The Prisoner: Fall Out

President: "You're pure. You know the way. Show us."
Six: "Why?"

I'm conflicted about this series finale. On the one hand, we got Six escaping and destroying the Village, which was good. It's possible that the series wouldn't have become a classic if that hadn't happened. At the same time, along with satisfaction, I've always felt a certain measure of disappointment. We'll never know why Six resigned, or exactly what was the force behind the Village.

But this series was Patrick McGoohan's baby, and this was how he chose to end it -- making a statement about the meaning of the series as he saw it, instead of giving us a more conventional end to the story. And I have to respect that. (Although I know viewers were weirded out, and people must have asked him for years afterward what it all meant.)

In "The Chimes of Big Ben," Six said he would destroy the Village, and he did; we even saw Big Ben again as a reminder. I very much liked that the first shot of the series, Six in his car with a look of fierce determination on his face, was also the last shot of the series. Six won because he never gave up his individuality, and never stopped resisting. Some of the escape itself was also fun, especially the three of them dancing in the truck trailer, and Six and the butler running hand in hand for the bus.

Since it's open to interpretation, I think the surreal trial and the refusal of all those people in the cave to even listen to Six speak (drowning him out with the word "aye!" or possibly "I") meant that this was one last, final trick to turn Six, and confirmation that Number Two — and all of the Number Twos, I assume — were powerless figureheads, prisoners who eventually gave in. But I really didn't like the trial section of the episode at all. It reminded me way too much of Q and the disappointing Next Gen pilot.

I did understand what they were going for. Symbolically, it was pretty clear that McGoohan was saying that the force behind the Village was the mass of Society itself, represented by the masked people in white robes and the Big-Brother-like "Number One" eye in the rocket. In fact, everyone was in costume, much like in "Dance of the Dead" — storm troopers, doctors, the president in the judge's wig; even the butler was wearing a butler uniform. Only Six and his two fellow revolutionaries were in their own clothes.

Six sat on a throne like a king, but he wasn't permitted to speak. Number 48 (played by Alexis Kanner, who was also a stand-out as The Kid in "Living in Harmony") represented uncoordinated, rebellious youth. Number Two (Leo McKern) represented a former member of the Establishment who turned. Six, of course, was the adult rebel who never gave in, and he saved both of them as well as himself. Very anti-establishment, very sixties.

The music was certainly different, too. We actually got a Beatles song, "All You Need is Love," in the hallway with all of those jukeboxes. It could have meant anything, but I think it was intended as sarcastic. I didn't care for the annoying "Dem Bones," which we probably heard a dozen times. I suppose that was a reference to resurrection. But I loved Carmen Miranda singing as Rover dissolved like the Wicked Witch.

Although I'm not wild about the finale, I think the entire series stands up well. The Prisoner deserves its reputation as a classic. I hadn't seen it for a long time when I decided to take it on, but on re-watch and review, I enjoyed nearly all of it and thought it was intriguing, thought-provoking and a lot of fun.

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number Five: So, does this mean I have won?
Number Two: Indeed it does. And now you get to write all the reviews and manage the site and line up these special retro reviews and get attached to shows that get canceled after four episodes and...
Number Five: Is it too late to tell you why I resigned?

You remember the end of Wayne's World when they debate which ending to use for their movie (I personally would have stuck with the Scooby Doo ending)? One is definitely left with the impression that the producers and star of this series had this same debate and came to a solution which I believe was only moderately successful. For me, and apropos of very little, the episode brought to mind three movies which are contemporary with the episode: You Only Live Twice, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

You Only Live Twice is obvious, James Bond leading a final ninja assault on the bad guys underground lair, the others are perhaps less so. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (SPOILER ALERT) ends with all the characters dead or dying and the world annihilated by a super bomb. This episode definitely had some of that strange and hopeless melancholy combined with the gratuitous ripping off of masks and general strangeness. Finally, the crazy antics of the Tribunal and Number 48 made me think of nothing so much as Dr. Frank'n'furter's laboratory and the antics that took place there. The last two movies were made after The Prisoner, and one wonders if the aesthetic of the episode had some impact on these later efforts.

All of which is very interesting, but it leaves us with the question how we should think about The Prisoner, a series which on one hand is really brilliant and on the other is rather shoddily put together. I am left with the conclusion that we need to focus less on narrative and more on allegory. As a true member of fandom, I find that conclusion a little distasteful. I like a story that makes sense of itself, where the world is well drawn and where you feel you could logically live (even if you wouldn't necessarily want to). Fans generally like shows where they can grasp the rules, and they can form a narrative to fill out the world. The rise of video games set in the "worlds" of various fan favorite series (Bond among them), has further enhanced this tendency as we can actually become characters living in those worlds. The Prisoner, on the other hand, is mostly allegorical, an extended metaphor about the illusory nature of freedom and the nature of social constraint. It is more effective to consider the episodes as one might consider episodes of the Twilight Zone, but with episodes that share a common theme and setting.

I will finish with a quote by Mark Twain which also came to mind as I tried to sort it all out:

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."

Actually, how can I complain when the show brings so many interesting things to mind?

Be seeing you.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- No opener, but we got "In the grounds of Portmeirion, Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales." That was nice, since none of the episodes ever said where the Village location scenes were filmed.

-- Loved the magical shaving cream. That was because the finale was filmed a long time afterward and Leo McKern had changed his appearance for another acting job.

-- Some of the dead bodies during the rocket scene were wearing Village striped shirts. Did they take off their white robes after they died?

-- The last Village sign was "Well Come."

-- The rocket was like the one in "The Girl Who Was Death." And the rhythmic hissing of the rocket cylinder reminded me of the TARDIS.

-- The butler went into Six's real home in London and it had a Village automated door. Nice touch.

-- The Judge/President was played by Kenneth Griffith, who was also Napoleon Number Two from "The Girl Who Was Death."

Apparently, McGoohan had only 48 hours to write this episode and conclude the series. Maybe if he'd had more time, he would have gone a different way, or made his point a bit better. Or not.

Three out of four globes symbolizing world domination, or possibly freedom from world domination,

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

9 comments:

Juliette said...

It's so long since I've seen this, I hadn't remembered it at all - for some reason, I had the vague notion Six had been tricked into thinking he'd escaped and was trapped in the The Village forever, probably mixing it up with an earlier episode. Thanks for putting me straight!

Am I also wrong in thinking this is the one where Six blows up the computer with philosophy? I really need to re-watch this series!

Billie Doux said...

It had been awhile since I'd seen it, too, Juliette. I think the episode you mean is "The General".

Mark said...

It will be a couple of days before I can get back to the Companion book.

But I do remember McGoohan talking about the resignation. One of the themes of the show was that an individual should have the privacy to make personal decisions, without having to justify it to others. While the viewer is curious to know why Six did it, denying an easy answer fits with the show that was made.

wytchcroft said...

I've enjoyed reading your reviews of The Prisoner, one of my long time favourite shows.

Have you seen the Columbo episode Identity Crisis? A tongue in-cheek 'sequel' of sorts helmed by P.M. himself. Well worth a watch.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks for all of your comments, Mark. And thanks, Wytchcroft. No, I haven't seen that Columbo episode. I don't think I've ever seen Columbo, period.

Josie Kafka said...

Congratulations on finishing, Billie!

Mark said...

I'm looking over the Companion. Once again, most of the interesting comments were already mentioned by Billie & Ben! :-)

The book mentioned the Six of One appreciation society. Looking around the web, it looks like it is still active. (But I also found a site blasting the people in charge for stuff they were doing in the early 2000s.)

- "In the original script McGoohan had the opening jukeboxes blaring forth a "wailing cacophony" of sound... It has been noted that they actually tried this scene with numerous songs, but it sounded like a mess. The decision was eventually made to use only one song, and that was "All You Need Is Love". The choice of the Beatles' song was fortunate, for it doesn't really date the episode..."
- "According to this episode, there are three very different types of revolt: 1) the rebellion of youth, which is usually rebelling against nothing in particular; 2) the rebellion of members of the establishment, who "bite the hand that feeds them"; and 3) the pure revolt of an individual against the whims and constraints of society. Number Six, of course, represents the third, pure form of revolt- the only form that makes a difference."

The book also has sections debating some of the big questions about the series:
- Did Number Six really resign? If the opening credits are taken literally ("Who is Number One?" "You are, Number Six."), then it would explain why there are limits on how Number Six was interrogated. (But why someone would subject themselves that way, to test the security of the Village", is beyond me.)
- Does Number Six really escape? The automatic door for his home applies to both this question and the previous one.
- Who runs the Village? "Us" or "Them"? Some suggest a multinational corporation would fit the bill.
- What does it all mean? (Ha ha!) The author suggests that when Number One is unmasked to show a chimpanzee, then an angry version of himself, it could be talking about good vs. evil, or perhaps animal instinct versus intelligence/creativity.

I'll close with this amusing anecdote from the book:
"When The Prisoner was about to air in Great Britain, the press was invited to a special screening of "Arrival". McGoohan, dressed in his kosho uniform and wearing a Russian hat, was determined to turn the tables on the press. After the screening he brought the journalists to a room that included items such as a penny-farthing bicycle and the entire prison cage from "Once Upon a Time." McGoohan didn't answer any questions but instead asked questions of the press- asked them what they thought about Rover, the penny-farthing, and other aspects of the show. He asked many of these questions while standing in the prison, looking out through the bars. The press ended up getting very little information, which- considering the fact that they were not allowed at Portmeirion or on the studio set- made their reporting job impossible."

Billie Doux said...

Thanks again, Mark. Loved that last anecdote in particular. I can almost see McGoohan doing that.

Juliette said...

Thanks Billie - I obviously need to go back and watch them all again! I do love that computer thing, if only because it sets up one of Terry Pratchett's more brilliant philosophical jokes, where they ask the computer 'why?' and it says 'why not?' (I think - haven't read it in a while either!)

Thanks for sharing those Mark! No less confusing, but very interesting!