Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Prisoner: Arrival

I recently purchased--at the unspoken behest of the geek hivemind--the classic BBC series The Prisoner. I'm watching it offshore to pass the time and sharing spoiler-free responses/reviews with the internet without provocation, cause, or request because that's what the internet is for. Enjoy.
The Prisoner is considered the classic man versus government story. Created in 1966, it features our protagonist (played by Patrick McGoohan, and so far only referred to--much to his disapproval--as Number Six) who's resigned from the service of his (ostensibly British) government. 

If you ever wanted to resign in style, start strong.

Unsatisfied with his reasons for giving his resignation, his government has whisked him away from his home to a remote, idyllic village that--as Hollywood has taught me--like all idyllic villages is only idyllic for certain (very sarcastic) values of "idyllic." There, his point of contact with the government (and primary source of exposition), Number Two, begins his campaign to destroy The Prisoner's free will in the name of bureaucratic certainty.

When they make the movie of your life, will they replace all of your dialog with thunder? No.

This is all from the first episode. The series was halted at seventeen episodes; if there was a twist coming it never got delivered, there's no other mimetic quality to it that's made it ubiquitous (My biggest concern in that respect would be Rule 34 for Number Two and The Prisoner [or even Rule 34 for Numbers Two]), and I haven't looked it up online so I haven't got any other framework to go on besides, like, two You Tube clips. I'm going into this fresh.

I know you're a go-getter, but today is the day to just hit snooze.

I say that The Keepers of the village (who are probably the government the prisoner served, but in the interest of hedging my bets and to keep this from popping up on google searches by conspiracy theorists), I'll just call them The Keepers.) are out to destroy The Prisoner's free will instead of abiding by their stated purpose of verifying his reasons for leaving ("a matter of principles") and his loyalties because of the bureaucratically vague goals (thus far).

Certainly, that's not justification for us to do whatever we want all the time. Oh, wait...

According even to them, The Prisoner has served well and faithfully for years. The only reason they give to question his loyalty is his resignation. A most inconvenient affair for them, given his prized service. The implication here is that defying their will is grounds for mistrust. "If you love me, you'll do as I say," is not by any means an effective method of gauging loyalty. Further, it presumes that principle is not a reason for action; that it is an empty buzzword that people put up to hold their real motives. An unsettling presumption from your own government, and one that might exhibit a character of operation that would drive a man of principle to resign.

Dude, smile. It's a compliment.

In addition, The Keepers already have extensive information on him. Most of it could have been acquired by raiding his mom's house for baby pictures, but they demonstrably have hidden camera footage of him on previous assignments, as well as presumably years of reports and even access to coworkers to inform them of his character. The desire for more information indicates to me one of three possibilities: In keeping with the point above, they cannot institutionally accept that he would disagree with them on principle (with the corresponding assumption that if he truly does, then his principles are compromised, not their own), despite a glut of information, it is intolerable to them that even some aspect of the life of one of "their people" is off limits to them (presuming the unknown is dangerous, and they have every right to all information if it means safety, even if their incapable of understanding it), or that the information is irrelevant; the pretext of uncovering his motives and loyalties are a smokescreen for their real goals. In this third scenario, The Keepers are not his government, but are trying to extract vital information from him, and possibly once that's done, they'll simply blackmail him into their service.

Well, yeah, that sounds reasonable.

Raising questions like this is something that a first episode (and a good series in general) should do. Questions keep the audience coming back. I'm sure that The Prisoner's blank past, The Keeper's opaque methodologies, and the village's various, strange inhabitants are all things that the series has fostered curiosity about and promises to answer via exploration (in sixteen episodes or not at all). I'm eager to watch the second episode, partially because of the hype, but also because it's established quite a few hooks for me so far.

Something else it does well is establish boundaries. The Prisoner tries two of the most obvious escape methods in the first episode, and they're both shown to be futile (partially due to plot-device driven white spheres of incapacitation). The Prisoner can't hide; he can't run. 

Nobody teabags like The Keepers.

Here's to watching him fight.

Other Episodes
Free For All
Dance of the Dead
The Chimes of Big Ben
A. B. & C.
The General
It's Your Funeral
A Change of Mind
Hammer Into Anvil
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
Living in Harmony
Living in Harmony, Part 2
The Girl Who Was Death
Once Upon a Time
Fall Out

You will probably never hear this phrase again.


skiltao said...

Man, I loved The Prisoner! Don't remember it well enough to avoid spoilers, though. Coupla eps of Family Guy made a little more sense after that.

VanVelding said...

Family Guy? Prisoner? What?

skiltao said...

That giant white balloon that chases McGoohan down the beach also chases Peter Griffin down a beach. And I *think* Peter even gets trapped on an island filled with spies in another episode.

Plus, when his son starts doing avant garde art, he employs a statue filled with crazy purple knock-out gas to rescue him during the exhibition. (That one's not necessarily Prisoner-specific though.)