Joss Whedon Used Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Hush To Save Himself From 'Hackdom'

"Hush" is the scariest episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and I will fight any naysayers on that. "The Body," where Buffy's mom dies, is the saddest and most impactful, in my opinion, but this one ... creepy, smiling men that float towards you, steal your voice, and then stab you ... there is no way to watch this and not shudder. I apologize for any nightmares the picture above gives you. I assure you, I have already collected all my old stuffed animals, checked under my bed for odd boxes, and turned on every light in the house. 

If you haven't watched the tenth episode of the fourth season, I implore you not to do it alone. In "Hush," everyone is dealing with communication issues. Tara (Amber Benson in the character's debut) struggles to stand up for herself at a coven meeting while Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Riley (Marc Blucas) can't seem to make their first kiss happen. When everyone falls asleep that night, horrifying floating monsters called The Gentlemen (Doug Jones, Camden Toy, Don W. Lewis, and Charlie Brumbly) drift up to them and steal their voices. The entire town is, according to the local news, suffering from laryngitis. No one can communicate with words, but they still have to find a way to stop these monsters from a horrible fairytale that keeps you from screaming as their minions hold you down for some stabbing. 

It was an episode like no other that had been seen on TV before and ironically got "Buffy" fans talking non-stop. In a 2003 interview with IGN, Joss Whedon said he wrote "Hush" to save himself from "hackdom." 

The fear of bald smiling men who float

In the interview, Whedon explains that seeing "Nosferatu" (a character that The Gentlemen resemble) scared him as a child. "I just have always been afraid of bald, smiling men who float! They just creep me out." This is fair. There's nothing worse than seeing a grin from someone who is about to murder you.

Whedon is, of course, known for writing quippy, quick dialogue, from his TV work in "Buffy," "Angel," and "Firefly," to the film "The Avengers." You know what you're getting if someone's dialogue is called "Whedonesque." This episode was a big departure for him in terms of what we saw (and didn't hear). Whedon spoke about what drove him to do an episode that didn't rely on dialogue. He said:

"And the inspiration for the episode ... part of it came from my feeling that I had started to fall into a hackdom, if you will. I'd been directing for three years, I'd directed, like, 10 Buffys, and I was sort of falling into a very predictable visual pattern, which is what TV mostly does. It's radio with faces. I thought if I had no dialogue, I would be forced to tell the story visually."

Whedon said he was worried he wouldn't be able to convey the fear visually and that though it was difficult, it was "the most fun imaginable." Oh, he got the fear across, alright. I know that when I watched it originally, all I wanted to do was talk to the person I was watching with, just to fill the silence. Even all these years later (the episode aired at the end of 1999), I usually skip this episode in my re-watches. It's not that it's anything less than brilliant. It's that I don't want night terrors.

'When we stop talking, truths start coming out'

The concept that becomes clear when you watch "Hush" is how much we communicate the truth of our feelings when there are no words available to us. In high school, I was on vocal rest for two months. I had a little whiteboard to use to communicate, but I got a crash course in emoting through facial expressions and movement. Let's just say it's much harder to conceal the truth of your thoughts when you can't cover them up with words and vocal tone. Whedon said something like that in the interview. He explained: 

"I realized that what I had to talk about was communication and how words get in the way, as somebody once sang. When we stop talking, truths start coming out."

Gellar spoke about the episode during a 2015 panel with #BlogHerFood15 (via StephPlusVerb), saying that she thought, "Oh, this is so sweet; we don't have to learn any lines!" Then she added, "It was so hard ... an exercise in how you communicate without words." It won over others in the cast as well, including Anthony Head, who played Giles. He told TV Guide in 2017, "I didn't see any of the filming, so when I finally saw it cut together, I was blown away. It was genius!"

It's interesting to note that this is the only episode from the series to be nominated for an Emmy Award for writing ... with only 17 of the 44 minutes containing dialogue. 

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is currently streaming on Hulu.