The X-Files: Drive   Rewatch 
November 15, 2015 8:10 PM - Season 6, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Mulder finds himself forced to drive a man in a high-speed dash across the Southwest in an effort to prevent the man's head from exploding.
posted by town of cats (7 comments total)
Wow, what a fabulous one-line synopsis!

Much was made of the fact that the opening shot of The Beginning, the first episode of season 6, was the bright yellow Los Angeles sun. After five years in Vancouver X-Files production had moved to Los Angeles. The LA Times was thrilled, as I recall - X-Files was at the height of its popularity at the time and the fact that it wasn't shot in Southern California had been bandied about as a signal that LA no longer occupied the place in show business that it once had. Would it soon be the case that you could shoot a world-class TV show anyplace you pleased? So the fact that X-Files had moved to LA was seen as a sign that Los Angeles still had something special that other shooting locations just couldn't match - even though it was widely known that "something" was David Duchovny's new spouse, Téa Leoni, who wanted to stay in LA because of her own acting career.

But the big yellow sun doesn't seem to me to be quite as symbolic of the move as the cold open of Drive, which features an unmistakably SoCal landscape and a fake news intro from Fox 11, the station number of the local affiliate in Los Angeles, with a helicopter covering a high-speed car chase. What could be more LA than that? I currently live in the Pacific Northwest and we've had a rainy week here (although it was nice today) and the driving scenes in this episode made me just desperately homesick for LA - especially the very beginning which looked suspiciously like some of the back streets in the West Valley where I took my first few driving lessons. And they throw in a little stunt driving like it's just nothing at all, which is not something they did much in the first few seasons because in fact stunt driving isn't totally cheap in terms of people or cars, and they're a little thinner on the ground up north. And then, of course, there are the shots of Mulder contemplating the Pacific after he's failed to get Crump to Scully in time. This is a very "Woo! Los Angeles!" episode, although most of it isn't even set in CA.

This episode is a strong one in terms of pacing and suspense. The plot is a bit thin but it seems self-aware about it; ultimately it's clear that the X-File isn't really what this one is about, it's just about Mulder and Scully going rogue and doing what they love to do and getting in trouble for it. Notable are the facts that Scully a. offers only token resistance to Mulder's plan to go check out this case instead of staying on the straight and narrow and doing their assignment and b. never once tries to offer any kind of skeptical explanation for the exploding-head situation they have on their hands. Scully's totally on board with checking out these weird deaths, willing to take in the evidence and come up with plausible theories. She and Mulder work together like a well-oiled machine in this episode. I love when the police motorcycles come up behind the speeding car and the cop just hands Mulder a cell phone. The police are like, "Well, these people are psychotic buuuut so is this case so let's just let these crazy fuckers handle it."

Project Seafarer is a real thing, apparently, and I guess the government did shut down some of these big extremely-low-frequency transmitter arrays, under circumstances conspiracy theorists consider Pretty Suspicious, so this is about as ripped from the headlines as X-Files episodes get.

I guess the big deal about this episode is that it's the first time Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston worked together but I haven't watched Breaking Bad so that's not terribly meaningful to me. Ultimately I'd say it's a nice little package of an episode but I'd hesitate to make it the first episode I showed to someone I hoped would be a new fan; in particular Scully kind of totally fails to act like a medical doctor in a lot of the autopsy-ish situations and the theories they come up with to explain why the head-asplode situation is occurring are pretty unsatisfying and goofy. It's solid but not spectacular.

It's part of an insane run of episodes, though; next up is Triangle which is one of my personal favorites (ohhh boy those long tracking shots, wiggles in anticipation) and then there's the Dreamlands which some people love and some people hate and I happen to very much like, and then there's How the Ghosts Stole Christmas with Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner. I guess X-Files was drunk on the power of being able to throw in guest stars without having to fly them up to Vancouver.

I have a lot of holiday stuff going on for the next few weeks, so my usual Sunday night posts may not occur. I'll do my best, though, and I am really looking forward to seeing Triangle again.
posted by town of cats at 8:17 PM on November 15, 2015

Jeffrey Wells of Skin Horse notes:

'I hesitate to put “Drive” on my list, because, frankly, it’s not really that great of an episode in terms of objective quality. “Monday” or “Triangle” almost certainly should have beaten it out for my #5 slot, but …hell, I can’t help it. “Drive” occupies a special place in my heart, because I was actually studying inner ear mechanics during the time it was aired, and I like stuff dealing with ELF radiation. Plus, I’m a big fan of constrained, limited-resource stories, and this, combined with the tense and ultimately touching relationship between Mulder and the carjacker, puts this one into my top five X-Files episodes, um, not written by Darin Morgan.'

A couple of noteworthy things about the episode:

Vince Gilligan has noted that one of the things he was trying to do in this episode was to see how unsympathetic he could get away with making Bryan Cranston's character - he's a paranoid, antisemitic carjacker - while still getting the audience to sympathize with him. This is a trick that was repeated, in a very different way, in Breaking Bad, so that's another link between the two. (Of course, having a crazy conspiracy theorist, who also himself happens to have been the accidental victim of an actual government conspiracy, deal with Mulder, also a conspiracy theorist, is interesting, and perhaps is part of how the characters can manage to build a relationship, despite their mutual distrust.)

Related to Cranston's character's antisemitic comments, I believe that Duchovny once said in an interview that, as far as he's concerned, Mulder is Jewish. I don't know if any of the writers have said whether they agree or not.
posted by jwgh at 7:38 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen this since it first aired, but I remember it freaking me right the fuck out because I get bad migraines. You know how they say you can't really understand how scary The Exorcist is unless you're Catholic? I feel like that might be the case with this episode and people who get migraines.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Obligatory alternative synopsis:

Mulder finds himself forced to drive a man in a high-speed dash across the Southwest in an effort to prevent the man's head from exploding breaking badly.
posted by Pryde at 10:15 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Even shorter synopsis: Heisenberg on Speed.
posted by KMB at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I went to an event at some random JCC in Los Angeles where Howard Gordon showed and then discussed "Kaddish," and I feel quite certain that if there were a consensus among the writers that Mulder were of the Jewish persuasion that would have been the sort of venue where it would have come up. But yeah, I know David Duchovny has said outright that as far as he's concerned Mulder is Jewish, and this episode kind of cemented that for a lot of people.
posted by town of cats at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2015

I always saw Mulder as agnostic/nonpracticing Jewish; doesn't go to temple and maybe never even bar mitzvah'd, but still sees himself as "culturally" Jewish. I have a friend like that, and he wouldn't necessarily advertise his identity, but he'd definitely take offense at some of Crump's anti-semitic talk.

However, another bit of Mulder's biography is that he is from Chillmark, Massachusetts, which is on the western half of Martha's Vineyard; I've heard that kind of accent on much of my family, and we're talking serious Cape-Cod down-east accent territory. which is why I laughed like a loon when Crump threw something out the window and Mulder was yelling at him, because instead what came out was Duchovny's own deep-Brooklyn "that was so STOOPID, Crump!" accent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on November 17, 2015

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