Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman
This may be the most important episode the X-Files ever did. When writer Vince Gilligan was looking to cast the role of Patrick Crump, the seemingly deranged hostage taker in this episode, he would eventually choose an actor known almost entirely for his comic roles (most significantly to that moment dentist Tim Watley on “Seinfeld.). Bryan Cranston’s work would be memorable enough to stick in Gilligan’s head. So much so, that nearly a decade later, when trying to cast the lead role for a pilot on AMC about a chemistry teacher afflicted with cancer who begins to manufacture crystal meth to support his family, he would reject more prominent actors such as Matthew Broderick and John Cusack in favor of Cranston. The series, of course, was “Breaking Bad”, and because of this brilliant combination of actor and subject, the series would eventually win fifteen Emmys (including four for Cranston) and currently ranks on the shortlist of the greatest television series ever made.
This flashpoint in TV history makes this episode critical. But it should diminish the fact that Drive is, in its own right, one of the more suspenseful and daring episodes of Season 6. Starting out with a teaser that might lead the casual viewer to think his Sunday night entertainment has been postponed, the episode hits the ground running and, much like Mulder for most of the episode, never slows down. Admittedly, its a pretty blatant rip-off of Speed (even Mulder admits as much), but it works on several levels that that particular blockbuster never did.
For one thing, the idea is far more interesting. There’s a bomb in the car, alright, but it’s nothing that can be defused by Keanu Reeves – it’s in the inner ear, and we see the effects of it so vividly – that we are very aware of the consequences should Mulder slow down. But what makes the episode work on a more human level is that of the relationship of Patrick Crump and Mulder. At first Mulder, in typical fashion, takes what he sees on TV as an excuse just to get away from the horrible scutwork that he and Scully have been assigned to. (Hell, this makes the wiretapping that he was dealing with in his first exile in Season 2 seem positively riveting by comparison) But then he finds himself being held hostage by Crump, and then finds out that despite that, he literally holds the fate of another human being in his hands, albeit one who thinks he just another corrupt Jew who might be responsible for what happened to him. Gilligan continues with his tradition of making his monsters of the week seem more human, gradually making his character try to beg for dignity by being called “Mr. Crump” We slowly find ourselves feeling sympathy for this man who never asked for all this craziness to happy to him, but now seems in a monstrous situation.
The other part of the script that works just as well is the fact that it gives Scully something to do. Despite the wide range she managed to portray over the past two years, it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen her as something other than a victim of a fatal disease, or a grieving mother. Here she demonstrates once again why we became so enraptured of her character in the first place, as she basically has to handle the entire investigative process of this episode herself, figuring out the cause that is killing people and animals, making the connection as to what is happening to Crump, and finally trying to stand up to some government officials. And if that wasn’t enough to make us relish, there’s her attitude towards her new boss, Kersh, which is just as disdainful as Mulder, but far subtler. Gillian Anderson gives one of her best performances in awhile, simply because is lacks the mawkishness that we’ve come to expect of her work over the last year and a half.
Indeed, all of the actors in this episode are particularly good. The byplay between Mulder and Patrick Crump is reminiscent of the similar situation that we saw in Duane Barry, but it plays far better because there’s such initial hatred in it at first. Mulder knows that he’s being held in contempt, but as the episode goes on, he, like the audience, undergoes a sea change when he learns what is going on to him There is never quite the level of a bond as there was in that episode, but that’s too be expect, and in their next to last scene together, when Mulder tells Crump his only chance for salvation will lead in him becoming deaf, the hope that appears in Crump’s eyes is remarkable. Both Duchovny and Cranston give great performances.
This is a superb episode, held back from perfection by a few key problems at the end. When Crump succumbs to his condition at the end of the episode, we can not help but feel that Gilligan simply ran out of nerve to carry it out to conclusion – Crump surviving would have come as a reward rather than a cheat. And the way that the new acting head of Mulder and Scully, Kersh, treats them both with disdain that just doesn’t seem believable shows that even now they really never knew what to do with this character. But otherwise Drive is a fine episode. Had all of the Los Angeles based episodes been made with such cracking energy, the series could’ve continued in this vein for quite some time.
My score: 4.5 stars.