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October 4, 2015

The Prisoner: Free For All

by Michael Sciannamea, posted Jun 7th 2006 7:48PM

Campaign support for Number 6Do not adjust your web browser. You are now entering the Retro Squad, where we are reviewing past episodes of your favorite shows, in order, every week.

(S01E02) Before we go any further, I just want to say those of you who would ask why am I reviewing this episode of The Prisoner (which was the fourth episode aired in the series) but appearing here as the second. First, in both the VCR and DVD compilations, this episode is listed second. (In addition, it was the second episode filmed.) Plus, I think this episode fits in better in the second slot anyway, because we get to see how Number 2 "by hook or by crook" tries to get Number 6 to tell why he resigned his post as a spy.

In this episode, Number 2 convinces Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) to run for office as the new Number 2. Number 2 says that an election is held every 12 months, and so far there is no other candidate besides him that is running. Of course, being a new "resident" of the Village, Number 6 is quite skeptical over the whole thing. Plus, as he reiterates from the first episode, "I am not a number. I am a person."

Number 6 is then assigned an assistant, an attractive woman dressed as a French maid who offers to drive him everywhere and serve his needs, all while speaking in a foreign language. The episode is especially interesting as it "parodies" political campaigns where you have canned speeches and planned photo opportunities, ie, "rehearsed spontaniety."

Through a series of scenes where Number 6 is given a "test" and then is placed under mind control, he begins to campaign fervently for the position of Number 2 and is featured in a commercial where he promises his supporters that if they obey the "rules" they will be taken good care of. He seems to be gaining more support, and it looks like Number 6 is going to be the new Number 2.

However, things get to be too much for him, and then he steals a boat and is looking to escape from the Village. Rover (the big white balloon) reels him in. Later on, Number 6 and his assistant are sitting at the Cat and Mouse Club, and in a fit of anger he accuses her of spying on him. He then finds himself in the basement of the club, where Number 2 is in a drunken stupor and the both of them speak "honestly" about the phoniness of the "election." Of course, Number 6 is double-crossed and is knocked unconscious.

On election day, Number 6 seems to be winning in a landslide, but there is no joy from the residents. They are so mind-numbed and controlled that they will obey ANY Number 2, which makes this "election" a sham to begin with. Number 6, being the victor, is taken to the control room where Number 2 works, and he begins to play with the control board and almost becomes drunk with power. Suddenly, his assistant begins slapping him and asking him questions in her language, and then security overtakes him. The episode ends with the old Number 2 leaving the Village, and the new Number 2 is the assistant, who was in on the plot the entire time.

This is a very weird and disturbing episode. It advances the idea that all elections in a free and democratic society are not very free or democratic, and no matter what a candidate promises, things will basically be the same and citizens will be in the same boat no matter what. In addition, the scene where Number 6 says "No comment" to questions and then having quotes made up for the Tally Ho newspaper was chilling. It's amazing how many of the concepts depicted in this episode have become part and parcel of today's political campaigns--the rehearsed speeches, the photo ops, the pandering to supporters, etc.

Until next week, we shall say

"Be seeing you!"

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I have to join the chorus of voices stating this was and is still one of the most brilliant shows ever to be given airtime. It may not be perfect (though I would argue that at least Patrick McGoohan was), but it was strikingly different and hugely innovative at the time and, as has been stated by others, continues to influence.

And thank you, Quincey, for mentioning that Simpsons episode :-) None of my friends ever get that the episode is actually REFERENCING something, and not just being, you know, another wacky Simpsons episode.

June 08 2006 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Indeed, The Prisoner is a true TV classic. And to echo Akbar's comments, the show is a major influence on many other shows. The Simpsons had an entire episode about Homer being taken to The Village. BTW, I took a Media Theory class in college and we analyzed the title sequence, believe that!

June 08 2006 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I add to the chorus, Jack--get thee to a DVD rental place pronto.

I was about 10 when this series first aired in the States, and it blew my tiny litle mind. Ever since, it remained in my memory as one of the best shows in the history of television--so, 30+ years later, when I was able to see it on DVD, I was pleased to see that I had been right all along.

To see it as an adult, and understand the social commentary that existed under the surreal narrative that had thrilled me as a kid, is to know real joy.

June 08 2006 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

omg jack. I hope you are being sarcastic.

The Prisoner is a HUGE infulence on many great shows and films since it came out.

June 08 2006 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Toby OB

All I can say, Jack, is either rent it from Netflix or Blockbuster, or read up on it on the Internet.

Either you'll come to see for yourself that it was one of the greatest TV shows of all time, or you'll learn that I'm not alone in that opinion.

June 07 2006 at 9:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, my question is why are you reviewing this show? I haven't heard of it and it doesn't look that interesting.

June 07 2006 at 9:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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