Monday, August 15, 2011

The Prisoner: Living In Harmony, Part 2

I recently purchased--at the unspoken behest of the geek hive mind--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.

No, this was a standard, forty-five minute episode of The Prisoner. But usually when I review an episode, I can either talk about it as a viewer or tackle the themes it presents. “Living in Harmony” was the only time where both angles were equally worthy of exploration.

I broke the rules a few weeks ago. I usually watch The Prisoner without consulting any extra features, critical responses, or internet spoilers. I try to evaluate it for what it is, not for what other people think it is. I made an exception for the penny farthing bicycle.

If it comes up, you should procure a woman a bicycle. Women are quite fond of bicycles.

I looked up the bicycle because it keeps popping up. It’s on the ‘numbertags’ of the villagers, in Number 2’s office, and assembled piecemeal in the closing credits. Not being British in the 60’s, I had no way of knowing the cultural significance of it without research. It turns out the series used it as a symbol; an old, bygone thing used to show the backwards thinking of The Keepers.

That nostalgia is apparent in “Living In Harmony.” The Keepers have produced their own idealized version of the American frontier; the corrupt judge who rules the town with an iron fist, the psychotic gunman who dispenses with social interplay, the damsel in distress, rescued from the clutches of villains by the noble white hat. The Keepers love their Wild West fantasy so much they destroy themselves with it.

This is McDonalds to them, which I guess makes dying their version of obesity.

The corrupt judge is undone by his own impatience. Ambition unrestrained only leads to destruction. The accumulation of organized power for selfish goals eventually serves only the chaotic, emotional whims of those who gather it. Without that order to sustain it, that power will collapse in on itself. This is why the corrupt judge is destroyed by his own designs, why organizations on principal endure[1], and why your boss is such a dick.

The second-best gunslinger in town is a murderer, and doesn’t that make a little bit of sense? The best is a man who has been beaten, seen death, and possesses nothing more to lose. In fact, in the exposition at the end, Number Two mentions that it’s a setting designed to drive a man mad. What other kind of person would travel with a gun and the expressed purpose of getting into gunfights with other people?!

I mentioned rape in yesterday’s blog because it would’ve been wrong if I hadn’t mentioned it. This episode raised the series-long count of broaching the topic of rape by three. So with the other zero references, that brings the total to three. It’s no coincidence that this episode ignores The Prisoner’s standard of clean deaths with a hint of psychological torture in favor of rapes with a side of choking. 

And by that, he means "rape."

Without the backdrop of this violence against women, the romantic rescue by the white hat isn’t possible. Even in a fantasy, the villains must be powerful for their victory to seem preordained, and for that to happen, many, many innocents must suffer before the upset by the hero. In the real world things are bleaker, and the good that triumphs is often deferred. 

He means "rape" here, too.

The Prisoner, on the other hand, doesn’t buy the nostalgia. Even The Keepers’ clean fantasy evokes the brutal, disgusting truth of those times, like a monster conjured forth by the most well-meaning of science, and The Keepers are far from well-meaning. He rejects the setting they find so compelling, seeing it for what it is; the chaos of a singular will masked as order, murder billed as a contest of skill, and heinous crimes and their victims dismissed as pieces in a contest of wills.

Order is nothing without justice, and in the end The Prisoner becomes a witness to their destruction instead of another watchman on their ivory tower.

They quit saying "Be Seeing You."
This is my face at the end of every scene now.
[1] Theoretically. If you find one, let me know.

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