Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Prisoner: Many Happy Returns

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 provcation, cause, or request because that's what the internet is for. Enjoy.

Let’s talk about mythology. Not ancient Greek mythology, the mythology of popular culture. My most intuitive comparison to The Prisoner in terms of mythology is Lost, but I haven’t seen a single episode of Lost, and will probably remain as content as I am now if I never do. None the less, I know of the mythology of Lost; many questions are raised and by the end of the series everything fits together with enough data to fill a wikipedia article and it all links together and makes an imaginary universe that has a few cracks, but largely feels like it has enough edges for an audience to grasp and feel a sense of reality.

How long does it take to get plumbing service in The Village?

The Prisoner, in comparison, has no mythology. It exists as if in a dream. Maybe the only truth is that The Prisoner has recurring dreams of retiring in outrage, tinged by his hysterical fear of leaving the protection of the powerful agency he works for. Maybe he knows that just beyond the umbrella of his employer, something else lurks. Maybe each episode is a dream that questions the nature of his work; securing a world for oblivious buffoons like The Villagers, who are safe in eddies around which violence swirls and plays host to true, human conflict such as his own. Maybe he wants that simple life (his stated goal is just to have a quiet &*@%ing vacation, after all), but can’t quite bring himself to turn away from the temptations of the intelligence arena where he’s so at home.

“Well, blast. I can’t deny it’s quiet now.”

Alternatively, it may be that he’s lying in his own living room dying, Mr. Holm towering above him with electrodes attached to his scalp, making The Prisoner’s final moments into years of simulated interrogation. The virtual environment of The Village can’t radically alter his physiology because the device which creates The Village in his mind can’t (perhaps I’ll explore this later in “Change Of Mind,” which is where, incidentally, I’m halting my viewing until my reviews catch up.).

Holy imaginary Roma, Batman!

The point is that episodes of The Prisoner don’t firmly interlock. Well, they haven’t yet. In fact, I ruled out the possibility of this episode happening because of “The Chimes of Big Ben,” which has massive implications…if these sort of things carry over. I’m not saying that the things that happen in episodes don’t have consequences—nothing in any television show has consequences because it’s all imaginary—but I am saying that this is a show about ideas and emotion, not “the startling secret history of” someone or how “things will never be the same”! There are twists at the end/middle of many episodes, but most of those are in service to an idea and focus more on how The Prisoner reacts and what it means for his situation than just shocking the viewer (though they do that just as handily).

She bought everything you used to own and obviously wants to have sex with you. This episode should’ve been called “Cougar Stalker.”

With the exception of the unifying credits sequence, no one episode of The Prisoner has to connect to one another. Each episode could take place years apart; they could be bookended by the brainwashed title character joining The Keepers, resigning, then beginning the cycle anew each time. They could each be the story of alternate universes; seventeen prisoners with one unique story who thwart The Keepers before The Keepers then lose patience and just lobotomize him.

I think a nod and wink to The Credits is appropriate here. It has been almost 40 whole minutes since we last saw them.

It works better that way on a few levels. In this episode we learn that The Prisoner was once wealthy (either as a result of his work or his own industry), is a highly capable mariner. In “The Schizoid Man,” he’s also an Olympic level fencer and boxer, as well as an ace shot. He’s worked for a London-based agency that’s ready to find The Village and destroy it and had loyalties to a London-based agency that’s in bed with The Keepers. While I again resist the temptation to bring up Garth Merenghi (unsuccessfully), it is kind of hard to reconcile these things without sometimes thinking that producer/actor Patrick McGoohan was making a vanity project that might rightfully be called The British Walker, Texas Ranger. It works for me that there are several Britains, several Prisoners, and perhaps most importantly, several truths behind The Village.

A long damned time.

After all, I don’t want made-up answers to made-up questions; I’m perfectly capable of making shit up on my own. I want ideas, crazy ideas I’d never think of and Patrick McGoohan in a jet plane (which is really hard to get these days because of new federal regulations on flight plans and exhumations).

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