Thursday, November 26, 2009

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."

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