This is Part 2 of a 3 part survey of “The Prisoner.” Part 1 can be found here.
Does 6 plus 6 really equal 12? So asks the aptly titled “The Schizoid Man” (directed by Pat Jackson). After a seemingly innocuous trifle about bonding with a psychic villager and a bruised thumb, the Prisoner lies down for a good night’s sleep, but it appears that the room night light has a faulty bulb.
Drugged once more, the Prisoner is taken by men in white coats who wheel him into the hospital, turn him into a southpaw (via electroshock, in a moment of karma for all us lefties who were at the mercy of brainwashing status quo teachers with rulers back in first grade), throw away his razors, and give him a new do. After an indeterminate amount of time on the gurney, the Prisoner awakens with a new look in a new surrounding, as pawn of an elaborate scheme composed by the new No. 2 (Anton Rodgers), a surprisingly young administrator.
“You are Number 12,” the Prisoner is told at the Green Dome, “and you are to break Number 6.” “But I am Number 6.” And so he is, or at least his double is. And if you think that in addition to being an attempt at uncovering the reason for the Prisoner’s resignation, this is also a ploy to get him to own his number, you would be right. See Number 12 fence with Number 6. See them box. See them duel with pistols.
Now actually, Number 6 is Number 12 , Number 12 is Number 6, and Number 12 is in cahoots with Number 2. Of course, No. 6 (12) knows this is a feeble scheme hatched by No. 2. Of course, No. 2 knows that No. 12 (6) knows that No. 6 (12) knows. But, what if No. 12 pretends to be No. 6? Perhaps then he could escape. And the helicopter circles back, as it always does. And the psychic is remorseful over having cooperated with No. 2, but neither she nor No. 2 counted on a bruised thumb. Ah!
The script for “The Schizoid Man” so impressed McGoohan that he hired its writer, Terence Freely, to join the production company’s board of directors. In contrast, for years director Pat Jackson claimed to have been utterly confused by the script, but simply directed it as written. His confusion was an honest one and shows in one of the series most legendary episodes. McGoohan responds with a tour de force performance.
Director Peter Graham Scott was reported to have been equally confused by the script for “The General.” Again, that turns out to be a plus (and undoubtedly an astute choice by McGoohan and company).
The Prisoner cannot even enjoy his coffee without Village trauma drama when he hears an announcement ordering history students to immediately return to their dwellings, which is followed by his witnessing the Professor being caught and manhandled (by his students) while attempting to escape.
The Village is obsessed with a new fad, Speed Learning: “Learn a three-year course in three minutes.” “It’s not impossible,” says No. 12. The Prisoner finds the Professor’s tape recorder, which has “information” that may prove damaging to the General and No. 2 (Colin Gordon, this time out). However, before he can listen to it, the Prisoner is forced to bury it and attend the very same history course subliminally taught by the Professor.
No. 2 actively searches for the tape recorder, which he believes is in the Prisoner’s possession. After finding no incriminating evidence, No.2, still convinced that No. 6 has it, hints at offering a ticket out of the Village.
After losing the tape recorder, and retrieving it via No. 12, the Prisoner hears the Professor’s message: “Speed learning is slavery,” and learns it is the General who is behind it all. Allies are hardly that, and this No. 2 underestimates the Prisoner’s cunning, as does the General who is asked an unanswerable question.
This episode is a chillingly contemporary one with commentary on mindless trends and shades of a Big Brother Fox Network appealing to and manipulating their sycophants.
Gordon makes for a winningly effective No. 2 , who, along with Leo McKern, will be the only returning administrator to play the role.
McGoohan himself returns to direct “Many Happy Returns,” where he awakens quite alone. The Village is entirely deserted. Even the rover is missing. Apart from the Prisoner, the only sign of life is the No. 2’s black cat. Building a raft, he finally escapes and, after a tumultuous journey at sea, the Prisoner makes his way back to London.
Sharing his incredible story, the Prisoner is accused of lying by his superiors, and that barbed wire fence he comes across isn’t just a prop. But, in the blink of an eye….
“Many Happy Returns” is often listed as an archetypal episode. Despite the multiple altercations, including a physical one at sea, this is a minimalist episode, sparse in actual dialogue.
“Dance Of The Dead” (directed by Don Chaffey), is, as its title indicates, is one of the bleakest episodes, with a female No. 2 (Mary Morris) who could probably give Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbridge a good run. She leads likeminded merciless, bloodthirsty women who the Prisoner will face, in a trial, after having found and stolen a transistor radio attached to a dead body. The ending is awash in harrowing despair, making this an episode that is often ranked as quintessential Prisoner.
Director Chaffee returns to helm “Checkmate,” and again shows a flair for suffocating gloom. This is one of the episodes whose chronology is debated, since it was actually filmed before the pilot. Regardless, in a human chess match played on the Village green, the Prisoner discovers a potentially useful ally in the Rook. But, nonconformity necessitates therapy as this week’s No. 2 (Peter Wyngarde) is apt to remind us.
A distress signal, a pawn (brainwashed to fall in love with the Prisoner), would be rescuers, and guards who will be pawns are all symbols in this highly expressionistic episode that is one for connoisseurs.
“Hammer Into Anvil” (directed by Pat Jackson) is an adrenaline rush tale of revenge against No. 2 (Patrick Cargill), whom the Prisoner blames for the suicide of No. 73. The revenge is psychological as the Prisoner searches for and finds flaws in his nemesis. It’s an episode of reversals as the Prisoner mercilessly begins his campaign to destroy No. 2. With the Prisoner slightly less sympathetic than before, our empathy for No. 2 rests on Cargill’s performance, which he succeeds in soliciting. Such shrewd emotional manipulation requires a degree of absurdity, which is bounced straight off a trampoline into a paradox of a finale. This is one of the most visceral and wily episodes that lingers well past its compact running time.
“It’s Your Funeral” (directed by Robert Asher) involves an assassination plot against the current No. 2 (Andre van Gyseghem) before a new No. 2 (busy and acclaimed character actor Darren Nesbit) steps in, although, he may or may not be be No. 2 after all.
The Prisoner’s preoccupation with freedom is relegated to the back burner as he and Monique join forces to thwart the plot. Paranoia is the weapon of choice in a Village mutiny, but the lingering question lies with the mutiny itself: is it to be avoided or desired?
Because of the length, we are breaking our “The Prisoner” retrospective into three parts. Next week will begin with McGoohan once gain directing himself in “A Change Of Mind.”