The Prisoner (of Zen[da/do])

September 3, 2014

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The final episode of The Prisoner, puzzling and infuriating to so many, but in my view, one of the historical high-points of television, is supposed to be when No.6 finally gets an answer to his ceaseless query, “Who is No. 1?”  We have written earlier about No. 6 as The Prisoner of Love, but perhaps he is really a prisoner of Zen, rather than Zenda. (That was a successful novel from the 1890s that was adapted many times for the cinema.)

In the literary Zenda-Prisoner configuration, the heir to the throne of a fictitious nation is drugged and held captive by an evil minister to prevent his coronation.  An Englishman, with a fortuitous resemblance to the heir is used as a double/decoy, to get around the political impasse.  So, is the king-to-be No. 1, or perhaps the evil minister?  Is No. 6 just a decoy…for whom?

When No. 6 rampages through the rocket in the underground chamber where his ‘graduation’ circus is being staged, he is chasing No.1.  He finds him, confronts his masked face – a repeated motif in the show – and rips off the masks, one after another. Finally, he finds, himself, while the sound track says, “I, I, I, I…i…i…   I love you, love you, very much!”  and music plays to a images of the Rover balloon bubbling and boiling, while the rocket starts to launch.

No. 6 is simply a prisoner of himself, his ego, his attachment to the “I”.  Trapped in his worldly illusion, as any Zen master could have told him.  He’ll never get out of that zendo, also known as The Village.

What a lot of fun!

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la vie quotidienne…

January 24, 2009

Does anybody really understand this book?

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I am fascinated by commuting, at least by mine.  Of course, in my thoughts always is that other commute, endlessly replayed in my inner television mind…

The view of the World Trade Center site that is glimpsed from the PATH train as it pulls into the WTC station is rapidly being obscured by construction.  I have caught it just in time!

Open use of a video camera is liable to lead to a delayed commute because of questioning by wary police officers, thus my inexpert clandestine camera work.


Prisoner of Love?

January 23, 2009

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Just what was No. 6’s position on love? In the final episode, Fallout, he walks into the central chamber to the tune of The Beatles’ All You Need is Love. What follows is anything but a love-fest.  As with Once Upon a Time, which precedes it, there is nary a woman to be seen.  Strictly man (boy) stuff.

And what of romance, of sex? For such a good looking fellow, he seems rather uninteresting to the women, but they are all brainwashed, and he is uninterested in them:  He’s got escapin’ on his mind, and nothin’ else!  Of course, knowing that he was Mr. Drake/Danger Man/Secret Agent in a previous show only piques our curiosity about whether he will ever have an affair in The Village.  Or is he beyond all that?  (I believe there is a theory out there that he is gay!)

No, I think No. 6 is ALL about sublimation. His sexual energy is channeled and diverted towards freedom, individualism, and escape.  He’s a bit of a crank – who has time for love?

Yet…his relationships with women are frequently his undoing.  He is betrayed by women, although it would be going too far to say that they are ensnaring him as les femmes fatales. The Girl Who was Death, being an obvious, comical, and throwaway exception…

In the early episode, The Chimes of Big Ben, he “escapes” with a companion.  They certainly seem to have a bit of flirtatiousness in their exhanges as they encourage each other during their long wait in a shipping crate, bound for the outside.  Of course, she’s in on it.

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In one of my favorites, Many Happy Returns, he does actually “escape” and he returns to his house.  (The address on his door, of course, is NO. 1!)  He accosts the new inhabitant, a modish middle-aged widow, Mrs. Butterworth.  She isn’t taken aback at all, but is obviously attracted to him.   When he interrogates her about his Lotus  she drives up in to prove he is the real owner, she replies “Tell me all about your car.”   She likes having a man about the house, and she helps him all she can.  He is charmed like a little boy with an indulgent aunt.

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Of course, she’s in on it.  She has a birthday cake waiting for him when he returns to his real home, in The Village.

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In Change of Mind, No. 6 matches wits with an attractive woman who wants him for his mind, or rather, who wants to mess with his mind.  She subjects him to a limited form of lobotomy to remove his agressive tendencies.

Here they are just after the presiding surgeon gives No. 6 a post-op chat about taking it easy.  “I’ll take care of him,” she says.  As he walks past her, she turns her head quickly in a rapid edit, showing us her profile through the porthole window in the door.  Circles, spheres, everywhere…

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Just a pair of good looking stars strolling down a clinic hallway…

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Ah, perhaps we get an inkling now of what’s up…or what could be up.

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The woman is played by the late Angela Browne, a big star on British TV.  She was no stranger to the real femme fatale character, as you can see in the links below:

How to Succeed at Murder

During a follow-up visit with No. 6, she actually comes on to him!

“So, do you like my dress?”

His reply:  “Much more feminine than slacks.”  Women don’t wear dresses in The Village – the fact that she does is a clear indication of her intention to seduce.

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She’s been slipping drugs into his tea, but he knows it and doesn’t drink it.  By way of turning the tables, he goes on,

“If it’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s girls who don’t know how to make a proper cup of tea!”

To her annoyance, he carries on like a cranky old man about how one must make tea, all the while switching the cups so that she gets the drug.  It makes her quite loopy – they almost seem to be having fun!  Will he…take…advantage??? Not No. 6!!  Always the gentleman, he sends her on her way.

Later, he catches up with her, gathering flowers like Ophelia, on her way to report to No. 2.  He hypnotizes her – no, he won’t take advantage! and draws her into his counterplot against the nefarious No. 2

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Prisoner fanatics can read the reminisces of the fetching Ms. Browne in this interview.


The Prisoner has escaped

January 15, 2009

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Patrick McGoohan has died at the age of 80.  The opening sequence of The Prisoner is the best in TV history, I think.  Watch the clip below…

—- Other Posts —-

Why did you resign?

Going Nowhere Fast

Memorial Notice on Jahsonic

New York Times Obituary

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No. 6 addresses the court in the final episode, Fallout.

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That car! From the opening sequence.

From my favorite episode:  “A, B, and C” in which No. 2 manipulates No. 6’s dreams.


Why did you resign? Who is No. 1?

June 7, 2008

I have posted on The Prisoner before, but the show continues to occupy a prominent place in my pop-cult consciousness, and it keeps coming up in odd places. The opening sequence is tremendous, combining as it does adventure, mystery, and the awful weight of obsessive nightmare, the endless replaying of the “resignation scene.” There he is – cool, angry, totally self-confident – swinging open the doors to the evil sanctum to set himself free, or so he believes.

“Why did you resign?” That one little question distills the essence of the totalitarian program. Just tell us that (and then you will tell us whatever we want to know.) And The Prisoner, now known as No. 6, replies with the obvious rejoinder, “Who is No.1?” He never breaks, and they never give up – the game goes on for about 17 episodes. We never see No. 1, not really, until the end. We never find out why The Prisoner is No. 6 – where are No.s 3, 4, and 5? .  No. 2 runs the village…

I remember when I first heard of this show – I was in elementary school, and a friend who watched a lot more TV at later hours than was permitted me told me of a very “weird show,” in which a “big blob” patrolled an island, and attacked anyone who tried to escape. When I finally saw it, I was hooked for life. This doesn’t necessarily put me in good company. I don’t believe that this show is a piece of deeply complex philosophy – I don’t think it warrants exegesis on a par with what scholars give the works of Dante, and I don’t even think most of the episodes are all that good, but the idea of it, and Patrick McGoohan, are great.

The show is cast in the mold of a standard adventure series, but it has a very large dollop of satire and sly wit thrown in, along with some sci-fi aspects, many of them pretty hokey. The quality of the episodes varies wildly from awful (The General) to absolutely exquisitely developed (A, B, & C). These two, my least and most favorite, have the odd circumstance of using the same actor to play No.2. Usually a different actor takes the role each show, indicative of the displeasure of No. 1 at their inability to break No. 6. The form of the shows varies as well – some are straightforward adventure, but often with a very clever twist (The Chimes of Big Ben), some are more satirical (Free for All, the episode in which No. 6 runs for the office of No. 2: “So, No. 6, will you run?” “Like hell, first chance I get.” Always joking…) , some are like fantasy-fables (The Girl Who Was Death)

My favorite, A, B, & C is the story of an attempt to break No. 6 by drugging him and manipulating his dreams. The three letters refer to three individuals whom No. 2 is convinced may hold the key to why No. 6 resigned. In a series of dreams, which they have the technology to project onto a large screen and into which they can inject themselves, No. 2 and his assistant try to prod No. 6 into giving something away. They fail of course – or is there nothing to give away? Did he just resign because he was sick of his job? Was he really just going on vacation?

In desparation, No. 2 gives a super dose to The Prisoner, and the dream takes on the giddy, crazy aspect of a classic 60’s hallucinatory experience, complete with a posh party a la 007, and corny pop music. It culminates in a confrontation in a dark plaza that is as great a surrealist set piece as anything Bunuel ever did, and the denoument is devilishly clever, as No. 2 watches the dream, and then watches No. 6 walk out of the dream, past him, and back to the village. Then…cut to the endless replay of the doors swinging open in that dark room in London…


Going nowhere, fast

November 29, 2004

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Here’s my plan – when I retire, someday, I’m buying this car in kit form, and I’m going to assemble it so that every morning I can relive my fantasy of being No. 6 in The Prisoner. Of course, what will be the point? I will have retired, and so escaped The Village already. The Village, the world of work, cubicle in the International Work Machine. It’s not so bad, really. Not for me and my kind, that is. Think of all those who would love to be hooked into it.

But the Prisoner, an eruption of anarchy, angst, and surreal foreboding, has it hands down for pop imagery skewering the New World Order. …and why DID you resign? …and which war was that you fought in? …and are you talkin’ to me? (No. 6 would never have said that!) Not to mention the fact that the opening sequence of the show has never been bested by any other for sheer drama and weirdness.