The Prisoner: Free For All

The Prisoner Free For AllThis seemed like an episode that was trying to say something. It gave us a sham election with a show of propaganda and newspaper reporting, and eventually both candidates basically saying the same thing, offering rewards in exchange for information. The only distinction in the end is the old argument of the incumbent government about the lack of experience of the opposition, something I have heard in just about every election campaign ever.

“He has no experience whatsoever of the manipulation of a community such as ours.”

Note the word “manipulation”. What really happens in this village is an open secret. It’s all a game, of course, and both Number Two and Number Six recognise that pretty quickly. When Two says “play the game”, Six responds with “according to Hoyle?” For those unfamiliar with the reference, that’s Edmond Hoyle who wrote about the rules of card games during the 18th Century. The phrase “according to Hoyle” indicates the following of rules set down by authority with no questions asked. The whole election process is clearly a trap.

What disappointed me this week is the extent to which Six played along, and not just because of the brain washing. His previous astuteness seemed to evaporate, based only on the promise of meeting Number One and the ridiculously slim chance of organising a mass breakout from the prison that is the village. The problem is that the prize on offer is the position of Number Two, and yet he gets replaced every week. It’s clearly not an elected position, so it seems odd for Number Six to entertain the idea for a second. His past experience should be sufficient now for him to realise that it’s just going to be another trick to break his will. Maybe he just wants to play along in the mistaken belief that he can turn the tables, like he did last week. No such luck.

Seeing everyone chanting for Number Two at the beginning of the election campaign brought an ongoing question into sharp focus. Who are these people and why are they playing along with this charade? They can’t all be actual prisoners who are entirely compliant with the village authority. The alternative is that they are all employed to do what they are doing, in which case it’s all even more of a sham and Six is wasting his time even more. As a mark of the clever writing here, a question that crops up in the mind of the viewer is immediately addressed.

“I intend to discover who are the prisoners and who are the warders.”

In the end though, it all played out rather predictably, and Six ended up as much more of a pawn in Number Two’s games than ever before, in an odd bit of backwards evolution of his character. The big chase sequence was rather pointless, ending in the inevitable water balloon moment, and the sight of Number Two pretending to be drunk didn’t fool me for a second, so it shouldn’t have fooled the previously sharp-as-a-new-pin Number Six. In the end, the message offered by the episode went no further than a vague comment on dictatorships and sham elections, although one would expect nothing else of a prison regime. Prisoners don’t get to elect one of their own as the chief warder. For Six to fall for it all and submit to the manipulation, even in some kind of vain hope of turning the tables by playing along, was for me a betrayal of the character. In light of the fact that this was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan himself, that seems even more disappointing.

Created by Patrick McGoohan. Executive Producer: Patrick McGoohan. Written by Patrick McGoohan. Directed by Patrick McGoohan. Starring Patrick McGoohan.

Perhaps this episode needed a little more democracy after all.   RP

The view from across the pond:

Free for All is an episode that never really clicked with me even though I know some people love it.  I always assumed this was because it had to do with an election and I have no political inclinations whatsoever, but this time around, I watched it with the intent of determining what I don’t like about it.  And I think I found out.  #6 is absent for a good deal of it.  No, McGoohan is there for the whole episode, but he’s been brainwashed.  His actual personality is fighting to come out and it’s clear he knows something is wrong, but he ends up seeming more like the Schizoid Man of the next episode’s title.  While this is evident throughout, it is most clear when he’s suddenly become an alcoholic, desperate for a drink.  When he’s told there’s no alcohol, he furiously throws down a glass and yells “GET OUT!”  It’s difficult to watch.  And this non-#6 behavior carries through right until the end of the episode.  Even as he is defeated, we never see the real #6 come through again because he’s taken away on a stretcher.

Now, if I can look past that, there are a lot of great things in this story.  I’m talking moments or things that may still showcase a brilliant idea, even if it were poorly executed.  For instance, the interview is magnificent:

113: “How are you going to handle your campaign?”
6: “No comment.”
113: “’Intends to fight for freedom at all costs.’  How about your internal policy?”
6: “No comment.”
113: “’Will tighten up on Village security.’  How about your external policy?”
6: “No comment.”
113: “’Our exports will operate in every corner of the globe.’  How do you feel about life and death?”
6: “Mind your own business.”
113: “‘No comment.’”

And let’s face it: the rotten cabbages speech is monumental and I think we must all feel a little guilty while listening to it.  Should I be doing more than sitting here writing a blog?  There’s the name of the pub, The Cat and Mouse; an apt name in a place where everyone is playing a game of cat and mouse with one another.  And what of the hints as to the nature of the Village?  There’s a democratically elected official, #2, which is elected every 12 months.  What?  (This is verified in Many Happy Returns, but we’ll come to that in due course!)  Let’s get this right: we’ve seen 4 episodes now and episode one had two #2s.  How long has #6 been in the Village?  Or can #2’s be replaced without waiting for a term to come to an end?  What is the room with the Illuminati chair?  How does the door exiting the green dome suddenly lead to a cave where people sit around wearing glasses staring at Rover (we learn its name in the next episode)?  The people just turn to look at #6, but don’t really react.  (Probably watching EastEnders!)  Where are these rooms anyway?  And #113b is seen twice; is the Village just prone to picking up twins or are there more clones here than one expects?  (Remember the repairman in episode 1?)  Or if we’re being practical, is any of what we see real?

See it all goes pear shaped when #2 uses a double whammy.  It starts with the old spin the sense out of you ploy.  Up until then, #6 is basically himself.  After he’s spun around, he’s lowered into another odd room filled with hanging straps before he exits into another odd room with a kindly man who makes shadows of a square and a circle enter #6’s mind.  This is round two; the old shapes your mind ploy.  Yet again, while all this is going on, #2 confirms “I’m aware that he’s valuable to us.”  We assume he’s talking to #1.  But how valuable is a guy you torture regularly?   After this moment, the closest we get to seeing #6 again in this episode is after his maid starts slapping the hypnosis out of him and saying “tick” over and over.  Suddenly, #6 goes nuts sounding like a robot and says that brilliant line: “Obey me and be free!”  Think about that.  If you are obeying anyone, are you free?  Does #6 realize what he’s saying?  And in the end, #6 is defeated, a new #2 stands triumphant and finishes the episode with “Give my regards to the homeland!”

Who would have thought the sweet little foreign maid was actually the new #2?  Who would have thought there was a cave where #2 could get drunk?  Who would worship Rover?  And why wear glasses when doing it?  What do you think?  Don’t worry, everything you think here is in the strictest confidence!  ML

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Prisoner: Free For All

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I think that The Prisoner endures as an SF classic that reminds us how SF can work best as an art form. This is of course why the period-piece adventures of Dr. Who or the Earth-paralleling worlds in Star Trek work best for audiences who can appreciate art from historical perspectives. It’s been a reservoir of talent for films and TV shows and SF is no exception. But seeing how the beauty of the Village where the Prisoner is trapped, although he fights for escape from it, can at least give a man an undeniably more attractive prison environment than a cage is where McGoohan was very considerate for his audience’s sense of realism.

    Naturally this rubbed off on The Matrix with its beautiful simulation of contemporary Earth to make the most formidable prison of all. Namely the prison that traps us by convincing us that we’re not really in it. The Village didn’t have bars. It had giant white bubbles emerging from the ocean and they seemed quite formidable. But it at least had a clean and decent prison setting that fueled its main character’s desire for escape in the same dramatic sense as the dystopian beauties of THX 1138, Logan’s Run and Gattaca. It reminded #6 that no matter how nice his captors made it look and feel just to keep him in his place, it wasn’t everything and that helped make his escape finale one of the most iconic in SF history. I look forward to how you both review that finale.

    Liked by 1 person

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