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
As much as I love The Prisoner there is no denying that even at a mere 17 episodes the series had a few duds. In my opinion there are three installments that could be eliminated completely because they do not serve the overall premise or don’t serve it well.
Here is the first of those three with my reasons for disliking it PLUS my take on how I feel it could have been changed to fit in more with the series as a whole –
THE GIRL WHO WAS DEATH – Talk about burying the lede! This episode completely glosses over the horrifying revelation that there are children in the Village. That’s right, we learn that there are CHILDREN in the Village!
At best those children would be there as hostages to ensure that their parents cooperate with the sinister Villagekeepers. At worst they would be there as human guinea pigs in perverse child mind-control experiments run by those Villagekeepers. The presence of children in the nightmarish prison city called the Village carries with it ramifications that are in no way pleasant.
Newbies can rest easy, however. The darker implications of that situation are never explored in The Girl Who Was Death. In reality this was a filler episode because Patrick McGoohan and company were having trouble making episodes stay within the confines of the show’s premise.
It’s no secret that this installment was really just an unused script for McGoohan’s old Secret Agent program re-written and peppered with surrealism to make it seem like a Prisoner story. While they were at it they tossed in numerous in-jokes about that earlier McGoohan series.
The Story: In a patently “unreal” world the Prisoner is back in his role as an Intelligence Officer on a mission to stop a mad scientist named Schnipps from using a nuclear missile to destroy London. Everyone wears anachronistic costumes from various eras and in general the storyline plays like a parody of superspy flicks from the 1960s. (It’s impossible to not think of Austin Powers when watching this episode these days.)
Justine Lord plays Sonia, Schnipps’ daughter, who calls herself “Death.” She lures the Prisoner to Witchwood, a Villagesque ghost town in which she subjects our hero to a series of death traps. He survives them all, of course, then goes on to thwart the plans of Sonia and her father, who wind up dead.
We viewers then learn that this has all been a bedtime story that Number Six is telling a group of children in the Village’s nursery. He recounted one of his old missions before he was abducted and imprisoned there but bowldlerized it into fairy-tale form to make it age-appropriate. (Sort of.)
We also see that Schnipps was really this episode’s Number Two and Sonia was one of his fellow Villagekeepers. They’ve been surreptitiously watching the Prisoner telling the bedtime story and now express frustration that – even among children – our hero won’t let down his guard and reveal why he resigned from British Intelligence.
To show that he knows he’s been observed the whole time Number Six says “Good night, children” then looks directly into the Villagekeepers’ camera before adding “… everywhere.”
WHY I WOULD DROP IT – Not only is the Villagekeepers’ plan to trick the Prisoner into giving up his secret incredibly lame this time around but as I stated above the finale simply ignores the potential implications of children being held captive in the Village.
Since even the creative team behind the show says “it’s just a filler episode” I’m willing to take them at their word and simply disregard it. That’s a shame, though, since there definitely FEELS like there could be a subtext to the story, especially with the way Witchwood seems to be a Village metaphor like the wild west town of Harmony in Living in Harmony.
HOW I WOULD CHANGE IT –
A. It’s tempting to want to rewrite The Girl Who Was Death as if it’s a drug-induced, hallucinatory reliving of the Prisoner’s final mission as a British spy. The object, of course, would be to see if there was something particularly traumatic or disillusioning about our protagonist’s final mission that made him resign afterward.
I’m inclined to reject that approach simply because it would be too similar to Living in Harmony. But at least the children would be written out of it.
B. I’d prefer to see this episode embrace the horrific implications of children being in the Village and make that the main storyline. If it would help get the episode past 1960s censors you could make the children be clones specifically created by the Villagekeepers from some of their adult prisoners over the years.
Among the reasons the Villagekeepers would be doing this would be to use the child clones as sleeper agents and placed with families around the world via adoption agencies. The malevolent children could then be activated via post-hypnotic suggestion to perform assorted nefarious acts up to and including assassination.
This could make one of the children a literal “girl” who “was death.” The Villagekeepers could pit the Prisoner against the little girl and her death-traps in “Witchwood” – in this case a nearby, vacated prototype version of the Village that was abandoned long ago for its present, more high-tech version.
The surreal amusement park and death trap elements of the actual episode The Girl Who Was Death would easily slide right into this alteration of the tale. In typical Villagekeeper fashion they could treat it all like one of their usual Head Games, with the Prisoner waking up in Witchwood, a “Village” being run entirely by evil children. (Think of the European horror film Who Could Kill A Child) A very young Sonia could still be the title character.
The children could fluctuate between being just regular children to suddenly being “activated” to attack Number Six. In the end it could turn out that the clone project fails because the clone-kids all wind up prematurely aging to death or something as an unforeseen side-effect of the cloning process.
The Villagekeepers could then step in to reveal what has been going on and return the Prisoner to the Village proper. +++
I’LL EXAMINE ANOTHER EPISODE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR MORE LOOKS AT NEGLECTED TELEVISION FROM THE PAST CLICK HERE
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