Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 7

When accepted this job, I was resigned to my fate. My fate is to recap the entire run of The Prisoner, in an epic race to the finish.

Episode 7--"Many Happy Returns"

"Anyone at home?"

"Many Happy Returns" is a weird, weird, episode. It's not as disorienting as some of the later episodes, not as trippy or psychedelic as the finale, but it's very . . .eerie. Maybe it's the beginning of the episode where No. 6 wakes up to a completely deserted and empty Village. No people, no water, no electricity, no nothing. After so many episodes of shiny happy prisoners wandering around in colourful cloaks and umbrellas it just seems . . .wrong, somehow.

No. 6, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, decides to escape. He makes a raft and sails out to sea, beats up some gunrunning pirates, meets some gypsies and generally refuses to say a word for most of the first half-hour of the episode.

It's that eerie silence that most people remember about this episode--there's barely any dialogue in the first half-hour and what little there is isn't in English. It's only once No. 6 meets up with Mrs. Butterworth, the lady who owns his car and his old house, that he actually speaks, and from there it's a short run back to his erstwhile superiors, to convince them of the existence and the imminent threat of the Village.

You remember what happened last time he did this, don't you? Sure enough, No. 6 finds himself back in the Village, still completely deserted. It's only when he re-enters his cottage that all of a sudden everything comes back on and just in time for one of those climaxes so perfect that you smile, even though the bad guys won.

"Manny Happy Returns" is a great episode, not just because it ticks along with such perfect precision, not just because it has a great ending twist, but because it shows The Prisoner at its best--never afraid to kick over the table and completely upset the format. It's that willingness to do anything that makes this show so enduring ultimately. It's well worth watching.

Back in the Village, again in the Village. No. 6 finds a potential way to escape and an old comrade in arms, and runs up against one of the creepiest Nos. 2 in the entire run of the series and certainly one of the most complicated plots. Next episode--"Dance of the Dead."

There will be music, dancing, happiness . . .by order.

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 8

Episode 8--"Dance of the Dead"

"They don't know you're already dead. Locked up in the long box, in that little room."

"Dance of the Dead" is one of my all-time favorite episodes of The Prisoner, and, in fact, one of the first I got a chance to see in my early days of buying previously viewed tapes from the local video store. Funnily enough, it took me quite awhile to actually get what it was about, but there was enough going on to offset my utter incomprehension of the plot (and to be fair, it's not something you can get if you're half-watching it) that it still held my attention.

First of all, the No. 2 this time is Mary Morris. Despite being a woman (a rarity for Nos. 2) she comes off as curiously asexual, very charming and urbane at moments, but also utterly implacable and malevolent. She plays No. 2 as utterly convinced No. 6 will break (or in her words, "won over") the only thing that matters is how long it takes. Some Nos. 2 (ok, most of them) overact and almost camp it up in the role, but Morris plays it so deadly subtle that it adds an edge to the No. 2/No. 6 dynamic missing from other episodes.

I usually run down the plot at the point, but it's kind of tricky in this case. No. 6 discovers a body washed up on the shore of the Village, intending to use him to send an SOS message when the body's discovered, he runs into Dutton, former ally and fellow inmate. Dutton's at the end of his tether--he's told them all he knows and they won't stop because they don't believe him. The actor who plays Dutton plays his speech to No. 6 with a rather affecting kind of fatalism that makes his final appearance in the climax of the episode even more upsetting. It shouldn't work--this is Yet Another Of No. 6's Friends Who's Setting Him Up, after all, and yet it does work, and very well too.

While that's going on, No. 2 seems to be trying to set up No. 6 with a pretty girl, bit that doesn't work out very well, as No. 6 is a bit of a grump and pretty well immune to the honey trap anyway. He does take an interest in his Observer, but he seems to do so more to hammer her about her unswerving loyalty to the Village and their methods.

All of which comes to a head at the Carnival. The Carnival, like pretty much everything in the Village seems like fun, but is damn sinister. It's a costume party, but your costumes are chosen for you, and the entertainment this year seems to be sentencing No. 6 to death in a trial best described as "a farce."

No. 6 is is sentenced to death. And sure enough, he "dies." Because No. 2 has found the body No. 6 discovered, and his SOS. The SOS will be "amended slightly" and the body will also be "amended slightly." No. 6, to the outside world, is "dead." The feeling at the end of the episode is one of the box being closed around No. 6. The outside world has just become a lot more unreachable and the Village is more of a prison than ever.

It took me a few viewings before I "got" this one, and it wasn't until I read The AV Club's review of it that things clicked into place. No. 2 uses the whole thing with the death sentence and the dead body and Dutton's betrayal as a way of shutting the cage of No. 6, and cutting off any and all methods of escape--literal or figurative. One feels that the stakes have been raised somehow between the Village and No. 6, and there's more of a palpable feeling of danger.

"This is your world," she says. "I am your world." Well, that's pretty much throwing the gauntlet, isn't it? Even No. 6's defiant "You'll never win" feels a little hollow against that sort of implacability.

This episode is a great one, and should be one of the first you see (the assumption from certain dialogue cues, is that it should have been far earlier in the run, but I am consciously trying to keep that sort of talk off these reviews in the name of concentrating on my thoughts and visceral reactions to the series) as it sets the tone perfectly for what kind of series you're dealing with. It's a bit less immediately unsettling than "The Schizoid Man," but it's got a heart blacker than midnight in a coal mine. It's one of The Prisoner's best.

One of the hardest parts of escaping the Village has been working out which of the Villagers are poor victims of the place and the ringers secreted amongst them to keep tabs on the rest. No. 6 thinks he may have found a way to work out who is who, but does he really? And what's the deal with the chess game being played with real people as the pieces? Some scientists say it satisfies the desire for power, you know . . .

Next episode--"Checkmate"

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 6

Episode 6--"The General"

"One hundred per cent entry, one hundred per cent pass."

"The General" is an odd duck in the Prisoner run, as it's the first episode wherein the main plot has absolutely nothing to do with breaking No. 6. There's a few episodes like this in the remainder of the run, but this is the only one in any way shape or form that is actually watchable and doesn't feel like a grind. It doesn't quite pay off its remit in a way that congrues with the rest of the series, but it does keep stride thematically with what's going on.

There's something new and exciting in the Village--Speedlearn! A university-level course in less than three minutes. Just stare at a weird light on your TV screen and the information is indelibly imprinted in your mind. It's a huge hit and people are falling all over themselves regurgitating facts. The same facts. In exactly the same way.

Naturally, No. 6 sees this as a kind of mind control, and the fact that the professor who's supposed to perfect the process just tried to escape in front of him and dropped a tape recorder exhorting his students to "destroy the General" doesn't exactly dissuade him, either.

So No. 6 embarks on a campaign to knock it over in his usual grumpy way and find out just who the General is. Only this time he's got the (very suspicious) help of No. 12, who seems to be on his side, but we're never quite sure. This dynamic is actually a large part of what drives the episode forward, as we're never entirely sure whether No. 12 is on No. 6's side or not.

It's also No. 12 who gets to the heart of what I feel "The General" should have been about when he trips No. 6 up on a Speedlearn question. Speedlearners can regurgitate facts all day long, but they can't interpret them. In effect, No. 2 is training a bunch of parrots en masse. The script occasionally gets into the darker implications of all this, but it all goes a bit pear-shaped at the end, because . . .

. . .The General is a big supercomputer (with tape reels and punch cards, as all 60's supercomputers must) and the denouement of the episode involves No. 6 blowing the General up with some Captain Kirk style logical tricks.

It's a bit disappointing ending and one expects more from the series than this. But the actual episode is sound enough (there are two other non no. 6 centric episodes I am actively dreading covering--thankfully they're broken up a bit by some of my favourites of the entire run) and there's some fun to be had, especially if the anarchist inside you hated school and always wanted to exact some cathartic revenge by proxy.

Coming up, seven episodes in, No. 6 escapes and learns a lesson about knowing democracy and knowing what's fascist (he actually doesn't, but I want to see who gets the reference). Next episode--"Many Happy Returns"

Con Trek II: The Wrath of Con

For those of you who came in late:

Last year, for reasons best understood by . . .well, not understanding them, I went to Nekocon, an annual anime con held in gloriously Virginian Hampton Virginia. That I did this despite my anime fandom having fallen off sharply since about five years ago or so is again, one of those bits of understanding perhaps best left not understood. Upon returning from the con, I posted a long rambling remembrance of the trip in various places on the 'net.

This year, for reasons best understood by . . .well, not understanding them, I went to Nekocon, an annual anime con held in gloriously Virginian Hampton Virginia. That I did this despite my anime fandom having fallen off sharply since about six years ago is, once again, one of those bits of understanding perhaps best left not understood. Upon returning from the con, I am posting a long rambling remembrance of the trip in various places on the 'net. I had promised pictures, but sadly, I couldn't find a digital camera in time, and so you will have to rely on my ability to paint word pictures of the event.

Anyways, our story begins on Saturday, November 7th at 5:00 in the morning. Everything's set from the night before to take off in 30 minutes, but a half-hour to ground oneself before hopping into a car and driving for 3 hours is a good idea, as 3 hours in a moving vehicle is an excellent way to lose one's mind. So, after a little mental centering, I hit the road.

According to Mapquest the surest way to get there fastest was to use the interstates. This is advice I almost immediately discarded because hey, Mapquest doesn't own me, I am not a man to be following directions like some sort of sensible human being who follows good advice and good things happen to him as a result, I am a free man!

. . .or a stubborn fool who is sure his method of navigating using country back roads will cover just as much distance without a lot of dicking around on the interstates, surrounded by people who are driving with much the same relaxed attitude that the people in The Road Warrior had towards driving. So off on my merry way I went.

I have friends of mine who live in other countries. For the most part, they are rather stunned that one can drive three hours to anywhere without finally hitting ocean--it is a manner of scale, and in those terms, three hours end to end is crossing an entire country. Three hours of driving will not even get you from one end to the other of the state in which I live.

A word about driving on country roads, if I may. Driving at 5:30 in the morning on a cool but not unpleasant November morning has its own special perils. One is deer. Yes, like "Bambi." By my rough calculations, we have had the concept of the automobile for a century and change now, and in that time, deer have found no peace with it. It is not uncommon for deer to be hit by cards whilst trying to cross the road. You would imagine, of course, that the deer would get the worst of it, but it's a 50-50 thing--deer can destroy cars as completely as cars destroy deer. Worse still, deer, like moths, love bright lights, and will often stand, enraptured, when in the path of one. You can imagine the rest.

The other danger was, of course, fog. Country roads are built on hilly terrain, usually shaded by trees and as a result, when fog rolls in, it can really sock you in. I drove through pockets of hatefully thick fog where I could barely see maybe a foot in front of me at points. Thankfully, once I hit the highways, the sun was up, and once it went to work, I was in the clear.

Most of the drive took me through the eastern part of the state , through towns that just barely hang on since no industry's been close enough to support them for a number of years. The farmers are the only ones left, really, and even they just barely hang on. Driving through these towns is kind of curious and a bit sad. You can see old and crumbling main streets, proud antebellum-style houses that are huge and imposing and probably way too expensive to live in, and plenty of storefronts that house local business bracketed by a Pepsi logo on either end. I've seen those things all my life, and I've wondered, "does the soda industry really own that many buildings?" (answer: no)

Eventually, one state gives way to another and we're in Virginia. I lament that the weird gargoyles they had out in the cornfield outside of Franklin aren't there anymore--apparently the annual haunted house thing is taking the year off, which is too bad because this means I missed it, and also the subtle mind-screw of driving by mile after mile of cornfields and seeing gargoyles all of a sudden is lost.

Anyways, I finally hit the home stretch--nothing but highway, bridges, a tunnel (yes, that's a tunnel. Underwater. I know--it's odd) there's not much to see and less to comment on--the whole business of staying alive rather takes precedence, so apart from a basic autonomic awareness, one has time to occupy their mind with the deep, searching questions of the day.

In my case, I wondered, "Who would win a fistfight--Perry Mason, or the Fatman from Jake and the Fatman?"

Thankfully, before I could answer that, I arrived. The Hampton Convention Center is a big, swanky nautical themed building (complete with sails!), right across the street from the Hampton Coliseum, a holdover from those days when it was fashionable in architectural circles to construct buildings that look like cakes. I'm not sure what the process was there. "Look, you never know when Godzilla might come out of the bay . . .let's build a building that looks like a cake and he'll come up and be all like 'Holy shit--a cake! I LOVE CAKE!' grab the building and go away." I would really like to think it happened like that.

Inside of the convention center everything is very clean and old school--that means metal and big wooden doors that, if you squinted hard enough, look a little like the offices of Sterling Cooper, which is always something to be admired. Sterling Cooper, however, never had a bunch of people in wacky costumes prowling around, no matter how out of control Casual Fridays got.

The costume thing is the biggest culture shock to the uninitiated--I'm not sure whether people dressed up to get photographed (seriously--if you saw people in costume, thirty seconds later, someone had a camera) or people brought cameras because they just had to document something this crazy for the Folks Back Home, and as I came late to the party anyway, it's not for me to speculate, really.

The clear winner in my eyes? The guy who came as Zombie Jesus, carrying a sign that said, "I"m looking for hearts and minds." I was tempted to run up to him, point and exclaim "SWEET ZOMBIE JESUS!" But I was halted by the fact that I am never sure how many Futurama fans are within earshot of me at any given moment and also that I am a spineless coward who cries himself to sleep every night at the opportunities he misses to yell possibly clever things at complete strangers.

Anyways, my three destinations are--dealer's room, artist's alley, game room. I will repeat this circuit at least 20 times in my time at the con. Oh sure there's other stuff to do, but I am liberated from The Man's suggestions about what panels I should visit by my usual attitude of not giving a damn, and as such, go my own way.

The Dealer's Room is an interesting peek into the future, or as I like to call it, the precise moment I smelled my own extinction. From the amount of fake weapons, leather goods, goggles (clearly Adam Bomb was far more influential a figure than I thought) and just plan crazy stuff being sold, I can honestly tell you I just have no idea what's going on with this younger generation at all. Not that this is a bad thing--it is the responsibility of every generation to make the generation before it feel like it's being pushed into the sea. You just don't expect to see whole "arming for the future" thing happening so blatantly is all.

Artist's Alley is a different matter altogether. Several dozen artists, all plying their trade, crowd into a room and compete for attention. They sell prints, cards, sketchbooks, pretty much anything and everything. I have to say, I draw a little bit, but I cannot and would not compete with the time and dedication most of these people have to their craft and turning into a profession. My hats off to 'em.

The game room was the most crowded place at the whole con. Perhaps, indeed, the whole world. There was never not a moment when the place wasn't crowded with people playing one of the many fighting games available (Including Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Because Third Strike will always be at these cons, because it's where the big boys play. Like WCW used to be) it was people playing Dance Dance Revolution or something similar to it and moving with agility I have never in my life possessed or ever will.

In between this constant, unceasing circuit, there's a few things to take care of. Lunch is a big one. I find myself in a place that offers a sandwich called the "Baczilla," and I cannot help but wonder if it is made from Godzilla (who would, in that case, be a pork product despite the fact that it is a lizard), though I don't say this to anyone because, despite all evidence to the contrary, I am not completely insane.

The hour gets late and I head for home. In the dark. The plan is to go straight through and, if all goes as planned, I will arrive home at midnight. Long story short, while I do make it home by midnight, my brain is rather dramatically scrambled and the whole thing ends up not unsurprisingly feeling like Hunter Thompson must have felt like walking around Circus Circus out of his mind on ether.

Things I learned from this experience: There are a lot of people in the world with personalised licence plates. All of them are on the road at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. Also, driving for three hours is an excellent way to forget your own name.

And that's basically the con. There wasn't quite so much culture shock for me this time, since this was my second trip, which means either I'm less easy to shock, or I'm just getting used to the whole thing. Hard to say. Will I do this again next year? Will I travel to more cons and feel equally bewildered at them?

We'll just have to wait and see.

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 5

Sorry these took awhile--I was in a Tryptophan coma. You know how it is.

Episode 5--"The Schizoid Man"

"You'd hardly know yourself, No. 12."

This is one of my favourite Prisoner episodes of all time, perhaps the favourite from the whole series. I'm not sure exactly why it works so well--perhaps it's just how sinister the whole thing is, perhaps it's how unsettling the basic concept is, perhaps it's how disturbing it is that this No. 2 almost succeeds in breaking No. 6--it has a real visceral impact. So much so that some people who've watched it with me consider it the scariest episode of The Prisoner ever.

The plot is a clever twist on the hoary old "hero is confronted with an evil double of himself" cliche that every TV series seems to do at least once. The spin is that No. 6 is replaced with double (No. 12) and then convinced through Village Mad Science that he is No. 12 and he is being enlisted in a plot to destroy No. 6's sense of reality.

No. 6 sees through that part of it immediately--how can that be No. 6 when he is No. 6, and asserts it when he's confronted with "No. 6" (on the new Blu-Ray version, you can very plainly see the split-screen photography when it doesn't join up properly) who comes off as sarcastic and more than a little bit snotty, but in all ways seems to be No. 6.

No. 6, however, doesn't seem to be himself. He's left-handed instead of right-handed, the distinct features that he thought made him "himself" are systematically taken away (remember no two people are supposed to have the same fingerprints? Well . . .) and No. 6 comes dangerously close to being shattered by this (mind you, it's all eventually undone by some faulty wiring, but that's par for the course) and the end result is a narrow victory for No. 6 and the possibility for escape by turning the tables. I won't spoil it for you, but as we're on episode 5 of 17, that should tell you something about how well that works.

I don't want to say too much about this episode as I'd rather not spoil it, and so much of it depends on seeing it play out the way it does that it would be redundant. I would say, if you wanted an "entry point" into The Prisoner, this is as good as any to give you a feel for what the show does well and the peculiar way it works.

That's it for this time. Join us next time for a rather unique episode, wherein the goal is not to break No. 6 at all, but to perfect a new system of learning that can inedlibly jam a semester's worth of coursework into your brain in less than 5 minutes. But the Village being the Village, there's naturally a catch to it all. Join us next time for "The General."

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 4

Episode 4--"Free For All"

"You are free to go! FREE TO GO! FREE TO GO!"

Ostensibly. and indeed for part of the running time of the episode, "Free For All" is an attack on the sham nature of political elections. It also, soon enough, evolves (or devolves) into a surrealistic nightmare, up to and including, No. 6 going nuts and shouting at everyone else, being drugged and subjected to wacky hypnotic science and getting slapped a lot and oh yeah there are guys worshiping a glowing Rover and no I don't know what any of it's about. Those who say that the completely batshit-crazy final episode just kinda leapt out of nowhere, must either ignore this episode, or make very little note of the fact that it just explodes into crazy-go-nuts territory really early on.

Let's approach the lot, as best as we can: No. 2 suggests to No. 6 that he run for "office"--in other words, become No. 2. That it's all of a sudden an elected position when it's always been casually assumed it was an appointed position and later on we find out it's an excessive title and . . .y'know what? Dwelling on the continuity minutiae of The Prisoner is a great way to go insane, and really, let's not.

Anyways, as No. 6 begins his campaign (with venomous contempt for pretty much every iota of the process--he considers it compromised, corrupt and in service less to any ideals than to itself and, of course, he's right) Somehow, No. 6 being assigned a hyperactive maid who can't speak English works into the plan, but it's not really apparent why until the end. The plan, so far as No. 6 is concerned is to break through to the higher echelons of the Village's order, free everyone and destroy the village--not necessarily in that order.

Well, an escape attempt and a fistfight on a speedboat puts paid to that. No. 6 gets drugged and hypnotised with a Powerpoint presentation (oh man, we've all been there) and proceeds to run as a model Village candidate, albeit one prone to sweating, looking anxious and yelling at people (just like Richard Nixon, really) has a meet-cute and a drink with No. 2, wins the election, gets bitchslapped around a little (literally) and realises that the whole business has just been a shell game, with him as the mark . . .just like the whole electoral process.

"Free For All," despite being one of the most blatantly overt political statements, doesn't really gel as much for me. I like the political stuff and I like the mind-control stuff, but oh lord the two don't really sit comfortably in the same episode right next to each other and the join is so apparent it all feels a bit arbitrary and Frankenstein-y. It's still good and worth a look (Like pizza, even when The Prisoner is kinda bad, it's pretty good) but it's not exactly a personal favourite if mine.

Next time, we will look at an episode that is a favourite of mine--in fact, it's near the top of the list for my favourite Prisoner episodes of all time. It was described on one site as "No. 2 tries to break No. 6 by making him grow a nasty mustache," which is completely accurate and also really damn funny. Join us next time for an episode people who I have watched it with have called "genuinely disturbing." The password is "The Schizoid Man"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 3

Continuing our continuing (until we get to Episode 17 anyways) run-through of The Prisoner, tonight, we submit the following for your approval:

Episode 3--"A. B. and C."


This is one of my favourite episodes, I must confess. First of all, it's great to see No. 6 not being an asshole to everyone and anyone (of the many things one can say about The Prisoner, it must be admitted that No. 6 is not the world's most sympathetic protagonist. In fact, at times, he can be a real cock) but it's got this cool "first act of a James Bond movie" deal going through it, it's our first glimpse of The Village's soon-to-be-standard approach of "Oh let's just drug him and hook him up to the machine that goes ping" mad science which is emblematic of the series.

Oh yeah, and this is the first time No. 6 gets to win, which is infrequent and also pretty damn cool.

It all begins with No. 2 getting a call from No. 1 on the Big Red Phone (seriously, that thing is ridiculous) that he damn well better get on the stick re: figuring out why No. 6 resigned. No. 2 sells this well by getting a look of pants-wetting terror and muttering "Yes, I know my future's at stake" and we're off to the races.

No. 6 is drugged and thanks to various spools of tape, electrodes, and the aforementioned machine that goes "ping," is transported through the magic of 1960s-era virtual reality to a party in Paris. No. 2's belief is that No. 6 resigned because he was planning to sell out, and has boiled the possible buyers down to three possibilities--the aforementioned A, B, and C. Over three nights No. 6 will meet each one in turn, and hopefully, the answer will be found.

"A" is a former ally/current defector with an effete manner and the kind of mustache that probably seemed like an excellent idea in the days of the Kaiserreich. He and No. 6 trade those casual but underlaid with menace barbs that always happen at the beginning of every Bond movie you've ever seen, then "A" takes him away from the party in a car for a location shot and a fist fight, as one tends to do.

A word about fistfights in The Prisoner, for a moment, as there will be a lot of them in the coming episodes. They're not terribly good (which is odd, as Partick McGoohan was actually supposed to be a fairly accomplished boxer, I believe) full of quick cuts, obvious misses, and sudden onset brass-heavy music that is supposed to let us know that this is an ACTION! scene. They are silly, they are dodgy, and they are absolutely hilarious and I clap like a seal whenever one breaks out in a Prisoner episode.

"B" is your average "spy from a non-existent but, judging from her accent, foreign country." She and No. 6 have some history and exchange pleasantries, however this is all happening a bit too slow for No. 2, so they try putting words in B's mouth (via more science that's probably more than a bit suspect) but No. 6 twigs to what's going on immediately and knows things are Very Wrong Indeed.

This feeling of wrongness (plus the ever-increasing track-marks on his wrist) make him think something's up, and, finding the lab where they've been ABC-ing him, decides to turn the tables just in time for him to meet "C." I won't spoil it for you (y'know, for a change), but suffice it to say it involves the music getting louder, "Batman" camera angles and the most elliptical way possible for No. 6 to turn the tables you could possibly imagine . . .if you spent a lot of time wondering how you were going to get back at the people who'd doped you up and strapped you to a table for the third night running.

"A. B. and C." is a great episode, really, as you get little smatterings of everything The Prisoner is about in one delicious packages--there's some standard spy stuff, a little surrealism, mad science, snappy dialogue--it all works very well. In fact, if I were going to "sell" someone on The Prisoner, this would be the episode I'd use, I think. This is the first episode in the run that feels more like how the creators of the show wanted things to go.

That's all for this time. Next time, No. 6 runs for office, and a wicked satire on politics and elections takes a hard right turn into weird surrealism, people worship a glowing Rover, and No. 6 yells and sweats a lot. Cast your vote here for "Free For All"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 2

Continuing our review of the The Prisoner in it's entirety . . .

Episode 2--"The Chimes of Big Ben"

". . .but both sides are becoming identical. What in fact has been created is an international community--perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they're looking into a mirror, they will see that this is the pattern for the future."

We're still in standard spy-stuff territory here in terms of the plot. A new female spy--Nadia-- from the "other side" (or as we know it in the real world, Russia) comes to the Village, tries to escape, gets a rather savage psychological test (she's trapped in a room with alternate electrical current running through the floor that she can cross if she's confident enough) and, stirring No. 6's protective instincts (if not his romantic ones--one of the rules of The Prisoner is "no romance"--and the honey trap does not work on him, ever) offers him a big carrot--she knows where The Village is, and has formulated a means of escape.

No 6, for his part, has one as well, and finagles a way that his art project can provide the means to escape. And they seem to pull it off.

But do they really? (As there are 15 more episodes, well, use your own judgment)

The real meat of "Chimes" is less in the plot (of which one would recognise elements re-used from "Arrival") and more in the interaction between No. 6 and No. 2. Of course, good Nos. 2 will, you'll see, will see us through episodes that might not be up to snuff, plot-wise. This No. 2, as we'll see over the course of the series, is rather special, and Leo McKern's performance sells it wonderfully. By turns hammy and threatening, chummy and iron-fisted, it's fitting that this No. 2 delivers a rather intriguing line which will be echoed by his successors in later episodes, quoted here:
"That's why he'll break. He only needs one small thing. If he will answer one simple question, the rest will follow: why did he resign?"
We also learn something of 6's motivation in the following exchange:
"Do you still think you can escape, Number Six?"
"I'm going to do better than that."
"Going to escape, come back."
"Come back?"
"Escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it."
That's kind of what motivates his escape attempt and his subsequent tense (and rather hammy in places, thanks to "Commander McBragg" himself as the Colonel) negotiations with his former employers. Unfortunately, it seems once again that his employers may well be in on it, and given Nadia's point of origin, the "other side" may be as well, echoing the No. 2 quote from before. What does this mean for No. 6's desire to escape and destroy the Village? If he's unable to muster the allies necessary to destroy the Village from without, and no help is coming, what can he do?

Well, we'll learn more about how No. 6 will fight the Village from within next time, as the Village uses one of its trademark mad scientist attempts to break No. 6 Next Episode--"A. B. and C."

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 1

And things are back to normal, more or less. We'll ignore the skull-busting disappointment of the 2009 model Prisoner and return to the original from 1967. Bear in mind that this series has numerous books, essays, comics, homages, and on and on and lord knows what one poorly-attended, seldom updated blog can do to add to any understanding of this often brilliant and frequently frustrating TV series, but I asked what y'all wanted and the people have spoken. So here, for your consideration, enlightenment, delectation, and perhaps the occasional bar fight, here are my thoughts on The Prisoner.

Episode 1--"Arrival"

While this will be the place where I begin taking about the episode in question, there's not much to say about "Arrival" that wouldn't be redundant by the time I finished the preliminaries, as it's very much a "setting up the storytelling engine of the show," and so, in the name of getting things moving, we'll address that right now:

A man resigns a job. We're never entirely sure what kind of job, except that it's tip-top high security. As he returns home and packs his things, a man steps out of a hearse and goes to his door. The room fills with gas and the man passes out.

Time passes and he wakes up in his apartment. As he looks outside the window he sees he's actually somewhere else.

The Village. It's a pleasant enough place--warm, sunshiny, on the water, but it's . . .wrong somehow. The phones only place local calls. The taxis only go local. The man asks for a map, but the only maps they have are those of The Village.

Oh yes, and everyone is a number, not a name. In time, the man meets Number Two, the man in change of the Village (second only to One) and learns that he is Number Six, which he immediately denies:

"I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own."

Naturally, Six, having declared his intentions against toeing the line, immediately decides to escape and, upon attempting it, discovers Rover, which is the most curiously threatening yet utter ridiculous thing ever minted --a great white weather balloon that lives in a lava lamp and attacks and suffocates dissidents with ruthless efficiency. Rover gets quite a workout in this episode--pushing Number Six around, suffocating a guy--he certainly makes the most of his moment.

But the real meat of "Arrival" (and The Prisoner in general) is setting up the main conflict of the series--Number Two (and his successors) want to know why he resigned. Or that's what the stated reason is--No. 2 says he believes No. 6's stated reason, but says "one needs to be sure." (Later on, of course, we learn there's more to it than that) Over the course of the series, No. 2 will try to break Six and discover the secret of his resignation, and No. 6, disgusted with the whole concept of the Village, wants to escape, and return to destroy the Village. Other Number Twos will supplant this one (it happens about midway through this episode, as a matter of fact) and each one in turn (with a few exceptions) tries to break Number Six with one elaborate plot after the next.

The bits of "Arrival" that don't involve learning about the village are pretty standard things indeed. No. Six gets tangled up in a rather perfunctory plot involving a former colleague and his erstwhile Village girlfriend who dangle the opportunity to escape in front of his face, only for it to turn out to be a convoluted plot/trick. There's a lot of this in the initial outings of the series, as it gradually sheds its 60's-era spy trappings and finds its own way. More than that, and this is something I never really put together until I read about it at The A.V. Club that the Village initially tries very conventional plots, but as time gets away from them, they attempt more desperate and extreme measures.

But that's a bit away. For now, we'll pause and take up things next time for episode 2, "The Chimes of Big Ben." Join us then , won't you?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just Sayin'--THE PRISONER (2009)

Hi folks! Yes, we're working diligently on the Whole Damn Thing write-up of the original Prisoner series, but before I do, let's have some words over the remake.

It was just about the time it was revealed that The Village's preferred methodology of papering over things which interrupt the status quo was to blow the fuck up out of their own buildings that, as if an epiphany sent by God himself, I decided this show could kiss my ass.

Someone on Bleeding Cool agrees with me (even though I can't really see eye-to-eye with him about TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH being the epitome of anti-government popular entertainment---really? Really?!?) but dear lord--someone took a series that managed to say something and examine things through the lens of popular entertainment in an allegorical structure that didn't really always work and . . .

. . .they made it into a cut-price copy of LOST.

I thought V was as far as you could go in the direction of remaking something and completely missing the damn point of the original. I was really, truly, completely, horrifically wrong. Please avoid this show in much the same way you would if someone offered you a free dead dog well into the process of decomposition.

Of course, it goes without saying we will not be reviewing the new Prisoner series here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Wrath of 'Con

Right! Well, I'm off to the con for the year. Should be interesting.

Before I go, as I'm undecided about what to cover next, I thought I might leave it up to the readers (for once) and offer you the following: I'm planning two big write-up projects for when I return, and I figured I'd let y'all decide which one I did. Will it be . . .

1) The long-promised Doctor Who week (which will probably go quite awhile past a week, but that's mission creep for you?)


2) Another "Whole Damn Thing" review, this time of the legendary cult series The Prisoner?

You make the call!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just Sayn'--V (2009)

Well, uh, that wasn't very good.

The original wasn't high art by any means and all too often ended up being high camp in low taste (it was, after all a naziploitation/sci-fi/WWII/Holocaust allegory. From space.) but it had the odd moment of effect here and there. This . . .doesn't. Nothing that happens within the pilot manages to have any blow-away plot moments on its own terms (which, when you consider that's supposed to be one of the hooks of the damn thing in the first place--bearing in mind that I was 8 or so when it first ran and it hasn't aged terribly well now but you were given enough time to absorb the story and the scope of it and just when you had a handle on how bad the Visitors are, the alien bitchqueen eats a damn guinea pig.) or really entices you to go further. All the cards are alrady on the table at the end of the first hour and my gut feeling is "Yeah? And? So? What?"

It looks and plays like every other post-BSG show out there, and frankly, after BSG, Secret Invasion and the like, I'm totally burned out on quasi-religious alien/robot sleeper agents. Done with that shit.