Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the 1967 science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE
Episode Title: THE SCHIZOID MAN … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 5th episode.
This episode’s Number Two – the rotating series of executives in charge of the Village – is portrayed by Anton Rodgers, whom regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember from his role in the musical Scrooge (1970).
The Schizoid Man is especially beloved by all of us who value our individuality above nearly everything else. In this episode the nefarious Villagekeepers play their most effective mind game against Patrick McGoohan’s character The Prisoner. They seek to break him by robbing him of the very foundation of all his strengths: his identity and uniqueness. Or if you prefer, his sense of self.
It’s a good thing the subtext carries this episode because some elements of The Schizoid Man make it incredibly dated and more mundanely “television-y” than most other episodes. (The less said about the “stick-on” mole/birth mark the better.)
Number Two’s (Anton Rodgers’) plan to break the Prisoner shows that the Villagekeepers are at last beginning to understand their target. Curtis, one of their many agents in the outside world, will be surgically altered and equipped with a new voicebox to make him an exact duplicate of the Prisoner. (Yet they scrimped on the mole/ birth mark. Weird.)
Rather than just have McGoohan’s duplicate show up in the Village and confront the Prisoner about his bona fides, the Villagekeepers take a more devious approach. They drug Number Six, torture and reprogram him to become left-handed instead of right-handed and surgically remove the actual mole/birth mark on his wrist. Then they place him in the Number Twelve residence instead of his home at Number Six.
When he wakes up Number Two and other Village personnel begin treating him like he is one of THEM – a co-conspirator. The still-groggy and disoriented McGoohan makes increasingly confused efforts to correct them, but the Villagekeepers just go on blithely talking to him as if he is the surgically altered agent Curtis brought in to impersonate the Prisoner.
Number Two wryly ribs McGoohan that he is “really losing himself in his role” as our protagonist continues trying to assert his true identity. The villain gives a final briefing to the Prisoner, a briefing about HIMSELF and their plan to torment “Number Six” with this impersonation scheme.
Rodgers sets up a meeting between the Prisoner and the “real” impersonator, who emerges from the Number Six residence. And on it goes, with the actual impersonator acting like the Prisoner usually acts and getting subjected to harsh treatments (presumably faked) from the Villagekeepers.
Meanwhile Number Two and his cohorts continue treating the real Prisoner kindly, taking him into their confidence and offering him sotto voce “tips” on how to impersonate … himself. Our hero is especially thrown off by the fact that he is suddenly more comfortable using his left hand, even though he knows he should be right-handed. The fake Prisoner taunts Number Two that he colossally screwed up by failing to find a duplicate who was right-handed like he is.
McGoohan continues to lose his composure and grows more confused as the duplicate outdoes him in every way, even at fencing and at the shooting range. (Thank whatever gods you pray to that the embarrassment called Kosho had not yet been introduced on the show or they’d have probably competed at that, too.) When Number Six sees his mole/ birth mark is gone but the impostor DOES have one he’s pushed even further to the edge.
After a full day of getting outdone at “being himself” by the impersonator, the Prisoner is reeling and suffering the worst identity crisis a human being could imagine. Not only is his sacred individuality threatened but – appallingly – he’s being treated like “part of the conformist gang” by his captors, the supreme insult.
Through intense soul-searching (helped by a truly “made for tv” plot convenience) our hero at last pieces together what must be going on and emerges with his precious identity intact. He now attempts to turn the tables and use the Villagekeepers’ own scheme against them.
Feigning confused desperation the Prisoner confronts his double, pretending to be playing into the Villagekeepers’ hands by presenting his trump card: only the REAL Number Six will know why he resigned his position in British Intelligence. (For newbies this bit of information is what the Villagekeepers have been trying to extract from our protagonist since Day One. If he gives in and tells them it will symbolize his surrender to them, “2+2 = 5” style, for you Orwell fans.)
McGoohan plays it perfectly, suckering the duplicate in by pretending he’s about to reveal his big secret, then overpowers him. He removes the stick-on mole/ birth mark from Curtis’ wrist and sticks it on his own wrist. (The Villagekeepers really nickel and dimed themselves to death by cutting corners on that.)
Now both the Prisoner and the duplicate are each claiming to be CURTIS, thus confusing Number Two, who sics the synthetic organism Rover on the “twins,” hoping the creature can tell the difference. Instead, the real Curtis panics and flees, always a fatal mistake with Rover. The synthetic organism winds up killing Curtis and our hero tries to bluff his way along as if HE is the real Curtis.
Number Two eventually sees through the ruse and stops the Prisoner from escaping the Village. That is purely secondary to the overall theme of the story, which was the Prisoner’s triumphant retention of his uniqueness. This is another episode which really separates viewers who take a mere academic interest in The Prisoner from us non-comformist oddballs who have LIVED it.
The special effects regarding the two McGoohans are competently rendered and consist of what you would expect for a late 60s television show. In other words there’s a lot of split-screen work complemented by so many shot/ reverse shot moments that you could swear you must be watching one of the Star Wars prequels.
This episode featured Number Two referring to a mysterious “General” that we’ll learn more about in a future episode. +++
I’LL EXAMINE ANOTHER EPISODE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR MORE LOOKS AT NEGLECTED TELEVISION FROM THE PAST CLICK HERE
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