It’s early days but things seem to be settling down into a formula. Each week we have a new Number Two, who tries a new scheme to get Number Six to answer questions. This episode the question is slightly different, in that Number Two is already convinced of the answer to why Number Six resigned, which was last week’s question. Instead, he wants to know which of his acquaintances he sold out to, from a choice of three enemy agents or defectors. The starting point is a false assumption, and at least by the end of the episode we have ruled out one reason why Number Six resigned, and probably the most obvious reason. We also have a very different Number Two from last week. He looks nervous right from the start, clearly terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t deliver results for his boss, and is prepared to risk killing Number Six, something that previous Number Twos have always absolutely ruled out. He is a desperate man.
The scheme of the week is a silly one, it has to be said. It falls squarely into the category of sci-fi as fantasy with a veil of technobabble. If Number 14 wore a pointy hat and waved a magic wand at least the episode would be honest about the idea being sold to us, but instead we are sold a crazy non-science in which 60s technology allows a man’s dreams to be converted to pictures on a screen. Asking us to accept that somebody can be inserted into his dream with a tape of the person’s profile is a leap further, and the final straw is Number 14 finding a way to put words into their mouths, even emoting the lines correctly. Note how she thinks of that idea off the cuff and just happens to have exactly the right equipment hooked up to achieve it.
It doesn’t help that little attempt is made to offer up images from Number Six’s perspective. Apparently his dreams consist of images of other people’s perspective of him, or a camera’s perspective when nobody else is around, but almost never what he would actually see through his own eyes in a dream. OK, let’s face it, his brain has the title sequence in it. The frustrating thing is that it could so easily have been made to work. It just needed a transition shot between his eye view and the standard camera view to get the ball rolling each time. We would have understood that as a storytelling technique. Viewing doesn’t need to be immersive, but it does need some kind of a handle to bring us into the narrative, whereas this episode throws us right out of it with no attempt at making the story actually work on any level, apart from just being a lot of fun.
And it is a huge amount of fun, despite the issues. This week it’s the turn of Peter Bowles to turn up with an outrageous moustache; a theme is developing. Number Six continues to be one of the best characters in anything, ever. Just look at the way he straightens his (bow) tie, a Bond-like swagger with a touch of bow-ties-are-cool. Patrick McGoohan communicates Number Six’s thought processes with every little subtle change of expression, such as the flicker of recognition when he sees Number 14 in the village, and looks at the mark on his wrist. You can see the cogs whirring, and what marvellous cogs they are. He is amazingly calm, observant and astute. No wonder Number Two looks nervous.
“Anyone who had nothing to hide would ask where I got it.”
Such clever writing. I also loved the final dream sequence, the only one that the director really sold to us well, with the dream going wrong and the action shot from funny angles and perspectives. I guessed the identity of the man in the mask straight away, and it didn’t help that the outline of his glasses was clearly visible underneath (to be fair, this might just be a symptom of modern picture quality and larger screens – I’m not sure it would have been so visible to a contemporary viewer), but it didn’t diminish the moment. This might be a series that requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but it does what it does with style. RP
The view from across the pond:
We come to the third episode of The Prisoner and Colin Gordon is the new #2. I am pretty positive he has an ulcer. Notice how terrified he is of that enormous red block we’re expected to take as a phone? Terrified, I tell you. (I imagine all those who work for the Village are a bit uptight; everyone is so stern in this place, they are probably all a little bit terrified!) So #2 drinks his milk, a known palliative for the common ulcer. But I point it out because drinks feature a lot in this episode. Everyone is having a drink at the party, champagne flows freely, #2 drinks his milk and #6 is given tea at night by a maid (of which, he seems to be appreciative of her service. This lead my wife to ask if he wouldn’t be more clued in to that trick, but he gets there in the end!) So he pours his tea down the drain, drinks tap water, … and promptly collapses anyway. (Who drugs the tap?) But the drinks don’t end there, oh no! How does #6 overcome #2 and #14? He dilutes “dose C” with water that he gets from a nearby carafe. Now, I’m no doctor, but I don’t know how advisable it is shooting water into ones bloodstream. Call me overly cautious, but I think that could be dangerous.
Anyway, let’s talk about the episode. This story offers a clever way to take McGoohan out of the Village and into “the real world” where we can focus on other settings. #2 uses the old psychedelic drug ploy to manipulate #6’s mind. Those in charge believe #6 was going to sell out to one of 3 people: A, B or C. Of course, by the time we get to C, we learn they really only had it narrowed down to two people because the third is basically “anyone”. So yes: two people or potentially anyone, thus not really narrowed down at all. Good job #2. Let’s look over three observations… perhaps we can call them “A, B, and C?”
A. Madame Engadine’s party is a happy place, unlike the oppressiveness of the Village. Engadine invites all her spy friends for a party and I imagine the invitation was to Spycon68. Come as you are or as someone else. Cosplay is a blast at these: you could be in costume and no one would know it! All kidding aside, this story opens some interesting observations. When #6 is hooked up to the machine, we see what’s playing in his mind and it’s the opening scene where he’s ranting at the man at the desk. This plays over and over. #2 says, “He’s very single minded.” This leads to a far more interesting reply from #14: “I sometimes think he’s not human.” According to #6, “last week, #14 was an old lady in a wheelchair”. So, what would lead #14 to suspect anything of #6 at all. What opinion could she even begin to form of #6 in a week? How long could she possibly have known him? Or perhaps she knows of him? So 6 is on the table and his eyes open. This offers us a view of #14 on the big screen. Sure, that makes sense but one should admire the trick from the perspective of late 60’s television especially if we consider that the image he has of himself is a third person perspective, but when he sees #14, we get a first person view of what he is seeing.
B. Let’s also consider that this is mostly a “dream episode”. We see plenty of evidence but perhaps none greater than leaving a nighttime party with Engadine, driving in broad daylight, and opening the doors of a church to look into a nighttime courtyard, but the dream aspect is significant if one considers that everyone seems to know about his pending vacation. “Have you the feeling that you’re being manipulated?” #6 seems to know there’s something amiss even before his final dose which he dilutes. Does that mean he had nothing to hide when he planned his “vacation” and is, in fact, projecting on others that they knew, or did others actually know he was going, simply because he had nothing to hide? Presumably he hadn’t posted in on the not-yet-existent Facebook, because if the opening is anything to go by, he leaves the office where he resigns only to attempt his escape immediately thereafter. Does it even matter, since the whole thing is a drugged dream? After manipulating the dream state, he appears to walk into the lab and tells #2, “I wasn’t selling out. That wasn’t the reason I resigned.” He stays a step ahead of the powers behind the Village and reveals quite a bit about his motives in that one bit of dialogue.
C. Finally, when he follows #14, it should have come as a surprise that no one sees him. Now, one might be inclined to quote Sherlock Holmes: “That is what you may expect to see when I follow you” but the Village is under ultra-high surveillance; there should be no way for 6 to follow 14 without #2 seeing at least some of his sneaking around. Notice that #2, in a rage, yells, “doesn’t he ever get tired?” as he watches #6 on his walk; so complete is his level of surveillance! So how come no one noticed 6 following 14? No one saw him get into the lab? Why wasn’t the lab under surveillance? And yet, I’d argue that it was being watched all the time, based on the final image of the episode. 2 tells 14, “Your drug failed.” She replies coldly, “No, he succeeded.” Realizing his failure, 2 turns in terror to look at the red phone, which begins to ring. Someone knows of the failure and they are not happy.
It is interesting that we are watching a show about a guy who is basically tortured every week, and while he doesn’t succeed in escaping, he always seems to be one step ahead of his captors and he does have the occasional victory from time to time. This was his first. Will there be another? That would be telling… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: Free For All