The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

The Prisoner The Schizoid Man AlisonThe start of this episode finds Number Six looking a lot more settled in the village and he seems to have a real friend for the first time. How much time is passing between episodes remains a puzzle. However, it is clearly necessary to present him in this episode as an established resident in the village, because this is the exception to his long-standing fight to prove he is not a number. Instead, the whole series is flipped on it’s head, with his quest to prove that he is Number Six.

This week’s Number Two is a very young looking Anton Rodgers, who I remember from watching May to December as a child. His latest scheme to mess with Number Six’s mind and try to get some questions answered is to make him question his own identity, by means of a double and a bit of brain washing. There is no explanation as to why Number Six and Curtis look the same, but perhaps it was best to leave that to our imaginations, as it would be tough to find an explanation that actually works. Number Two and Curtis seem to have know each other for a long time, so he hasn’t just been found and piloted in for this one assignment. He is clearly an established operative, like Number Six himself, which is bizarre to say the least. It’s best not to think too hard about it, because if you can accept this very odd coincidence, then what remains is an excellent episode.

At first I thought they had drugged Number Six just to give him a moustache, amusingly continuing the theme of outrageous moustaches that started with Kevin Stoney and continued with Peter Bowles. This one is a bit wonky, generally wandering off to the left. Perhaps it’s a reflection of Number Six’s politics and a clue to his resignation. But it soon became evident that there was more to his brainwashing than the addition of facial hair, with the master-stroke making him a left-hander instead of a right-hander, using electric shock tactics. Several other details are changed as well, such as his favourite food, which are flapjacks… wait, no those aren’t flapjacks. They’re pancakes. A quick google reveals that “flapjacks” is a word used for a kind of filled pancake in the US, which is most definitely not what the word means here. Oddly, this is a British production, so 11.7 million viewers on first broadcast would have looked at the screen and all said in unison “those aren’t flapjacks”. Maybe this was made with an eye on selling to the US market.

Even more bizarre is that Number Six is a man who can recognise his own fingerprints. Do even spies know that they are looking at their own fingerprints when presented with an impression of them? I mean, they do all look fairly similar. That’s a very minor point here, but this episode does have a more serious problem. I mentioned earlier in the series how astute Number Six was, and he is here too, and yet he keeps making the same mistake. He just doesn’t realise that he has no friends in this village. He keeps allowing himself to trust people and yet again he gets betrayed. It’s nearly always a woman who does the betraying, so perhaps this is the one area of his life where he lets his heart rule his head, but it still doesn’t fit well with his characterisation in general.

Apart from that, this was a very enjoyable episode, which managed to take a very overdone and hackneyed story trope of the stranger doppelgänger and turn it into a nail-biter of a story. By the end of the episode, Number Six has failed in yet another escape attempt, but has succeeded in proving that he is a number, and that number is Six. Seems like something of a Pyrrhic victory to me.   RP

The view from across the pond:

One of my favorite early episodes of The Prisoner was The Schizoid Man.  It’s an episode that is clever, if you can get past some silly things.  #6 is once again tortured and, this time, conditioned out of using his right hand so that …  Ok, let’s get our collective head around this.  … so that he will believe that he’s actually #12 who is going into such deep cover as #6 that he confuses himself about who the real #6 is and doubting his own identity.  Yes, friends, you guessed it!  This is the old doppelganger ploy?”  Will #6 become so confused by this that he forgets who he is?  Will the audience?  What’s totally crazy is that throughout this episode, #6 wants to prove he’s himself, when he typically denies being a number of anything.

So much of the episode hinges on his relationship with Alison.  Now, there again, this is a guy who stays to himself but he likes Alison, AKA #24.  He lets her take photos of him.  For her, taking a photo involves swaying and moving closer to the target until one knocks over a bottle onto his fingernail which promptly bruises like someone slammed a door on his finger.  Me?  I think there were better ways to get that bruise there, like getting a bottle opener out to have a drink with Alison and accidentally slamming ones finger in the drawer.  Alas, I was not writing this.  Then again, perhaps Alison’s clairvoyance is legit and she knew what was coming and intentionally knocked the 186 pound bottle onto #6’s finger to help him out.  Frankly, I don’t buy it.  Then there’s #6’s belief in her ability to read minds.  This seems highly dangerous for a man with secrets that he wants to keep.  If he knows she’s a crack, why entertain her considering how much of a loner he is.  If he thinks she’s legit, why associate with her when she might learn his secrets?  Does he, in fact, like her?   Considering there’s some controversy around the order one should watch the episodes, perhaps this is very early days.  We only know it’s Feb 10th when the story starts.  Maybe he hasn’t yet met Nadia.  Maybe he’s still warm to some people?  At the end of the episode, 6 goes to her house to play the role of his own doppelganger after Curtis (the aforementioned doppelganger) is killed.  He lights a cigarette for her and uses his right hand.  She realizes he is actually #6.  The question is, did he do it intentionally or was it an oversight?  Neither are good answers.  An oversight means he made a terrible blunder that is grossly unlike him.  On the other hand, if he did it to let her in on the secret, it’s a terrible risk considering she’s already betrayed him once.  It’s completely out of character!  Luckily, she apologizes to 6 for betraying him and keeps his confidence, but that will just lead to her torture because she didn’t report it.

This all totally ignores a much bigger issue.  Rover kills Curtis because #6 says the code word first.  But #2 should expect Curtis to say the codeword first; that’s why they have a codeword!  So Rover should not have been programmed to kill considering the likely loser of the codeword contest was bound to be #6.  We should boggle over this, considering for the umpteenth time, #2 comments about how #6 is “too important”.  I suppose we can remember what #6 says: “science can be perverted.”  This is a prime instance where whatever science was used to create #12 was in all ways wrong and could have lead to the death of our hero.  (As a thought, in Free for All, we meet a “brilliant scientist” who lives in the cave.  Could he have created Rover?  Was that science perverted too?)  And one other thought about how important #6 is: when he realizes what’s happened he decides the best way to use his right hand again is to…. Electrocute himself?!?  Where was #2 when this was going on?  Talk about an absentee babysitter!

So why did I say the episode was clever?  Because in today’s episode, we will get to play “fun with numbers”.  12 is #6’s double.   See that?  6 has a connection with #24, because, you guessed it, 2+4=6.

Ok the truth is, I really do like this episode despite itself.  The smug #2 wins using the oldest trick in the book; the Does he know his wife is dead ploy.  6 gets to feel like he’s won for all of 5 minutes before the doors slam and he’s Back in the Village again…  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: The General

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

  1. scifimike70 says:

    There’s nothing more dramatically exciting in SF then when a pivotal character’s identity becomes questionable. We’ve seen it happen many times in The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, Doctor Who and most profoundly in Blade Runner. Seeing that dramatic conflict used here as yet another way to try and break #6 is particularly original and especially thanks to McGoohan’s great acting. The Schizoid Man has been called the best episode of The Prisoner and with a lead actor playing two roles, it’s in the ranks of Star Trek: The Enemy Within and Dr. Who: The Face Of Evil.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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