You should know that before I wrote up this review I spent my morning watching a longwinded interview of Vince Gilligan by the Archive of American Television, the joy of which may be found here.
I want to upfront about this because yes, watching this may have slightly elevated my bias, but I want to assure you that this highly favorable and unbalanced accounting of my thoughts has in no way been altered from it’s original intent which was already decidedly favorable and unbalanced. Thank you for understanding.
I love this episode, and I may even love it a little bit harder knowing that I’m somewhat alone in my regard for it; someone has to make up the fan slack. All I can say is that between “Drive” and Breaking Bad, when writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston get together good things seem to happen.
True to his unofficial title on The X-Files as the King of Continuity, Gilligan opens on Mulder and Scully this episode by cluing us in to the fact that our two leads are working Domestic Terrorism now. This (belatedly) explains the entire beginning of Fight the Future and why Mulder and Scully were in Dallas searching for a bomb in the first place. Since Mulder and Scully haven’t earned reassignment on the X-Files, they’re still stuck in this department. And, unfortunately for Mulder in particular, most of their work isn’t as exciting as combing federal buildings for bombs. However, why are Mulder and Scully being sent places like Dallas and Iowa? The local field offices can’t handle that? Think of the expense! No wonder our government’s in debt.
Another one of the more clever ideas used in this episode is that not only are Mulder and Scully investigating separately as they sometimes do, but they’re stripped of the crutch of constant communication with each other. Mulder’s cell phone dies a painful death on the highway and Scully is forced to figure out what Mulder is up to from a distance based on vague clues in his behavior. Not only does this highlight the different ways that Mulder and Scully have of getting to the truth, with Mulder intuitively piecing together clues as to how to keep Crump alive and Scully using her science to find the source of the problem, but it also shows just how great a team Mulder and Scully are even apart and how far they’ve come to trust each other that Scully is so easily able to interpret Mulder’s puzzling actions from afar.
I’m also impressed that since the move of the entire production to L.A., the crew at 1013 has been able to keep the interiors dark and the aesthetic of The X-Files intact even though the blinding California sunlight is hard to ignore. There’s also a great, otherworldly scene where Scully and a group of scientists go investigating Crump’s trailer at night, a great way to avoid the issue of glaring sunlight altogether. Between the eerily lit anti-contamination suits and the myriad flashlight beams the trip to the trailer looks like a walk on the moon. And if we have to be in California, they might as well put California to good use which they do by taking us all the way to the Pacific Ocean in that lovely finale to Mulder’s roadtrip with Crump.
All of these things are good things and already more than sufficient for an enjoyable episode, but the real heart and soul of “Drive” is Patrick Crump himself, played by the then relatively unknown Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle wouldn’t premier for over another year).
His character is an odd mix of red neck and patriot and provides an interesting foil to the East Coast ease of Fox Mulder, not that the two men are completely different. In fact, there are times when Mulder doesn’t sound much saner than Crump himself. But when even Fox Mulder rolls his eyes at your conspiracy theories, you know a hard line has been crossed. The unlikable Crump makes for an unlikely character to drive (no pun intended) the story, but he successfully does this for a couple of reasons.
First, despite Crump’s overt racism, you get the feeling that underneath the garbage he’s been taught beats the heart of a true man. Why? Because of his determination to live, and more than that, to live with dignity and without interference from outside forces. It’s not the same desire to survive that we see in the Syndicate, a sort of sinister selfishness. Crump wants to live because it’s his American, scratch that, his human right to do so. Just like it’s his right to let trash spill out of his mouth if he so chooses.
Second, Crump’s philosophies aren’t all that dissimilar to our beloved Mulder’s which creates a chemistry and connection between the two men, despite their overt antagonism, that’s fun to watch. They have a certain mutual understanding and respect by the end of the episode, a bromance, if you will. Despite their obvious differences in lifestyle and opinion, both men have attitude in spades and both men possess a fierce determination to survive and by doing so, stick it to a government that invaded their lives and tore them apart.
Yet, Crump doesn’t seem to get much love on the internet and a guest spot that probably deserves legendary status in retrospect is largely ignored. Could it be that Bryan Cranston does so good a job that some in the audience take his racist rantings seriously? I don’t think that’s the spirit in which it was intended. You’re meant to roll your eyes at his nonsense, not shake your fist.
For me, it’s the strength of character, the determination in this otherwise offensive man that gives him enough recognizable humanity so that I can’t help but sympathize. By the end I’m rooting for him wholeheartedly and the moment when both Mulder and we realize that he’s not going to make it is unexpectedly heartbreaking.
At least Scully bravely standing up to Kersh, who proves in this episode to be just as inflexible and unsympathetic as his expression promises in “The Beginning” (6×1), lightens the emotional load in the final moments of this episode. I can’t wait to see what other plans he has to make Mulder and Scully’s lives miserable.
Would “Drive” make my top 10 list of favorite episodes? Probably not. But that’s not because I can find anything wrong with it. And I absolutely do get a kick out of it, several in fact. From Mulder’s classic impatience in the beginning to Scully’s deliciously gross autopsy and one heck of a guest star, I can’t see where it makes a misstep. Well, except for maybe that hokey newscast it opens with. But that’s easily forgiven, especially as I suspect it was meant to be cheesy.
Both the sense of urgency here and the, well, head-explosions remind me forcefully of “F. Emasculata” (2×22) and that’s a good thing. But I hesitate to call this a Half-Caff episode because while there is a dangerous science involved, the government isn’t seeking to control it but instead may have accidentally and unknowingly unleashed it. The jury is still out as to whether Crump and his wife were unofficial or inadvertent test subjects for the Navy.
Either way, this is an unexpectedly poignant story about citizens losing their dignity at the hands of a government that’s supposed to preserve it.
Fun Moment – When Virgil Nokes opens the door for Mulder and Scully only to let it slam back on them.
Am I the only one that gets a kick out of the fact that Mulder says “stoopid” rather than “stupid?”
When Crump first notices his nose bleed a high pitched ringing is cleverly inserted into the score, mimicking Crump’s symptoms for the entire audience. That’s brilliant. Except that I’m surer than ever that tinnitus could drive a person mad.
The scene where Scully calls Mulder when Crump has him at gunpoint and he calmly answers as if nothing’s wrong forcefully reminds me of “Herrenvolk (4×1). But that time it was Scully being held hostage by the Alien Bounty Hunter and Mulder calling her on the phone, oblivious.
Oh, how I begged Scully to stop poking around in that dead woman’s ear.
I’m digging Mulder’s knew haircut. The Elvis look was wearing thin.
There are clear echoes of the movie Speed here, which makes me want to take a trip down pre-adolescent lane and go rewatch it.
How about that needle Scully’s sporting is the stuff of nightmares?
Scully: Uh, Virgil Nokes? I’m Agent Scully. This is Agent Mulder. We’re with the F.B.I.
Virgil Nokes: Jehovah’s Witness?
Scully: No, sir, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mulder: But we do have a free copy of the Watchtower for you, if you’d like.
Mulder: If you stop moving you die? I think I saw this movie.
Mulder: Crump? Crump, what else can you tell me about what’s happening to you?
Patrick Crump: Mr. Crump. You call me by my last name, you say Mister in front of it.
Mulder: Mister. I got you.
Patrick Crump: Not Crump. Mr. Crump.
Mulder: I can think of something else I’d like to call you. I could put Mister in front of that too if you’d like.
Patrick Crump: You know, what kind of name is Mulder, anyway? What is that, like… like, Jewish?
Mulder: Excuse me?
Patrick Crump: Jewish. It is, right?
Mulder: It’s Mr. Mulder to you, you peanut-picking bastard.
Mulder: Well, on behalf of the international Jewish conspiracy I just need to inform you that we’re… almost out of gas.