The Prisoner: The Girl Who Was Death

"And that is how I saved London from the mad scientist."

This was the third completely atypical episode in a row. It's been a long time since I first saw the series, and I honestly didn't remember it. It was just delightful.

Even with the open storybook at the beginning of each segment, I didn't register that Six was telling a silly story to a bunch of kids until the end. I should have, though. It was exactly the sort of fantastic spy story that Six would make up, full of deaths and explosions and a mad scientist bombing London with a rocket hidden in a lighthouse, enhanced with the silliest of James Bond devices. I laughed, over and over. If this whole thing came out of Six's mind, he is quite a strange man.

I bet the writer and director knew their Freud, because the sex/death imagery was so pervasive that it had to be intentional. The Girl was constantly talking about how much she loved Six while also describing how she would kill him. She wore all sorts of white outfits and everything she used — the helicopter, the sports car, the Nazi helmet — was virginal white. She was very fixated on her father, and in the final scenes in the lighthouse, she was wearing her mother's clothing (Napoleon and Josephine). She met Six in the Tunnel of Love, trapped him in the Turkish bath closet, lured him onto a roller coaster, and he hid in a hole in the ground. He fell through a trap door and was nearly impaled on spikes. There were constant explosions and phallic symbolism everywhere: the cricket bat, the broom handle, the hot pipe, the lighthouse and the rocket, the rifles, bombs and bazooka, and especially the room full of cyanide candles. I'm sure I missed quite a few.

(Six pushing all of the cyanide candles against the door and then blowing them up with a bellows was my favorite gag in the episode.)

I really enjoyed Six skulking about with immense sideburns dressed like Sherlock Holmes, too. It was just so silly that it worked. I was thinking of "Hammer into Anvil" when Six got a secret message by listening to a record; it was like he was including it to deliberately bedevil Number Two. The Girl pointed her finger to make his car roll, as if she were a witch, and that was right before Six entered "Witchwood." Where he found the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker.

The big ending with the rocket in the lighthouse and Number Two as the mad scientist who thought he was Napoleon was ridiculous, but fun. The minions were like Keystone Kops, falling all over each other and ending up in a pile on the ground. It was very like Six to think of setting all the rifles to backfire and all of the very phallic bombs to stay with the thrower and explode.

If this were more of an arc-type show, though, I would have found the last three episodes pretty annoying. Could we get back to the real Village, please?

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Five: So then I had this dream where I was riding on this rocket when suddenly I plunged into this sea of angel food cake. I sink deeper and deeper until reaching the core of the cake, and then suddenly there is an explosion of sunshine and I am showered in rose petals.
Number Two: Yes, go on.
Number Five: Then suddenly I am riding through a ticker tape parade and the President is congratulating me. What do you think it all means?
Number Two: I think it means that you do not suffer from self-esteem issues.

Just a silly episode. I have read in several places that the producers of The Prisoner felt that they were stretching to get 17 episodes out of the series. This episode was proof of that assertion. It had virtually nothing to do with either Number 6's role as the Prisoner or his history as a spy. But it was a lot of fun and gave McGoohan a chance do straight comic acting for the virtually the only time in the series. The scene with the poisoned drink and Number 6's solution was particularly inspired, as was doing the whole thing in a Sherlock Holmes disguise. Also, I know so little about cricket that I initially thought that occasionally you just must use an exploding ball. At the risk of annoying the BillieDoux.com cricket fan (you know who you are), it would be a better sport if you did.

I think Billie really nails it when she suggests the Freudian imagery and the sex/death connection. McGoohan was critical of the sex and violence of the Bond series, and indeed some have suggested that it was these concerns that caused him to turn down the role of Bond in Dr. No. Knowing that, one can well imagine that this is not so much a harmless spoof, but instead a rather pointed skewering of the babes and drinks approach to the spy genre.

He is not alone in this criticism. John Le Carre said back in 1966, "You felt he (Bond) would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry." I think for people like McGoohan and Le Carre, Bond represented an adolescent fantasy that was fundamentally suspect and emphasized all the wrong things. To them, and even in fiction, espionage and spies were a much more serious business. It was about people at the forefront of a nasty secret conflict between very different ways of life and which potentially could have terrible consequences, and not about martini preparation.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Although there was only one scene in the Village, this one at least starred McGoohan and had the traditional opening credits. The score was very carnival-like.

-- The spy that Six replaced, the old man playing cricket, was wearing a bulls-eye on his head.

-- "Go to Barneys boxing booth. Front Row. P.S. Who would be a goldfish." Who would be a goldfish?

-- I wonder if this episode was intended to satirize Secret Agent?

-- This episode's Number Two was mostly Napoleon. He even had the requisite comb over.

Quotes:

Potter: "It was so damned unsporting."
Six: "It certainly wasn't cricket."

(Six sees writing at the bottom of his glass that he has been poisoned)
Doris the barmaid: "Same again, sir?"
Six: "No, thank you. One of those is quite enough. Brandy. Whiskey. Vodka, Drambuie. Tia Maria, Cointreau, Grand Marnier."
McGoohan must have drunk a lot of tea and water while filming that scene.

Referee: "Now I want a good clean fight. No kicking, butting or gouging, except in moderation."

Girl: "I love you madly. And I love the way your hair curls on the back of your neck. You'll make a beautiful corpse. I'm going to do the honor of letting you die superbly."

Girl: "You are a born survivor. I am a born killer. We were made for each other."

Napoleon: "You're quite sure you killed him?"
Girl: "Father, who taught me?"
Napoleon: "You're a girl after my own heart. if only your dear mother could see you now. Good old Josephine."
Girl: "Tell me again about her last cavalry charge."
Napoleon: "Not now, child. We have work to do."

Napoleon: "... and you merry lads can have... Chelsea Barracks!"
(the soldiers are unenthused)
Napoleon: "Ungrateful swine."

Napoleon: "It's Waterloo all over again."

Girl: "Mountaineering rope. It would hold an elephant."
Six: "I must remember that the next time I go climbing with one."
I loved how Six got out of the ropes. It reminded me of how Michael got out of a similar situation in La Femme Nikita.

Girl: "Think of me when you hit town."

Number Two: "That one wouldn't drop his guard with his own grandmother."

Three out of four cyanide candles,

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

3 comments:

Mark said...

The Companion's reaction after listing the poison antidote drinks: "Don't try this at home, folks."

- This is an entertaining but lightweight episode, one that was actually written for Secret Agent. The script was revamped for The Prisoner late in the game, when the production team was running out of ideas for additional Prisoner episodes. It appears that the people involved had great fun reviving some old Secret Agent ideas. Christopher Benjamin, a regular on Secret Agent, plays the same role here: that of Potter. And there is a minor player in this episode, a bowler, who is portrayed by an actor named John Drake.

Anonymous said...

I'm planning to visit Portmeirion, Wales in December. Can't wait to climb into No. 6's car. "The Girl Who was Death" was clearly the best episode of 'The Prisoner' just after "Hammer Into Anvil".

Unknown said...

A lot of this & other "Prisoner"episodes took ideas from the "avengers" you have just been poisoned, the broom handle through the steamer,& thee mind swap from an avegers episode that was reused in "do not forsake me. Plus many others to numerous to mention...Roy.