I think I have a new favourite episode of The Prisoner. I can’t pretend this is anything other than a 50 minute James Bond film, but it is just so much fun. It’s far from being an episode that has any allegory, tackles any issues, has anything to make the brain work, or has any value beyond entertainment, but after a run of dismal episodes this was just what the doctor ordered. It leaves me with little to say other than to chatter on about all the things that I thought were huge fun, so this article is not going to be any more erudite than the episode itself. With a reminder that there will be spoilers, here goes nothing…
Things I loved about this episode:
- The bowler’s crazed expression when he bowls a bomb, running right up to the camera lens.
- A plummy-voiced Christopher Benjamin as Potter – the shoe shiner who knows everything. I felt like I was watching Police Squad.
- Number Six’s mission recorded on vinyl, and the booths in the shop to listen to the records. Those were the days. I was born too late to enjoy all that fun. Now we youtube and we amazon and we download and we google. A little bit of charm has left the world.
- Number Six’s very natty bright blue shirt. I want one of those.
- The message at the bottom of the pint. Chug chug chug.
- “You have just been poisoned.” Followed by a lot more chug chug chugging as Number Six throws back endless drinks to make himself sick.
- The incidental music, which is as fun as the episode itself.
- The many inventive ways huge-eyelash-woman tries to kill Number Six. Best of all is probably her attempt to steam him to death.
- “PS. Who would be a goldfish?” The killer’s sense of humour.
- Number Six dressed as Sherlock Holmes, with an outrageous moustache.
- Number Six dressed as Sherlock Holmes, with an outrageous moustache… climbing into a boxing ring.
- The location hopping (albeit with liberal use made of back projections). This really does have the flavour of a Bond film.
- The fairground, with a total absence of health and safety on the roller-coaster. The scariest bit of the episode was that hideous mechanical clown though.
- The car that starts rotating as it’s driving along for no reason and with no explanation.
- The frilliest shirt in the world, which would have made even Jon Pertwee envious.
- “I do so believe in double glazing, don’t you.” Did I mention the killer’s sense of humour?
- Even in an episode like this, McGoohan gets a scene where he emerges from some bushes. Seriously, that must have been written into his contract for every episode.
- Schnipps’s Napoleon fantasy fulfilment.
- “My little girl here will be taking over Bond street.” That’s got to be an in-joke about how Bond this episode is.
- The whole idea that somebody would fire a lighthouse as a rocket at London, which is too crazy even for a Bond villain. It’s definitely at the Moonraker end of the scale, anyway.
- The episode having the audacity to blow up the Beachy Head lighthouse. I went there a couple of years ago and it looked fine to me. They must have done a good rebuild.
- The way the book is interspersed with the action throughout the episode, and how well that works when the reason for it is revealed at the end.
…and most of all, the big moment at the end where we find out what’s really going on this week, which put the biggest possible smile on my face. Oh, that was such a lovely moment.
“Good night children, everywhere.”
The view from across the pond:
It’s been a while since I last viewed The Prisoner all the way through. This time, a certain episode struck my funny bone the moment it started: The Girl Who Was Death. See, my sister can’t fly easily because she has an issue with her ears. One day, when I was trying to convince her to come on a vacation with me, which entailed flying, my nephew (about 7 years old at the time) said emphatically to me, “She can’t fly or she could go death!” As soon as I started The Girl Who Was Death, I was laughing at that memory. While my memory of my nephew’s words stuck, my memory of the episode did not because I was hysterical through most of it. Easily, the funniest in the series. And the reasons are many.
Let’s start with the Ploy of the Week and #2’s logic behind it: the old kids read along ploy. “Gee, this guy doesn’t break with any brainwashing techniques, he doesn’t break when we have his clone come in, he doesn’t break when we take his brain out of his body and drop it in someone else’s. He doesn’t even break when we put him in the wild west VR experience we have. I’ve got it! Have him read the children of the Village a bedtime story! He’s bound to let on why he resigned!” Think about how that would play out. “There was once a man who dealt with way too much bureaucracy with his job, red tape and the like. He found out about nukes his country had hidden away that they could use to blow up the world and kill us all, so that guy resigned even though he was one of the few that could save the world. Without him in his job, chances are, everyone will die in the next few years! Goodnight kids. Sleep well!” What is worse: what was #1 thinking when #2 suggested it??? “Um. You think that’s a good idea, do you?”
Then there’s the story. It’s a picture book, so #6 has to supply the storyline. (How did he react to this for that matter? “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debr…. Wait, what? You want me to what? Read the children to sleep? When did we even get children here? Where have they been?!”) So he picks up the book, looks at the pictures and thinks, “this is what kids want to hear…”
- When you play cricket, the cricket ball can be explosive and might kill you. Sports are deadly; read a book instead.
- If you do hit an explosive ball, the best thing to do is run to where it blew up, because there might be a message there for you. (Most of the time that message is going to be body parts from where the poor schlub was when the ball landed, but sometimes, it’s a handkerchief with a message on it.)
- Remember that nursery rhyme about the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker? They all want to kill you. Poison gas can come out of candles. Don’t buy from Yankee Candle!
- The Tunnel of Love? Murderers hide out there; never fall in love. They will kill you too. And those tunnels are eerie as hell.
- Rollercoasters? Lunatic photographers love to hang out on them taking dangerous pictures for adult magazines.
- Avoid the pub. Every drink you imbibe will have you thinking you’ve been poisoned. If you think you’ve been poisoned, remember, you can drink a healthy combination of brandy, whiskey, vodka, Drambuie, Tia Maria, Cointreau, & Grand Marnier! (If the poison doesn’t kill you, this will!)
- Caves? They have evil men planning to take over the world. Don’t become a spelunker.
- Lighthouses? Missiles for destroying your home town. Sabotage them so you keep your town safe. (Anyone on the boat that crashes as a result probably was transporting a vampire anyway, so it’s safe to let them crash!)
- The French are psychos. Always question what those little Napoleon’s are up to. They didn’t even invent French Fries, so you just can’t trust them.
He also provides some really important life lessons: “Standard disguise” is to go into a sauna in full clothing… as Sherlock Holmes! Mr. X is a good name for a man of mystery. And bad guys are imbeciles who don’t think to pack their explosive lair before launching it; they wait until the countdown so they can rush. Oh yeah, and guns and explosives; tamper with them. It’s easy and nothing bad will happen to you from it. Go for it, give it a shot.
I mean this is a psychotherapists dream come true. He’s got a village full of kids who will spend the rest of their lives in therapy! Now there may be a clue for those watching. When #6 talks to Potter, there’s an interesting coincidence that the same guy who plays Potter in this also played a guy named Potter in Secret Agent! (This is actually because the script was written for that show, but that’s beside the point!) So does that make #6 the infamous John Drake? Or is that like James Bond… a name that gets handed to different secret agents when needed?
The Girl Who Was Death is by far the lightest and silliest of all the episodes, but it is fun. Mindless, but fun. Now, I want look forward to the sequel: The Girl Who Watched Her Superior Get Tortured for the Dumbest Idea Ever. Well, we’re in the final 2. They will help make sense of everything. Right?? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Prisoner: Once Upon a Time