Come back Nigel Stock, all is forgiven. I’ll take anything over a Western. It has actually been quite sad to see the decline of this series, which started so brilliantly, reached it’s peak with Hammer into Anvil, and has since then got progressively worse with each episode until we reach this point, which verges on unwatchable. I seriously considered giving up on this one halfway through, and only curiosity about how the Western setting would tie into the Village premise kept me going through the torture. The answer was predictably just the usual brainwashing.
My heart sank with each subsequent Western cliché. The busty girl at the bar called Kathy. The interminable fist fights. The glass getting shot. The reluctant sheriff. Horror of horrors, the terribly-acted blackface Mexican.
I’ll be honest about this. I hate Westerns with a passion. I hate all the glorified Western macho tripe. It takes the male of the species right down to it’s most disappointing level: unenlightened, unevolved, violent and thoroughly tedious. At least Doctor Who tried to do comedy with it a couple of years earlier, but this just plays it straight and it’s hideous. For most of the running time I didn’t have a clue what was going on beyond the usual stock Western set pieces and frankly didn’t care. When we reached the point of a man assaulting a woman and being bitten on the lip, it took all my willpower not to switch off.
I have to be fair though. There were a few aspects about this episode that impressed me. The title “Living in Harmony” overlaid on a fight scene was nicely ironic, and the lack of opening titles was very modern. It’s something that happens a lot nowadays but was incredibly rare in the 1960s. Like It’s Your Funeral, one great actor pulled the episode out of the fire. Alexis Kanner played the Kid brilliantly, with his psychopathic stare. He was also great as Number Eight, and in fact as soon as we were back in the Village at the end the episode really did kick into gear at last. Kanner’s screaming as he strangled Number 22 was very frightening, although the ending came out of the blue to provide some last minute drama. Number Eight seemed to be completely in control of himself when he was in Number Two’s office, so more time taken setting up his mental breakdown post-Western would have helped. His death scene was also very badly overdubbed. But yes, a great actor, and McGoohan was right to get excited about his talent and put a box around his name in the credits.
“I agreed to wear the badge but not the gun.”
I also appreciated the attempt at an anti-gun message, with Number Six refusing to carry one. We were also shown the very real horror of anyone being able to carry a gun. The Kid is somebody who can’t drink without dribbling, and plays around with his gun like a child. That’s the problem with allowing anyone to have a gun. I mean, if there were no childish dribblers in the world, the idea might just work, but if you are happy as a society to arm the childish dribblers then nobody’s safe.
“Get some guns on.”
There was irony and truth in that. The response to a gun crime having just been committed is to reach for more guns, which says it all really. The message isn’t quite driven home as much as it could have been, with only Number Six making a stand, and using his fists in substitution, but it was sufficient to get the episode banned in the US at the time due to fears about the episode being interpreted as an anti-war statement (admitted afterwards, but not at the time), proving that the US was capable of standing with the best (worst) of them when it comes to censorship of creative media that challenges the political status quo.
I also have to praise the graveyard silhouette shot, which is sublime, although two fabulous seconds out of 49 minutes isn’t a great hit rate. And much more goes wrong than goes right. I praised Kanner but he’s really the only good actor in this. Some very British countryside doubles up as the Wild West, and then there were lines like this:
“There’s only one way out. That’s due North.”
What, is it a walled Roman city or something? A couple of people camping here and there doesn’t make for an inescapable barrier, as Number Six eventually proves. A couple of moments fell into the so-bad-it’s-funny category. There was the audible slap before a hand connected with a face. And then there was this delight:
“You’ve got five seconds to make up your mind.”
Which lasted 21 seconds. He might as well have done child counting: one, two, three, four, four and a half, four and three quarters… Somehow, for a miserable episode that dragged interminably, that would have seemed about right. RP
The view from across the pond:
Oh look, another abnormal opening, following closely on the heals of Do Not Forsake A Title In Favor Of Being Poetic Because It Will Haunt Your Series Forever. Or a title very similar to that. I remember the first time I watched this, I thought I had the wrong video tape in the clamshell case. Yes, it was that long ago. I thought: crap, a Clint Eastwood western? But I saw McGoohan so I let it play and eventually noticed very similar themes. I started to work it out, but it wouldn’t be until I was in my 40s that it would hit me (which is to say, now); this is #2’s attempt at VR! 1967/68, and the Village had VR already! How brilliant!!
Ok, let’s get into it. It takes the entire episode to realize #2 is using the old … um, new?… VR ploy. Put your enemy in VR, hit him with some hallucinogens, and rover’s your uncle. He’ll become convinced he’s Clint Eastwood, and try to save the literal Damsel in Distress. (I think they made a song out of it… Damsel in Distress, bring her back now we won’t take less!) I digress. Horribly. What bothers me about this episode is that the people behind it are driveling oafs. #6 is the one that had no idea where he was and he comes out fine, even after thinking he was shot. #8 might as well have been the VR developer, but he gets so caught up in his role, he thinks he’s The Kid and goes creepily stalking Cathy when she goes back to the VR set, because she thinks she is actually that lovely damsel. Cathy was all willing to go along with the whole thing until it played out and she realized there was a man who could love her in #6, but instead has to deal with under-the-stairs stalker first. (Look what happens when I shine this flashlight up my face, while hiding in the dark…. Hehehe!) They go so far off the deep end that #8 actually dies by leaning over the balcony and screaming “no more”. (John Hurt would say this same line some 50 years later and have much better luck with it.) Alexis Kanner puts his arms out, falls down dead, and leaves #2 to wonder how bad his punishment will be. (I’m guessing Richie’s Plank Experience with real skyscrapers! That’ll teach him.)
In fairness, Alexis Kanner plays the Kid to psychotic perfection. He’s actually genuinely creepy, so when he reappears as #8, the psychosis is complete and utterly unnerving. Cathy is right to freak out. He’s possibly the most frightening character in the entire 17 episode run!
Another brilliant thing about this episode is that when the name appears on screen, Living in Harmony, it’s over a scene of a brawl between #6 and the villagers.
What’s less brilliant is that my home country refused to air this episode when it came out. But in fairness, think about it: It’s December of 1967. Vietnam is going on. And the hero of this piece does not want to carry a weapon to defend his town. Now, I call that interesting and a sign of the times. Luckily the times, they are a’changin.
But the episode failed for me in one major way. When #6 wakes from his VR experience, people are cardboard cutouts…. In the exact position they were in when he last saw them. Now, that’s fine if the episode played out the way #2 and #8 thought it would, but #2 shoots #6, effectively destroying the VR. The plan is destroyed. What, was this VR capable of printing out the last scene so you could review? And how did they handle it when he was “riding a horse” if the horse was just a cardboard one? They are awfully hard to ride!!!! So when #6 wakes and see #2 holding the gun, he runs over to strangle #2, only to realize he just attacked a cardboard cutout! (Embarrassing. Glad his fiancé didn’t witness that!) And is that really the best option when someone is pointing a gun at you? Run at them??? Isn’t #6 clever?
So while we have a chance to see what McGoohan would have been like in a western, it’s a weak episode and lacks all the charm of British TV. Which, I suppose, makes sense since it takes place in an American town. But that does lead to one more question which I raised with Do Not Mislead Me, Oh my Script editor; where exactly is the Village? Last episode showed US Dollars and this has #6 in an America town. Well, we’re closing in on the end of the series, so I guess we will know soon enough. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: The Girl Who Was Death