Thursday, November 26, 2009

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"

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