Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder and Scully continue their domestic terrorism assignment, but when Mulder takes note of an unusual news story, the agents become embroiled in the unfolding events...
Status Report - Memorable Quotes - Final Analysis
After a problematic season premiere, the producers quickly turned to Vince Gilligan to get the “episodic” side of the season off to the right start. The series needed to showcase the advantages of the Los Angeles shooting locations, and this was the perfect episode to allow for it. Despite a somewhat clichéd plot device that lifts a couple concepts from the film “Speed”, this is a nice example of how the increasingly iconic nature of the characters allowed for some great stand-alone episodes.
In the wake of the film, building on what had already started in the fourth and fifth seasons, the characters had attained something of an iconic status in the popular culture. It was no longer necessary, from a certain point of view, to address Mulder or Scully’s past history or psychology to make an episode work. Just about everyone understood that Mulder was the believer and Scully was the skeptic, but both were aligned in a search for the truth.
So in many instances, the plots in the sixth (and seventh) season became a question of dropping Mulder and Scully into an unusual setting or situation and seeing what happens. When the writers took the opportunity to reveal changes in the characters due to recent events or sides to their personality that track with earlier revelations, that particular type of episode worked just fine. When those aspects were missing, the episode were less than impressive.
This is an instance where the concept works, especially in terms of Mulder’s motivations and Scully’s approach. The evolution is more obvious with Scully, because it doesn’t take her long to move into “extreme possibilities”. She quickly and methodically ventures into territory of conspiracy and unusual biology without much in the way of refutation. This is something that Gilligan does very well: exploring the subtle shifts in Scully’s perspective over time, as her world view becomes more and more influenced by Mulder’s strength of belief.
The episode is unusual from the very beginning, providing a completely viable reason for Mulder to learn about the incident and consider it worthy of his attention. Placing it on a news broadcast is about as “exposed” as it gets, and yet the footage is not so bizarre as to strain reality. The vast majority of television viewers wouldn’t catch the true depth of the oddity of Vicky’s death. It would just be noticed as a horrible, terrible tragedy.
The continuity here makes perfect sense. Mulder and Scully would have been dealing with the aftermath of their experience in “Fight the Future” no later than September 1998, roughly 3-4 months after their reassignment to domestic terrorism duty. Even accounting for a month-long debriefing, that leaves another month or two of the same assignment under Assistant Director Kersh. All told, by this point in the timeline, it’s no surprise that Mulder is losing his mind. He’s been doing grunt work for about six months, after years of doing exactly what he wanted to do.
Scully gets to play the more calm and rational partner, reminding Mulder that they gain nothing by playing outside of the rules yet again. For all his excitement over the chance to get back in the saddle, Mulder approaches the situation (at least initially) with a very reserved and professional manner. It’s easy to forget that Mulder is a very good investigator; it’s just his impulsive nature that sometimes gets in the way of his insight and judgment.
Things quickly get out hand. Scully begins her examination of Vicky Crump without taking nearly enough precaution (note the complete lack of eyewear or surgical mask), just in time for Mulder to be taken hostage by Patrick Crump himself (played perfectly by the versatile Bryan Cranston). What was supposed to be a simple day in Nevada degrades into a major situation with plenty of negative exposure for the agents.
What makes this particular episode revealing for Mulder is his handling of Crump over the course of the situation. Mulder has every reason to stop the car and walk away, leaving Crump to his fate. Crump certainly does everything possible to insult and disparage Mulder and his probably ancestry. At least, he does until Mulder’s motivations prove to be genuine.
Even better, for all that Crump is completely out of line with his anti-Semitism, he’s completely correct in his assumption that the government is behind his condition. One of the most interesting things about the story is the fact that it’s based on actual reported cases of the effects of ELF on humans. It just takes the idea to the extreme. As noted elsewhere, the writers on the episode discovered this fact in their own research; the military was and is aware of possible biological and psychological effects of ELF on human beings.
This is significant, because instead of Mulder (who would accept the idea with relative ease, as seen), Scully is the one coming to that conclusion. And more to the point, she does it based on the science. Rather than finding odd and contrary reasons to deny the possibility, Scully accepts what the evidence suggests and acts accordingly. This is the Scully that should have come out of “Fight the Future”, in lieu of the version presented in the previous episode by Chris Carter.
Kersh represents an interesting shift in the fortunes for both agents. Ironically, Kersh demonstrates the same attitude and obedience that Skinner demonstrated in “Tooms” and many first and second season episodes thereafter. It’s quite clear that Kersh is working as Cancer Man’s handler for Mulder and Scully, and he’s just waiting for them to pull something big enough and damning enough (which is exactly the psychological space Cancer Man wants them to be in).
Perhaps the most effective aspect of this episode is the ending. Under most circumstances, one would assume that Mulder and Scully will succeed, thus giving them something to put in front of Kersh as evidence of their good work. Instead, their efforts fail miserably. Crump dies and any justification they might have had (in saving a man’s life) dies in the process. Kersh has them right where Cancer Man wants them, and Mulder knows all too well where he stands.
Instead of playing the peacemaker, Scully responds with equal annoyance and disgust. And Kersh doesn’t give her the chance to present an argument to “persuade” him. In terms of Kersh, this immediately casts him as a villain in the eyes of the audience; as with Skinner in the early seasons, the character is slowly revealed as a man trapped.
The end result is an episode that seemed to promise a sixth season with just as much edge as the audience could reasonably expect. The irony is that the season would quickly take a turn into more and more self-parody, to the point where the characters were treated more as icons with little need for character advancement than viable individuals with potential for growth. The unfortunate consequence is that many new fans took to the lighter side of the series at the expense of strong episodes like “Drive”. It would take a major change for the writing staff to break out of their self-imposed constraints.
FARMER: “Jehovah’s Witness?”
SCULLY: “No, sir…Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
MULDER: “But we do have a free copy of the Watchtower for you if you’d like…”
SCULLY: “As we said, sir, this is just routine.”
MULDER: “So routine, it numbs the mind…”
SCULLY: “You’re to have no contact with him whatsoever. Mulder?”
MULDER: “Well, that’s going to be a little tough, Scully…”
CRUMP: “What are you doing?”
MULDER: “What? What am I doing?”
CRUMP: “What the hell are you doing?”
MULDER: “I’m composing a sonnet!”
KERSH: “Oh, Agent Scully…I think, at this point, I want to see him alive ever more than you do.”
MULDER: “I can think of something else I’d like to call you. I could put ‘Mister’ in front of that, too, if you’d like…”
MULDER: “Well, on behalf of the international Jewish conspiracy, I just need to inform you that we’re almost out of gas.”
SCULLY: “Mulder, are you OK?”
MULDER: “Yeah, aside from terminal cell phone withdrawal…”
Overall, this episode was one of the strongest episodes of the sixth season, especially in terms of character development. Both Mulder and Scully demonstrate how they have changed since the events of the film, in small but recognizable ways. The plot itself has some twists and turns to be appreciated, and the new production conditions were well utilized. A hidden gem for the sixth season!
Final Rating: 8/10
Back to Season 6
Back to Reviews