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?

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