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
A CHANGE OF MIND
As I mentioned last time around there are three episodes of this show that I feel could be eliminated completely because they either don’t serve the overall premise or don’t serve it well. Here is the second of those three.
On the surface this episode has so much potential and could have been a genuine classic. A Change of Mind deals with political witch hunts, social ostracism and the way that totalitarian governments like the former Soviet Union diagnosed dissidents as insane for questioning the prevailing political dogma of the moment. To me it all falls apart with the clownish, cartoonish finale.
Like I did with the previous installment I will detail my reasons for dismissing this episode plus offer my take on how I think it could have been changed.
The Prisoner is exercising on some makeshift gymnasium equipment that he has constructed for himself in the woods just outside the prison city called the Village. Some Villagers who may or may not be thugs of the Villagekeepers gather around and taunt our protagonist for his antisocial, non-conformist ways. They also threaten to report him to “the Committee” for his dissident behavior.
(Today they would threaten to report him to H.R. or “the moderators” for making them feel “unsafe.”)
Emerging from the forest after his workout is over, Number Six encounters some Villagers who make a great show of deliberately snubbing him and making it clear that they feel he has no place in “decent society.” He also notices news accounts of how the aforementioned Committee is continuing its hearings to clamp down on dissidence.
Entering his residence, McGoohan comes face to face with this episode’s Number Two, the rotating series of executives who manage the Village. This Number Two (John Sharpe) is rotund and slovenly, unlike the usually dapper men and women who serve in this capacity. He sloppily munches crackers while he talks with Number Six, letting crumbs fall down his shirt as he does so.
Number Two tells our hero that complaints have been filed against him with the Committee and claims that the Committee has become so influential that if the hearings go against the Prisoner “I am powerless to help you.”
He introduces Number Six to Number Eighty-Six (Angela Browne), who has been assigned to accompany and monitor McGoohan to help him conform and “join in the group spirit.” By 2018 standards this makes her a sort of personalized, one-on-one version of “anger management” or “diversity counseling.” Orwell’s Thought Police come to mind, too.
Typical of our protagonist he refuses to be intimidated and continues to be defiant and irreverent even when threatened with behavior-modifying brain surgery if he is found to be “unmutual” by the Committee. More and more Villagers shun him and from the loudspeakers come accouncements telling everyone to watch Number Six and report any transgressions he commits.
To further this campaign against “normalizing” the Prisoner’s behavior he is eventually refused service at the Village’s business establishments. Hmmmm. Now where have we seen people being ostracized, threatened and refused service at public accomodations over the past couple years?
All of this culminates in McGoohan being found “unmutual” and sent for the previously threatened brain surgery or “social conversion” as the Villagekeepers call it. We viewers learn that the surgery was a fake and that they simply wanted Number Six to think he had been operated on. He is just drugged up and they now pump him once again for the reason he resigned from British Intelligence.
The groggy and weakened Prisoner still refuses to tell his captors anything and eventually switches drinks with Number Eighty-Six, who imbibes the drugged liquids meant to keep our hero in a vulnerable stupor. When she becomes weak enough from the drugs McGoohan hypnotizes her and gets her to admit to him what the Villagekeepers’ plan was this time around.
Number Six gives the woman a post-hypnotic suggestion. The next day the Prisoner pretends he is willing to open up to his captors about why he resigned but wants to do it before the entire Village as a demonstration of his new “community” spirit.
The Villagers are assembled and on-cue Number Eighty-Six obeys her post-hypnotic command to denounce Number Two as “unmutual” before the entire populace. This causes them all to turn on Number Two and chase the now-paniced figure around the Village.
WHY I WOULD DROP IT – That silly, cartoonish ending is Exhibit A all by itself. Plus the initially promising story is abandoned as we go from a dark, Kafkaesque first half into a sub-Lost in Space finale. Episodes like Free For All may have started out silly and cartoonish but the mood changed to horror as the Villagekeepers’ Head Game reached its end. I feel that sort of shift in tone works much better given the themes dealt with in The Prisoner.
HOW I WOULD CHANGE IT – I’m fine with everything up through when McGoohan is operated on. I would merely adjust the pacing to have the fake surgery forced upon him a bit earlier in the episode.
After the nightmarishness of that scene I would have the Prisoner wake up and seeming to find himself in a regular mental hospital. Number Two and Number Eighty-Six would be dressed professionally and in white coats as they present themselves to our hero as his doctors. The midget butler (Angelo Muscat) could be on the fringes of the scene, dressed as a custodian and going about his business.
Other Villagers and Villagekeepers could be in the large room, acting as if they too are just doctors, nurses and patients. Number Two and Number Eighty-Six could tell our hero that he has been at this mental hospital for quite some time.
They would further explain that he suffered a nervous break-down after heatedly turning in his resignation. He has been suffering from a massive psychotic delusion that he was in some futuristic prison city called “the Village” and has been interpreting all of their attempts to help him as “tortures” designed to “break him.”
Finally, they had no choice but to subject him to experimental surgery, which he is now recovering from, and at last seems to have realized he is being cared for in a hospital, not being held captive somewhere. Our hero, groggy from the drugs and disoriented by the seemingly benign setting he now finds himself in, would reasonably start having some doubts about his mental state.
As a day or two go on Number Two and Number Eighty-Six could even take our hero through some “therapy sessions” in which they talk to him about his problems and sometimes escort him around “the hospital grounds.” (Given the Villagekeepers’ complete control of the experimental city this deception would not be difficult to manage.)
Numbers Two and Eighty-Six would try to convince McGoohan that the source of his breakdown – including all his delusions and hallucinations – seems to be rooted in his reasons for resigning from the intelligence service. They would soothingly assure him that they understand the difficulties and strains of that career and how it leads to doubt and disillusionment. The violence and atrocities involved would wear anyone down.
The phony doctors could emphasize that the only path to complete recovery lies in discussing his reasons for resigning … for therapeutic reasons of course.
Along the way various little inconsistencies would make the Prisoner suspicious of the situation, ultimately prompting the drink-switch with Number Eighty-Six. No hypnotism on Number Six’s part would be involved, he would just prove to the Villagekeepers that he has seen through their deception, like at the end of The Chimes of Big Ben. All parties would know they are back at Square One. +++
I’LL EXAMINE ANOTHER EPISODE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR MORE LOOKS AT NEGLECTED TELEVISION FROM THE PAST CLICK HERE
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