Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episodes 13-16

Hey kids, remember how I was doing this, then dropped off sharply? Well, here's why--for one thing, time has been a precious and fairly rare resource. For another, this last stretch of Prisoner episodes is, by and larger, kind of a slog for me to get through because well, two of them I find to be an unpardonable slog and the other two are good, but I don't have a whole long essay in my about why they may or may not be good. So I decided in the name of Getting On With It, I'd go through the last 4 in one go and keep my powder dry for the utterly baffling finale, which I do have some things to say about and I'd get these things out of the way.

Think of it like the Boss Rush right before the last fight of a video game if it helps.

"Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling"--I don't usually like to drop the F-bomb here at the Prattle (in a rare example of restraint as I'd like the Prattle to have a slightly higher level of discourse) but really, fuck this episode in the ear. I've heard all the usual excuses--Patrick McGoohan was off filming Ice Station Zebra so they had to build an episode around him, but all they built was a craptacular waste of my life. No. 6 is replaced via Avengers-level mad science that switches his brain with that of an utter milquetoast with the screen presence of oatmeal, we get a bunch of No. 6 backstory and . . .and . . .screw this, I'm posting the Kosho clip again:

For the love of all that is good in this world please avoid this episode, as it is totally inessential and more importantly, it's complete and utter crap that I despise. It is the worst episode in the run without question and the memory of it pisses me off so much I want to go kick a nun in her shinbone.

But it's still better than the remake. Yeah.

"Living In Harmony"--This is the Lost Episode (it was left out of the original run in America and no one's sure why) and this is also the Western episode (as it begins with a Western-tinged version of the familiar opening credits) and with that nifty twist, I'd love to be able to tell you that the whole episode provides a necessary subversion of the standard Prisoner formula.

I'd love to, but that would be a lie. This episode is a god damned mess--it's paced like molasses, and because it makes its point in the first fifteen minutes and there's nowhere to go until the final battle/big reveal, which means we get thirty minutes (feeling like ninety) of the point being belabored over and over again. Then we get the reveal that the Western thing was Yet Another Village Plot, and in about ten minutes, the episode takes this weird-ass dark twist which is actually pretty intriguing, but seems to come from another episode altogether.

I don't know, guys--your mileage may vary on how effective it is, and it's worth at least one look, but it's not a favourite of mine.

"The Girl Who Was Death"--God I love that title. This episode gets knocked because it's basically a very silly trifle in which Patrick McGoohan spends the entirety of the episode sending up the entire 60's spy genre, but people who would say that are fools who know nothing. I love this episode--it has a real sense of goofy fun to it and oh lord don't we need that from time to time.

No. 6, in a tale set before the series, plays a secret agent who possesses a mightily unconvincing collection of fake mustaches and disguises is hot on the trail of Sonia, whose skill with creating elaborate deathtraps is matched only by her ludicrous eye makeup (seriously--they must be seen to be appreciated. They're the kind of thing that even drag queens would say "Really, honey? Really?") Also, people who play cricket get blown up, which is how I think every game should end, frankly.

I really liked this episode--it's got a lightness and humour to it that The Prisoner (no McGoohan himself) isn't really known for and it's at just the right spot--this nice little interlude before the ultra-heavy two-part finale. You may not think of it as your kind of thing, but give it a chance--I really rather liked it.

"Once Upon A Time"--The No. 2 from "Chimes of Big Ben" returns, and he's not fooling around. No more games, no more elaborate schemes, they have resolved to break No. 6 once and for all with something rather worryingly called Degree Absolute, which may or may not have something to do with roll-on deodorant. No. 6 is doped up (of course) and subjected to weird hypnotic flashing lights (of course, again) and regressed back to childhood, wherein No. 2 will take him through six of the Seven Ages of Man and try to break him down once and for all. The only way out is conversion or death . . .but for whom?

It sounds a lot better if I say it that way rather than "this is mostly Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern yelling at each other on one set for an hour or so" Silly and limited as you might imagine the whole business to be, the intensity of the performance sweeps you up after awhile and it gets really to be really riveting. Apparently Leo McKern had an honest-to-goodness nervous breakdown while filming it, and I can see why--Degree Absolute is, performance-wise and literally, and endurance test.

It takes awhile to get into it, but "Once Upon A Time" is a grand episode, really, and the tension in it really gets you up for the finale. Whether or not it sets up a certain expectation for the finale is something we'll address next time.

Speaking of which, I can think of no cleverer way of setting up our discussion of the perpetually controversial final episode than just using the last lines of this episode:

"What do you desire?"

"Number One."

"I'll take you."

Next time--"Fall Out"


Moor Larkin said...

One thing the F-bomb epsiode did do was to indicate that Number Six was quite a normal sort of fellow under normal sorts of circumstances. When he wakes up in his room, he prattles aimlessly and happily to himself until he sees his reflection in the mirror.

It's probably important to know that Six only became convinced that people were out to get him when.... well... people were out to get him. The scene at the photographic shop was pretty cute too.

The Harmony episode was a bit spaghetti I thought, when I watched it again recently. Considering that at the time shows like Bonanza and The Virginian were still very popular, it was quite cutting-edge.

Kazekage said...

I like that it's the "F-Bomb episode," now. :) I can see where you're coming from with it, the trouble is that we'd already had No. 6 escape back to real life before and there's been no indication he had a fiancee or any of that, so it all feels a bit . . foreign from what we know of him.

Mind you--some of this may just be my impression of McGoohan and how his own attitudes shaped his work. Great actor, yes, but he had some very Catholic ideas when it came to being a romantic lead.

It made me wish that a load of British actors would get together and try to make a Western, because it made me really wonder how that stuff plays when prismed through a similar but not identical culture. The big issue I have with it.

Alex Kanner plays real good crazy though, and the final moment with him is really well staged and shot, I thought. The big issue is that it doesn't feel like a complete meal, y'know?

Stephen said...

I just recently finished watching the whole series for the first time, and I've enjoyed going through the archive and reading your insight. Just to defend Harmony a little bit, I agree that it drags in the middle waiting to get to the village reveal, but, for me at least, the strength of the concept is enough to get me through. I think it may have worked better if they dropped the Village reveal at the end and just presented it as a straight allegory of how men like Six have been held prisoner throughout history.

Also Alex Kanner's just batshit portrayal of the Kid is hypnotic to watch. I know its widely accepted that he plays a different character in Fallout, but I prefer to think he's a revived Kid, driven a little crazier by the Village's attempt to rehabilitate him.

Kazekage said...

Thanks man! Till now I wasn't sure how many of my regulars were actually reading these, but I'm a bit reassured. :)

The problem I have with Harmony is basically you've got a strong initial "bite" with the Western hook and a strong end bite with the Kid going nuts in the real world, that it seems to go a little slack there in the middle. I think if they'd had maybe something in between to keep the tension going it may have worked a lot better for me.

That's a rather clever notion, and makes about as much sense as anything in "Fall Out" :) He sure does "crazy" well--I have only the faintest idea of how I'm gonna handle No. 48 in the finale, but in re-watching it this afternoon, I found that along with his explosive craziness, there's a subtle edge to it that really helps to get across what No. 48's arc is "about" so it's quite an extraordinary performance, really.