Tag Archives: The Prisoner

THE PRISONER: A. B. AND C.

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. B. and C.Episode Title: A. B. AND C. … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 10th episode.

As this episode begins we are still in the period of days with the same Number Two (Colin Gordon) as last time serving his time as a rotating executive of the Village. 

The Story: A very nervous Number Two is in one of the Village’s concealed laboratories with Number 14, a blonde female scientist. (If you’ve seen the Simpsons episode parodying The Prisoner she’s the blonde lady to whom the bald Village Supervisor says “Tell me again why you thought a big balloon would stop people from escaping” and she replies “Shut up! THAT’S why!”)

Be Seeing YouThis Number Two is on very thin ice with the Board after the way he failed to stop the Prisoner and the traitorous Number Twelve from sabotaging two of the most crucial devices advancing the Villagekeepers’ conspiracy. Frequently chugging milk for his ulcer, he anxiously hopes to recover some favor and credibility by at last maneuvering Number Six into admitting why he resigned from British Intelligence. 

(For newbies to The Prisoner I’ll point out that if the Villagekeepers succeed at making Number Six admit why he resigned it will symbolize his surrender to them and recognition of their authority over him, like agreeing that “2+2=5” in Orwell’s 1984 symbolized surrender to The Powers That Be.) 

Number 14Dialogue makes it clear that Number Two is forcing Number Fourteen to proceed more quickly than she would like onto a human subject for her combined drug & electronic method of monitoring dreams of sleeping primates. As always on The Prisoner these reminders that humans are basically animals, too, serve like Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” metaphor for humanity.  Continue reading

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THE PRISONER: FREE FOR ALL

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 

Free For AllEpisode Title: FREE FOR ALL … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 8th episode.

Our previous episode wallowed in grim, depressing realism. Free For All takes us back into the realm of allegory and metaphor. It plays like Kafka, Ionesco and Pirandello blended with science fiction.

The Story: Eric Portman plays this episode’s Number Two, the rotating series of Village executives who manage the prison-city for varying periods, sort of like Officer of the Day duty in the military but stretched out for weeks at least.

This Number Two pretends to be calling the Prisoner’s bluff, implying that if he doesn’t like the way things are done in the totalitarian atmosphere of the Village he should run for office and try to enact some changes. Nobody has come forward as a candidate in a long time, so Number Two encourages Number Six to run against him. 

Free For All 2Needless to say our protagonist figures this election nonsense is just another experimental Head Game of the Villagekeepers. His suspicion increases when he sees that the Villagekeepers had already printed up campaign posters for him and distributed them to all the other Villagers. Despite our main character’s misgivings he gets swept along in this new cerebral duel with his captors.

NOTE: This is why I place Free For All AFTER Many Happy Returns. That episode made it clear that the Villagekeepers have too many co-conspirators in the outside world for any escape to be permanent. With that being the case the Prisoner can justifiably feel he has nothing to lose by playing along with the obviously phony “election.” If he gets lucky he might be able to at least strike some sort of defiant blow against the people who run the Village. Continue reading

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THE PRISONER: MANY HAPPY RETURNS

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 

Many Happy ReturnsEpisode Title: MANY HAPPY RETURNS … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 7th episode.

This is the most relentlessly downbeat installment of The Prisoner saga.

The Story: The Prisoner wakes up on his own, rather than being awakened by the usual syrupy-sweet broadcast of the Village’s “good morning” message. That is odd, but what is odder is the way that there is no running water as our protagonist discovers when he tries to take his morning shower.

Many Happy Returns 2Number Six gets dressed and ventures outside but finds the entire prison-city deserted. The automatic doors don’t work either, because all the power is out, but the doors can be pushed open since they are not locking like they usually do.

Our hero has access to all of the food and bottled water of the Village’s stores so he is in no immediate danger. In a well-rendered moment of irony this most anti-social of characters actually seems to wistfully miss a little human contact after awhile.    Continue reading

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THE PRISONER: LIVING IN HARMONY

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 

Living in HarmonyEpisode Title: LIVING IN HARMONY … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 6th episode.

In this installment the Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan) finds himself living a western version of his current plight. After resigning as a Sheriff and turning in his badge he is captured and knocked out by unknown parties.

When he comes to he discovers he is trapped in a Wild West town called Harmony … And his captors are obsessed with finding out why he resigned as Sheriff.

Living in Harmony 2First-time viewers of this episode are as disoriented as McGoohan’s character. The program starts with this “western” revision of the usual opening sequence in which he is shown resigning from British Intelligence and getting abducted to the prison city called the Village.

It’s easy to underestimate the commitment shown by creative director McGoohan in insisting on this alternate version of the opening credits sequence. I’ll bet NO American television executives of the time would have okayed reshooting the entire opening for just one episode.

“That’d cost too much! Plus the audience will be confused and won’t understand what’s going on!” That would no doubt have been the reaction back then. It’s all just another of the many ways that The Prisoner was ahead of its time. Sometimes it pays to have faith in the intelligence of your audience.

The Story:
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THE PRISONER: CHECKMATE

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 

CheckmateEpisode Title: CHECKMATE … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 4th in the series.

Peter Wyngarde portrays this episode’s Number Two, the rotating series of executive figures running the futuristic prison city called the Village. Balladeer’s Blog’s readers may remember him from my reviews of his shows Department S and Jason King. X-Men fans will recognize him as the obvious model used by Chris Claremont and John Byrne for Mastermind’s “Jason Wyngarde” persona in The Dark Phoenix Saga

Peter Wyngarde without moustacheThe episode begins with the Prisoner witnessing yet another sudden unleashing of “Rover” the bioelectrical synthetic creation which the Villagekeepers use to subdue outbreaks of disobedient behavior among the Villagers. As usual everyone freezes in their tracks, knowing Rover will attack anyone perceived as resisting.

For once, one of the residents shows no fear of Rover. An elderly man with a walking stick (George Coulouris from Citizen Kane) continues strolling along, ignoring Rover, who shows unprecedented deference to the man before moving on to subdue whichever Villager has raised the ire of the Villagekeepers.

Our protagonist is intrigued by this and follows the Man With A Walking Stick. The two share a casual conversation in which each man is wary of the other, given that nobody can ever be sure if a fellow Villager is secretly working for the conspirators behind the Village.

gettyimages-73691209Walking Stick Man invites McGoohan’s character to a game of chess he is heading to. The Prisoner goes along and finds that the game is played with human chess pieces in one of the least subtle of the program’s metaphors.

Walking Stick Man is one of the two “players” who sit above the game shouting their moves through bullhorns. The Villagers serving as chess pieces move accordingly. Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE  

Chimes of Big BenEpisode Title: THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN. In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 3rd in the series. Any comments that I have regarding the Alternate Chimes of Big Ben will be made in this same post.

Leo McKern makes the first of his three appearances as one of the Village’s rotating series of Number Twos. Despite his villainous role he gets the audience on his side right off the bat. He does that while watching the surveillance video of Number Six as he wakes up for the day and voices his observation that the Prisoner “Can make even the act of putting on a dressing gown seem like a gesture of defiance.”

Leo McKern as Number TwoLeo McKern’s character’s verbal fencing with Patrick McGoohan is as much fun to watch as Columbo’s cat and mouse games with the murderers on his show. (And yes, I know McGoohan was no stranger to Columbo, both the 1970s series and the later revival.)

The part where the Prisoner intentionally adds three lumps of sugar to his tea just because Number Two says his file reflects that he takes NO sugar is particularly enjoyable. It’s also one of those scenes that is not appreciated by people who don’t have a nonconformist bone in their body.   

McKern as Number Two also proves to be the most informative of those rotating Village executives. His attempts to persuade our protagonist to just tell the Villagekeepers why he resigned and then join their conspiracy go beyond just admitting that he, too, tried to resist when he was brought to the Village.

Prisoner and McKernLeo makes it clear that the Village represents the model for the Earth of the future as pursued by highly-placed elements from both sides of the Cold War. He paints a picture of inevitability for the Prisoner in hopes that he can make McGoohan cave in while retaining his sense of personal honor. If a Global “Village” is inevitable there’s no shame in surrendering to it. Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER BEFORE

Prisoner 1Regular 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.

Prisoner 2The 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.)

Prisoner 3Either 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

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