From his early days as a script doctor to his writing and directing of “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Joss Whedon was known for witty dialogue. But in 1999, during the fourth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he went out of his way to show he could do something more — with extraordinary success.
“Joss resolved to write a ‘Buffy’ episode that would require him to up his directorial game,” writes Amy Pascale in Joss Whedon: The Biography, which comes out on August 1. “His script for ‘Hush’ would forgo the snappy and innovative dialogue for which he and the show had always been heralded.”
Instead, the now-legendary 44-minute episode would be mostly silent.
“Hush” started out like any other “Buffy” episode with the vampire-slaying gang squabbling over college life, dating, and being unable to express their feelings for one another despite talking ceaselessly.
That all changed when some of the pop-horror series’ most frightening bad guys, the Gentleman, showed up ad stole the voices of residents of Sunnydale, California, with plans to carve out their hearts, too.
“I wanted something scary and kind of dream like,” Whedon said in a behind the scenes featurette on the episode. “The idea that something like that is floating at me and I can’t scream is a creepy child story dream.”
The silent ghouls were unforgettably portrayed by professional mines. In particularly creepy moments, they glided across the screen while pulled by hidden wires.
For most of the episode, Buffy and friends do their best to protect the town without being able to speak.
“For Joss, this was one of the scariest things he could write,” Pascale writes. “To strip away a form of communication we often misuse and take for granted and explore how easy it is to slip into isolation without it.”
Despite their difficulties, the gang find it in some ways easier to communicate than they could when they were speaking without listening at the beginning of the episode. Notably, Buffy and romantic interest Riley find the wherewithal to share their first kiss.
The episode’s lack of verbal communication doesn’t stop Whedon’s wit from shining through.
“What isn’t obvious from the shivery recollection by fans, critics, and colleagues is just how very funny the episode is,” writes Pascal. “Each character has a particularly amusing reaction to the realisation that they have lost their voices.”
Not to mention, the many funny misunderstandings that take place throughout the episode.
Though “Hush” didn’t have much dialogue, it was far from silent. The episode includes one of the series’ most sinister soundtracks. Whedon and composer Christopher Beck used the episode’s score (which can be heard below) to pay homage to the music of silent films and add another layer of dread.
“Hush” was loved by both fans and critics when it first aired.
“In addition to being one of the scariest episodes of TV ever produced, ‘Hush’ showcases everything that makes ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ one of the best shows of all time,” wrote Screen Crush‘s Jacob Hall, who ranked it in the top ten episodes of the series.
The episode also garnered the series’ only Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series — a fact that speaks volumes to Whedon’s brilliance considering that the forty-four-minute episode only had seventeen minutes of actual dialogue.