The Prisoner: Many Happy Returns

The Prisoner Many Happy ReturnsThe Prisoner is at this point fast becoming a series that is enormously enjoyable to watch, as long as you switch off your brain before you start each episode. This one is nothing more than an extended escape and recapture, with a twist ending that is inevitable right from the start, but you have to admire a series with the confidence to make something akin to a James Bond story, but with no dialogue at all for the first 20 minutes. When Patrick McGoohan got the script and saw the lines he had to learn he must have thought all his Christmases had come at once.

Problem #1: where did all the people go? My mind was happily wandering at the start of the episode onto the subject of Number Six’s house and how it looked like a very comfortable life for a prisoner, when it suddenly became a lot less comfortable. No water, no electricity, no music… no people. So who was controlling the switch-off, and where did everyone go? If Number Six doesn’t discover an underground bunker or something in a later episode this is a massive oversight, but even if he does how do you organise something like that overnight?

Problem #2: why does Number Six build a raft? I enjoyed his preparations very much. He makes a thorough search of the island, including our first view of the mountains. He leaves an IOU in the shop, once again illustrating that he’s basically a good man. He takes photographic evidence to convince the people who put him on the island in the first place that the island exists… yeah, well, we’ll get to that. Then he makes a raft. On the face of it, this is a little less ambitious than his previous escape attempt, carving a boat out of a tree, and I can understand why he doesn’t fancy doing that again, but why is he doing it at all? The boat build was because he wanted to leave in secret, but look what’s in camera shot when he’s setting off. There’s a real boat literally right there!

Problem #3: why is he so scared of the gun smugglers? After 24 days on the raft, during which he sleeps four hours a day (impressive), writes the number of the day and underlines it (angrily), and shaves (got to keep up appearances, even on a raft), he gets his possessions stolen by gun smugglers and gets thrown into the water. When he boards their boat, he sneaks around for ages and concocts a plan to make them think the boat is on fire. But why is he bothering? They are just two average Joes from his point of view. He’s taken out worse then them with ease before, more than once, and without the element of surprise.

Problem #4: why does Number Six leave the gun smugglers in the same room? Textbook mistake, and one that is hard to believe from an experienced secret agent. Of course they are going to untie each other. James Bond would have realised that there was a much better place to store tied-up gun smugglers. It’s called the sea.

Problem #5: why does he go straight to the places where his recapture is guaranteed? He is clever enough to avoid the police, presumably working on the assumption that he can’t trust the authorities and they might be trying to track him down, but then he goes straight to London. Of course there’s going to be an agent of his enemies in his house. Of course his former employees are now his enemies. At least he now has confirmation of that, as he seemed to be in some doubt about who his enemies were, but really, how much confirmation did he need? His captors have the single-minded aim to find out why he resigned, so it’s pretty obvious that they are his former employees and their associates. The minute he heads to London his recapture is guaranteed.

Problem #6: what’s with this whole charade anyway? When episodes of The Prisoner make sense, the story of the week is connected with trying to extract information from Number Six or breaking his spirit a little more. This presumably is supposed to be the latter, but it’s clearly not working, is it, and what an extraordinary thing to stage just to make some kind of a point. And what point exactly? He is always going to be recaptured? He has no friends? Surely that plays into his hands. Now he knows who his enemies are and if he ever gets away he is in a much better position to fight them. Why give him that advantage for no gain? And why take such an extraordinary risk? Apart from when the Colin Gordon #2 got desperate and took things too far, all the Number Twos have been at great pains to keep Number Six alive. Once he is dead they can’t find out the truth about his resignation. There was a very real possibility that he could have died at sea during his escape attempt. There also must have existed the possibility that he would be clever enough not to go back to London and would escape recapture. His arrival on the South Coast of England was a massive coincidence that we were expected to swallow. He just happened to be heading in the right direction, from an unknown starting point, and of all the countries he could have made landfall at, he ended up in his own. And that’s another tactical error on the part of his captors. Now he knows where he is.

So it’s an episode that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny very well, to say the least, but still manages to be something of a triumph of style over substance. And although the ending is guaranteed from the start, when the expected twist happens it’s still a moment that packs a punch.

From here on in, the task that awaits Number Six is clearly defined. He simply needs to escape the island, take down the entire British secret service, and destroy the village. I wouldn’t bet against him.   RP

The view from across the pond:

There’s something wrong in the Village.  The water stopped working and everyone is missing.  This gives #6 a chance to build his own raft after cutting down some trees.  (How many hours are there in a day in the Village?)  Yes, the old “you’re on your own” ploy.  This is a clever strategy employed by the new (missing-from-the-opening-credits) #2.  It’s a diabolically clever idea to break him and hey, by the way, if he doesn’t break, we can say it was a birthday gift. Fair dues on all sides.

Ok, first and foremost, it has got to be said that this episode is utterly bizarre from a television perspective.  First, there’s not a single line of dialogue until around 18 minutes and then that’s not even in English, and the first English words come in at 22 minutes when #6 encounters gypsies.  “Where is this?” is all that #6 says to Caveman Pete (the poor chap looked like he was a Neanderthal) before being escorted to the others of his clan.  (The woman who makes odd guttural noises to indicate drinking and speaks with a supremely brusque tone is surprisingly pretty though!  Her voice is a stark contrast to her appearance!)  But superficial things aside, the episode is, to quote a certain door, “way out”.  Let’s imagine how it went down…

#2 tells her mysterious superior(s), “hey, I’ve got this idea: we leave him to his own devices.  Either he’ll settle in or he’ll try to leave.  If the former, he’s settled, but the latter is more likely, and we can watch him from the See-saw room, because he’s never been there and won’t think to check it!  He’ll then build a raft.  Let’s say that takes him the better part of a day because he has chopping power.  Then, he’ll go out to sea for 25 days.  His birthday is March 19th, remember!  If we time this right, we can have him home for birthday cake!”

Yes, things go pear shaped when pirates or gunrunners come along and try to throw him overboard and leave him for dead, but that just makes the above plan worse.  It means there were things they couldn’t have predicted.  Of course, knowing the Village, the gunrunners might have been working for the Village but for one little thing: #6 is too valuable to throw overboard.  The first time I watched this, when I saw them eating cans of food with the Village logo, I thought they were Village minions but then I realized, they are eating from the food #6 had packed that they pinched.  Plus, what would the Village need with high powered machine guns.  (One might ask that of the US too, but let’s not go there today!)

Then we get to Mrs. Butterworth.  She’s ridiculously nice to #6 which is odd because he harasses her the minute he sees her, and hasn’t changed in 25 days.  (I never saw toilet paper on that raft either… I’m just saying!)  Luckily she is not only nice but she has clothing for him, which considering how cruel #6 tends to be to some women he’s encountered, one might expect the same for the woman who is now living in his home.  To prove he’s who he claims to be he states the license plate of the car to her, as if that proves he has knowledge of … well, anything…. I’d be more inclined to think than he just read it as it came down the road.  (It’s a bit obvious, no?)  She helps him get back to his people in the government!  Jolly nice of her.  This really does make one wonder if the Village is actually British run or if they are so powerful, they fear nothing.  The latter is rather scary!  They listen to his story, corroborate the facts, and decide: “Right-o old boy, wot!  We’ll go searching for this prison of yours!”  Then the milkman shows up.  It is super-important to remember that milkmen have top secret clearance at all government facilities.  (Would-be spies trying to get into the White House: take note!  I’m sure milkmen are still allowed to walk around unescorted!)  The milkman delivers his wares to the pilots changing rooms and not a soul bats an eyelash because everyone knows, milk is good for pilots.  The old switcharoo is done (*NB: this is not a ploy but an action.  Check your Villains guide book for more on these!) and the new pilot rubs it in #6’s face with a “be seeing you” before ejecting the him back to the Village.  He makes it back home in time for cake… just in time for his birthday.  Happy Birthday Parick McGoohan and #6 – ironically you both share the same birthday.

Well, I did tell you it was way out!  It’s a fun one, absolutely, but makes very little sense.  But it gives one more hint to the order of things.  Episode 5, The Schizoid Man, shows us the date as Fed 10th.  Some days go by at least; maybe the better part of a month.  This takes place over at least 25 days culminating on March 19th. So, either this almost immediately followed The Schizoid Man, or another year has gone by.  One final observation: this is the second female #2.  At least the Village was ahead of its time!  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: Dance of the Dead

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.

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