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The Prisoner: Hammer Into Anvil

"Each man has his breaking point, you know. And you are no exception."

This one made me laugh out loud.

It certainly didn't seem like fun when it started with Number 73, terrorized by the new Number Two, committing suicide by jumping out the window. Six, of course, ran toward the screams to try and rescue her, but too late. It was followed by Two physically threatening Six with a sword and slapping his face, suggesting the very real probability of physical torture. Two told Six that Six had to be the hammer or the anvil, and that Two was going to hammer him.

Instead, Six turned the tables and Two became the anvil. Number Six suddenly started acting very much like an undercover spy for the Village Powers That Be, listening to duplicate record albums as if they contained a secret message, writing notes that looked like code, using a mirror to transmit nonsense in Morse on the beach. This was an exceptionally smart deception on Six's part, the perfect way to keep Two from torturing him. The Village is the perfect setting for unsubstantiated paranoia because there is so much real paranoia.

Six's antics got sillier and more extreme, but Two swallowed them all. Blank sheets of paper planted in the stone boat. A carrier pigeon. A personal ad in Spanish placed in the Tally Ho. The scene where Six skulked up to the door and left a cuckoo clock on the ground had me laughing out loud. It was even funnier when Two sent the bomb squad, who carefully dissected the clock. When Six pretended that Two's minion, Number Fourteen, was his secret contact, Two completely lost it and responded with a wild-haired fit of paranoia in which he fired everyone around him, including the silent butler. I also really enjoyed Number Fourteen attacking Six in his flat, and the two of the destroying the room as the calming classical music continued to play.

Of course, Six won. He got Two to resign. Isn't that what Six did to get into the Village? Note how this episode was about Six sabotaging the Village and taking control, not about escape. Perhaps his intentions have changed.

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Two: I am trying to remember... is this our sixth discussion or our seventh?
Number Five: Depends. This is the fourteenth one I have scripted, but the second one we've had, and the eleventh one we have published. Except in Scotland, where it's the twelfth.
Number Two: Oh. That means what you are referring to here hasn't happened yet.
Number Five: Well, it might have. But because of all the hallucinatory cookies you've fed me and mind-altering light bulbs you've used on me, it's hard to say. It could be our first conversation.
Number Two: I see.
Number Five: Have we met?

Paranoia strikes deep / Into your life it will creep / It starts when you're always afraid / You step out of line, the man come and take you away – Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth" (1967)

Number Six shifts over to the offense. By this episode, he has failed to escape so many times that he has accepted his place as the Prisoner in ways that he hadn't before. He has also decided to win little fights, not just because they are all he could win (as in "A, B, and C") but because they are worth winning in their own right. He does this by exploiting inherent flaws in the system which are vulnerable to manipulation.

Basically, the ideology of mistrust and surveillance creates an atmosphere where paranoia is, in fact, the order of the day. Number Two is as equally vulnerable as anyone else, and because of this he can essentially be made to defeat himself. It’s worth noting that there are many interpretations of the failure of communist states that have argued that this is what made them unable to adapt to the changing world, that no one could act because of their fear of denunciation. In the end, their governments just gave up due to their own paralysis; they were essentially talked out of existence.

Of course, when I mention "by this episode," I wade into the murky waters of Prisoner episode order, which may be the oddest and most confused branches that the Department of Nerd Studies has ever included in its curricula. As I dug about, I found no less than eight lists of the "proper" order of the episodes. These are based on orders of airing, production, reissuing in various collectors' sets, and various addled analyses of series dialogue that would rival anything Oliver Stone had to say about the JFK assassination. At the end of the day, it again points up just how unimportant continuity was for this show. It was there to make a point and tell some stories, but it points to its longevity and continuing relevance that generations of fan scientists have such strong opinions on the subject. (BTW, please read this last paragraph before the first one. I think that was the original order.)

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- We again had thugs with striped shirts wearing jeans.

-- Sign in the Village: "Music begins where words leave off."

-- Six used a message from a dead woman named Number 113. The male reporters we saw early in the series were also called 113.

-- A Kosho challenge!

-- The general store has record albums, a listening booth, and a selection of cuckoo clocks. That's one full service general store.

-- Much of the music in this episode was variations of the classical music Six played in the Village general store. Quite fun.

-- Our latest Number Two was smarmy, had a bald spot, and carried a stick with a concealed sword.


Two: "The Morse! Did you get it?"
Man: "Yes, sir."
Two: "What's it say?"
Two: "Well?!"
Man (reluctantly) "Pat a cake pat a cake baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can."
Two: "It must be a special code."

Four out of four carrier pigeons,

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

1 comment:

  1. More from the Companion:
    - The nonsensical ad in the personals of the local paper is actually a Spanish quote from Don Quixote.
    - In the original script Number Six visits the grave of Number Seventy-three at the end of the episode. This was omitted from the final version. It may have put too much emphasis on Number Six's sympathies. But even with no grave visit, it is becoming apparent that Number Six is taking on a role within this community. He is protecting the people from the abuses of society or at least enacting revenge against wrongs.


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