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November 22nd, 2009


09:24 pm - The Prisoner? More Like The Busy Nerd!
I have not heard very good things about AMC's remake of The Prisoner, but I do thank AMC for providing all the episodes of the original series for free this month so that I could experience this 1967 cult classic.

In The Prisoner, a British spy decides to resign his position, giving no reason for his decision. When he returns home, he is kidnapped, and he wakes up in the Village, an Orwellian community where everyone is assigned a number. He is Number Six. But he is not a number! He is a FREE MAN! Yes, yes, I know; that's pretty much all I knew going in. The Village is run by Number Two, and it is Number Two's job to find out the answer to one important question: Why did Number Six resign? Why did he resign? Why did he resign? WHY DID HE RESIGN?!?!?! They really want to know, you guys. It must be really, really important. Because it can't be something as simple as "Oh, I got tired of being a spy and wanted to live a normal life" or "The health benefits just weren't cutting it for me anymore." No, he's probably going to sell out some state secrets or something, so they really really really need to know why he resigned.

Normal interrogation methods are totally passé in the Village. In the Village, you do things like drug the shit out of people and brainwash them and try to drive them crazy in an attempt to trick the truth out of them. Most episodes involve Number Six attempting to escape. To my surprise, sometimes he actually does. OR DOES HE. Seventeen episodes feature many variations on one of a few basic plots: Number Two fucks with Number Six and succeeds, Number Two fucks with Number Six and Number Six turns the tables on him, Number Six fucks with Number Two and succeeds, and Number Six fucks with Number Two and Number Two turns the tables on him. It's actually not as repetitive as it sounds! Each episode is pretty distinct (unless you describe it as "the one where Number Six tries to escape").

What I really liked about The Prisoner was that the political allegory and social commentary are handled much more subtlely than in Star Trek. Now, obviously the conceit itself is clearly a comment on individuality and conformity, but because of that conceit, the stories the show tells lend themselves very easily to asking questions like "How useful is a democratic election when the campaign process is so artificial?" and "Is it worth your freedom to have a peaceful, docile existence?" The Village is supposed to be a microcosm of society, full of prisoners just like Number Six, but most of the people we see have simply resigned themselves to life in the Village, having given up all hope of escape. Sure, every now and then someone will make a token effort (ORANGE ALERT! ORANGE ALERT!), but then a menacing white balloon stops them. Yes, a menacing white balloon. It's like the Smoke Monster on Lost except twice as puzzling. Or half, I can't decide which. Anyway, I liked that the show rarely delivered anvilicious messages and just let the stories speak for themselves.

I was disappointed, however, that the stories were so self-contained. I expected such a popular, influential show with such an interesting premise to have an arc where every episode you learn more about the Village or Number Six's history and there are all sorts of crazy reveals. But no, there is very little continuity (such that there are debates about the best order to watch the episodes [I used the KTEH order]) and there are very few recurring characters. In fact, with a couple exceptions, Number Two is different in each episode, the idea being that if you fail at breaking Number Six, you're replaced. It's kind of fun to have a different shade of the same villain, and the fact that the Village seems to treat each Number Two as if he has always been Number Two adds to the Orwellian nature of the establishment. Also adding to it is the Big Brother-like surveillance everywhere, of course.

Patrick McGoohan as Number Six is awesome and so much fun to watch. He's so unflappable! His whole mien conveys, "Fuck you all, you won't break me, I'm going to escape and you're going to pay, so shut your face." He's constantly half-smirking, and his line deliveries leave no scenery unchewed. He makes it easy for you to root for him.

There are a lot of interesting things about The Prisoner, and it requires you to pay attention since the plots are generally pretty dense (oh, they drugged him again, now I get it...). And it has a finale so famously WTF-y that Patrick McGoohan apparently went into hiding after it was aired. I think it was less WTF-y than the Twin Peaks finale, and I kinda liked it, as it ended pretty much as one would expect it to, thematically. Mostly. Except for the monkey.

The Prisoner was an influential series, and while I generally tend to like modern works more than their influential forebears, I did enjoy The Prisoner on its own terms. It was clever and intriguing and slightly offbeat and totally sixties. I believe that AMC will still have all the episodes online until the end of the month at least, so I recommend checking it out.

Be seeing you.
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(19 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")


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