Hush (4x10)

It was Buffy Supreme! Twenty-nine minutes without a spoken word. After all the preliminary media hype, I anticipated the best, feared the worst and got everything and more than I had hoped for.

It's been said that sometimes pictures say more than words. This was one of those times. "Hush" took the WB's New Tuesday to a new level of suspense and scariness with great visuals, riveting music, gruesomely gross sound effects and a good balance between horror and humor.

Personally, I like scary movies. When Stephen King's "Pet Cemetery" first came out I went to see it and scared myself half to death, even though I'd read the book. Last summer I saw "Urban Legend," which is by far the scariest movie I've ever seen, and I scared everyone else half to death, when the guy who sat behind me on the aisle accidentally touched my elbow with his foot during a crucial scene and I shrieked quite loudly. But I'm digressing here.

Let's see if this eerie Buffy tale can be told in the written word.

It begins harmless enough, in Professor Walshe's psych class, where Buffy is asked to come to the front and lie down on her teacher's desk (Come again?). "Riley, if you could oblige," the professor then says, and he walks over and bends to kiss Buffy. When she hesitates he says, "If I kiss you, it'll make the sun go down." (Now there's a line you don't hear every day!). Astonishingly enough, he told the truth. The sun does go down and the two of them are still in the classroom, alone. Buffy hears a distant chanting and gets off the desk to follow the sound.

In the dark, deserted hallway she happens upon a little girl in a red dress, who is holding a wooden box in her hands. The girl remains motionless, staring back at Buffy, and singing in an eerily monotonous voice,

"Can't even shout, can't even cry,
The Gentlemen are coming by.
Looking in windows,
Knocking on doors,
They need to take seven
And they might take yours.
Can't call to mom, can't say a word,
You're gonna die screaming
But you won't be heard."

Buffy stands mesmerized (while the hair on the back of my neck stood on end), until Riley appears behind her, breaking the trance when he touches her shoulder.

In a flash we, too, are brought back to TV reality, to the end of psych class to be exact, where Buffy just jerked awake from a daydream. "Just tell me I didn't snore," she says to Willow, who assures her that it was very discreet and with minimal drool factor.

Buffy is telling Willow about her vivid dream when Riley joins them. Willow leaves them alone, under the pretense of a Wicca group meeting, and positions herself strategically to spy on the would-be couple. Walking toward the dining hall, they talk vaguely about Buffy's dream, with Riley insisting that he, as a psychology major, is more privy to useful insights than Buffy herself. Flattered by his interest, Buffy admits that Riley had "a feature role" in her fantasy, but refuses to be more specific. Before they part, Riley inquires about Buffy' s plans for the night and she blurts out, "Patrolling, eh petroleum. And homework," raising at least two pairs of eyebrows (Riley's and mine. Petroleum? C'mon guys, you can do better than that). Nevertheless, a determined Riley seizes the moment and leans in to kiss her, but of course that would be too easy and distract from the story line, so Buffy throws in a completely irrelevant question to stop him.

Over at his place, Giles is sitting at the desk, trying to solve a riddle that came to him, too, in a dream. In bold letters his notes read "The Gentlemen" and "Can't even shout, Can't even cry," leading to the conclusion that, indeed, he had the same vision as Buffy.

Spike walks into the kitchen, rummages through some shelves and announces, "We're out of Weetabix." (That's a kind of British high-in-fiber-and-good-for-you cereal). He tells Giles to pick up some more, and the following exchange ensues:

G: "I thought vampires are supposed to drink blood."
S: "Well, sometimes I like to crumple up the Weetabix with the blood. Gives me a little texture."
G: "Since the picture you just painted means I'll never touch food of any kind again, you'll just have to pick it up yourself."
S: "Sissy!"

Xander and Anya are on their way over to Giles', discussing, as usual, their relationship. Anya accuses Xander of not really caring about her and her feelings, to which he matter-of-factly says, "So you did turn into a real girl." But pressed for a more specific measure of just how much he does care, he tries to postpone "the talk." No such luck, however. Just as they enter Giles' apartment, Anya lays it all out for him. "This isn't a relationship. You don't need me. All you care about are lots of orgasms."

Xander reminds her of a talk they had about private conversations and, "how they are not so private if we have them in front of my friends." Spike, now genuinely interested, quickly interjects. "We're not your friends. Please, go on."

Giles then explains to Xander that he needs him to take care of Spike for a few days, since he has "an old friend" from London coming to visit. This doesn't sit well with anyone. Xander insists that Spike will have to be tied down again, since he doesn't trust that he is really incapable of attacking him. Anya is worried that there will be no opportunity for them to have a romantic night in, and Spike, torn between disbelief and disgust, says, "I will not have these two shag while I'm there tied to a chair."

The earlier-mentioned Wicca group, meanwhile, has a much more subdued meeting. The group leader recites something about darkness, wolves and walking through a waterfall to the black heart of eternity, transitioning seamlessly into planning a bake sale. Willow, a little discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for witchcraft, suggests they talk about "the wacky notion of spells, conjuring and transmutation." While the other girls take it as an attempt at humor, one of them quietly observes Willow. Tara (guest star Amber Benson) seems to know what Willow is talking about, but she is too shy to approach her directly.

Later, in their dorm, Willow tells Buffy that the Wicca group is just not working out for her and, changing subjects, asks if Buffy and Riley finally kissed. When the news is negative on that front, Willow launches into a pep talk. "Get with it," she concludes. "I need my vicarious smoochies." Buffy explains that every time they are about to kiss, both of them become so nervous that they start rambling about unimportant things. (Here's my theory: First kisses are potentially the best, most exciting and certainly most memorable. The Hellmouth could open right beside me and I wouldn't care. I wholeheartedly agree with Willow. Get with it already before the Hellmouth opens up again!) Things would be so much easier, Buffy thinks, if she didn't have to lie about being the slayer and could just come clean with Riley.

We conveniently cut to Riley climbing up a ladder behind his friend Forrest (recurring guest star Leonard Roberts) somewhere in the confines of the Initiative. He apparently wishes to come clean, too, about being one of the guys in black. "Well, you can't brother," Forrest tells him and Riley asserts that, "this time it bugs me. Buffy is special."

In his basement, Xander busies himself with tying Spike to a recliner chair. Our villain, rendered harmless by the implant given to him by the Initiative, contents himself with arguing about the necessity of such an action.

S: "I don't see why I have to be tied down. It's not like I'd bite you anyway."
X: "Oh you would!"
S: (presented with a head's on view of Xander's butt, covered in blue and green flannel boxers, leaning across the bed to turn off the light) "Not bloody likely."
X: "I'm bitable. Moist and delicious."

Giles is still researching the dream riddle when there's a knock at his door. It's Olivia (recurring guest star Phina Oruche). He asks how her flight was. Too long she says and then gets down to business. "That's enough small talk, don't you think?" Taking off his glasses Giles kisses her. The Gentlemen are forgotten.

Around 1 a.m. that same night, in a clock tower somewhere in Sunnydale, we see a pair of long, gray, gnarly hands open the wooden box carried by the little girl in Buffy's dream. All over town, at Xander's, at Giles', in Buffy and Willow's dorm, something is sucked out of the sleeping people. Wisps of white fog, accompanied by a low and constant whisper, stream into the night air, toward the clock tower and into the box. When those hands close the lid, complete silence falls over Sunnydale. For the first time, we see one of The Gentlemen. Clad in a black suit, he looks like a long-dead version of Jim Carrey in "The Mask."

Panic sets in the next morning when everybody discovers their voices are gone. Willow thinks at first that she has gone deaf. Xander accuses Spike of stealing his voice and gets a look of exasperation from the bound and likewise mute vampire.

Riley and Forrest are on their way to Initiative headquarters for an emergency briefing and take the elevator down. Hm, something's not right here. Wasn't there a voice recognition system that controlled access to the facility? Yep, there was! Uh oh. Just when the computer announces "lethal countermeasures" against the intrusion and Riley's override code fails, the door is opened from the outside and the two agents face their superiors. Resigned, Maggie Walsh points to sign on the wall: "In case of emergency use staircase."

The gang gathers at Giles' place, unsure what is going on. A national newscast announces that Sunnydale town officials have issued a written statement, declaring the town under quarantine due to an unusually widespread case of laryngitis. (Talk about rationalization!)

At the Initiative headquarters the emergency meeting is under way. With the help of a computer, Walsh tells her minions to patrol the town tonight disguised as civilians, since a military presence might cause a panic among citizens.

Later in town, Riley is separating two guys who were fighting, when Buffy, also patrolling, spots him. He has his back turned and doesn't see her. Walking by one of the fighters, Buffy casually breaks the man's arm when he gets up with a weapon in his hand. Riley turns to see her, obviously relieved that she seems all right. For a moment, they both just look into each other's eyes, then hug. "Are you all right?" Riley mouths. Buffy nods and silently replies, "You?" (OK, now get out the camera for a Kodak moment. I mean it's gotta be now or never, since no one will start rambling, right?) Riley smiles and is distracted by a scuffle nearby. He takes a few steps, then turns, grabs Buffy's shoulders and kisses her thoroughly. Then he leaves.

It's almost 2 a.m. that night, when The Gentlemen proceed with step two of their plan. They come floating out of the clock tower, followed by their helpers, clad in straight jackets, who stick to the more earthly art of walking. Accompanied only by the faint clinking of the metal jacket buckles, they go looking in windows and knocking on doors.

Over at Giles', Olivia can't sleep. She gets up and stands by the window. Looking out, she sees one of the Gentlemen floating through an adjacent garden. Mesmerized, she stares, then jumps when another one floats right by her window, looking directly at her.

Two Gentlemen go knocking on Room 118 in one of the dorms at UC Sunnydale. A careless, and still sleepy, freshman opens the door and is struck instantly by the realization that this can't be good. The little helpers grab him, drag him to the bed and hold him down, while The Gentlemen, teeth-baring grins still plastered on their faces, open a black suitcase and take out a scalpel. The freshman's face contorts in horror as he tries to scream and the camera zooms in on The Gentlemen. The only audible sound is that of a scalpel slicing through human flesh.

Later in the clock tower, we get a glimpse of several glass jars, arranged around the wooden box, all containing human hearts. The Gentlemen applaud, delighted at the latest addition to their collection.

On campus the next day, Buffy walks by the dead freshman's room, where he is still lying on the bed. (Now, I expect Sunnydale to be different from any other town. But don't you think it's a little out there to leave the uncovered body of a student, less the heart, lying around in his room and let random people wander in to take a look?)

Olivia, meanwhile has drawn a picture of the creature she saw the night before and Giles, upon seeing it, goes straight for his book on fairy tales.

After researching some more, Giles gets the gang together in one of the classrooms. Buffy, Willow, Anya and Xander watch in anticipation as Giles turns on a tape recorder with classical music, cracks his knuckles (Now that send shivers down my spine. Really.) and begins his Q&A on the overhead projector. Who are The Gentlemen? They are fairy tale monsters. What do they want? Willow points to her heart, confusing Xander, who thinks she means breasts (What's that statistic? The average man thinks about sex every four seconds? Check that.). Giles continues: They come to town and steal everybody's voice, so people can't scream. Then, and he demonstrates this with two oddly cartoon-like pictures, they cut out people's hearts. They need seven and have at least two (there was another murder written up in the paper that day). They can't be killed with stakes or swords, but in the fairy tale the princess screamed and they all died. Willow then suggests, in a hilarious mime routine, to play really loud music, but Giles indicates that only the human voice will suffice. He can't, however, answer Buffy's question, "How do I get my voice back?"

That night, Riley and his team go out in military gear. Walking through town, Riley sees shadows moving around in the clock tower and decides to investigate. Buffy, also on patrol, encounters two of the helpers and fights them, killing one.

Back at school, Tara, the shy girl from the Wicca group, goes in search of Willow's room. She crosses the path of The Gentlemen and their cohorts, and runs from them, knocking on various doors, but no one lets her in. As she nears Willow's room, Willow hears the commotion and curiosity gets the better of her. As she steps into the hall, Tara bumps right into her, knocking her down. In panic, Tara pulls her up and they run for their lives.

In the tower, Riley is fighting with some of the helper creatures when Buffy kicks in a window that was nailed shut and joins the effort. Suddenly, they come face to face, pointing their weapons at each other. (Surprise!) After staring at each other for a long moment, the fighting continues. But when Riley sees Buffy fight (and she's resourceful, you gotta give her that), swinging from a rope and kicking one little helper clear through a wooden pillar, it dawns on him that her presence could not possibly be a coincidence.

Waiting things out at Giles' place, Spike gets a cup of pig's blood from the refrigerator. As he drinks it, his face changes into the evil vampire mask. He wanders into the living room, where Anya is resting on the couch and kneels on the floor to pick up some books. At that moment Xander walks in. He sees Anya, looking rather lifeless, and then Spike, still sporting the evil face, on the ground next to her. In a millisecond Xander pins the vampire to the floor and begins punching his face (Remember, Spike can't fight back because of the implant; any form of violence on his part causes him extreme physical pain.). Anya, clearly touched by this obvious display of love for her, taps Xander on the shoulder and smiles. Relieved he gets up, hugs her tight and kisses her. At her beckoning, a universally understood gesture that is, they leave, to oblige their primal instincts.

In a more precarious situation are Willow and Tara, locked inside a laundry room at school. Fearing the lock will give in under the constant assault from the helpers, Willow attempts to move a soda machine in front of the door, using mere willpower. The apparatus shakes and rattles a little, but it doesn't move. Suddenly Tara joins hands with Willow, they share a look of understanding (as only fellow witches can) and with their combined willpower hurl the machine across the room, blocking the door.

Buffy's fight has taken her upstairs into the tower where she encounters the scalpel-wielding Gentlemen, the hearts, the wooden box and more helpers, who take her into a tight grip. Riley appears and uses his tazer gun, momentarily scattering the creatures. Buffy has some maneuvering room and bangs on a table to get Riley's attention. She points to the table with the glass jars and the box. Pleased to be able to help, Riley smashes one of the jars with the butt of his gun, smiling proudly. Buffy rolls her eyes and motions him to open the box. Again using his gun, he smashes it to pieces, setting free all the captured voices. Buffy, taking a deep breath, begins to scream. At first hoarsely, then accelerating to a high pitch, she doesn't stop until the heads of The Gentlemen explode and green slime oozes from their necks. Riley just stares.

The next day Willow and Tara talk. Tara, it turns out, has practiced witchcraft since she was a little girl and learned it from her mother. "She was very powerful," Tara says, "like you." Willow remarks that she really isn't that powerful, since her potions turn out as soup and her spells usually go awry, but Tara just looks at her and declares, "But you are."

Riley, meanwhile, goes to see Buffy in her room. Closing the door behind him, he sits on Willow's bed and announces solemnly, "I guess we have to talk." Buffy takes a seat opposite him and concedes, "I guess we do."

Now, here are my two cents:

It was awesome! The little girl in the daydream promised a hair raising tale and the WB gave it to us.

It is a risky thing for a prime time television show to forego 29 minutes of possible dialogue and rely entirely on visuals, but the Buffy creators pulled it off successfully. And they managed to tell several stories in the process. Buffy and Riley, of course, who took one step forward and two steps back. This will make for an interesting story line now, because even though they both fight evil, they do it for very different reasons. Xander and Anya, superbly funny as always, officially are a couple, now that he has proven himself worthy and caring. Giles and Olivia - well, it takes some getting used to, watching Giles actually have a life. I hope the story line goes somewhere and doesn't just taper off with time. And Willow, who seems less distraught about Oz' departure and finally has found someone to talk witchcraft with. Tara's hint in regard to Willow's powers also suggests an interesting story line coming our way.

It certainly was a worthy episode to end the year with (that's right, the next all new Buffy will not air until January 11, 2000). They've left me wanting answers and I'll be sure to tune back in next month.