Monday, April 11, 2011

The Prisoner: Checkmate

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.

Okay, in my deepest heart of hearts, I was hoping this was the episode where The Prisoner finally breaks and the other thirteen are all just him hanging out with The Keepers doin' cool stuff, or maybe all the Number Twos just hanging out in a bar telling stories about The Prisoner's crazy hijinks before he became a hollow shell of a man.

A shell of a man who's still into the kinky stuff, mind you.

I was all ready to write this one out. I was going to mention how The Prisoner couldn't be a bad show if it kept raising these questions about it. I was going to use that to segue into a bit about how every time I tried to ridicule it, some other part of the show strongly resisted that ridicule, even conjecturing that it has this strange reverse-fridge logic to it where it made more sense after you thought about it for a minute. I was ready to deliver an apology for the third straight The Prisoner 'miss.'

Man, I was wrong. I was as wrong as The Colonel was about Last Call. There's this part where The Prisoner is just walking around, talking to dudes, just sayin' "hey" to strangers, when the series is taking off. The Prisoner is resisting; he's interacting; it feels like, for the first time, he's both a protagonist and a likable character. Look, I don't need all of my protagonists to be Clooney planning a reverse heist, but I can say that I appreciate what I was seeing here more than in the other episodes.

Here. Right here.

Before I continue: In Checkmate, The Prisoner learns a valuable lesson about determining who in The Village is a prisoner like he is, and who works for The Keepers. Using this knowledge, he contacts a prisoner who used to be an electronics expert and begins a cunning new plan to escape from The Village. Meanwhile, The Keepers have brainwashed a woman to love the prisoner and unwittingly equipped her with a transponder to alert them if he tries to escape.

Yes, the other episodes did give rise to some heady conjecture. They raised a lot of good questions, and the ones you could answer told you a lot about our hero's character and the situation he was in. There isn't as much of that in Checkmate, but it's still there and if anything it's only moved back to accommodate a clearer narrative. Checkmate isn't the best episode of The Prisoner so far because it bothers to be a television show between bouts of trying to blow my mind; it's the best episode so far because now I know that ability is in there. My next episode could be another existential puzzle or it could be another exciting story. No matter which one, I'm confident of only two things:

It will be good.
The Prisoner will try and fail to escape.

Sadly, he won't be caught by this No 2 again.

While it didn't surprise me to learn that the episodes weren't shown in the order produced or that they were intended to be shown by its creators, I was surprised to learn that my DVDs list the episodes in an order determined by a Prisoner fan club. I'm down with that, but in case I know anyone who's seen The Prisoner or maybe who wants to follow along, just giving you a heads-up on why my viewing order may not match up with yours.

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