Monday, May 23, 2011

The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

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.

After much deliberation, I read the blurb for this episode before watching it. I was a bit conflicted about it; I'm trying to control the information on The Prisoner (with varying success; I've accidentally discovered there's a Western episode?) to avoid spoiling anything. However, "The Schizoid Man" did have an episode of Star Trek named after it and after the last episode, I felt like I deserved some kind of warning, so as to appropriately brace myself.

I'm just going to assume every episode is a mind control episode until told otherwise.

Thankfully, "The Schizoid Man" lived up to its reputation. Given that The Keepers will try any insane plot to draw answers out of The Prisoner, everything they do stops just shy of being completely ludicrous. In this one, their ingenious plan is to put a double of The Prisoner into The Village to convince our protagonist that he is not himself. They do this by first brainwashing him so that he isn't himself.

"So let me get this straight; I'm the me who is the me playing the me who isn't the me who is in turn supposed to be pretending to be me but isn't because I am?"" "

I don't know acting, but I know what I like. What I like is McGoohan facing off against himself with impressive split-screen technology. Yeah, yeah, Shatner did it twice, but here it's fresh and it's McGoohan simultaneously playing The Prisoner dangerously and doubtfully off his game and the cunning Number Twelve who is, in turn, playing an all-too cool and confident Number Six. It's great, but even that seems like a bit too much when he's later pitted against his own hand in a moment of shocking revelation.

Not since Evil Dead 2 have I been so compelled watching an actor co-star with his first girlfriend.

They do a pretty good job of keeping this thing on track. Instead of fucking with us and asking us "which one is the real The Prisoner," we're told from the start and watch it play out. The story is in the telling; everyone, including himself, knows he's The Prisoner, but the assault--from the moment he wakes up until the moment he breaks through--is so relentless and slick that we, even knowing, doubt alongside him.

Now I'm pretty sure The Prisoner doesn't ask people about their resignations. Seems like kind of a...double standard.

The actual double part is over quickly; it doesn't waste time with any false starts or filler plot lines. It's another case where The Prisoner turns the plot against him to his own advantage. Just as what initially seemed like a laughable, absurd ploy becomes a serious threat to his personality, his passage through the crisis and his seizure of the initiative ratchets the tension up again. Seeing him on the attack is always a treat, no matter how doomed he is fail. Perhaps because it's so rare.

Pictured: The rare, Fukshetupp Butterfly, emerging from its cocoon.

There are a few disappointments. The Prisoner claims that he is Number Six, which undermines his rejection of being just a number. Maybe I shouldn't nitpick; they only mentioned it in every credits sequence. I get it; they made the choice back in "The Chimes of Big Ben" to have him play The Keeper's game by not revealing his real name. If he doesn't go by his name, his number, or "The Prisoner," as I've been calling him, then he's really got nothing unless they reduce all the dialog to JRPG text boxes, which is how I'm basically watching it anyway(Thank you A&E captioning). In an episode based entirely around identity, he has to call himself something to assert that identity, but I wish it could have been something else.

They also have a flashback sequence where they show the process they went through to make The Prisoner doubt his identity. I appreciate the necessity of the scene, but it just didn't work for me. Usually, when a scene leaves me as cold as this one did, I can suggest some changes, but other than pouring it on a bit thinner I can't think of any here. This isn't really criticism, especially because it gave us this:

Pet the mustache. Love the mustache.

But really, the critiques are between the big things and the little things. There are three obvious Chekov's Guns which are all used excellently. Even better is the mind reading/not mind reading angle that was very well developed in the "low sci-fi" setting they have going (granted ESP is usually treated like sci-fi when it's closer to fantasy, but that's an angry blog rant for another day) and managed to support the story like friggin' Atlas.

Again, I'm pretty stoked. Every good episode of The Prisoner does this for me, just as much as every poor episode dead-legs my desire to live so that it can more easily lay a two by four across its head. Here's hoping that "And Many Happy Returns" continues this trend.

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