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The Prisoner: Dance of the Dead

Six: "Why haven't I a costume?"
Two: "Perhaps because you don't exist."

I enjoy a kangaroo court costume party full of hidden meaning as much as the next television critic. But I think the symbolism kind of got away from them this time.

The prisoners of the Village were forced to party and wear "Carnival" costumes, an obvious statement about their lack of identity. The powers that be in the Village were also in costume, concealing their identities and true motives, although they appeared to be dangerous lunatics with incomprehensible rules who could dole out death on a whim while they pretended there was actual justice. And yet, Number Six was not in danger. Apparently, Six knows something that is so critical that they can't damage him to the point where he cannot remember it.

The three judges were (I think) Queen Elizabeth I, Caesar, and Napoleon. Little Bo Peep was the prosecutor, and Peter Pan the defense. The brainless Dutton was in a jester costume. And Six was not in costume. They gave him a very James Bond tuxedo, which was very much his former self and an exception to the rule. Later, he disguised himself with a lab coat and went on a personal mission to figure out what was happening. Is Six the only real person in the Village?

Actually, this episode was supposed to be about death (hence the title). Six was told that he doesn't exist any more, and the rest of the world thinks he's dead. Much like the body Six conveniently found on the beach that later turned up in a file drawer. Or possibly like Dutton, who is now brain dead because he wasn't as important as Six. Let's not forget the black cat wandering about being symbolic, either. Was Dutton yet another deception? Will he turn up later, looking fine? Why does Dutton have a name? Because Six knew him from before?

Sleep isn't safe, either. Six realized that they were drugging and brainwashing him while he was sleeping. The door to his flat was locked, except when it was not. I'm confused. And I'm not even going to try to explain the secret pink room and Six breaking the teletype machine, or whatever it was.

Did all of this carnival crap happen because Six stopped sleeping?

Ben P Duck No. 5 says...

Number 2: Why are you dressed like that?
Number 5: I could ask you the same.
Number 2: Don't make me have a show trial for you with the other reviewers dressed as Ned Stark, Don Draper and the Rubber Man from American Horror, because I'll do it.
Number 5: Fine, fine, because I find the color slimming.
Number 2: That’s all well and good, but it's still a duck suit...
Number 5: Says the woman dressed as a giant pink bunny.

Well, this was a weird ass episode, even by the standards of The Prisoner, and that's saying a bit indeed. As I was watching, I kept thinking of what I thought of as a pair of entirely unrelated movies: John Cusack's Identity and Tom Hank's Cast Away. After a bit of reflection, I realized that although the episode on its face was supposed to be about death, it was really about Identity. The clue is in the title which refers to the medieval Danse Macabre, which is only one of many sorts of inversions of identity. In the Danse Macabre, one doesn't fear death -- one becomes something else, maybe even death itself. Carnival, or Mardi Gras, are based on the same idea. We discard who we are and enter a state of what's called "liminality". In this state, you are stripped of everything that is important to you and are opened to being re-formed in all sorts of ways. The episode is rife with disguises, wallets and identity cards, all elements of either proving identity, or hiding it.

What is really interesting here is that Number Six was actually given his identity back during this weird celebration. He was again the dashing spy in the tuxedo. The inversion was bringing him back from the dead, but it only served to demonstrate that he was living in a state of non-identity as a number. In the same way, each of the movies I was thinking about were about the unraveling of ego and identity of the characters and a dawning realization that we are not our concept of ourselves. So that comes across in this case, and in purely technical terms, as weird ass.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Six is still new to the Village.

-- There is a force field around the Town Hall. That's interesting.

-- Six likes cats. I tend to like men who like cats, because it often means they're comfortable with women. But in this episode, Six says to never trust a woman, even the four-legged variety.

-- Six put a pillow against the TV so they couldn't watch him, and the TV squealed.

-- Six again tried to escape. He ran on the beach but was unable to get past Rover to the water. Later, he put a life preserver on the dead body he found to see if it would get past Rover. The body turned up later in the file cabinet, so no.

-- Six is so important that he gets his own observer: Bo Peep, who gets involved with her charges, who never get to know her in return. Except Six did. Now that Bo Peep has moved on to other sheep, will Six get another observer?

-- We got our fifth Number Two, a tiny middle-aged woman who wore an extremely out of character Peter Pan costume to the "Carnival."

-- In this week's hair report, Six seemed blonder than in the previous two episodes. Maybe he's getting a lot of sun on his vacation by the sea.


Six: "How did I sleep?"
Two: "Sound as a bell. Have a nice day. Feel free."

Six: "I won't be a goldfish in a bowl."

Two: "Three judges decide here."
Six: "As in the French revolution."
Two: "They got through the dead wood, didn't they?"
Very funny. Yes, the headless bodies piled up. They got things done.

I think this episode was convoluted for the sake of being convoluted, and wasn't as strong as the previous episodes. Two out of four inexplicable pink rooms,

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


  1. More from the Companion:
    ... there are equally strong arguments that "Dance of the Dead", "Free for All", "Checkmate", and "The Chimes of Big Ben" were each intended to be the second episode. The confusion ... appears to come from the fact that four different screenwriters were probably working under the assumption that their assigned script was the second script. Each one had been handed the script for "Arrival" and told to come up with a new script for the series...

    The plot of ("Dance of the Dead") is not only intricate but, in many ways, undisciplined and nonsensical... It is primarily a montage of ideas, and the ideas are among the most powerful in the series: democratic values, justice, and the structure of authority. Considering the difficulty that a viewer faces when trying to put the pieces together, it makes sense that the episode would be pushed back in the sequential order. You need some basis in the series before you can attempt to understand this episode -- or even enjoy it.

  2. Mark -- that is a really interesting point about the placement of the episode. I am watching it on the newly released Blu-Ray version and this is episode number eight. In the audio commentary, which is weak at best, they do describe how fraught the production was with loads of directors, producers and others walking off in frustration and scripts being delivered late and wrong. It sounds as if the fact that they pulled it into any kind of cohesion is almost miraculous.

    As Billie and Ben point out, I think the costumes were an interesting choice, not only for the fact that everyone was in costume, but the choice of the characters themselves.

    Bo Peep? Her job is to corral the sheep -- hence her role as an observer. Queen Elizabeth I, Napoleon and Caesar were all people of great power, yet none of them got their power in the traditional sense -- all three of them had to grab it, or in QEI's case, hold it on by sheer force of will. An interesting parallel to the three in this show who were handed the power and then abused it. The court jester was a brilliant way to show that Dutton has become nothing more than a fool.

    My favourite costume was Peter Pan. Not only is it a female playing a male role, but it is hard to imagine anyone more resistant to authority than our Peter. It is interesting, however, that Peter is also the leader of a ragtag group of young boys -- all of whom want to be like him.

    And, of course, we had Six in his own clothes, which proved that "[he] is still [him]self." Looking like a secret agent, he stands out from the crowd more than he ever has before. Similarly to the ultimate 007 (another number), however, Six appears to be misogynistic down to his core -- he won't even touch a woman to dance with her.

    I simply loved the cat. As anyone who has lived with and loved a cat will tell you, a more independent creature does not exist!

    Finally, the quote of the show: "Self-denial is a great sweetener of pleasure." Wonder how Oscar Wilde would respond to that? :-)


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