If a work of fiction is able to confuse me, make me think, make me question, and make me contemplate simple devices like plot, I think it has done its job. Recently, the 1960s hit The Prisoner was remade by the American Movie Classics Company. I am always suspicious of remakes, so I did the sensible thing and watched the original series. If you would like to experience a mind bender, I suggest you do the same.
Patrick McGoohan of Secret Agent fame stars as Number Six in the tale of The Prisoner. It is an allegorical story which uses many different genres, such as science and spy fiction, to appeal to an audience of diverse interests and ages. The series follows a former British secret agent who is seemingly held prisoner on a mysterious island, referred to only as the village, for the purpose of finding out why he mysteriously resigned. The problem for Number Six is simple: Who is running this mysterious village? Is it the British government or is it some foreign entity? From the moment he’s captured, every move Number Six makes is watched and analyzed by the guardians.
His problems are only made more difficult since it is unclear as to who is a prisoner on the island and who is a guardian. The show often plays with character roles; what a person does and says depending on the situation he is in. As the show progresses, Number Six eventually figures out what role each “number” is playing on the island, and whether they are a fellow prisoner or a guardian.
The Prisoner is written with wit and a devilish sort of humor that is rarely seen on television today. There are twists and turns when you don’t expect them and even if you try to anticipate the unexpected, you will, without fail, be astonished by the surprises the show has in store. McGoohan’s character is far too easy to root for; his cool, rebellious, and non-conformist attitude is appealing. And while the snow is no longer as refreshing as it once was, if analyzed within the context of the 1960s, it is easy to see that Number Six’s attitude, and indeed The Prisoner as a whole, had far-reaching effects on the culture and counter-culture of the Western world.
It has been nearly 50 years since the production of this series. It has elements of science fiction, but the technologies and innovations showcased in the show aren’t as far-fetched as they seem to be in Star Trek. The show gives us great insight into the dreams and fears of people living in the 1960s. We have not reached the future these writers dreamed up, but that might be a good thing.
The Prisoner has so much to offer. From people interested in the human condition, to the person who needs to solve all mysteries, to those who like spy stories and, finally, people who just enjoy a good television program. The Prisoner gives you all that and more. However, it is not without its failings. It’s easy to see that the show was produced on a very limited budget. If you look carefully, you can see the same shots are used in different episodes over and over. Other times, you can see actors playing multiple roles in the series, or sets being altered slightly to accommodate different scenes.
The last episode of The Prisoner was so obscure and open to more interpretation than the Constitution of the United States. You could call it a failing or you could call it the boldest move ever made in television. McGoohan, also writer of the episode, allegedly had to go into hiding because of the uproar created by the show’s fans. Now if that doesn’t peak your interest about this show, and more importantly, the final episode, nothing will. Remember, Number Two will be watching you, always.