Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Prisoner

This is one of those shows that has an almost mythical reputation, that people talk about as groundbreaking and revolutionary, and know all sorts of details about even if they've never seen it. I, too, knew the whole dynamic of the secret agent kidnapped and held in the mysterious, idyllic Village, designated only as "Number 6" and lorded over by the diabolical Number 2. I even knew that when, in the final episode, Number 6 finally confronts Number 1, it turns out that Number 1 is, in fact, himself. Which sounds like a really creepy and awesome way to end a series, and really everything about this show, which ran on British TV in 1967 and 1968, sounded like something I would love.

There are only 17 episodes in the entire series (I've been renting mostly short-lived shows from Netflix for now so I don't have to invest too much time), and I was prepared to really like it. Even after I was less than impressed with the first few episodes, I chalked it up to knowing too much about what was going to happen before watching, and the need to get used to the sometimes cheesy production values. But by about halfway in, I realized that I just didn't like the show. I watched the whole thing, hoping to find some of the brilliance that I'd heard about and hoped for, but it just got increasingly annoying. I told a friend of mine that I was watching The Prisoner and he said he had loved the show when he was in high school, when he'd always watch it while stoned.

It seems like the kind of thing that's more enjoyable if you're on drugs, and was perhaps created while on drugs, especially some of the later episodes. The early episodes are incredibly repetitive and formulaic, with each one following Number 6 as he devises some new plan to escape the Village, sets it in motion and almost makes it to freedom, only to be thwarted at the last minute. By the later episodes, they seem to realize that this formula can only go on for so long, so the solution is to have the plots become ever more random and incomprehensible. One episode is set in the Old West. Why? Hey, the Old West is cool. And perhaps Patrick McGoohan had recently watched a Western. The show has no episode-to-episode continuity except at the very end, and no recurring characters except for Number 6 himself and Number 2's mute midget butler (there is a different Number 2 in almost every episode).

By the time I got to the two-part finale, I was just annoyed. Nothing made any sense. It looked like they were making shit up as they went along. I realize that there is supposed to be some profound statement in this show about the way that society represses the individual, and the way that people create their own prisons in the way they live their lives, and whatever, but really it just came across as, "Dude, what if the butler was, like, a midget?" Sadly, aside from a couple of mildly interesting episodes and McGoohan's steely, secret agent acting, this was a big disappointment.

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