After a run of episodes featuring escapes, near-fatal dream manipulation, a doppelgänger and a return to London, Dance of the Dead feels like the lowest key, lowest stakes episode for a while. It also doesn’t feel like it belongs in this part of the series at all, with the messed up episode order really rearing it’s ugly head. There have been times where the episode order has created problems before, but this is the biggest one by far because it is so much like an early episode where Number Six is new to the Village. There has been too much water under the bridge for an episode like this, at this stage of the game. It’s not just that he says he is “new here”, it’s the way he reacts to events. He seems to be checking out his environment and learning once again, and he makes a pointless escape attempt, running along the beach. Where does he think he is running to?
Luckily Mary Morris is on hand to elevate the episode to a much more enjoyable one than it would have been with most other Number Twos, the best since Leo McKern. Number Six’s maid this week was also a lot of fun, with plenty of innuendo on both sides:
“We’ll get along.”
“I’m sure you get along with everybody.”
…and the possibly unintentional (but there’s something about the way she delivers the line):
“Everyone’s having a good time outside.”
“Wait until tonight.”
Once again, Patrick McGoohan showed what he can do. I particularly liked the scene early in the episode when Number Six was fighting through the mind control, shaking with the effort of the mental battle. But he was also back to the astute version of Number Six, questioning everything and everyone, who has been largely absent from the last few episodes.
“Am I playing her game, or yours?”
I had a job to get to grips with the main plot of the episode, which all seemed a bit confusing, but I think the point of it was the dead body being used as a substitute for Number Six to report his death to the outside world. Once again that feels like something that should have happened earlier in the series, but more importantly it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. An autopsy would surely reveal that it’s somebody else, and if that can be manipulated by the powers that be, then their manipulation of the release of information would likely extend to not even needing a body at all. Number Six had his own use for the body: not so much a message in a bottle as a message in a body, which was a bit bleak, but not as bleak as what happened during the rather pointless kangaroo court scene. Six’s old friend Dutton turned up lobotomised, and not just that but dressed up as a jester to humiliate him. It was the cruellest moment the series has offered us so far, and a clear indication of the level of danger that faces Six. This fate may await him eventually if he’s not careful. The villagers screaming and chasing after him was a nightmarish moment. Again, this episode works so well as one that establishes the situation Six is in, and the risk to his life, which it is wasted halfway through the series.
In the end, though, it was still a fascinating tactical battle between two cool customers: Mary Morris’s fabulous Number Two and Patrick McGoohan’s unflappable Number Six. The cat who moved back and forth between them acted as rather a neat metaphor for that game of cat and mouse. As viewers of Tom and Jerry know, in that game it’s not always easy to get the better of the mouse. RP
The view from across the pond:
Dance of the Dead is as close to a horror themed episode as any Prisoner episode to date. The music is marvelously eerie, there’s an element of torture and brainwashing, and a costume party that’s disturbing and fun in equal measure. (I say fun from a viewer’s perspective not from a party-goers!)
Up until now, we’ve seen a number of strong female characters in the Village, with Mary Morris making the third female #2 since the series started. She is also the strongest; she’s patient, clever and she never loses her cool, even when she claims to be too old to take the stairs! While she realizes how important #6 is (“You know the instructions about #6…”), she doesn’t seem to have a problem putting him on trial and potentially letting a mob beat him to death. On the other hand, she does stop the torture that was going on at the start of the episode. I’ll come back to that in a second.
We get a number of hints about 6’s time in the village. For instance, this probably is near the start of #6’s stay in the Village. “I’m new here”, he says. Later, when talking to his old friend, Dutton, they discuss how long they’ve both been incarcerated in the Village. Dutton says he’s been there a couple month but 6 says he’s a recent addition. On a side note, it’s interesting that Dutton is stunned to see 6. Again, no indication of who 6 is, but Dutton says “You of all people! I’d never have believed it!” Clearly #6 was someone held in very high esteem. Giving more hints about who #6 is, the torture scene at the start of the episode offers some additional background, but nothing too detailed. Dutton tries to get 6 to talk. “They want a breakdown of all we know. You, me, Arthur, the Colonel, everybody.” Is the Colonel the same one from Chimes? Many Happy Returns? Does it matter? And who is Arthur? Or who was Roland Walter Dutton for that matter?
Since the start of the series, we’ve seen some very strange things including clones (the repairmen and possibly Curtis in The Schizoid Man), Rover, and most of the tech the Village uses. That leads us to wonder about the nature of the Village. #2 offers us some items of interest. She seems to have an affinity with the cat that seems to spy on #6. (“Never trust a woman. Even the four-legged variety!”) Not a big deal on its own although it made me wonder if that was the same black cat from Many Happy Returns! To add to that, when she’s talking to the “judges”, she says “he’s a human being, with weaknesses of his kind”. “…of his kind” sounds suspiciously like she does not belong in that category. Is it possible that the people running the Village are not human? I mean, the episode ends with #6 destroying the printer’s internal components only for it to continue working. That’s not normal! The Town Hall also has a forcefield of some sort that prevents #6 walking in. (This scene is very strange too; it takes the viewer a moment to work out what happened!) And Rover is possibly the strangest life form of all, being summoned from the depths whenever needed and suffocating people; possibly even absorbing some. What about the fact that when #6 asks about the wallet in the pocket of the dead man, #2 tells him it’s still there, but slightly amended? “We’ll amend him slightly too”, she says. Further confirmation of otherworldly technology, perhaps? Lastly, is it just a totalitarian state when the town crier announces “There will be music, dancing, happiness; all at the carnival. By order!” or can they force emotions from the inhabitants when they want to?
There are also two other women in this story that are worthy of note. #240 is #6’s observer. She is there to keep an eye on #6 but not to interact with him. She’s Little Bo Peep for the carnival and she has to always know where her sheep are. But #6 made it very clear in Free for All that he is not one of the “mindless sheep” so her choice of costume is interesting and if the order of episodes is indeed out of sequence, her costume may be what influences his statement in that episode. Does #240 observe more than one sheep? Then there’s the lovely maid who asks what #6’s costume is. He shows her that he was delivered his own suit for the occasion. “What does that mean”, she asks. “That I am still… myself,” he pronounces. This moment alone probably warrants an essay, but the idea behind it is that the others are not themselves and the carnival displays a wide variety of people, all of whom are not themselves. The only person who remains true to himself is #6. “He’s an individual and they are always trying!”
The episode doesn’t stop there. Throughout the series, we get that wonderful opening, but one line is “whose side are you on?” which makes us wonder about the Village and those who control it. When #240 indicates there is a democratic quality to the village, she points out that it is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Does this imply the Village is part of the United States?
The entire episode feels like a dream. The aforementioned creepy music helps create that dreamlike quality. Mary Morris on the beach as Peter Pan is just another marvelous touch. “I like my dreams,” says #6. “Then you are mad!” says #2. She later suggests to #6, “perhaps you don’t exist”! And then there’s the radio. It starts off in gibberish, but as #6 tunes it, we get the following:
“Nowhere is there more beauty than here. Tonight, when the moon rises, the whole world will turn to silver. Do you understand? It is important that you understand. I have a message for you. You must listen. The appointment cannot be fulfilled. Other things must be done tonight. If our torment is to end, if liberty is to be restored, we must grasp the nettle, even though it makes our hands bleed. Only through pain can tomorrow be assured.”
What does it mean? Is it just a random broadcast? Moments later, a new voice can be heard saying “… that Practice Dictation was at 60 words per minute.” Was that the same channel or was it changed? Was the message for the Village? Consider: “Nowhere is there more beauty than here” – the village is beautiful and it is a self-contained location unhampered by world governments. Tonight when the moon rises, the whole world will turn to silver: the carnival is that very night, where no curfew exists. “…the appointment cannot be fulfilled. Other things must be done tonight” – like what? #6 can’t get his message out because he has to “die” instead? “If our torment is to end, if liberty is to be restored, we must grasp the nettle even though it makes our hands bleed. Only through pain can tomorrow be assured” – or is the death of #6 important on a larger scale? Does his death herald a different kind of freedom? I’m sure there’s a lot to be said without many real answers. I guess we could debate about it for a long time. As they say, “feel free!” ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: Checkmate