The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

"I am the original. He is the economy pack."

Absolutely brilliant episode.

The bad guys set out to shake Six's sense of identity by introducing an evil double. But they didn't just introduce a double. No, that wasn't anywhere near enough. They took Six, kept him drugged for days? weeks? long enough to grow a mustache, conditioned him to believe he was left-handed and preferred another brand of smokes, removed a mole on his wrist, and told him he was the evil double who was supposed to shake the real Six's sense of identity. Six went along with it and apparently never fell for it, even when his evil double beat him at shooting, fencing, boxing, and extensive bantering.

(Maybe he should have played chess with himself, too. Although the real Six probably would have won, and we couldn't have that.)

What was Two, or whoever came up with this evil plan, thinking would happen? That the turnabout was so extreme that it would work? It did seem to throw Six a tiny bit, especially Allison's betrayal with the mind-reading cards, but Six was just too much of an individual to lose his sense of self. After registering that his bruised fingernail was in the photo and shocking himself out of his conditioned left-handedness, he went to his own cottage, faked out his double, and got him killed by Rover. (Because of the password, right? That was a bit confusing.)

Would a superagent good enough to impersonate Six so well give in so quickly and divulge his real name and password? That was probably the weakest moment in an exceptionally strong episode. Six decided to impersonate his impersonator in order to escape, and he almost got away with it. That final conversation with Number Two as they were driving to the helicopter was well done because we can see from Two's reaction that Six has made a mistake. But we don't know quite how he blew it until he is returned and Two says that Twelve's wife Susan died a year ago. It was cruel of Two to let Six actually get into the helicopter and into the air, thinking he had succeeded in escaping.

This was a remarkably sophisticated story. And the doubling was done very well, considering it was filmed in 1967. Six's banter with himself was just delightful, although Number Twelve got all the best lines. Patrick McGoohan was superb.

Oh, my. I just got it. Six doubled is Twelve.

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Five Number One: Hullo.
Number Five Number Two: Ahh, Number Five. You should know I always say Hello.
Number Five Number One: Don't you mean howdy?
Number Five Number Two: Very clever, but I am the real Number Five.
Number Five Number One: Are you? Didn't you have an evil mustache a couple of scenes ago?
Number Five Number Two: Sure, but it was a glue-on just to shake things up, and isn't Number Five really right-handed?
Number Five Number One: Oh great, who's this new guy?
Number Five Number Three: Howdy guys. Have you seen my mind-reading cards?
Number Five: This was not a good idea.

This episode had two evil things which I love: twins and mustaches. Without repeating my thoughts on evil twins/doubles, I am continuously surprised at the frequency with which this plot point is used in sixties television of all types. What element of the zeitgeist made this seem like such a good idea? Was it simply a plot trope which was incredibly common then and which has disappeared now (perhaps like the Cat Fight will eventually)? Then there are mustaches, a subject on which I have opined elsewhere. I have to add, though, that Number Six's whole hair and mustache combination as "Flapjack Charlie" was just what I look for in an evil facial hair.


At the same time, this episode had a serious undercurrent of madness and psychological torture as a way of breaking the Prisoner. Ken Kesey's influential novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was published in 1962, and posited that "mental health" was really about control and crushing the individual. This sentiment, if not direct references to the novel itself, clearly runs throughout The Prisoner. At the same time, and although it didn't emerge publicly until years after this episode, psychiatrists and others in Soviet mental hospitals were conducting experiments on dissidents, captured spies and even unfortunate foreigners which would have rivaled anything seen in the Village. Insanity, induced or implied, was used as a weapon to break people to the will of the collective state.

The full details may wait generations to emerge (it looked like we might learn more in the nineties, but things have darkened since) but they involved all sorts of conditioning through drugs and electrocution. Of course, the CIA was just as interested in the techniques and LSD emerges from their experiments into the same sorts of mind control techniques. In general, Number Six might regard himself as having gotten off pretty easily in this episode.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- The date was Wednesday, February 10.

-- You'd think that pulsator over Six's bed would have woken him up.

-- The fake Six was wearing a white jacket with a black stripe. Too funny.

-- The shooting game with the flat screen and the gun controllers was just like Wii. How about that? The futuristic fingerprint thingy was much like the ones used today, too. Although Six knows his own fingerprints? That seemed improbable.

-- Allison, number 24, apologized to Six for betraying him. I bet we never see her again.

-- Six pronounced the password "Gemini" as "Gemen-ee." Do you guys in England do that?

-- This was the first time Rover was called Rover.

-- In the previous episode, "the General" was a computer that was destroyed. Number Two said that "reporting to the general" sounded odd, and that was probably why he tested "Twelve" with the reference to Susan. Was it supposed to be another General? I'm confused.

-- This week's Number Two wore a turtleneck and carried an umbrella.

Quotes:

Two: "You always did enjoy your food. Even before a job from the black file."
Was Curtis an assassin?

Fake Six: "Where'd they get you, a people's copying service? Or are you one of those double agents we hear so much about these days?"

Fake Six: "I take it I'm supposed to go all fuzzy around the edges and run off into the distance screaming, 'Who am I?'"

Fake Six: "Well, I certainly shoot more like me than you do."

Fake Six: "If ever you do challenge me to a duel, your safest bet would be battle axes in a very dark cellar."

This is my favorite Prisoner episode. Five out of four Number Sixes,

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

2 comments:

Mark said...

This is one of my favorite episodes, for the reasons you mention her. (Doesn't hurt that the actress Jane Merrow is lovely and the character Alison (24) is sympathetic. I was hoping to see her again, but alas not.)

You say "tiny bit", but I think Number Six was in real jeopardy. Losing all those contests (due to the imposed handicaps) raised some doubt, but Alison's double whammy (reading cards, then the wrist mole) did serious damage. If the fingernail photo didn't act like a life preserver, I think Number Six would have "drowned".

More Companion notes:
- Only episode where Rover is named.
- The focus of the episode is on survival as an individual. (The escape attempt at the end is a convenient opportunity, but not the central conflict of the story.)
- Number Six believes more in human ability (like ESP) than he does in machines (like the fingerprint scanner).

Tom Siebert said...

>>> Six went along with it and apparently never fell for it,

Really? I think from McGoohan's acting you see his struggle to figure out what is going on, and that he even doubts himself. It's only when he sees the picture of his fingernail that he makes the connection and realizes he's the real #6. To say he never falls for it removes a lot of the dramatic impetus of this great episode (my favorite as well).