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The Prisoner: A Change of Mind

"Number Six has been declared unmutual until further notice."

A lot of The Prisoner is about the individual versus the collective. This episode was probably the most Orwellian. Prisoners can't just suffer their imprisonment. They cannot be depressed or in any other way unhappy. They must participate with the activities of the collective, smile and be content, socialize with others, and exercise in the Village gymnasium instead of alone in the woods. (This is starting to sound like high school.)

By refusing to be part of the Village community, our hero became "public enemy Number Six." He was shunned by the pod-people-like Villagers who marched about chanting "unmutual" and "disharmonious." He was bombarded with attempts by the "Appeals Subcommittee" to bully him into submission, and bashed with striped umbrellas. And finally, Six was subjected to "instant social conversion."

It's open to interpretation by the viewer, but I got the impression that Number Six knew from the start that he was never in serious trouble, that they wouldn't dare lobotomize him. How could they, when their ultimate goal is to find out what he knows? He kept applauding all of their efforts as if he were watching a particularly clever stage play. When they locked him down and Eighty-Six demonstrated how she was going to use that laser to lobotomize him, he had a huge, manic grin on his face. (Although maybe it was the sedation.)

When they used drugs to make him malleable and to convince him he had indeed been lobotomized, Six played along. I liked how he pretended to be out of it by shouting the names of things in his flat. "Rug!" (I was tempted to use "Rug!" as my opening quote.) And I liked how he outwitted Number Eighty-Six and got her to drink the drugged tea. Although wouldn't the constant surveillance have noted that he put that first cup of drugged tea in a vase?

The Committee, with their top hats and striped shirts, looked exactly like the Council in "Free For All." For that matter, the Village bullies who attacked Six were wearing the same type of striped shirt, but instead of black pants, they wore blue jeans (so you'd know they were bullies). Bystanders in the Village were wearing khaki pants with their striped shirts. Clones everywhere.

Can Number Six tolerate real loneliness? He's already shown that he can. He is too much of an individual to succumb to peer pressure from a community full of sheep and cabbages. They really would have to lobotomize him to make him conform. And then Six would still win by default, because they'd never know why he resigned.

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Five: I confess that I have been unmutual. I have claimed that The X-Files were over-rated.
Number Two: Demonstrating your unmutuality.
Number Five: I announced to a whole room that there were plot holes in the new Star Trek that you could drive a At-At through.
Number Two: Plus, you mixed Star Trek and Star Wars jokes.
Number Five: I have never read any Harry Potter books, nor seen the movies.
Number Two: This just demonstrates the importance of this work.
Number Five: I kind of thought Jar Jar Binks was funny.
Number Two: Seriously, that's cool, no need to go on...

Denunciation, re-education, and re-integration are something that have been with humans for a very long time (see: Inquisition, Spanish), but they took on whole new meaning in the 20th century with the rise of Communist states. This episode very much mirrored the kind of public conformity exercises typical of the Stalinist era show-trials (where one hoped very much merely to be placed in the Gulag for a few years).

The thing was that "actually existing Communism" (to use the term of art) was defined by a lot of things, but one of the key ones was that it focused on the creation of a radiant future for which people as they are today were completely unsuitable. When Number Six is declared "unmutual," it means he isn't even trying to be suitable for that sort of future. His fellow citizens who confess and conform to both the letter and spirit of the thing aren't any more ready, but they are worthy to keep building it. In Stalin's day, many Russians released from the Gulag (despite incredible hardship, disease, and psychological torment) desperately wanted to rejoin the Communist party and demonstrate that they might still be ready to work for that future. It's this kind of thinking that allows weak people do some very hard and terrible things, and its fingerprints can be found at the sites of horrendous violence throughout the century.

It was also all over some of the best science fiction from the 1960's to the present. I am reminded of a scene from the movie Serenity, where you see how the idea has worked its way pervasively into our thinking:

The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Mal Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

And don't think for a second that such thinking died off in the real world with Communism.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Number Two says he is not a member of "The Committee" and implies that they are the real power. Are they?

-- The initial dictated confession scene was a strong one. Rather upsetting.

-- The possibility of lobotomizing Six was mentioned and dismissed in "Checkmate."

-- Before and after his non-lobotomy, Six saw a man being subjected to "aversion therapy." It showed Rover, Number Two, and the word "unmutual."

-- Six was taken to the hospital. It looked like a castle. Have we seen it before?

-- The latest Number Two (John Sharpe) was plump and balding, and liked cookies. (Of course, because he's plump, and plump people like cookies.)

-- This episode was directed by Patrick McGoohan under the pseudonym "Joseph Serf."


Six: "I take it you've checked my file regarding hostility?"

Forty-Two: "They are socially conscious citizens and are provoked by the loathsome presence of an unmutual."
Six: "They are sheep."
Except when they're cabbages.

Six: "To borrow one of Number Two's sayings, the butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart."

I think I'll go with three out of four rugs,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

  1. Two comments excerpted from the Companion. The first made me think of American politics, paticularly those who fail to apply critical reasoning to the propaganda flooding the airwaves. The 2nd one is interesting, considering Ben's take on this episode:
    - This is the most unsympathetic portrayal of the common Villagers. They not only witlessly obey authority, they appear to take up the authoritative line as they would a cause and are quick to condemn those who do not conform. There is a mob mentality in this episode that is absent from any others. It's as if the entire community had been drugged, beaten, or otherwise conformed, which is distinctly possible. In previous episodes the authorities of the Village tried to beat Number Six on their own; this time they enlist the Villagers into the battle over Number Six's soul.
    - It is easy to make comparisons between the committee in this episode and McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee of the 1950s. A common social good is established, and anyone outside the mainstream is subject to the whims of an angry lynch mob. "Unmutual," in this context, can be replaced with the political term "communist."


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