"Drive" is similar to "Blood" and "Wetwired" in that it involves a conspiracy of some sort, but the major conspiratorial players (CSM, the Syndicate) are nowhere to be found. This episode is a shrewd mix of Monster-of-the-Week gore and mythology episode depth. Overall, I enjoyed this one, but with Vince Gilligan scripting it, who wouldn't?
So here's what happened:
The opening teaser was one of the more elaborate in series history as a fabricated Fox News report follows a high-speed chase in Nevada. An unknown driver has stolen a blue car and has taken a hostage. This lamb-chop sporting fugitive is speeding west, but police have a little surprise in store. The car zips across a spikey tire-popping chain and comes to a halt, and the local police yank the man from the car and save the female hostage lying in the backseat. As the man struggles on the ground, the woman is put into the back of a squad car and wastes little time banging her head against the window. The camera pans back, the woman slumps inside the car and a high-powered bloody spray covers the window. Ewwwww.
Later that day, Mulder and Scully are investigating a suspiciously large fertilizer purchase by a farmer in Idaho. Mulder is obviously bored and while the dim-witted farmer searches for his receipts, Mulder's attention turns to the television. A news anchor is describing the Nevada high-speed chase and the "unusual" death of the hostage. When it's "unusual" you know Mulder's going to be there. While Scully finishes up with the law-abiding, fertilizer-purchasing farmer, Mulder places a call to the Nevada police and offers the FBI's services. At first Scully is upset about Mulder's insubordination, but Mulder counters with this quick quip: "Now the sun will rise in America tomorrow regardless of whether or not we're at yet another farm investigating yet another enormous pile of doo-doo." It's a convincing argument and Scully isn't a big fan of "doo-doo" anyway, so it's off to Elko, Nevada they go.
The news report explained that the hostage taker was also the woman's husband, so this isn't your typical car jacking. In his holding cell in the Elko police station the man (Patrick Crump) is at first reticent, but a high-pitched squeal throbbing through his brain and the stream of blood flowing from his nose send him into hysterics. By the time Mulder and Scully arrive at the precinct, Crump is in bad shape and is about to be shipped off to the hospital. Mulder decides to follow the ambulance while Scully straps on the autopsy gear and prepares to examine Crump's wife.
And what an autopsy it is. The wound is "all-exit" as the medical examiner puts it, which means the woman wasn't shot, she just popped from the inside. For some strange reason Scully pokes a metal instrument in what remains of the ear and a brain bubble explodes, smearing blood on her smock. Scully goes into "Contamination Mode," thinking that whatever this woman died from is contagious. She quarantines the examination room and calls Mulder to tell him to stay away from Mr. Crump, less his brain pops too.
Staying away from Crump is going to be a tough thing to do. While Scully was busy probing the inner recesses of Mrs. Crump's cranium, Mr. Crump was recovering in the ambulance. When he felt perky enough, he stole a guard's gun, stopped the ambulance, busted out the back door and found Mulder waiting in his sedan. When Scully calls to tell Mulder the bad news, Crump is sitting in the back seat, pointing a revolver at Mulder's head and demanding that he drive. To make matters worse, Crump rips the cell phone from Mulder and tosses it out the window, leading Mulder to angrily exclaim, "No! That is so stupid Crump!" Separating Mulder from his cell phone is never a good idea.
In the process of driving across the Nevada desert, Mulder discovers that anytime he slows the car down, Crump develops severe headaches. He also learns that driving west alleviates the pain, so driving west at a high rate of speed is the remedy. Mulder knows a roadblock will probably be set up and since stopping will kill Crump, he takes a detour. While bouncing over dirt roads "Mr." Crump and "Mr." Mulder trade barbed comments. Even in his weary state, Crump is able to launch anti-Semitic comments at Mulder, who brushes them off with only mild offense. Why is this important? It's the first time we've learned about Mulder's religious and ethnic background.
While Crump endears himself to Mulder, important developments are happening back in the police station's examination room. A CDC scientist decked out in a level 2 contamination suit is performing cell cultures on a second brain-popping victim and he determines that whatever killed Mrs. Crump and the unnamed second victim isn't communicable. Scully has one of her flashes of genius after reading the second victim's chart. The dead man lying on the table was a meter reader and if he read the meter at Mrs. Crump's residence, that might explain why both suffered the same demise.
Working on Scully's hunch, a group of investigators, wearing contamination suits, travels to a trailer park where the Crumps used to live. Scully's hypothesis that the park is ground zero for this virus is backed up when a german shepherd's head explodes and a collection of dead crows are found nearby. One local resident is still hanging around and Scully scares the bejesus out of this poor old deaf woman as she comes prancing into her dark living room wearing that godforsaken contamination suit. After profusely apologizing to the deaf neighbor, Scully again puts the pieces together: If humans and animals are both dying from this affliction and a deaf woman has made it through unscathed, maybe the transmission of this nasty beast is through a sound. Scully does a little snooping and stumbles across the cover to a U.S. government-owned electrical box. It appears that the government is up to it's old tricks experimenting on the local gentry, and this time they've been playing with sound waves.
At roughly the same time, Crump tells Mulder that he thinks the government has been running tests on him and his wife. He claims to have seen government types walking through his woods and the paranoia he's acquired from television has led him to put two and two together. Mulder, of course, believes him and tells Crump that the only way they can stick it to the government is for Crump to survive and reveal the truth. Unfortunately, the truth will have to wait while they refill the gas tank.
Mulder pulls into a low-rent service station, fumbles with the tank cap and watches as a little vein in Crump's head pulses violently. Realizing he's only got seconds before Crump ruins the upholstery, he yanks Crump from the car, throws him into a gassed-up station wagon and drives off into the night. Before stealing the station wagon, Mulder wisely left a note for Scully in his abandoned sedan telling her that for Crump to survive he's got to keep heading west and he can't stop.
Now that she knows the government is somehow involved, Scully takes the next logical step and visits the closest military base, which, in this case is the Horizon View Naval Research Station. Taking a page from Mulder's "How to Lie to Government Officers and Get What You Want" book she learns from a Lieutenant that the Navy has been conducting sound experiments in Nevada and during a test of radio ground equipment they had a power surge. This surge caused all kinds of inconveniences: screwed up television reception, fritzed phone lines and the occasional exploding head. Scully asks what effect such a surge would have on a human being, but of course that information is classified.
As dawn breaks, Mulder and Crump are tailed by two CHiP's (that's right, Ponch and John are in hot pursuit), but the motorcycle police aren't there to pull them over, they've got a cell phone with Scully on the other end. Once connected, Scully tells Mulder that the exploding brain phenomenon may be due to extremely low radio frequency transmissions the military uses to communicate with subs and other hardware. Mulder, being a student of conspiracy, knows that these transmissions have been associated with Project Seafarer and Project HAARP and they're also rumored to be an electrical nerve gas capable of doing bad things to humans and animals. Scully believes this "hum" from the radio transmissions has matched the frequencies of the victims' skulls, causing a rising pressure on the inner ear and eventually shattering it. Mulder figures that constant movement -- namely speed -- alleviates the pressure, but that still doesn't explain why they've got to drive west. Scully hypothesizes that it has something to do with magnetic currents in the earth, but chances are the thing just wants to go to the beach.
All this techno-speak is interesting, but that little vein in Crump's head is beginning to flare up again. Fortunately, Scully has a solution. If she inserts a long needle into Crump's inner ear it should release the pressure and save his life. The downside is he'll be deaf and won't have the benefit of anesthetic. As long as Crump can stick it to the government he's willing to give it a shot.
Scully waits to meet Mulder at a beach in Loleta, California, but as Mulder approaches he drives by his partner, parks in a nice spot by the ocean and calmly walks toward the shore. Lying in the backseat is Crump, who's inner ear exploded just moments before.
Back in D.C., Mulder and Scully stand in front of Assistant Director Alvin Kersh's desk. Kersh has itemized their expenses and takes great pleasure in talking down to the agents. When Mulder voices his dismay at pursuing fertilizer purchases, Kersh suggests that he quit the Bureau. Mulder leaves and Scully tries to make a case for their work in Nevada, but Kersh is unimpressed. The AD blindsides Scully with this comment: "Don't misunderstand me agent, I don't care if you and your partner saved a school bus full of doe-eyed urchins on their way to Sunday bible camp. You no longer investigate X-files. You are done."
Scully walks away, boiling hotter than she ever has. "Big piles of manure," she says under her breath and the camera pulls away.
So there it is. An episode full of well-written Gilligan dialogue, a shadowy plot that may or may not signal government involvement and the joy of seeing brains ruin the backseats of two different cars. "Drive" was a crafty episode that showcased the remarkable talents of Vince Gilligan.
Note: This review originally appeared at Ontap.com. It's reprinted here for archival purposes.