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The Prisoner: The General

Man: "What are you doing here?"
Six: "Playing truant."

I suppose it would have been odd if The Prisoner hadn't done a takeover by computer at some point. And they did make it interesting by combining it with Speed Learn, an instant education by sublimation. Wasn't that a popular idea in the sixties? That you could go to bed at night listening to a tape and you'd wake up with a whole lot of new knowledge?

Apparently, the knowledge imparted to the Villagers by sublimation seemed to be buried. Every time someone asked him a question about history, Six looked surprised that the right words were coming out of his mouth. And yet, they didn't seem to address the other possible buried knowledge that the Village might be trying to impose on its prisoners. I thought that was where the episode was going, but it never arrived. Although maybe that's what the military eventually intended to do, and "three minute history" was just the initial experiment to see if it would work.

But instead, we had Six outwitting the room-sized computer in a very Star Trek-like way by asking a simple question: Why? You'd think the General would come back with a request for more information, or a simple, "that does not compute," but instead it boiled over and exploded, even killing people in the process.

I'm usually pretty good on picking up what stuff means, and I get that this was a condemnation of both the military and regimented education, but I'm completely perplexed by what they were doing with the Professor. Why replace him with a mannequin? Why was his artist wife creating busts? Statuary, representing the prisoners, is a big theme in the series, so I'll have to be satisfied with the idea that it was all intended as symbols of dehumanization.

I should probably watch the episode again to see if I can figure it out, but quite honestly, I wasn't intrigued enough to watch it a second time. This episode just didn't age well. Technologically, we've gone too far, and we stopped being afraid of computers a long time ago. The whole thing might have worked a bit better if the General had talked, or communicated through a screen. The clumsy interface with the typewriter, fax, and a punch card carried across the room to the computer was convoluted and slowed the action down to a crawl.

Actually, the part of the episode I enjoyed the most was Six in a black suit, top hat and sunglasses sneaking incognito into the control area. I loved the little blue plastic hand coming out of the box to grab the "pass." The force field was fun, too. "The second occasion is fatal!"

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Two: What does Mark Greig think of the firing of Dan Harmon from Community?
Number Five: There's no doubt that Harmon's removal is a major blow to the series. Our timeline is now 90% darker as a result.
Number Two: How many Slayers were there when Buffy began?
Number Five: To each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a chosen one.
Number Two: How does Josie feel about Sean Bean?
Number Five: Sean Bean is so sexy... My god, Billiedoux.com has turned me into a very knowledgeable fan-cabbage... And it can do the same for you.

You know, the funniest thing about writing a review of this particular episode was, that I wrote it while sitting at a conference on how to increase college productivity (a conference which I should add occasionally left me feeling as if I was in fact attending an event in the Village). But even without the influence of the environment, I think I would have been struck by the contemporary quality of the questions raised here about education. You see, it's long been known that the verb "to educate" conjugates in a highly irregular fashion: I educate, you indoctrinate, they brainwash. The General could teach you all the facts but none of the answers; it was providing the pinnacle of the kind of rote memorization without any meaning attaching to these facts. It is exactly the kind of education that a repressive government or organization would want, the kind that doesn't cause people to ask questions. It's also what higher education struggles with today as it tries to educate more people more quickly without surrendering the pursuit of knowledge and questions for their own sake.

Then there is the General himself, a super computer that can plant knowledge directly into your mind. Perhaps I shouldn't point it out but as we speak (er... write) at Carnegie Mellon University they are using advances in the latest neuroscience to do pretty much exactly that. That, and there are also plenty of online systems that are supposed to deliver you that education directly into your house. So the education world of this episode is pretty much here, although hopefully they have improved the engineering so there will be slightly less electrocuting of the faculty.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Apparently, Twelve was sincere in his attempt to recruit Six, but why did Six believe Twelve in the first place? Six never believes anyone.

-- Six can do a decent, if not flattering, portrait with pastels. In fact, if Madame Professor did indeed do all of the busts, she and Six did portraits of each other.

-- Was it Halloween? I could swear there were masks and pumpkins.

-- Our eighth milk-drinking Number Two returned for a second engagement. He was in "A, B and C." I'm surprised he wasn't removed from office. Maybe the re-sequencing of episodes for the DVD set should have put "The General" before "A, B and C".


Two: "Probably the most important human experiment we've ever had to conduct, and it's treated like a military exercise."

Two: "And what have we got?"
Six: "A row of cabbages."
Two: "Indeed. Knowledgeable cabbages."
Six seems to have a thing for calling the Villagers cabbages, doesn't he?

Two out of four tiny blue hands coming out of boxes,

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

1 comment:

  1. Hi Billie: That was the entire reason for suggesting reviewing this one before "A., B., and C."

    The Companion agrees with Ben: there was a concern that education was dumping information on students, without giving teaching them how to think and analyze those facts.

    Also, that this series does not have trouble with science (and honest scientists), just with people that would misuse these tools.

    I suspect that Six believed Twelve because of the goals. He was not planning to escape, or do anything that would concern Six's resignation plans. He just needed someone to help stop the project from becoming an abomination.

    It's been a while since I've seen this one. Wasn't Number Two bragging that the computer could answer any question? I wonder if that directive was part of the program, so that it was forced to give a response to "why?"


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