Season 6, Episode 2: “Drive”
Original Airdate: November 15, 1998
Let’s say you’re the kind of person who goes around saving the world. Sometimes in a big way. Sometimes in a small way. But always: with the saving. And it’s a good life to have, or anyway, it’s a good thing that you’re doing. Except when you’re saving the world, there’s this catch. There’s this catch that when you’re saving the world, you don’t get to choose who you save. When you save the world, you save everyone. Even the lousy, nasty, slur-spewing ones.
“Drive” is the story of one of the lousy ones. A fellow named Patrick Crump, who we meet mid-highway-chase. He’s driving west and he’s got his wife in the back seat, and she’s not doing so well, and then they’re caught at a roadblock. He’s pulled to the ground screaming and she’s put in the back of a cop car, where she bangs her head against the window, until her head explodes. Only not from the banging. From something else, like a tiny bomb inside her head.
The incident catches the attention of our agents, who are mid-disenfranchisement, investigating large piles of crap in Idaho. That is to say, with the X-Files out of their reach, they’ve been assigned to investigate fertilizer purchases, farm-door-to-farm-door, you’re not going to make a bomb there, are you? And Mulder’s fed up, and Scully’s trying to put on a brave face, but then Mulder catches that report and decides that their talents are needed in Nevada. In Nevada, where Patrick Crump is being held.
It’s easy to see why Mulder wants to go to Nevada. He’s a restless soul, an ageless wanderer (seriously, with the show now being filmed in the full-bright California sun, Mulder looks healthier than ever), the guy who’s never going to take censure lying down. Scully, well. Scully goes because Mulder goes. I mean first she says a few things about how they have to follow the rules, but ultimately, she relents. But what for, don’t you wish you knew? Mulder’s not the only one who likes saving the world, after all. Would be nice to see a little more “you’re right, we should do this” and a little less “fine, because I know I can’t stop you.”
Because the thing of it is, once they’re there, she’s all in. Taking a look at Crump’s wife’s body while Mulder tries to meet with the man himself. Both agents get more than they bargained for, at that point – Scully quarantines herself when the dead body spurts blood at her, and Mulder gets taken hostage by Crump and forced to drive. West. Fast. And not stop. “I think I saw this movie,” says Mulder. Except the one with the bus and Sandra Bullock didn’t have anything to do with a man who starts to pound his head on the window if they slow down too much.
Crump is a mean old sonofabitch, probably even without the handgun and the headache and oh, the dead wife. He’s got a lot to say to Mulder and most of it is anti-Semitic. Some of it, though, is conspiracy-theory, typically Mulder’s bread-and-butter. But our agent is put off by Crump’s brand of the X-Files, put off by Crump’s choice turns of phrase (“they’re dropping Agent Orange, they’re putting radiation in little retarded kids’ gonads”). Crump’s statements are dripping with bias and amplified by fear, like he’d been waiting his whole life for this, in some way. And although Mulder holds his life in his hands, and although Mulder doesn’t like him one bit, he keeps driving. Keeps asking him what he can do to help.
While Mulder drives, Scully pieces it all together. It’s not a virus, or anything contagious, but a something that was transmitted aurally, something affecting Crump’s ear canal. She tracks it back and tracks it back and determines that it has something to do with Project Seafarer, a classified experiment with ELF waves run by the Navy (based on the real-life HAARP program). The Crump’s property has a Navy antenna right on the edge of it, and the Navy just barely allows itself to admit to Scully that there was recently a “surge.” A surge that might have screwed with the heads of the Crumps.
“Drive” is written by Vince Gilligan, and Crump is played by Bryan Cranston; it’s the first time the two worked together and both cite this episode as the reason Cranston landed the lead in Gilligan’s Breaking Bad. And you can see it, here, as Mulder and Crump drive on through the night, as Crump half-apologizes and cantankerously begins to come to terms with his own mortality. Gilligan and Cranston have spent the duration of Breaking Bad turning a moderately-lovable, fairly-innocent man into a cold-blooded criminal, all while shooting the stakes up as high as they can go. “Drive” does the trick pocket-sized and in reverse, turning an unlovable man into a sympathetic one in just an hour.
Both Walter White and Crump do the things they do to survive, but also – because they’re prideful. Because they’re men who would rather die in flames than flat on their backs. And if you’re wondering at all why Mulder keeps driving, I think it may be there. Because certainly, Mulder likes to save the world, but also, Mulder likes a fight. Likes to head to Nevada when he should be in Idaho, likes to dig in his heels when the ground’s gone quicksand. Because surely your chances for survival increase, if you push back.
Except Crump doesn’t survive. Just miles from the roadblock where he and Mulder are meant to meet Scully, to try some sort of treatment, Crump’s head explodes. And once that’s happened, it’s clear somehow that it was inevitable, that the work our agents did was never going to be good enough, no matter what. So what does that mean to us, and what does that mean to the fight? Did Crump die because Crump was the villain, because he had nasty things to say, because morality? Or did Crump die because some things can’t ever be fixed, no matter how fast you go?