages on, like that of Revelation 15:1—“And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God” (there's that number seven again)—which Buffy and Willow see as they make their way on foot to Giles’s, and turns them into something deeply foreboding and genuinely frightening.

The scene in which Giles’s uses transparencies in a college lecture hall to tell the assembled Scoobies, to the strains of very appropriate "Danse macabre" of Camille Saint-Saëns (a shout out, perhaps, to David Renwick’s wonderful BBC television show Jonathan Creek which used "Danse macabre" in its title sequence and in the pilot of which Anthony Stewart Head, Giles, played a major role), who the Gentlemen are and what the Scoobies must do to kill them, in particular, is a mise-en-scene tour de force. Whedon takes the normal college lecture and turns it into a sometimes eerie, sometimes scary, and sometimes hilarious in class “movie” during which Anya eats popcorn and appears to be enjoying the show, during which Willow performs a dying scene that would rival any in silent film history, during which Xander, with a look of wonder on his face, writes a message to Giles asking him how they kill the Gentlemen, and during which Buffy, when Giles’s raises the issue of how to kill the Gentlemen, enacts, what has by now become a Slayer ritual, a staking, but which the other Scoobies hilariously take as a masturbatory gesture—the two do bear a striking similarity of motion to one another—and moves her hands from her neck to her thighs all with a look of bewilderment on her face in order to ask Giles’s why he has made his Slayer so very fulsome in his transparency images. At the end of the scene Buffy wonders how, once she and the other Scoobies learn that the only way to kill the Gentlemen is by screaming, she is ever going to kill the Gentlemen since she has no voice. So do, of course, we.

The music of “Hush” does something similar. Christophe Beck’s score for “Hush”, particularly from act one on, the point at which Sunnydale’s residents lose their voices, has an appropriate fairy tale like, eerie, and, particularly when the Gentlemen are hiding their collected hearts in their clock tower hideout, a very mechanical quality to it, a mechanical quality that is very appropriate for monsters who, after all, are in part the products of an industrial Dickensian world full of scary if all too real human monsters.

“I Guess We Should Talk”. Yes you should Buffy and Riley, Spike and Giles, Giles and Olivia, Xander and Anya, and Willow and Tara. Joss Whedon speaks in his commentary on “Hush” about how the episode, despite all the scary monsters, is really, as Whedon has Professor Walsh say in the teaser, all about language and communication. Language and communication that are, as Whedon has Walsh say, very different.

Riley and Buffy, Xander and Anya, Giles and Spike talk with each other throughout act one of “Hush” but they really don’t communicate with one another. Buffy and Riley continue to have sparkage but they still, thanks in part to their need to keep “Clark Kenting” their secret superhero identities, haven’t quite kissed. yet. Xander and Anya argue about how much Xander really cares about Anya, an argument Xander says, at one point, he doesn’t want to talk about now. Spike is still living in Giles’s apartment and still drinking pigs blood out what seems to now be Spike’s novelty mug and speaks to Giles largely only to order get him to buy more Weetabix so he can mix it in with his pig’s blood. When Olivia, Giles’s orgasm friend as the always forthright Anya calls her, and who we met in “The Freshman”, arrives in Sunnydale from Britain to spend time with Giles, Spike is sent packing off to Xander’s basement so Giles can, presumably, enjoy his orgasm friend.

It is only after our Scoobies, our semi-Scooby Anya, and our Teutonic Guy Riley lose their voices, lose their ability to use language, that Buffy and Riley and Xander and Anya really begin to communicate with each other. A patrolling Buffy runs into a patrolling Clark Kented Riley and they kiss for the first time to the strains of Beck’s variations on and finally full flowering of the romantic “Riley’s Theme”. When Xander thinks that Spike, who has just drank pigs blood, has just fed off Anya, who is sleeping on a couch near where Spike is bending down to pick up some books he has knocked to the floor, Xander goes all violent on Spike. Anya, waking up and seeing Xander fight for her, but remember Spike can't fight back, realizes just how much Xander cares for him. Anya, feeling the joy of romance, signals to Xander, and the watching others, with a motion of her hand, that its sex time and off she and the Xandman go, presumably to his basement room, to once again interlock their interlocking bodes (this is the way Anya described the sex act in “The Harsh Light of Day”).

It is not only Buffy and Riley and Xander and Riley who are having coming together moments. Tara, one of the student members of Willow’s Wicca “wanna blessed be's” group on campus (we first heard of them in "Wild at Heart"), realizes that Willow, who has urged the Wicca group unsuccessfully to do something else beyond their usual bake sale schtick, such as spells, finds where Willow lives and, despite the danger from the Gentlemen, goes off in search of Willow in the hope they together can do a spell to end the fairy tale nightmare that is the Gentlemen. Tara, despite being chased by the Gentlemen and their minions, does eventually and very literally run into Willow. Willow is the only Stevenson student to come out into the hall as Tara frantically bangs on dorm doors for help as she is being chased by the Gentlemen and their minions. An injured Willow and Tara finally find tentative shelter from the Gentlemen and their minions in a dorm lounge. They try to move a soft drink machine in front of the door to give them added protection from the Gentlemen but are unable to, in part, because of Willow’s injury. Willow next tries to move the soda machine through magic. She can’t. It is only when Tara threads her fingers through those of Willow that the two are able to move the soft drink machine thanks to their collective witchy mental will. Magical. Sexual. Awesome. A foretaste of things to come?

“Hush” makes these links between Buffy and Riley, Xander and Anya, and Willow and Tara through its mise-en-scene. The episode links Buffy’s and Riley’s kiss, Buffy’s and Riley’s successful and eventually collective battle against the Gentlemen and their minions in the Gentlemen’s clock tower hideout, Anya’s finding out how much she means to Xander, and Willow’s and Tara’s collective magic act to save themselves from the Gentlemen by switching back and forth between these scenes as they are all occurring simultaneously. Fabulous.

Shapes of Things to Come? With language restored thanks to Buffy’s scream, talk begins anew once again. Tara and Willow share what the script describes as a connecting look as Tara tales Willow that she has been a witch for as long as she can remember and that she, Willow, is “special”. Giles tells Olivia that he may have been pretentious when he told her in their past about that monster stuff but that he was also right. The scene ends with Giles asking Olivia if this visit was too scary and Olivia saying “I don’t know”. Riley comes to Buffy’s dorm room telling her, that they need to talk. Riley sits on Willows bed, Buffy sits on hers, and there separately, staring at one another, they sit in isolated silence. Episode over. Secrets revealed. Loves lost and won. Question marks raised.

Binarilly Speaking: When Buffy and Riley finally realise that they are both fighting the minions of the Gentlemen Riley has the latest in military zap gun technology, which, by the way, peters out rather like a male after sex, during battle, while Buffy has her tried and trusted crossbow. The Initiative high tech, the Scoobies old school. Foreshadowing of the shapes of things to come? “Science defeats cavities”? Cavities defeat science?

Transcipt of Joss Whedon’s Commentary on Hush,

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