Destination: Buhl, Idaho; Elko, Nevada; California
“I’m just saying, that’s no way to treat a man. Take away his dignity like that. It ain’t right. Better just to kill him.”
There is an overused metaphor about life that states if you don’t keep moving, you die. It’s overused, because there is a lot of truth in it. This episode takes that metaphor and makes it literally true.
As the episode opens, Mulder and Scully are stuck. They are not moving forward; in fact, they are moving backward. They have gone from investigating huge space ships in Antarctica to investigating huge piles of crap in Idaho. They are both frustrated and bored. Unsurprisingly, they both jump at the chance to do something real, something relevant, something that means something. They jump at the chance to begin moving forward again.
Mulder spends the episode moving forward, literally. He is forced to drive Crump west so that the poor man’s head won’t explode. As Mulder does this, as he drives and interacts with this man, we see the Mulder of old begin to re-emerge. He is willing to believe that something untoward is happening and he is willing to do what it takes to prevent yet another innocent from suffering or dying at the hands of unseen forces.
The actual cause of all this is a bit thin, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because this show is an acting tour de force. Bryan Cranston is brilliant as Crump who, finally, is not a very nice person. Granted, we don’t meet him on his best day, but we get glimpses of who he was before all this happened to him. Cranston is able to take this less than good person and make us care, make us want him to survive in spite of some of the things he says and does.
Cranston and Duchovny are fantastic together. Their interactions never cease to be interesting and deeply revealing of who the other is. Once again, we must raise our glasses to Vince Gilligan who wrote this episode. He was able to find the humanity in both men and make them both heroes in their own stories.
The end of this episode is among the most moving moments in the entire series. It is heartbreaking to realize that Mulder and Scully have failed to save Crump and it is hard to see the despair on Mulder’s face as he stands looking over the Pacific.
The metaphor is clear. Mulder is in the driver’s seat again. He must move forward, in spite of all the roadblocks put in his way. His refusal to stop is not stubbornness. He must keep going or he, too, will not survive.
-- It was during the filming of this episode that Vince Gilligan met Bryan Cranston. They would go on to make television history together. Someday, I really must watch their show.
-- The cold open is one of the best of the series. If you had watched the show live back in the day, you would be forgiven for thinking that it had been preempted by another police chase. Incredibly realistic filming.
-- Scully is in the background of this episode. It is she who figures out what is going on, but the strength of this hour is the interactions between the two men. I was struck by how willing Scully was to believe, to make the uncommon leap to the answer. Maybe it’s only the mythology that she’s struggling with (and so say all of us).
-- I’m sure the lingering shot on the Welcome to California sign was tongue in cheek.
-- The final scene with Kersh was a brilliant coda to this episode. Mulder will move forward, no matter what. Scully, too, has moved forward. She defends her actions and makes no secret of the fact that neither of them are going to stop doing what they must.
Kersh: “Southern Idaho? Think carefully.”
Scully: “Sir, I am not currently in the state of Idaho.”
Kersh: “No, you’re not.”
Scully: “In the course of prosecuting our assignment in Idaho, Agent Mulder and I came across a situation in Nevada which we both strongly felt needed our immediate attention.”
She always has her partner’s back.
Mulder: “It’s Mr. Mulder to you, you peanut picking bastard.”
Mulder: "Well, on behalf of the international Jewish conspiracy, I just need to inform you that we’re almost out of gas.”
Mulder: “We’ll figure this out.”
Crump: “Better figure quick. We’re running out of west.”
Final Analysis: In my top twenty, this is an episode that is well written and so well acted. A great start to the MotW episodes as the series moves into its next phase.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.