Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are very familiar with my high regard for Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 science-fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. Over the many times I’ve referred to this 17-episode program I’ve heard back from a few readers here and there saying they have heard of the show but never saw any episodes and don’t understand its appeal.
I’ve decided to do an in-depth look at The Prisoner, episode by episode, for the benefit of readers who’ve never seen the show and in the hope of reigniting interest among Prisoner fans who mistakenly feel the program’s relevance ended with the Cold War. Actually, The Prisoner is more relevant than ever, in my view, what with its brilliant blend of Orwell and Kafka plus its foreshadowing of shows like Twin Peaks and Lost.
The premise of The Prisoner reflects Patrick McGoohan’s disillusionment and disgust with the way pop fiction romanticized Intelligence Agents, who are actually just government thugs, not heroes. From interviews McGoohan did over the years he seemed to feel a certain sense of personal guilt over his own contribution to that romanticized image, especially from his successful run as Intelligence Operative John Drake on Danger Man and Secret Agent. (His acclaim from those programs was such that Patrick was supposedly approached to play James Bond in Dr No. He declined.)
LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Many Prisoner fans still engage in a fairly pointless argument over whether or not Patrick McGoohan’s never-named character on The Prisoner is supposed to be John Drake from his earlier series. IT. DOES. NOT. MATTER. (And in one oft-cited episode another character rather clearly says “break” not “Drake,” but there’s no convincing the pro-Drake crowd.)
Either way, John Drake or not John Drake, the point is that McGoohan portrays a Secret Agent who resigns from the Intelligence Services in disgust. Soon after, he is gassed into unconsciousness and abducted.
He comes to in an isolated, high-tech but dystopian community known only as The Village (or “The Island” if you’re a fan of The Simpsons episode that parodied The Prisoner.) Continue reading