“Crump? Is this what happened to your wife? This same thing? If you stop moving, you die? I think I saw this movie.” — Fox Mulder
Tonight, on The X-Files, Fox Mulder has to drive around a very cranky Walter White, who happens to be having a life-threateningly bad day.
Radhika: Oh “Drive.” Little did we know that this would essentially be Bryan Cranston’s audition tape before he’d go on to play the landmark role of Walter White on Breaking Bad. The show was probably barely a gleam in creator Vince Gilligan’s eye — back then, he was just one of the biggest members of The X-Files team, writing and producing some of the show’s best episodes. His work on “Drive” is no exception.
“Drive” is a Monster of the Week episode, and while it’s just as formulaic as other episodes of its kind at times, it’s also very different — partially an homage to car chase news reports and of course, a blatant homage to the film Speed.
The episode opens with a high-speed car chase that ends with the driver, Patrick Crump (Cranston) being restrained and his wife’s head exploding. Mulder convinces Scully to take a detour from their current non-X-Files case to Nevada, where Crump is developing symptoms of an illness. Crump ends up escaping from police custody — and Mulder, in a classic case of “right place, right time,” is abducted and forced into driving Crump west at increased speeds.
Meanwhile, Scully deduces that low frequency waves (courtesy of the US Navy) near the Crump home caused a rise in inner ear pressure, which only tends to be abated by speed and westward movement. Though Mulder and Scully hatch a plan that will involve Scully releasing the pressure in Crump’s ear, they’re too late — and Crump does indeed die.
The storyline isn’t terribly complicated and a good chunk of it takes place in a car, between two characters. So what makes it good? For one thing, we have solid writing and tension. And meanwhile, we also have Bryan Cranston, who ended up incredibly well cast in the role of a man who is both sympathetic and despicable — the latter especially thanks to numerous anti-Semitic remarks aimed at Mulder (who neither confirms nor denies if he’s Jewish, but expresses disgust on our behalf). In addition to being close-minded, Patrick Crump is rightfully paranoid about what the government has done to him and he’s also rather pitiful, considering the horrendous way he lost his wife and the fact that he knows the same thing will likely happen to him.
But both Crump and Mulder are characters that manage to play off each other well: Despite being vitriolic in response to Crump’s unpleasant nature, Mulder is also willing to figure out what ails him and genuinely wants to help. In a touching exchange, just moments after Crump offers a misguided apology for “the Jew stuff” because “a man can’t help who he’s born to,” Mulder encourages his abductor to stay alive so he can “stick it to the government.” Mulder is still willing to stand up for the underdog — even a less likable underdog, if it means justice will be served. It somewhat explains why he’s willing to stick to the humiliation of being in the FBI with barely any privileges.
During this time, it was unexpected to see Bryan Cranston playing such a part opposite Duchovny on The X-Files. He was better known for playing inept, but loving dad Hal on comedy Malcom in the Middle — and I myself can still remember my shock when I realized who he was about halfway through “Drive.” But he brought an incredible amount of humanity to the role in an episode, which fell into that borderline “realistic” category certain episodes of The X-Files belong to — everything just feels very high stakes and very real thanks to the writing and performances involved.
Max: Vince Gilligan definitely got a lot of mileage (pun intended) out of placing Mulder in the claustrophobic confines of an automobile with Crump the irritable racist. Rob Bowman, who directed Fight the Future, helmed this episode, which at times shamelessly shows off the new possibilities for the program now that production has moved to California. The open vistas and wide tracking shots (particularly in the opening chase sequence) herald a change in tone for series.
Framing that chase as a news chopper report is but one attribute of the paradigm shift. In fact, Radhika and I were talking about the shape of the season the other night in anticipation of episodes to come, and we agreed that there is something in the air, wholly different from previous seasons, but still with the recognizable contours of an episode of The X-Files. “Drive” hugs all of those contours with ease, and is one of several outstanding entries into the X-Files canon that we will come across in this sixth season.
For the foreseeable future, we will be stumbling into new cases in manners that are not typical of the series, given our heroes’ reassignment (checking up on individuals ordering fertilizer and manure no less) to work seemingly less glamorous than what they are used to. It is telling at the end of the episode how AD Kersh chooses to upbraid his new charges, itemizing the cost to the government of Mulder’s little escapade after seeing a news report about Crump on television.
Showing a coldness and a complete lack of empathy for Mulder and Scully, Kersh refuses to recognize the good his agents did for the people living near the US Navy experimental facility, going as far as to suggest the project’s termination as merely coincidental. We spoke a bit last episode about how Scully’s determined rationalism would get in the way at times, but even she is flabbergasted as to how Kersh could not see the connections right in front of him, and sulks off just as frustrated with her current station as Mulder is. For investigators as good as Mulder and Scully, it is a slap in the face.
I never watched Malcolm in the Middle, so I couldn’t share in Radhika’s surprise when I first saw this episode, but Cranston’s work here is unassailable, and I can’t really add to the wonderful plaudits my partner gave to his performance. Crump is not an easy character to like, but we feel for him despite his glaring character flaws. What I found powerful and compelling though was Mulder’s body language when, arriving at the California coastline, he slows down only to reveal that Crump died before Scully was able to ameliorate the pressure building up inside his inner ear. The frustration that all of the episode was for nothing (seemingly) is right on Mulder’s face, and Duchovny sells every second of it. It is the ennui Mulder felt all through the episode coming to the surface, a feeling Scully would share by episode’s end.
More than 100 episodes into the series, and it is still a pleasure to be rewarded for one’s faithful fandom with a stellar episode like “Drive.” We may not be in the classic X-Files era that the series is prototypically known for, but the confidence and experimentation of the episode is quite exciting, something that will come to define the best outings of this season.
YES, IT’S THAT GUY
Bryan Cranston – Has the gushing above done nothing for you? Fine. Aside from his roles on Breaking Bad and Malcom in the Middle, Bryan Cranston may also be known for his role as Dr. Tim Whatley on Seinfeld. Cranston won four Emmys for his role as Walter White on Breaking Bad and also won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in the play, All the Way. Cranston has been appearing in numerous TV shows and movies since the 1980s.
Michael O’Neill – Playing the patrol captain, O’Neill is a television staple, having appeared in everything from The West Wing and 24 to more recent shows like Extant, Bates Motel, and the Sundance program Rectify, where he portrays the slimy and vainglorious Senator Roland Foulkes.