The X Files Revisited: 6.02 Drive
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show - and two movies – and the latest season six episode review delivers a unique twist on the film Speed...
Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad is widely regarding as a modern TV classic, but before that, he produced some true The X Files classics, from Pusher to Bad Blood. Drive isn't as strong as either of those entries but it does has the foundation for Breaking Bad thanks to a great guest star appearance by Bryan Cranston. And the premise is a good one too; Cranston's Patrick Crump has been infected with what appears to be a virus and if the car he is in slows down below 70mph and doesn't head west, his brain will explode. It is an intriguing twist on the film Speed (Mulder's "I think I saw that movie" line is well played), with an added sci-fi twist giving it a proper X-Filesy spin.
Of course it isn't actually an X Files as Mulder and Scully are no longer working on those cases and Drive is the first of many great attempts to keep up the premise without actually having them working on them. Unlike season two, this time they get to work together, but that is the only bright light in their situation. Forced to travel across the US, door to door, investigating suspicious purchases of fertiliser in the search for domestic terrorism, they are literally tracking 'big piles of manure'. It's no wonder the mysterious woman (Crump's wife) with her exploding head live on TV attracts Mulder's attention and sends him off to Texas to lend the local police department a hand.
The shadow of their new boss FBI Assistant Director Alvin Kersh hangs over the episode the moment Mulder and Scully deviate from their assignment. James Pickens Jr. makes a strong impression as the new recurring character. He's 'by the book' and reminiscent of the Skinner of seasons one and two but a bit more ruthless given the agent's current standing within the FBI. He openly tells Mulder he can always quit when he complains over their punishment and is almost gleeful when he tells Scully they could have saved a bus full of children and it wouldn't have improved their situation. They may have solved the problem of what was causing people's brains to explode but they broke the rules and you can see the anger and frustration in Mulder and Scully by the episode's end. Interestingly though, there is so sense of villainy in Kersh, no sense at this stage he is aligned to Cigarette Smoking Man and his shadowy cohorts. He is a ruthless character but not a bad one; in his eyes Mulder and Scully are the ones breaking the rules time and time again and you can almost sympathise with his methods.
There are some great twists in the process of Mulder and Scully's investigation. What begins as a potential viral outbreak leads into a more sinister cover up of a military experiment. Based on real life military experiments Project HAARP and Project ELF, the incident that caused the tragic events changes it from a potential alien or threat or virus to a conspiracy thriller as only The X Files does best; a frequency from an experiment gone wrong has caused the inhabitants to die, the pressure in their ear canals building to the point the sides of their heads literally explode. It is certainly something different to what the show has tried before and the mystery provides a great momentum as Scully searches for answers while Mulder finds himself held hostage by Crump.
The scenes between Crump and Mulder, as the agent races across the US are fun to watch. Crump is the anti-government conspiracy theorist to the extreme and so of course Mulder finds a kindred spirit. The fact the government actually did this to him is a delicious irony. If anything I would have liked more of this - perhaps making the episode more of a two-person interplay - but what we get is good, with Bryan Cranston making an instant impression. The fact that it all ends in tragedy is a bold move; in most shows Mulder would have got to Scully in time to save Crump but they arrive just moments too late. It takes a moment from when Mulder's car reaches the Californian coast to realise that his passenger died a moment too early and the sight of Mulder staring out to sea, filled with frustration is very well acted by Duchovny.
There is a fast pace to the episode and the LA-based production makes good use of the new setting by having Mulder drive across Texas, Nevada and California. There are even some effective quasi-horror moments as the ear canal explodes on Scully while she does the autopsy on Crump's wife and her tense trip to site of the experiment in the hazmat suits where she finds the dog in pain and the bird dead in the woman's trailer is straight out of an outbreak horror movie. I would have liked more depth to the interplay between Crump and Mulder - the victim is perhaps too much of a conspiracy nut hick and Mulder too cocky to get any deeper engagement but it remains light and fun at heart. Most importantly it is an a innovative twist on the film Speed and something fresh and new in The X Files cases. Sx seasons in, that's not always an easy task...