Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 10

Oh yes. This one.

Episode 10--"Hammer Into Anvil"

"I'LL BREAK THIS CONSPIRACY!"

Paranoid people are sure of one thing--everything, from the time their toothpaste falls off the toothbrush in the morning, to the guy who cuts them off on the way to work, to the co-workers who are surely waiting for a chance to stab him in the back is all part of one large meta-conspiracy directed at them. Of course, that's rarely the case, but good luck convincing them of that. It's at once a defence mechanism (after all, a conspiracy at least implies that someone's in control of things and it's not all a random collision of circumstance) and an expression of ultimate narcissism (of course everything is directed against you, right? /sarcasm) All too often, these people are undone more by what they imagine works against them by what is actually happening to them.

All the above armchair psychoanalysis is my way of prefacing my discussion of this episode, which, were I to boil it down to two sentences would be "No. 6 drives No. 2 barking mad. Also: Kosho."

The episode's title comes from a quote by Goethe: "You must be anvil or hammer." No. 2 expands on this by declaring that he's going to "Hammer" No. 6, which probably sounded far more intimidating in the days before slashfic came along to add another and much less threatening layer of meaning to that particular phrase. It is required of me that, like every other person who's watched this series and has an English degree that I mention that Orwell wrote that "the anvil always breaks the hammer," which I'm certain we're supposed to know on some level because that's exactly what happens here. There's quite a lot of layered foreshadowing in this episode--it's one of the reasons I like it so much.

No. 2, played this time with scenery-chewing godlike assholishness (seriously--this guy does a slide into insanity like the Gotterdamerung is going on in his head) drives one an unfortunate Villager to suicide, and No. 6 decides to seek revenge.

His vengeance takes the form of performing random and completely pointless acts--buying a cuckoo clock and leaving it in front of No. 2's house, playing the same record and timing it (L'Arl├ęsienne--a story of a man being driven mad, which informs on the plot of this episode in a number of ways, if you're familiar with the story), leaving odd messages in the Village paper and generally behaving, to anyone who's not No. 2, like a nutter.

But No. 2, conditioned to the way the Village operates, sees conspiracy. In much the same way as No. 2s turn the weaknesses of the prisoners into the weapon that breaks them, No. 6 breaks No. 2, and it's that turning of the tables that makes the episode so satisfying. We've seen No. 6 get thwarted, betrayed, and outmaneuvered so many times in the episodes up to now and it would be easy to throw one's hands up and say "man, this is just depressing. We know he's not gonna get out until the final episode, so why bother watching the series until we get there?"

So we, as viewers, need a "win" like we get in this episode, so we keep our emotional stake in what happens to No. 6. No, No. 6 doesn't escape, but he does make good on his vow from "Chimes of Big Ben" that he plans to destroy The Village, and if he has to do it bit by bit from within, well, so be it.

That's the good bit of this episode. Now, let's talk Kosho.

A word about fictitious sports in SF, if I may: They're usually silly. Such an effort is made to make the rules recognizable as a sporting event yet sufficiently alien and "futuristic" that everyone ends up looking ridiculous and doing ridiculous things for a goal we're never entirely certain of.

Kosho is no different--it is goofy, hilarious, and insane. I'm not even going to bother trying to describe it, I'm just going to post this Youtube clip. Enjoy.



There are times when The Prisoner just comes out with stuff like this and doesn't bother to prepare one for it, just tosses it right at you and says "Here--you make sense of it." One of the things that often saves a very dodgy Prisoner episode is very often a Kosho scene, because even in the most wretched episodes to come there are no blues that two people fake fighting on trampolines in front of a wading pool can't cure.

Anyways--you now have two reasons why "Hammer Into Anvil" is totally awesome--one of which I have demonstrated to you empirically. This episode isn't one you could intro the series to someone with--it's best saved for a few episodes in, when the prospective Prisoner neophyte can savor the fact that in this episode, at least, he gets to stick it to Village for once.

Unfortunately, this means I have to talk about the next episode now, which is pretty much takes how I feel about this episode and utterly inverts it. Oh, I hate it so much. No. 6 gets embroiled in a plot so damn complicated and highly dull that I reserve the right to embed that Kosho clip again if I get sick and tired of trying to explain it. And I will.

Next time--"It's Your Funeral."

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