Drive (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 6
|Directed by||Rob Bowman|
|Written by||Vince Gilligan|
|Original air date||November 15, 1998|
"Drive" is the second episode of the sixth season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network in the United States on November 15, 1998. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Drive" earned a Nielsen household rating of 11.0, being watched by 18.5 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received largely positive reviews from television critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In the episode, Mulder is trapped in a car by a seemingly deranged man, and Scully races to determine if the man is suffering from a deadly illness—and if Mulder is in danger of becoming the next victim of some sort of government conspiracy.
The episode was written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Rob Bowman, and featured a guest appearance by Bryan Cranston. Gilligan cast Cranston to play the antagonist because he felt he could successfully humanize the role. Cranston's success in "Drive" later caused Gilligan to cast the actor as Walter White in his highly-acclaimed AMC series Breaking Bad.
Via a live news report, a high-speed car chase comes to an end in the Nevada desert. Assuming it to be a kidnapping, the female passenger is pulled from the vehicle and placed into the protective custody of a police vehicle. The driver, Patrick Crump (Bryan Cranston), is pushed to the asphalt and handcuffed. The woman in the police car begins violently banging her head against the car window. As the news chopper catches all of this on film, the woman's head explodes, sending a spray of blood across the window.
Mulder and Scully get wind of this bizarre car chase as they're doing work in Buhl, Idaho investigating possible domestic terrorism. Mulder coerces Scully into taking a detour to Elko, Nevada on a hunch that this may be an X-File. Crump, who has started to develop symptoms of a sickness, is put in an ambulance. Mulder, wishing to speak to Crump, follows the ambulance, and ends up being kidnapped by Crump, who has escaped from the police.
Mulder realizes that Crump is in a considerable amount of pain and that the only way to ease the pain is to drive west. At first, Scully believes that Crump is suffering from some sort of biological contagion, but after investigating the Crumps' home, she discovers a U.S. Navy antenna array emitting ELF waves stretches beneath their property. Scully deduces that an abnormal surge in these waves somehow caused a rising pressure in the inner ear of the nearby inhabitants. Westward motion and an increase in speed seems to be the only thing to help ease the pain of the increasing pressure.
Initially, Crump, thinking that Mulder is in on some sort of government conspiracy, forces Mulder to drive by brandishing a gun. He further infuriates Mulder by using anti-semitic slurs. Eventually, however, Mulder and Crump begrudgingly make amends and decide to work together as allies, rather than enemies. Mulder explains to Crump that Scully will meet them at the end of the highway. There she will insert a needle into Crump's inner ear, hopefully relieving the pressure. Unfortunately, when Scully arrives, it is too late and the pressure in Crump's ear has already exploded, killing him.
Conception, writing, and filming
The idea for the episode can be traced back to an early idea Vince Gilligan, the writer of the episode, had. His original idea featured a man holding an individual hostage on a Tilt-A-Whirl. Gilligan pitched this idea at several meetings and it soon became a recurring joke. Most of the comments Gilligan received noted that his premise lacked an explicit mystery to investigate and so Gilligan decided that after the ride was shut off, the man's head would explode. Researching various government experiments, Gilligan discovered the controversial use of low-frequency waves. The secret military experiment featured in this episode is based on two real-life military experiments, Project HAARP and Project ELF. The former is a U.S. Army experiment dealing with electromagnetic radiation in the Earth's ionosphere, and the second is a U.S. Navy experiment dealing with long wavelengths. Thus, a script was crafted that featured an individual that, due to a secret experiment, could not slow down for fear of rupturing his head.
Gilligan admitted that the episode was partially an homage to the 1994 film Speed, and the episode even features an explicit reference to the film: when Crump and Mulder discover that speed is the key to success, Mulder mentions that he thinks he "saw this movie." The opening teaser footage is done in the style of a news report, a stylistic direction that IGN suggested was intended to echo the O.J. Simpson incident of just a few years earlier.
Vince Gilligan, the writer of the episode, wanted Bryan Cranston to play the antagonist because he felt he would humanize the role. “We needed a guy who could be scary and kind of loathsome but at the same time had a deep, resounding humanity," he later said. In an interview with The New York Times, Gilligan stated, "We had this villain, and we needed the audience to feel bad for him when he died. Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it.” Rick Millikan, the casting director for The X-Files noted that Cranston was nearly not chosen for this episode. Initially, the part of Crump had been assigned to a different actor, but Cranston came prepared to audition for the part. Although the character had already been cast, Millikan allowed him to audition and was very pleased with his performance and chose him for the part instead.
Cranston's work on this episode later impacted his career; Gilligan cast him in the series Breaking Bad, but AMC executives were initially unsure of this decision as they were familiar only with Cranston's work on the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. They were convinced after viewing his performance in "Drive". Gilligan, a fan of country musician Junior Brown, cast Brown as Virgil Nokes, the farmer who Mulder and Scully investigate at the beginning of the episode. Brown was flown in at the request and personal expense of Gilligan, and would later perform a song on the trailer for the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul.
"Drive" first aired in the United States on November 15, 1998. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 11.0, with a 16 share, meaning that roughly 11.0 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 18.50 million viewers. The episode aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1 on March 14, 1999 and was watched by 0.70 million viewers, making it the sixth most viewed episode that week. Fox promoted the episode with the tagline "He'll stop at nothing."
"Drive" received largely positive reviews from critics. Zack Handlen from The A.V. Club wrote positively of the episode, awarding it an A, and writing that the entry was "a great example of the engine that keeps great television moving." Handlen noted that the climax of the episode was "as moving as it is suspenseful" and drew parallels between Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Mr. Crump and his eventual portrayal of Walter White from Breaking Bad, noting that both illustrate the idea that "you have to keep moving. If you stop, you die." Review website IGN named it the ninth best standalone X-Files episode of the entire series and complimented the interaction between Crump and Mulder, writing "it's the interplay between Mulder and Crump that makes this episode a standout. [...] Crump here is an antagonistic yet heartbreaking character, and as he and Mulder become unlikely allies in their 'drive,' 'Drive' in turn becomes a memorably scary X-Files episode [...] because of the perhaps most frightening element of the show's world ever: mankind itself, and the governments that supposedly protect us."
Colin Ellis from The Dashing Fellows called "Drive," "arguably one of the best episodes post-Fight the Future of [The X-Files]." Tom Kessenich, in his book Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files wrote positively of the episode, saying "[T]hank God for 'Drive', which taps into the idea of Speed, the hit movie starring [Keanu] Reeves, but pushes it in an excitingly different direction." Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a largely positive review and awarded it three stars out of four. Although she slightly criticized the case being investigated as "pure hokum", Vitaris praised Mulder and Scully's teamwork, and their ability to work together despite being separated.
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- Meisler, Andy (2000). The End and the Beginning: The Official Guide to the X-Files Season 6. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-107595-7.
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