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: IT’S YOUR FUNERAL … In the ongoing debate over the exact ordering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this one 3rd from the last.
*** So after this review all we have left is the two-part series finale. *** For those readers who have requested SPOILERS on who wins in a given episode our hero the Prisoner wins this round.
It’s Your Funeral centers around an assassination attempt in the Village and features how our main character’s rebellious nature has begun inspiring assorted other Villagers to commit their own subtle acts of defiance to the Villagekeepers.
I’ll also take a brief look at The Stranger/ Stranded in Space, a failed pilot movie for a Prisoneresque sci-fi series in 1973. Cameron Mitchell even delivers a speech straight out of The Prisoner at one point.
In the early morning hours a female Villager (Annette Andre) sneaks into the Prisoner’s residence. She warns him that an assassination is being planned and may be connected to “Jammers,” the nickname for the subculture of low-level rebellion that our hero’s behavior in the Village has inspired.
For obvious reasons Number Six rejects the frightened young woman’s tale of an impending assassination, assuming that it’s just another Head Game being spun by the Villagekeepers. We viewers begin to assume this, too, since the entire exchange was being watched on a viewscreen by one of the Number Twos (Derren Nesbitt) – the rotating series of executives who manage the Village.
An artist trapped in the Village tells McGoohan about “Jammers.” Those people aren’t as bold as our protagonist is with their resistance to the Villagekeepers, they merely employ minor deceptions that make their captors suspect escape attempts or other conspiracies might be afoot. These incidents must ALL be checked out, wasting the time of the investigating authorities.
The Prisoner has no reason to object to such “Jamming” and goes about his business. The same Number Two who observed Number Six’s morning encounter with the woman watches him on another viewscreen as he plays another Village captive in a game of Kosho.
Since I like to pretend that ridiculous sport doesn’t exist I’ll just point out that our hero leaves his watch with his other clothing and accessories in a locker at the Kosho arena. Number Two has McGoohan’s watch replaced with one that doesn’t work.
After somehow keeping a straight face through another absurd Kosho match the Prisoner soon realizes his watch has stopped working. As Number Two planned, he goes to the Village’s watchmaker to have his timepiece repaired. This elderly watchmaker was – before his captivity in the Village – an expert at “Q-like” explosives disguised as innocent objects like clocks and such.
The Prisoner recognizes an explosive device among the watchmaker’s equipment but the old man refuses to discuss it. The woman who tried to warn Number Six about an impending assassination attempt turns out to be the watchmaker’s daughter. She informs our main character that her father is plotting to kill Number Two with a rigged explosion. The attempt is scheduled for the next Appreciation Day, when new Number Twos take over from their predecessor.
Number Six and the old man’s daughter fear that the Villagekeepers may react to the assassination with a Lidice-style reprisal, killing all the Villagers who don’t happen to be part of their plans for world conquest. The watchmaker is unmoved by their concerns.
As much as it turns his stomach to do so, the Prisoner attempts to warn Number Two (Derren Nesbitt) that an assassination attempt is in the works, but pretends he knows no specifics, to protect the elderly watchmaker. Number Two acts as if he doesn’t believe it and considers it just another instance of Jamming, which he and his fellow Villagekeepers are getting tired of being suckered in by.
Our hero leaves in disgust and Number Two smiles. He and his aide Number One Hundred have videotaped McGoohan’s visit and his warning, apparently to have evidence to use against the Villagers involved in Jamming.
(Personally I would have instead made it clear they were doctoring and altering the tape to make it seem Number Six had actually THREATENED to assassinate Number Two. As vindictive as the Villagekeepers are you’d think this Number Two would want any evidence that he was warned beforehand about a violent rebellious act to at least ensure the troublesome Number Six would take the rap.)
Investigating further, the Prisoner learns that the watchmaker has concealed his explosive device in the Great Seal, a medallion that gets passed from the former Number Two to the incoming Number Two.
Further alarmed now by the likelihood of the assassination attempt succeeding and bringing hellish punishment on the Villagers, McGoohan tries warning Number Two again. He is startled to encounter a much older Number Two this time (Andre Van Gyseghem).
This older Number Two is the REAL incumbent. The younger Number Two (Derren Nesbitt) will be taking over from HIM. This is reasonable, since we know from episodes like Free For All and The Chimes of Big Ben that the incoming Number Twos often show up early and either lie low or participate in one of the Villagekeepers’ Head Games against a captive. This would explain why the Prisoner just happened to encounter the “new” Number Two before the current one.
The outgoing Number Two (Andre Van Gyseghem) states that he believes our hero about the assassination attempt. The incoming Number Two obviously wants this older Number Two dead and will use the assassination to justify a swift and deadly retaliation against all the Villagers.
Van Gyseghem is resigned to his fate and tells Number Six “We never fail.” (Actually they’ve failed multiple times thanks to our hero, but we’ll let that slide.)
NOTE: The ambiguity about this episode is annoying, even for a hard-core Prisoner fan like me. Outside of there being a rift developing between different factions of the Villagekeepers it makes no sense to use an assassination as an excuse to kill off all the prisoners in the Village.
What would make sense is if we were told there is a faction of Villagekeepers who feel the Village has served its purpose as an experimental community/ laboratory of human guinea pigs for mind-control drugs, technology and totalitarian methods of governing people. That faction would want to just kill off the prisoners and move on to actively applying what they’ve learned to finally impose a Global “Village.”
The plan enacted by the younger Number Two and his colleagues would be to kill off a member of the opposing faction, blame the Villagers – especially Number Six – for the assassination and wipe out all of them. Piss or get off the pot, would figuratively be their credo – after decades of merely PLANNING, let’s finally take action.
Back to the story, the narrative wants us to sympathize with the outgoing Number Two for some reason. He longs to escape his fate and find a place to die in peace. Boo friggin’ hoo, scumbag. All the people you Villagekeepers have abducted over the years would have liked that, too, but countless numbers of them have died in your prison-city with their loved ones never even knowing their fate.
Anyway, I’ll move on from that and instead focus on the Prisoner’s desire to save his fellow captives from being exterminated in retaliation for the assassination of a Number Two. At the Appreciation Day ceremony McGoohan manages to steal the detonation device from the watchmaker and give it to the outgoing Number Two.
This prevents the explosive medallion/ Great Seal from being detonated while the outgoing Number Two is wearing it. Once it is placed around the neck of the incoming Number Two (Derren Nesbitt) he doesn’t dare make a move to reveal the secret plot to kill Van Gyseghem or to have Van Gyseghem prevented from flying off in one of the Village’s black helicopters.
Number Six gloats to the new Number Two that he will very likely be facing fatal punishment following the failure of this plot to have the watchmaker do his dirty work by killing off the outgoing Number Two.
I like to think that the Villagekeepers soon caught up with and killed the fleeing Number Two after all, since he doesn’t deserve the “peaceful death” that he denied to so many innocent captives. In fact I wish they had had McGoohan outrightly say to the new Number Two that he knows the departed Number Two will still be killed off but at least the plot to blame the Villagers has been thwarted.
(Just like in Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling it makes no sense to have someone actually escape, since we’ve been shown that the Villagekeepers have co-conspirators everywhere.)
COMMENT: For simplicity’s sake I avoided the self-defeating way this episode pretends the outgoing Number Two is the “main” Number Two. That notion adds nothing but unnecessary confusion so I kept to what we’ve already grown accustomed to: the fact that Number Twos come and go all the time.
To explore the additional acts of rebellion, or Jamming, inspired by Number Six’s defiance of the Villagekeepers I will cite a 1970s attempt to imitate many themes from The Prisoner. That attempt was the failed pilot movie for The Stranger (1973), better known to my fellow Bad Movie Fans under its Film Ventures International title Stranded In Space. The title The Stranger reflected the way the series was obviously going to be a hybrid of The Prisoner and The Fugitive.
Glenn Corbett starred as Neil Stryker, an astronaut who became stranded on a parallel Earth which was under the tyrannical rule of The Perfect Order – the imitation Villagekeepers of this attempted series. The Perfect Order already ruled the entire world and was just as Orwellian as the Village, right down to the way that nobody was even allowed to teach history from before The Perfect Order or refer to the previous times as being better in any way.
Instead of a rotating series of Number Twos, The Stranger was obviously going to have one big recurring antagonist – Cameron Mitchell as Benedict, who answered to sinister superiors as merciless and impatient as the Villagekeepers. (As Stranded in Space, Joel and the Bots even made a Prisoner reference by saying “You’re late, Number Two” when Cameron Mitchell appeared before his bosses.)
Benedict was expected to pursue, catch and exterminate Neil Stryker, who was considered dangerous because he knew what life under freedom was like.
At one point Benedict’s colleague was wondering why it was so important to track down “this one man” and Benedict replied with a soliloquy that could have come from one of the Village’s Number Twos. He described the chaos frequently caused by “one man alone” in the days of freedom before The Perfect Order.
From there he depicted individualism, rebelliousness and a desire for freedom as spreading like a disease and ultimately becoming an epidemic. (“In two months – Two epidemics” they joked) He intended to catch and kill Stryker before he could “infect” too many people with his dangerous ideas.
THAT’S how I see the “Jamming” of this Prisoner episode – like our hero’s defiance and non-conformity have begun spreading the “infection” of such characteristics to his fellow captives, thus making the Villagekeepers feel threatened as we hurtle toward the end of the series.
I place It’s Your Funeral third from the last because I like to position it so that the additional acts of defiance inspired by Number Six can be seen as the cause for the Villagekeepers bringing back Leo McKern’s Number Two for the two-part series finale up next.
I’LL EXAMINE PART ONE OF THAT TWO-PART FINALE VERY SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR MORE LOOKS AT NEGLECTED TELEVISION FROM THE PAST CLICK HERE
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