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Ten WTF-Did-I-Just-Watch? Moments in SFF Television


Ten WTF-Did-I-Just-Watch? Moments in SFF Television

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Ten WTF-Did-I-Just-Watch? Moments in SFF Television


Published on December 10, 2021

Screenshot: CBS
Star Trek, original series, season one, City On the Edge of Forever
Screenshot: CBS

We are, for the most part, creatures of habit. It’s not an absolute—even the most circumspect of us will occasionally feel the urge to break out of our norms, to seek the novel and, occasionally, the risky. But, face it: in the end we seek security, stability, a return to the familiar, an assurance that the universe is just so, has always been that way, will always be.

One striking example: episodic TV. Whether you binge an entire series or kick it old school and opt for a weekly fix, there is something eminently reassuring in being able to return to the same cast of characters and the same familiar, well-established scenario. Even if the setting is dystopic and the people inhabiting it are right bastards (hellooooooo, Succession!), just the fact that you know pretty much what you’re in for from chapter to chapter instills a warm, comforting glow in your otherwise stressed-out psyche. Audiences like that. Showrunners, studios, whole networks and streaming services like that. They count on it.

Well, maybe not showrunners so much. For any number of reasons—a desire to spread their production wings…an impulse to deepen and challenge their characters…maybe just sheer boredom—the creative forces behind established TV series have regularly sought to break away from the dependable, throwing their viewers out of their comfort zones and compelling them to look at the perhaps-too-familiar in a new light. It can be a risk, but when the effort is successful, it can leave loyal fans a little stunned, a bit giddy, and, ideally, re-energized in their appreciation of the tale being told. Sometimes, the outcome can be proclaimed a TV classic.

Below, in no particular order, is a set of episodes that dared to veer off the beaten path, and in doing so left their mark not just on their viewers, but on our notion of what a TV show is capable of.

(NOTE: Of necessity, the following discussions will be rife with spoilers. We’ll try to do it in a way that won’t seriously affect your appreciation of the episodes if you haven’t seen them, but have a care, me bucko…ye have been warned.)


The Dick Van Dyke Show“It May Look Like a Walnut” (1963, S2:E20)

If I Love Lucy was the prototypical sitcom for the 1950s—what with its setting in a small, walk-up apartment building and its husband-wife dynamic that often seemed to morph into parent-child—The Dick Van Dyke Show was a paragon of the New Normal, Sixties-style. Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) was comfortably middle-class, happily living in a suburban ranch home and employed as head writer of a successful variety show. His wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) may have been satisfied to keep house and raise their young son, but she was also bracingly independent, and could rock a pair of capri pants like nobody’s business. Most hearteningly, the relationship between the two evoked a true partnership, anticipating the push toward gender equality that would soon be coming to the fore in society in general.

And that marriage-between-equals dynamic is where “It May Look Like a Walnut” starts, with Rob mercilessly teasing his wife over her reaction to the late-night horror film he’s watching on TV, while she counters by decrying the inanity of a scenario that sees an alien emissary from the planet Twylo—a man with a striking resemblance to comedian Danny Thomas, save for the four eyes (two front and two back)—disseminating booby-trapped walnuts around the world in order to mutate earthlings into Twlyo-ites, all to stop humanity’s push into space. Oh, and the mutants also lose their thumbs. Gotta hand it to series creator and writer Carl Reiner: It’s at least as credible as anything that happens in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

It seems less silly the morning after, when Rob wakes to find walnuts cropping up in the most implausible places, as well as his wife, son, and co-workers acting very oddly, and his TV show casting as its next guest star Danny Thomas, who just so happens to notice the stain on Rob’s tie while facing away from him. Plus, Rob’s having a helluva lot of trouble lighting a cigarette without any thumbs.

“It May Look Like a Walnut” tips its hand early that this is all a dream sequence, yet the accretion of goofy, sci-fi (term deliberately used) details into Rob Petrie’s otherwise normal, Camelot-era world—capped off by the sight of Moore sexily surfing out of a closet on a wave of walnuts—took an audience expecting reassuring sitcom hijinks and gave them something more akin to the show’s network-mate, The Twilight Zone. (As if it wasn’t obvious enough, Rob himself makes reference to a “Twylo zone”— guess they couldn’t get Rod Serling in to do a spit-take.) “It May Look Like a Walnut” wasn’t the only time The Dick Van Dyke Show would dip a toe into the genre pool, but for pure, satirical dedication, it was one of the series’ better deviations.


Doctor Who—“Blink” (2007 – S3:E10)

It’s no secret that the Doctor’s companions are viewer surrogates, bringing a much-needed human perspective to the alien time-traveler’s adventures. They’re also wish-fulfillment surrogates—after all, who hasn’t toyed with the fantasy that one day the Doctor might single them out, whisking them away from their humdrum, conventional pursuits (don’t kid yourself, your pursuits are humdrum and conventional) and taking them on the adventure of a lifetime?

“Blink” finds a way to literalize that desire. Taking the viewpoint of a never-before-seen character, Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan), the episode starts with the woman being dropped into a tantalizing mystery —an abandoned house where strange, gothic statues seem to move on their own—and then has her stumble upon a set of DVD Easter eggs where the Doctor (David Tennant) gazes through the screen and speaks directly to her.

Conceived as way to allow Tennant and his then-current companion Freema Agyeman to focus their energies on subsequent, more-demanding episodes of the series, “Blink” successfully synthesizes the feel of what it would be like to have your own life suddenly subsumed by something more incredible and magical. Sally and her own version of a companion, Larry Nightingale (Finlay Robertson), take point in the adventure, while the Doctor and Martha Jones remain largely relegated to the background (or maybe to the side—at the end we see them trotting off to some other, never-explored, confrontation). Scripted by Steven Moffat, the episode introduced one of the series’ most intriguing adversaries: the Weeping Angels, statue-like creatures who can only move when not seen and whose “kills” are more poignantly conceptual than literal—they whisk their victims into the past so that they die before any of their loved ones and acquaintances are even born. But more than that, it gave its watchers a more direct in-road into the Whovian universe, no TARDIS required. Like Sally Sparrow engaging in banter with a video-bound Gallifreyan, viewers of “Blink” felt the potential for the strange to reach past their screens and touch their own lives.


Star Trek—“The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967, S1:E28)

“A Wagon Train to the stars…” is what Gene Roddenberry promised the execs at NBC (even though he had something more profound in mind). And in its first season, that’s what Star Trek delivered: action, adventure, strange creatures, and a bevy of females for perpetual horndog Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) to bed. It was all good fun, in that conventional, zero-sum TV way: Whatever the challenges, the viewer could rest assured that it’d all turn out okay by the end, and in the final fadeout, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy would be back on the bridge, sharing a good-natured chuckle (at least in the case of the two humans) over the narrow scrape from which they had just extricated themselves.

From the get-go, “City on the Edge of Forever” signaled that it was not going to follow the established template. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) undergoes an involuntary case of drug-induced psychosis, and flees through a time portal into a past where he somehow succeeds in erasing Starfleet—and the starship Enterprise—from existence. Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) follow, and discover, in depression-era America, the missionary Edith Keeler, an idealist positing a future in which humanity has grown beyond war, greed, and hate, and has thus managed to harness unimagined energies to reach the stars—in other words, Keeler is Gene Roddenberry recast in guest star Joan Collins’ body. Kirk, of course, is smitten, but Spock discovers a grim consequence: If allowed to go unchecked, Keeler’s contagious idealism will delay America’s entry into World War II, thus ceding victory to Germany. For history to be righted, Keeler must die.

And in Harlan Ellison’s brilliant script (liberally rewritten—to Ellison’s eternal ire—by Roddenberry and company, but still respecting the author’s intent) there will be no clever, last-act save. There will be no corbomite bluff, no computer that Kirk can coax into self-immolation. There will just be Kirk doing what he must—as McCoy stares aghast and Spock learns firsthand the steep price humans pay for their emotions—followed by a grim return to a restored future. And, instead of a jocular, back-slapping wrap-up, there would be a disquieting reunion with the landing party, punctuated only by the captain uttering a mild (but for the time shocking) profanity.

“City on the Edge of Forever” won a WGA award for Ellison’s original script, and a Hugo for the episode itself. Beyond that, in a television landscape where all problems were supposed to be tied up in a neat bow by the end of an hour, it dared to capture the complexities of true drama, and showed that science fiction television could reach beyond the ray guns and rubber monsters, touching on something deeper, and more disturbing.


Batman: The Animated Series—“Read My Lips” (1993, S1:E59)

The producers of Batman: The Animated Series worked hard to get concessions from their network’s Standards and Practices department so the ostensibly kid-oriented program could depict the Bat kicking crime’s ass the way any good Dark Knight should. There were a few absolutes, though: among them, go light on the threatening with guns (to the extent that at one point the animators were forced to put a clown’s face on the muzzle of the Joker’s weapon), and, fer chrissakes NO KILLING.

Then came, “Read My Lips.”

In one of the more bizarre episodes of the series (scripted by Joe R. Lansdale), the Caped Crusader sets out to discover the mastermind behind a series of successful robberies. What he discovers is that the gang is taking orders from Scarface, a dummy under the control of a meek (and nameless) Ventriloquist. A paranoid dummy, it should be noted, brilliant but convinced that someone in his gang is repeatedly ratting him out to the Bat.

And it’s only when Batman has been captured and manages to sow chaos among the criminals by convincing Scarface that his own operator is the snitch, that you realize director Boyd Kirkland has been doing something insidious all along: Even though only one gang member cops to believing that Scarface is a real person, everyone, including Batman, acts like he is. Kirkland changes the puppet’s expressions depending on its moods, and when the Ventriloquist moves the dummy, the limbs are animated in a way that makes it appear they’re operating under their own volition. A subtle imparting of humanity, but with a devious intent: When a machine gun accidentally goes off and destroys the puppet, the image of bullets ripping through Scarface’s body—graphically animated and held for long, agonizing seconds— becomes one of the most disconcertingly violent moments imaginable, not just on a kid’s show, but on television in general. And just as you’re telling yourself, “Okay, calm down, it’s just wood, fabric, and stuffing…and just drawings of them, at that,” the episode imparts its coup de grâce: a fade-out that has the now-incarcerated Ventriloquist viciously taking a wound-forming knife to the raw pine head of Scarface Mk. II. Many adults had already figured out that Batman: The Animated Series was more than your stock kiddy cartoon. It took “Read My Lips” to teach them that mere ink on cels still had the capacity to truly unsettle.


The X-Files—“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (1996, S3:E20)

In its first season, The X-Files reveled in its ability to take the kind of outlandish urban myths found in the pages of the Weekly World News, and, if not treat them with actual gravitas, then at least imbue these stories with enough tongue-in-cheek verve to let people whose IQs didn’t equal their waistband size feel less guilty about enjoying them. As the show’s popularity spread, though, it became clear that creator Chris Carter felt that he had to take all those Unsolved Mysteries and actually make them mean something. By the third season, the show had hit its storytelling stride, but the delight in the wackiness of the myths that were the show’s original raison d’etre had been somewhat pushed aside.

Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” written and directed respectively by series stalwarts Darin Morgan and Rob Bowman, sought to put a pin to the series’ ballooning sense of gravity. Built around that most basic of urban myths—the abduction of two earthlings by alien “grays”—the episode has Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) being interviewed by an illustrious fiction author (a gleefully effusive Charles Nelson Reilly, whose character bluntly admits he’s only in it for the money), and takes a Rashoman approach to a story that filters its events through the vantage points of innocent bystanders, skeptics and believers, conspiracy theorists, and even the then-notorious alien autopsy video.

Somehow, Morgan and Bowman manage to maintain the series’ evocative atmosphere—groundbreaking at the time—while deconstructing the show’s screw-loose inspirations: restaging sequences through multiple levels of perceived reality; having the personalities of Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully morph depending on who’s telling the tale; and for good measure, throwing in Jesse Ventura as a Man in Black. Aliens smoke cigarettes, shots are run forwards and backwards, and Mulder aggressively eats an entire sweet potato pie—anything, it appears, to say, “Hey, it’s okay if you want to believe, but it’s also okay to snicker at this stuff.” There were still a few strong seasons ahead before The X-Files seriously lost its way, but “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” served as a kind of loving shock to the system, reminding viewers that—as the wry re-write of the show’s theme indicated during the final fade—this was all just supposed to be a bit of fun.


Cowboy Bebop—“Pierrot le Fou” (1999, S1:E20)

A whole week early, the original viewers of the anime series Cowboy Bebop knew that “Pierrot le Fou” was going to be something off the beaten path when they got a look at the episode’s preview. Instead of the customary clips of spaceships, futuristic Wild West casinos, and exquisitely choregraphed fight sequences, accompanied by witty voice-overs from the show’s space-faring bounty hunter leads, they got: maniacal laughter; fast, near subliminal glimpses of a gun-wielding, top-hatted, roly-poly gent sporting a clown collar and an unsettling rictus of a grin; and a peculiar, silhouetted shot of the self-same gent doing impossible, mid-air flips while kicking the living Jack Daniels out of Bebop’s typically unflappable hero, Spike Spiegel.

That clown-from-hell is Tongpu, the Mad Pierrot, a heavily armed, essentially indestructible, and absolutely unstoppable assassin. It turns out Spike isn’t his target, just someone who wandered onto the scene as the maniac was fulfilling a contract. Which is just as bad, because once a soul has laid eyes on Tongpu, that person either dies as a consequence or spends what’s left of her/his limited life fleeing the madman’s pursuit. Spike being Spike, he decides that he is not only not going to run away, but will accept Tongpu’s invitation to an after-hours rendezvous on the battlefield of the killer’s choosing: the exquisitely designed and subtly ominous theme park, Spaceland.

Cowboy Bebop as a whole had already attained domestic notoriety—and placement in a late-night time slot—for its uncommon level of violence, delivered in a jazzy, adult atmosphere of sardonic cool. With “Pierrot le Fou,” director Shin’ichirō Watanabe not only pushed the envelope with wall-to-wall gunfire, explosions, wanton destruction of property, and a hearty body count—he threw cool out the window in order to poke at all the soft, sensitive places in the human psyche, the places you didn’t know you had. This comes through in the incongruous blend of absurdity and deadly action at the barrel of a comically cartoonish, gleeful angel of death; in composer Yoko Kanno’s demented hurdy-gurdy background music; in the lingering vision of a bullet-riddled, animatronic Goofy stand-in undergoing its prolonged and painful death throes; and in a stark, monochromatic flashback to the assassin’s torturous genesis and the unsettling revelation that this remorseless killing machine has the impulse control of a two-year-old. With stunning design and animation—the episode has “blown budget” written all over it—“Pierrot le Fou” took loyal viewers out of their customary universe of hip, and transported them to a surreal continuum of deadly, wacky dementia.


Star Trek: The Next Generation—“Conspiracy” (1988, S1:E24)

The first season of ST:TNG exhibited more than its share of growing pains. The production was lavish, the shots of the mammoth Enterprise-D, courtesy of ILM, were magnificent, and the cast, headed up by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard, was impressive. But the universe these characters plied, constrained by Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of a paradisiacal Earth where war, hate and greed had been eradicated, was not a direct extension of the exciting, adventurous terrain that had been travelled by the cocky Captain Kirk and crew two decades prior. The ship was too powerful, easily skirting dangers that would have challenged its predecessors; the adversaries were less than daunting, consisting primarily of a race of scheming capitalists and an effete, pan-dimensional being with a bad sense of humor; and the crew was so hell-bent on cooperation at any cost, avoiding any form of interpersonal friction, that they were less the adventurers you looked forward to joining every week than folks you might suspect of considering spirited rounds of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” a rollicking good time. Roddenberry & Co. had to have been well aware of the problem, and must have known that a course correction was needed. That course correction came late in the first season, and boy, was it a doozy.

“Conspiracy” starts off normally (blandly) enough, with the main crew, save Picard, bantering jovially on the bridge (and Worf [Michael Dorn] uttering the immortal line, “Swimming is too much like… bathing.”). That quickly ends after Picard receives an encrypted message from a colleague, summoning him for reasons unexplained to a meeting on a deserted planet. It’s when Picard transports down to his subterranean rendezvous that director Cliff Bole essentially goes all-in, bathing the set in an uncharacteristic, foreboding red light, having composer Dennis McCarthy lay an ominous drone on the soundtrack, and staging a confrontation between Picard and a clutch of suspicious—hell, paranoid— Starfleet officers who inform him that something has gone very wrong back at the home office, with inexplicable reassignments of personnel and cryptic orders being issued. Unnerved and back on the Enterprise, Picard then witnesses the aftermath of the destruction of his colleague’s ship, and decides that an unannounced drop-in to Starfleet is in order.

Back at headquarters, it turns out that a Body Snatchers scenario is in full swing, with creepy brain-controlling bugs, an upper echelon imbued with super-strength and impervious to phaser fire (not sure how that works, but go with it), and Picard treated to a lavish banquet of (shudder) mealworms. The pinnacle of WTF-ness comes at the very end, as a mind-controlled officer with a throbbing throat throws Roddenberry’s idealism back in his face—“We mean you no harm,” he sneers, “We seek peaceful coexistence”—and Picard and Riker (Jonathan Frakes) respond with a full-power, two-phaser salute that explodes the invader’s head in a startlingly splooshy on-screen effect.

Like a momma’s boy who’s abruptly decided that enough’s enough and runs off in his good Sunday suit for a healthy splash in the mud, “Conspiracy” wears its rebellion perhaps too flamboyantly on its sleeve. But after twenty-three episodes of mild, go-along-to-get-along adventure, it has the effect of a reassuring—if somewhat ham-fisted—palette-cleanser. Roddenberry reportedly endorsed its production, and even held firm against studio pushback over that exploding head. The follow-up episode (and season closer) would see the welcome return of the Romulans (and both episodes were supposed to be harbingers for the advent of the Borg at the start of season two, had a writers strike not intervened), so it’s clear that Next Gen was working its way toward becoming the beloved classic that fans would eventually embrace. But wild swing that it was, “Conspiracy” stands alone, a defiant exception to its creator’s hopeful vision.


The Prisoner—“Living in Harmony” (1967, S1:E13)

Imagine this: It’s 1967 in Great Britain. You keep hearing about this strange, surreal series, The Prisoner, in which Patrick McGoohan, late of Danger Man (aka Secret Agent), plays a spy who abruptly resigns his post, and is subsequently subdued and carted off to the Village, an isolated town where the leader, known only as Number 2, attempts to find out the reason for his resignation by subjecting him to a variety of mind-bending interrogation techniques. Unfortunately, you have been preoccupied with other matters (you know, general British stuff), and thus have been unable to catch the show until late in its run. Now, at the very end of December, you finally have a chance to sit down and see what all the fuss is about. So, on a cold Friday evening, you pull up a chair, fire up the telly, and watch in anticipation at the screen fades up on…

…A western?

A very odd western, in which a sheriff abruptly resigns his post and is subsequently subdued and carted off to Harmony, an isolated town where the leader, known only as the Judge, attempts to find out the reason for the Sheriff’s resignation by subjecting him to HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!

Created primarily because star and producer McGoohan wanted to try his hand at a classic oater à la Sergio Leone, “Living in Harmony” starts out as a recasting of the prime Prisoner scenario (it’s eventually revealed that the whole thing is another one of Number 2’s mind games), but then goes its own course, incorporating scripter Ian L. Rakoff’s anti-war sentiments in the character of a sheriff who refuses to arm himself, and bringing in Alexis Kanner as a mute, sociopathic gunslinger. With McGoohan at his ironic, charismatic best—he pretty much out-Eastwoods Eastwood—“Living in Harmony” flips the tables on the notion of a WTF episode, dropping into an otherwise strange and iconoclastic series a bit of naturalistic grounding. Reaching beyond its genre, it gives the surreal a breath of fresh—if slightly horse-scented—air, and cements The Prisoner as one of TV’s most off-beat experiments.


Black Mirror—“White Bear” (2013, S2:E2)

True confession time: The “White Bear” episode of Black Mirror is the only one I haven’t rewatched for this article. I can’t. I won’t. It’s not that it’s bad—quite the contrary: it’s one of the series’ best. But it did such a number on me the first time around that I can’t bring myself to relive the trauma again. It’s my Voldemort, a presence so intimidating that I shudder just writing its title, as if that mere act will conjure it up to drag me into its particular brand of hell. (And if you’ve already seen this episode and feel this is an overreaction, well, more power to you. In the coming robot apocalypse, let’s be roomies—I could use your fortitude.)

What makes “White Bear” so disconcerting is how far it goes to convince you that it’s a regular episode of Black Mirror, creator Charlie Brooker’s tart, conjectural examination of the ways humanity can be warped by the growing digital landscape. At the start, a woman (Lenora Crichlow) wakes with a splitting headache in a strange house in a strange town, only to discover that society has abruptly trifurcated into hunters, prey, and smartphone-wielding spectators. So far, so typical—the woman’s chased by sadistic maniacs, betrayed by putative allies, and finally makes her way to a transmitter that supposedly is broadcasting the society-bending signal. And it’s in that facility, at the episode’s presumed climax, that Brooker springs the trapdoor you didn’t know you’d been standing on all along.

And despite the fact that I’ve issued an all-purpose spoiler alert up above, I’m going to go ahead and fortify that with an ULTRA DOUBLE-SPECIAL ONE-TIME-ONLY SPOILER ALERT right here, because if you haven’t yet seen “White Bear,” what happens in its last act will have the greatest impact if you have no idea of what’s actually going on. So, you’ve been warned. Ready? Here we go…

Turns out it was all B.S. The mysterious setting is actually a theme park of retribution, the stalkers and victims are staff, the spectators are all park visitors willing to shell out some cash for the privilege of relishing the torment of a woman who, it’s revealed, was complicit in the torture and murder of a young child. The actual murderer—her boyfriend—took the easy way out by committing suicide, and so society has decided to vent its rage upon the accomplice, who has her memory (painfully) wiped every night, every morning wakes with the same headache, every day is immersed in the same nightmare scenario, and every evening is forced to witness the same grotesque pageant that lays her atrocities out before her.

And in a series that had previously shown us a Prime Minister blackmailed into video-streaming his carnal relations with a pig and posited a world of mandatory consumerism, complete with legally-enforced commercial viewing, “White Bear” might be Charlie Brooker’s most subversive work, forcing us to empathize with a sociopath, making us stare into her stunned, uncomprehending eyes as she witnesses the evidence of her crimes, and raising questions both about the morality of capital punishment—particularly as a form of public catharsis—and of warehousing criminals for so long that the point of punishment recedes into meaninglessness. Black Mirror had always trafficked in social commentary; with “White Bear,” the series doubled down, conjuring images that couldn’t easily be exorcised, and challenging viewers in a way couldn’t blithely be dismissed.


Buffy: The Vampire Slayer—“Hush” (1999, S4:E10)

More true confessions: After the first season, I pretty much dropped out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not that I didn’t like the show—what’s not to love about Joss Whedon’s blend of inventive fantasy, beguiling characters, and witty dialogue?—I just didn’t feel strongly motivated to continue. But after three years of friends continuously berating me for my grievous error, I decided to revisit the series in its fourth season, to see what I was missing. And the night I tuned in just so happened to be the night that “Hush” aired. After which, I literally uttered the key phrase in the title of this article.

This is another entry that pokes at all the soft, tender places of your psyche. It’s there in the mere presentation of the episode’s main adversaries, the Gentlemen: elegant, cadaverous figures (fronted by the inimitable Doug Jones) who float inches above the ground and move with a disconcertingly sinuous formality. It’s there in their unholy mission: to cut the hearts out of seven still-living humans. And it’s there in their mode of attack: they operate by stealing the voices of every soul in Sunnydale, rendering their victims incapable of crying out for help.

Whedon, who scripted and directed, has the amazing capacity to make even his “break-out” episodes relevant to his characters and their arcs, and “Hush” is no exception. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya (Emma Caulfield) argue over his inability to communicate his feelings; budding witch Willow (Alyson Hannigan) bemoans the fact that her Wicca group is “all talk;” meanwhile Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her soon-to-be-boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas) busy themselves concealing their secret lives —as Slayer and Initiative member, respectively—from each other. But what stands out in the episode is the way Whedon makes the silence serve multiple functions, not only as a subtextual element, but as surrealism in the sight of street riots devoid of angry voices, in the primal terror of having to face your death without the voice to proclaim your agony, even in comedy as Giles (Anthony Head) attempts to bring the Scooby Gang up-to-speed with some hastily prepared overhead projector slides (and, for some reason, a cassette playing Danse macabre).

“Hush” received writing nominations from both the WGA and the Emmys. It was far from Whedon’s only stand-out episode—the devastating “The Body” was yet to come in the following season. The Buffy creator has said the whole point of the episode was to get himself away from his trademark facility for dialogue, to demonstrate he was more than just clever banter. Clearly he succeeded, highlighting his series’ strengths while subverting one of its most celebrated aspects. And in the process, he created one of the most delightfully unsettling hours in television history.



Yes, the world is strange, and chaotic, and sometimes terrifying. But when I find myself awash in doubt and confusion, I ease my tortured soul with this one truth: There are more than just ten TV episodes that have inspired the cry, “WTF?!” Maybe you know of one, or more… comment below, and do your part to spread peace and happiness.

Originally published in November 2019.

Dan Persons has been knocking about the genre media beat for, oh, a good handful of years, now. He’s presently house critic for the radio show Hour of the Wolf on WBAI 99.5FM in New York, and previously was editor of Cinefantastique and Animefantastique, as well as producer of news updates for The Monster Channel. He is also founder of Anime Philadelphia, a program to encourage theatrical screenings of Japanese animation. And you should taste his One Alarm Chili! Wow!

About the Author

Dan Persons


Dan Persons is a veteran film critic and journalist whose reviews can be heard weekly on WBAI 99.5FM’s Hour of the Wolf. He is also the instigator, developer, and sole practitioner of SpaceBrains3D, a funky, low-budget process for turning 2D video into stereoscopic 3D.
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