Friday, April 15, 2011

The Prisoner: A, B, & C

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.
A, B, & C gets us to the point that I expected when I first started watching this series; a battle of wills in a "low-sci-fi" setting. The new Number 2 is under fire to produce results, but not given any freer of a hand to deal with The Prisoner than any of his predecessors. He begins abducting The Prisoner at night in the hopes that an experimental procedure to read the man's dreams will reveal why he resigned and who he was going to sell out to. The Prisoner resists.

I just want to say that this is the first The Prisoner story where I get to talk about Batman. If you know me, you know I love Grant Morrison's run on Batman and Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader" story. For those of you who don't know, during the latest DC crisis (the infinite one, which is over now), Batman was captured by Darkseid who thought knew an army of cloned, mind-copied Batmen would be awesome, kidnaps Batman, cloned him, then began combing through is memories to find out what makes him Batman and install those portions of his psyche into his clones. While you might expect that this results in Darkseid being taken down by a few hundred suicidal Batmen (because really, it is an awesomely bad idea), some other stuff happens that doesn't really have much bearing on The Prisoner. Let's just say that The Prisoner escapes from what is (adjusted for genre) the same trap Batman does (with Inception and The Matrix thrown in for good measure).

And maybe some other popular franchise with a mysterious British lead.

Watching The Prisoner find the faults in the underlying flaws of his directed dream is impressive and far from implausible. That even in his dream, he can recognize all of the old familiar traps and falsehoods of The Keepers is something truly admirable about him. While he's no Batman, he puts up an impressive fight and manages to even have the inevitable episodic twist work in his favor this time instead of that of the keepers.

Of course, with that comes the absence of an escape attempt. I don't think I've seen an episode of The Prisoner where he doesn't try to escape until this one. It's refreshing, because this contest of wills and wits is what I signed on for. Don't get me wrong, the escapes are a better venue for that than I expected, but just boiling it down to intrigue and character, without an overarching plan doomed to failure, is a nice respite.

Respite in the form of a 60's party, with mandatory camera tilt.

There's this great scene, where The Prisoner is ready for the third and final session--the one that may kill him--and he knows they've drugged his evening hot chocolate. So he sniffs it, enjoys its aroma, and savors it before simply dumping it down the sink and pouring himself a glass of water. He then salutes the hidden camera behind his sink, drinks his water, and begins walking towards bed...only to collapse because the water is drugged too. But that's fine because he planned to have the third session so he could demonstrate to The Keepers that he was not going to sell out and that he knows about their latest plan, which he does masterfully. The entire water scene is amazing, even if it feels a bit more like Spy vs Spy than, say, The French Connection

Like a boss.

I did laugh out loud at that part because it was nicely layered without being opaque, but as always, there were a few LOL-worthy moments. I often don't share them because the meat of most episodes is more substantial than the funny parts, but A, B, & C warrants it. When they're first reading his dreams, they're getting his regular old dreams, which are nothing but a few seconds of the credits on loop. I do like The Prisoner, and I haven't really shopped around to compare, but even for an hour-long show, a solid three-minutes of credits in every episode seems a bit excessive. It's always been amazing to me that they show all of the credits for every episode. Understandably, my first thought on seeing the dream sequence was, "Wow. The last thing we needed, for any reason, was more credits." The Prisoner credits are probably the most efficient piece of television ever produced in terms of how much screen time they've gotten out of one clip.

These are three separate occasions. Only one is actual credits.

For the first time we get out of The Village. Granted, that "out" is only in The Prisoner's dreams, but it's still a different setting with a different mood and different people (instead of balancing The Prisoner, Number 2, this week's special guest, and the vapid villagers). It opens up the possibilities for this series beyond running futilely around edges of The Village. Perhaps there's a message here too, that no matter how confined a man's body, his mind is still free...unless you're playing tapes into his brain, then his mind and free and it knows judo.


Pat said...

Good post, but one comment: The Prisoner aired on ATV, not the BBC (at least per Wiki).

VanVelding said...

Did not know that. I really just assumed. Thanks.