Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 12

Episode 12--"A Change of Mind"

"Reject this false world of No. 2 . . .REJECT IT--NOW!!"

As I said last time, the Village's mail goal is to crush everyone into the same shape and render people less individual human beings and just one in a series of identical units being stamped out on an assembly line, metaphorically speaking. No episode demonstrates this quite as blatantly as "A Change of Mind."

Antisocial persons in the Village now live under threat of being considered "disharmonious," their behavior not in keeping with the desires of the community, who would like everyone to get along and play nice, but not necessarily for their sake. It's just another means of control, only this time it's the actual Villager's doing the dirty work. Naturally it's all in the name of the disharmonious person's "own good," of course, and so one is subjected to various group therapies and judgments in the name of bringing one around.

Disharmonious types who continue to play the rebel get branded "unmutual," which basically means they completely ostracize you and, should that fail, you get dragged off to the Hospital for Total Social Conversion, which in the best tradition of Village Mad Science means you immediately become a more social person . . .mostly because they blast the aggressive centres of your brain out with a funky laser beam, lobotomizing you in all but fact.

No. 6, being the grumpy antisocial asshole that he is, naturally gets embroiled in all this. He's saved from the lobotomy bit by the edict that he musn't be damaged, and so an attempt is made to simulate the effects of the Total Social Conversion (not to be confused with the Total Perspective Vortex, of course) Naturally, this doesn't work on No. 6 for very long, but the sight of him turning the tables is rather satisfying this time out, and so I won't spoil it.

This is actually a pretty effective episode, all told, because apart from a few things (like the rubbish laser beam thingy) it feels all too . . .real, somehow. Some of the techniques used to "treat" those poor souls who may not want to be hyper-socialised are taken from real life, if amped up slightly to become even more obviously sinister than they would appear otherwise. Never mind the fact that the whole "making people behave by the means of extreme peer pressure" probably feels eerily familiar to anyone who survived high school . . .

Anyways, it's a great episode and you should totally watch it, unlike the next episode. In fact, I seriously considered skipping it since, it's pretty awful and inessential, even moreso than "It's Your Funeral." Join us for an episode so enervating that even No. 6 could bother to show up for it.

Next Episode--"Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling."

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER--Episode 11

Apologies for the long wait on this one. I dreaded writing it, chiefly because this episode sucks.

Episode 11--"It's Your Funeral"

The Prisoner is a tricky beast, as the Christ-awful remake proves. Writing an episode requires hewing to some very stringent rules--for one, since the main conflict is that of the individual against society, it almost insists that one isolate the protagonist to better draw the battle lines between lone individual and society. Allying No. 6 with a group of people, frankly, undercuts that message somewhat. The remake missed this (among its many other sins) and suffered greatly as a result.

The Village, as the antagonist "society," likewise has to play by certain rules in the name of a successful story. The singular terror of the Village is that their goal is to make everyone an equal unit in society in the most brutally equalizing method possible. Not unlike the Cybermen in Doctor Who (or "Harrison Bergeron," if your tastes are a bit more highbrow) their goal is to crush everyone into the same shape, make everyone behave the same and, ultimately, think the same.

In those terms, the story writes itself--Village says, "No. 6, you will do what the others do." "No I won't." "OK, then, we'll do this in retaliation." And that's all you really need. For all that The Prisoner deals in multiple levels and allegory and all that, the central conflict dynamic is really simple, and doesn't need a lot of convolution.

And that's just about where "It's Your Funeral" fails. The episode involves a convoluted assassination plot perpetrated by one No. 2 to replace another No. 2 (for no adequately explained reason, as it's never been evident in the past that this would be accepted, necessary, or even sensible in any way shape or form) a group of Villagers called the Jammers, who cook up fake plots to confuse the Village controllers and No. 6 is around for . . .I dunno. Roll the Kosho clip.

There's some good ideas in "It's Your Funeral" (for one thing, the Jammers ended up being the forerunners of real life culture jammers) I'm just not terribly sure any of them are particularly good ideas for a Prisoner episode, and the whole thing plays like a hatefully confusing mess that drags on and on and ultimately I just find myself wanting the damn thing to be over with.

Thankfully, our next episode is a definite favourite of mine. In what must surely be the most harrowing kind of peer pressure imaginable, No 6 is marked out for being antisocial. So what else is new, right? Well, how about total ostracization for starters and, if he doesn't toe the line after that, they lobotomise him? Never has an episode title been more literal:

Next episode--"A Change of Mind"