The X-Files #166: Drive

"On behalf of the International Jewish Conspiracy, I've got to inform you that we're almost out of gas."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder must drive Bryan Cranston west before his head explodes.

REVIEW: Drive takes its cues from well-publicized highway chases and the movie Speed to create a fun/tragic action-oriented episode, though writer Vince Gilligan fails to give us much in the way of reasonable explanations (even by the show's standards). A sound produced by an underground antenna that keeps resonating in your ear until your head explodes unless you drive West at faster and faster speeds? We're going to need a little more to go on. Even accepting the experimental government tech was designed as a weapon, or even as mind control (its homing characteristics), there's still a plentiful lack of scientific basis for what we see on screen. That's the episode's biggest flaw, because otherwise, it does a good job of using the Californian landscape to stage its cross-state chase scenes, Bryan Cranston (as Crump) is a quality guest-star towards which you can feel sympathetic (even if his antisemitism is ugly and frankly, more than a little strange), and the body horror is shocking and effective.

Like Speed, Drive puts its characters in dire straights and cuts them off from their usual tools (or one another) to ramp up the tension and show off their resourcefulness. Mulder can't stop driving, gets his phone thrown out of the car, has to refuel, etc. all under extreme conditions. Meanwhile, Scully is quarantine minutes after her autopsy of Crump's wife, and can't communicate with Mulder once she gets out. How they nevertheless manage to collaborate and help each other is clever, but also steeped in mutual trust. If the episode is exciting, it's not really because of the velocity; it's because we want to see how they'll overcome obstacles to help each other out.

And Drive is somehow a metaphor for the show. Our two heroes are stuck in the domestic terrorism unit, on punishment duty, basically going around the country checking on farmers who have bought enough manure to make a bomb from. This is quite literally bullshit, and Scully even refers to the assignment that way, rather insolently, in Assistant Director Kersh's office. (I like this character, hard as nails, and not as flustered as Skinner was, though obviously, my preferences must lie with the latter.) Drive is a side-trip, again rather literally, in which Mulder must go in a certain direction, but without knowing why or what the destination might be. Is this Gilligan's opinion of the Mytharc? Normal FBI duties are bull, but the X-Files give the characters direction. Except they don't know what they might uncover; they're driving blind on Conspiracy Road. Crump's death at the end of the road is a lot like the unresolved ending of many X-Files episodes, and Mytharc episodes especially. It's an ending, but not one that satisfies our curiosity, or even feels like a victory.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Almost-High - If the sci-fi element were given even a THEORY, it would get a better score from me. As is, still a well-structured action-packed episode that has something to say about the show and makes its leads shine.


snell said...

I can't speak to the "science," but fear of the effect of ELF was (is?) a fairly common conspiracy theory, especially around my region, as the govt built facilities around the Great Lakes. And there is some science for an impact on human nervous systems in extreme situations.

"...even if his antisemitism is ugly and frankly, more than a little strange..." Isn't that true of all antisemitism?

Siskoid said...

Yes, true, I'm always at a loss, but there are contexts (Nazis, for example) where I understand why it's there. With Crump, it just seemed tacked on.

Madeley said...

An episode I've always liked, but never loved, exactly because the "weapon" or whatever was just stupid. I don't mind fanciful or bizarre, but it was just stupid. The rest of the ep was great.

Wasn't it originally meant to be set on a merry-go-round or something? Which would have been even dafter.

Siskoid said...

I don't know, but I think "movement" would have made a touch more sense than "movement in a specific direction" does. Of course, that would have poisoned the whole action element.


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