Monday, September 12, 2011

The Prisoner: Once Upon a Time

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.

Before I go into "Once Upon a Time," I have to backtrack. I haven't watched many of the special features on my DVD set, for the reasons mentioned earlier. However, I did watch a special version of "The Chimes of Big Ben." From it, I got the impression that perhaps I was looking at an original pilot. Sure, "The Arrival" is a more conventional choice, but "Chimes" had an...enormity that I didn't do justice in my succinct review.

"Once Upon a Time" backed up my belief by linking The Prisoner's penultimate episode to that one. Mainly, with the return of Leo McKern as Number 2.

Surprisingly likable.

In "Chimes," this Number 2 asserted himself as a canny adversary, the equal then to what The Prisoner would become later. His presence is enough to lift “Once Upon A Time” yet higher up the scales of stakes, drama, and intensity.

Also on the scale of creeping us the hell out with that eye.

After doing a continuity-establishing scene with well-recycled footage that makes me think The Keepers were recruiting from DC editorial staff, he decides to perform his limit break: Ultimate Prisoner Destroyer, aka "Code Absolute."

The Keepers want The Prisoner to join them, and their first step is to make him betray his loyalties. They want him to tell them why he quit. They want him to make that first breach of trust to they can corrupt him, make him into a monster like them, and finally get not just his information, but his loyalty.

Their penultimate effort, featuring their best Number 2, drugs, isolation, yes, even mind control, only gets as far as that first chink in his armor they’ve been working so hard to get, but no further.

The scene where we finally learn is a memorable one. Oops, must've turned the subtitles off.

Not that it matters though, The Keepers can understand loyalty, but not integrity. Dogs are loyal, but men have integrity. Though he’s known this whole time they could never understand his reasons for holding out, it’s only now that he blatantly says it. But even while their lives are on the line, The Keepers can’t bring themselves to understand or accept its innate selflessness.

Make no mistake; The Prisoner turns the tables, seeing the trap for what it is, rejecting the label of Number Six until it’s irrelevant, and executing one of the most satisfying table-turns of the series.

Big time.

In the end, Butler and Control all but announce The Keeper’s surrender and enter the final phase of their intricate ploy that somehow involves the incredibly bad idea of bringing The Prisoner to see…Number 1.

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