“We have everything here.”
“Everything except personal freedom.”
A crusty government spy decides he’s had enough of dirty doings and resigns his commission. But Her Majesty appears to have other plans…
Awakening in what is effectively Celebration, USA minus the cheesy cartoon business and the ostensible “voluntary” residence, he discovers he can no longer remember a name outside the arbitrarily designated “Number Six”.
In fact, in this cultlike Village, everyone is referred to by their (social security?) number, and everything is “beautiful”. Everyone is happy, happy, happy all the time and the quaint-seeming locals are peaceful, sweet and content with the bucolic setting and space-age amenities.
But it’s no place for a thinking man…or a free one.
“Peculiar, isn’t it…how they allow themselves to dream the impossible.”
The reputedly difficult Patrick McGoohan (previously of Danger Man) made his name on this series, which he co-created and occasionally directed: a cult oddity whose reputation and underlying revolutionary message, like the contemporary Star Trek, only grew in the years succeeding its cancellation and therefore forcedly rushed if not inconclusive ending.
While there are elements of the teleseries that approximate the then-contemporary spy craze and the relatively “new” (or at least dawning public awareness of the) concept of psychological warfare, the series is less James Bond or even Mission Impossible than a political/philosophical treatise in the vein of folks like Rousseau, Locke, Paine and Spinoza. And while that sounds great on paper, it’s a bit more pointed than that.
While quite interesting and something of a timeless message in a certain respect, effectively The Prisoner is something of a Libertarian manifesto, championing the rights of the individual in an increasingly statist if not Red leaning threat.
In other words, the show confronts the Red Scare of the day, but gives the subject a bit more deep thought and philosophy than usual, albeit within the vague strictures of an SF cum spy series. You can see why the series failed, and similarly why it was latched onto and lauded by an immediately subsequent, more disillusioned and introspective generation.
But this is 2016, and we’re in a decidedly different situation. And given contemporary extremism on the opposite end of the political spectrum, it seems a tad odd that what can be viewed as an anti-collectivist/communist polemic would return to the (audio) airwaves now, when the world is already swinging so far right it’s about to fall into atavism. An anti-fascist, humanist, xenophobia-puncturing one would have been far more apropos.
It’s a simple matter of jumping on the wrong bus at the wrong time: however pleasant or likeable the alternate destination may be, it’s hardly what needs to be said at the time, where we need to go right now or what we need to be speaking to.
There’s a pressing engagement we’re running late for, which requires our presence immediately. Lounging about seaside, however applicable that may have been a few metaphorical months back, is hardly what’s called for at this historical juncture.
That all being said, the concept of intrusive spying on every aspect of personal life is quite NSA, and the mollycoddling and artificial “sweetness” and faux-“morality” applies very much equally to the current far right politicosocial swing, with the former serving as the more direct (and dangerous) application of neo-con effective fascism, and the latter its public “religious right” goody two-shoes face to fool and distract the more simpleminded among the punters.
So yes, there is contemporary application for The Prisoner’s message of individual freedom and self-determination if not libertarianism…it’s just a bit more beneath the surface than its original, more obvious intent.
Scripter/director Nick Briggs does an admirable job of bringing forward the aesthetic and sentiments of what remains in many ways a quite dated, very sixties SF teleseries, sounding quite authentic and true to the original while making the dialogue feel a bit more contemporary and relevant to this day and age.
“Dear me. He is cross, isn’t he?”
Mark Elstrob’s Number Six similarly manages to evoke the late McGoohan while infusing a bit more fire into the former’s comparatively reserved take on the same role and material. The character is still somewhat one note, all grouchiness and barely suppressed rage throughout, but there’s a touch more force to Elstrob’s performance than I recall from McGoohan, who seemed to drift off into quiet, furrowed brow reverie quite a bit.
John Standing’s Number Two is all sinister oiliness, The Nightmare Man’s own Celia Imrie a far colder version thereto. Sara Powell’s Number Nine provides an all too rare human voice amidst all the cultish phoniness and image-based obfuscation, and Pathfinder Legends’ Helen Goldwyn (Burnt Offerings‘ Mayor Deverin and the sexy/sinister Lucrecia of the Hook Mountain Massacre) provides a customer service-level creepy faux pleasantness as the ubiquitous “Village Voice”.
Fans of the original series should find themselves well chuffed with this one, particularly given some true-to-the-source scripting and terse performances from the aforementioned leads.
The only question is, however true its arguments may be, is this the message the world really needs to hear in 2016?