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Review: The Prisoner - Part Six: Checkmate

by Jason Hughes, posted Nov 18th 2009 1:30AM
The Prisoner: Checkmate
Well, that's that. All wrapped up nice and neat with a bow. Glad it's all cleared up and everything makes perfect sense... Did you read the sarcasm in that statement?

At this point, I can't tell if fans of the original The Prisoner will embrace this new iteration of the concept, or feel betrayed by it. Don't get me wrong, once all the secrets lie revealed, they've developed a pretty neat concept, and on that could quite possibly have sustained more than six episodes even. But was it The Prisoner?

I will give credit to all of the actors for their conviction in these roles. Ruth Wilson and Jamie Campbell Bower were particularly impressive as 313 and 1112. The layers of emotion that 313 displayed in her closing scenes with Two, and later with Six were just tragically beautiful. And 1112... well, tragedy appears to be the name of the game in the new Prisoner.

As much as it's satisfying to see that I was right in thinking the Village was just some sort of artificial construct; that it wasn't really real at all, I'm still not sure what I think about it. It's been a few hours now since I saw the episode (AMC was kind enough to send me an advanced copy) and I'm not sure if a few hours more would offer me any more clarity.

I loved the complexity of the piece, and I think it is one of those projects that will come together nicely in subsequent viewings. At the same time, there were elements that were just kind of thrown in there and abandoned just as haphazardly, like Six's "family," 909 and even 415 who played such a pivotal role in both worlds and then just vanished as if she'd never mattered.

The Village must be more than just the sum of 1112's mother's mind as it was able to exist while she was awake, and after her death. The fact that someone else can just take over and pick up where she left off indicates it's a creature all its own. That Six wrapped up his adventure accepting his role as the new Two, as it were, thinking also that he can make the Village something nice.

You can read a lot into 313's tear at the end. She's clearly in the same trance-like state that 1112's mother was in, but also somewhat aware. Is she shedding a tear at the thought of Six becoming Two? Does she see his declaration that he can make a good Village as a betrayal of their love; she only said she'd take the pills until he could find a better way to maintain the Village.

It looked like the whole gambit was an exit strategy for Two, but that doesn't remain consistent with what we'd seen in previous episodes. Six went from just another number Two wanted to get in line, and when that didn't work he realized that Six's stubbornness might benefit his own desires to get on with his life.

What is less clear is how the dual consciousness works. Which 147 is real, or are they both real? The original left me with a lot of questions but at least I understood all that I'd seen. I'm not quite so sure I understand everything that just happened in the past six hours. The white ball was Six's fears?

And what was the point of 147? I thought he was going to be significant and then he just kind of wasn't. Yes, he lost a child so he could relate to Two's loss of 1112 after 1112 killed his mother and then himself, but was that the point? He sort of befriended Six but nothing was really done with that friendship either.

Maybe they did need some more episodes to flesh this into a more cohesive package, or maybe the disjointed episodes was the point. After all, the mind is never truly linear but rather a million disjointed thoughts colliding constantly in our brains. So The Prisoner is like one of those weird conversations where by the time you reach the end of it, you have no idea how you came to be talking about any of it.

Or it's nothing like that. Maybe next week, it'll all gel together and make perfect sense. I think they should have probably not made it The Prisoner, though. I'd have liked it better if it wasn't trying to be a remake of a classic whose concept wasn't in need of such a radical redesign. What did those of you who've never seen the original think?

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At first, this remake annoyed me. Individually, the episodes were sometimes tedious, difficult to unravel, and required intelligent, conscious thought. It's also very different from the original, while retaining some of the same flavor (the world becomes greatly oversimplified in form and color, with annoying accordion music in the background).

Which is all why it really, in the end, was good.

Are you angry that a television show is making you think, and is open to interpretation? Really? Finally, something on the boob tube to make you think, and argue... that's a good thing.

Should it have been just like the original, but updated? Really? What would have been the point? If it's not new and refreshing, why bother?

I think Battlestar Galactica and The Prisoner both have done a good job of defining how a TV series (and maybe a movie) should be remade. Don't just do it again. Don't try to do it better. Just try to do it differently. Make something new, that's good, instead of remaking something old, in an effort to improve on it... because you never will. It's a different time, with different tools, and rules, and goals, and perceptions.

With that said, in the end... I thought the ending actually really fit. The point in the end was not "what was going on," but rather it matched the core of any good story, film, novel, or otherwise. The point in the end was how 6 changed as a person. Where did he go, and where did he wind up, in the end?... and the story was about how he got there.

The fact was, except for the undeniably evil murder (presumed) of 415/Lucy in real life, 2 turns out to be something of a misunderstood good guy. Yes, the idea of "fixing people" without their consent seems wrong, but isn't that done with the mentally ill all of the time? And with criminals?

I'm not saying it's right... I'm saying it's something you can argue about. And except for 6 just sort of forgetting about 415/Lucy at the end, 6 comes to agree with 2 (through the extreme example of 313) that some people do need to be fixed, and so the Village serves a worthy purpose.

And, in the very end... isn't sitting in front of a television, watching a TV program... sort of like living in the Village? Everything is simplified. You lose your own identity. Through empathy you live a second existence, in parallel with your own. Everything is identified by a number (channels and times). Other places cease to exist while you are lost in the story.

When we watch TV (or films, or read)... we all live in the Village.

-- 529

November 29 2009 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stephen Monteith

I hadn't seen the original before watching this version, though thanks to restrospectives and "sci-fi specials", I've been aware of it for some time. After watching AMC's presentation, though, I went to AMC.com and watched the entire series. Frankly, I felt AMC's version to be slightly superior.

First of all, you can hardly compare the two together. McGoohan's "Prisoner" was about a secret agent who resigned and was abducted by persons unknown until he would reveal the "true reason" for his resignation. Caveizel worked for a company apparently engaged in researching persons who possessed access to higher states of consciousness. In both series, the Village is a place to hold the Prisoner until he is feeling cooperative, but what "they" want from the Prisoner is different in each case. The new Village isn't even a village, per se; it's apparently some sort of astral projection in which the residents all share with the help of Number Two and his wife. In short, the two stories are similar in name only.

This makes comparing the merits of the two stories vaguely like comparing Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series; some elements remain the same, some archetypes are common, but the plots, characters, and moral (the fundamentals of every story) are widely divergent. No one can doubt McGoohan's vision or creativity in what is rightly considered a masterpiece of the sci-fi/adventure genre; but his is not the only vision out there. Should the nominal aspects of McGoohan's "Prisoner" have been appropriated for the new version? Maybe, maybe not; but it certainly wouldn't be the first time a beloved series has been "updated" for a new generation (see Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, et al).

As a consequence of the new nature of the Village, some elements were necessarily eliminated or adjusted. First of all, the nature of Number Two has significantly changed. Before, Number Two was an administrator/warden tasked with extracting information from the "Villagers", including Number Six (McGoohan). To keep the focus on Number Six, the eponymous Prisoner, every time Number Two failed to learn why he resigned, a new Number Two was chosen to replace him. Some few Two's managed to retain their position longer than others, but all eventually failed when faced with Number Six's iron will.

McKellen's Number Two, though, could hardly be replaced so easily. Running a prison, even one disguised as a village, is quite a different task than controlling another plane of consciousness; especially one that is ever-expanding. When Caveizel's character proves his resilience, rather than continuing in their efforts merely to integrate him in society, it is apparently decided to annoint him as the new Number Two. McKellen's character, after all, is getting on in years, and he would need a successor eventually, anyway.

By the way, if you've noticed me using the word "apparently" a lot in connection to AMC's "Prisoner", you're right. I'm guessing at much of what takes place in the new series. Still, it's left me with fewer questions than the original series. For example, when "Number One" is finally revealed in McGoohan's series, I couldn't have been more confused. And though one can hardly fault how well the writers and creators worked with what they had (i.e. a 1960's working knowledge of science), some of the episodes dealing with surveillance, medical science, and especially hypnotism were rather hard to swallow.

Finally, when it comes to McGoohan's performance versus Caveizel's, I couldn't care less. We expect each actor to approach roles differently, even when it's the same role. Daniel Craig was a far different James Bond than Sean Connery, but that didn't make either one "superior" to the other; merely different. And this can hardly be considered the "same role". When you consider all the ways in which the stories diverge, the motivations differ, and the distance between the aims, you can't expect any of the characters to adhere to the original. Was McGoohan's performance superior to Caveizel's? Perhaps; but only in the same sense that Peter O'Toole's performance as King Henry was superior to Richard Harris' performance as King George.


November 22 2009 at 7:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'll add this since no one else has commented on it ... unlike The Original Series (TOS) this treatment didn't seem really care why 6 resigned. There was a token effort a couple times to elicit that info, but rather, it seems the ultimate point was to retain Michael at Summakor rather than let him resign. And maybe this is a commentary on employer-employee relations of today, especially in the professional business environment with its emphasis on employee satisfaction and retention.

November 19 2009 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched the new show largely based on my interest in the original "the prisoner" series. I agree with sentiment that this new show could have been titled differently with some other kind of acknowledgement to the original. At any rate, the new show now stands on its own merit.

Post 13 above by "mike" was useful to me. Much of what he explained was how I interepreted the show. I couldn't have articulated it as well though. I'm still confused by much of it.

The Village was a seperate reality....maybe a Carlos Casteneda thing....achieved with the assistance of mind altering drugs. It was real, as are dreams. Everything we experience with our senses is real.

Some of my questions still are....

Do we assume there is some facility in the "real world" where the residents of the Village are confined under the influence of the drugs....like a hospital maybe? Or are they actively living there lives AND exisitng collectively in the Village fantasy?

Did the events in New York that were shown as flashback, occur simultaneously with the events in the the Village? For example, did Mike meet Sarah(?) (the cell phone thing) at the same time 6 met 415? Did she die in the explosion the same time she fell in the hole? Or is time sequence irrelevent in the separate reality?

Was the wife of 2 (number 1?) a mental health patient like the others, or was she mentally sound and thus qualified to dream the Village structure for the benefit of the patients she and her husband identified? I took it that she developed the drugs and pioneered the whole project. Was she the head of the corporation (symantec or whatever it was called)?

November 19 2009 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Big D

I'd say that any show that exists entirely inside the mind is bound to be confusing and ultimately boring. The Matrix tread this ground, but avoided the problems by a) making the story relatively linear, b) what happens in the matrix has profound effects on the real world (Zion is destroyed, your body dies if you are killed, etc.).

The original Prisoner avoided this by being a physical place - what we saw was for the most part real. While there was psychological manipulation, drugging, there were always portions that were clearly real.

In the new Prisoner nothing in the Village is real. This ruined the show - 2 literally blows his head off and then reappears in the real world unharmed. Ta-daaa! So what if 6 is the new 2? Does that change anything for anyone?

Lastly - the old prisoner was a mental chess game. Hell, the last episode is called "Checkmate". You could see the wheels turning, the plans forming, the tables turning. 6 used all his wits, knowledge, and his physical abilities, to survive as an individual. He was in many ways unique to the Village, an involuntary prisoner who could not be broken because of his agent training. He over matched not just 2, but the whole system.

In the new Prisoner, 6 is clearly no match for 2, or for anyone else. He spends most of the show in a daze, lurching from thing to another, being manipulated at every turn, accomplishing little of value. Of course he succumbs in the end - what else can he do?

Think about the title scene for the original show - 2 minutes of wordless scenes with music. You get the whole story of who six is, how he got to the village, why they want him there, what his goals are. In the new series - it takes several episodes to figure out even why he is there and what everyone's goals might be. It is like playing chess without knowing the rules first.

Really, it is just sad to see so much talent and effort go to something that has such flaws in the fundamental premise. It really could have been something - the money and talent was certainly there.

November 18 2009 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of the things that I loved about the original Prisoner was Patrick McG's tone of awareness, irony and suppressed anger. There was a wonderful humor to the original that only Ian McKellan had in this version. In fact, I would say that this was about #2 more than #6.

I also think that they were wrong to put so many confusing story lines/episodes together, which didn't allow people to dissect and analyze them adequately. On the other hand, perhaps they wouldn't have held up to analysis very well and people would have drifted away.

Finally, this version reminds me more of the Matrix than the original Prisoner. It would seem that the Prisoner was merely some show that the characters had watched once upon a time, which was now part of their sub-conscious imagery and even conscious imagination.

November 18 2009 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I was a big fan of the original Prisoner - having seen it on DVD without commercial interruption. As far as the "new" Prisoner - I was disappointed. Without even comparing it to the original; allowing it to stand on its own, I was left asking; 'Why?". Why did they bother other than to be a vehicle for massive commercial blocks; why didn't they do more with a genuinely good premise; why did they end it with such a boreing and pedestrian conclusion? It had its moments of superb acting as mentioned in the other comments here, but still, the sum of the parts did not equal a whole lot of depth or substance. Too bad for us all. I pray that this is a lesson for any potential would-be remakers of classic BBC Series TV that they should either do it very very well, or don't do it at all. Cheers!

November 18 2009 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"as with the original series, that is something that YOU got from it but it was never stated that was in fact the case."

Any alternate interpretations? I'm anxious to see what others thought...

November 18 2009 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Jables's comment

I have seen the original, and as long as you're comfortable with the idea that this is a reimagining, it's fine. In fact I think I'd have been peeved had they stuck slavishly to the way things were (or seemed to be) in the original. Jim Caviezel ain't Patrick McG., and nor should he even try.

And I actually really dig the ending, because it's still kind of mysterious and it doesn't try to match or outdo the original's crazy ending. They'd never have been able to capture that feeling and I'm glad they went for something peculiar to this series.

Big ups to Rachael Blake, by the way, who's been a fave of mine since being on tv cop drama Wildside in Australia. If you can get it, do; it's astonishingly good.

November 18 2009 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

From what I guess, The Village was all of the people in the real world interacting on a subconcious level that were chosen and Curtis (#2) and his wife (#1?) were working with them on that level to become better people in the real world. Everything in the real world was happening simultaneously with The Village.

Yay or nay?

November 18 2009 at 8:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jables's comment
the dude


as with the original series, that is something that YOU got from it but it was never stated that was in fact the case.

November 18 2009 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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