Thursday 19 March 2015

The Prisoner - The General

So far I have not discussed what episode order The Prisoner should be viewed in. The most important thing to say about this is that it seems no one can agree on it. It should not be viewed in production order and it should not be viewed in broadcast order, apart from the first episode and the last two. I have had a few people tell me I am watching in the wrong order. To be clear, I am following the order of my Network DVDs, which I believe is the original order broadcast in the UK. It is not the wrong order because there is no right order. When I have re-watched all the episodes I will try to put together my own opinion of an ideal episode order for all 17 episodes. But that is all it can ever be; an opinion.

  'The General' got me thinking about the episode order because there are some things that have not made sense. Colin Gordon returns as Number Two for this episode but whilst he looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown in 'A. B. and C.', under pressure to get information out of Number Six, he seems quite at ease here. Also, whilst 'The General' has the usual opening titles, in which Number Six asks "Who are you?" and the answer is "The new Number Two", the opening for 'A. B. and C.' has Number Two answering "I am Number Two". These episodes would seem to fit better coming one after the other, with 'The General' coming first. Another point is that Number 12 was Number Six's double in 'The Schizoid Man' and was killed. In 'The General' we have a different Number 12. Number Two asks "How long have you been with us, Number 12?" "Me, sir? Quite a long time, sir" is the reply. There are several possibilities here: 'The General' takes place a long time after 'The Schizoid Man'; 'The General' should come before 'The Schizoid Man'; or Number 12 has been with the organisation who runs the Village for a long time but has not actually been in the Village for very long, only being given the Number 12 badge quite recently. The General is mentioned by Number Two in 'The Schizoid Man' (near the end, on the way to the helicopter) and as the General is destroyed at the end of episode 6, 'The Schizoid Man' must come before 'The General'. For me, a better episode order for these three episodes would be 'The Schizoid Man', 'The General', 'A. B. and C.', with perhaps several other episodes placed in between 'The Schizoid Man' and 'The General' to make sense of Number 12 having been in the Village for a long time.

Episode 6: The General

First ITV broadcast: Friday 3rd November 1967, 7.30pm (ATV Midlands/Grampain)
Estimated first run ratings: 9.8 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 13th July 1968, 7.30pm

The episode starts with the view of a helicopter moving over the Village. It can see everything. We cut to the helicopter and then to Number Six sat outside a café, looking up at the helicopter. This gave a reminder of the all-seeing ability of those in charge of the Village, as well as perhaps their god-like power over the inhabitants. The villagers look tiny from the helicopter and every aspect of their lives is controlled by those above them.

There is an announcement. All students taking the History course with the Professor should return home. They are promised "a university degree in three minutes". Number Six is skeptical and whilst looking at a poster ("one hundred per cent entry/ one hundred per cent pass") he talks with Number 12 (John Castle), who urges him to enroll. "The only subject I'm interested in is, um, getting away from this place." "Exactly" comes the reply. Number 12 seems to want to help but we have been here before and it has always ended badly.

On the beach Number Six finds what looks like a small radio playing. It is the Professor speaking to his students. Number Six turns it off and re-buries it. Two men pull over in a car and approach him. They ask him why he isn't taking part in the course. "Are you prefects?" Number Six asks and when they ask what he's doing, he replies "Playing truant". I always like Number Six's quips and there are several in this episode. It is a pleasant reminder that the Village is not getting to him in the way many of the Number Twos would like. He retains his personality and as we know so little about Number Six, this is a nice thing have. One of the men, Number 256, repeats the poster's phrase "100% entry, 100% pass" and urges "Come on. You don't want to start the term with a black mark."

Number Six goes home, gets himself a drink and sits down to watch the Professor's broadcast. The Professor is late. The presenter (Al Mancini) is American and his manner reminds me of Professor Joe Butcher, the TV evangelist in the James Bond movie, Licence to Kill. It's his enthusiasm and approach to the whole thing. During this episode he really tries to sell the 'speed learn' idea and goes on about how wonderful it is. It must also be pointed out that his accent makes him stand out from everyone else in the Village too. So far, I believe I am correct in stating that we have only heard European accents in the Village. The presenter explains "The subject of tonight's lecture is 'Europe Since Napoleon'. A hard, complicated six month's study. Ladies and gentlemen: sit back, relax, watch the screen. We're going to cover it in fifteen seconds flat." The Professor (Peter Howell) appears for a bit and talks about speed learning. Next, a black and white image of a man appears. The camera zooms in on his eyes (very Big Brother/Orwellian), then one eye and then a green light. Number Six stares at the screen. He drops his glass. Then comes out of it and glances round. Number Two (Colin Gordon) and Number 12 arrives. Whilst Number 12 scans the place with some machine, Number Two says that the Professor has lost his recorder. Does Number Six know anything? Of course not... Number Two mentions the lecture and Number Six replies "History's not my subject." Number Two throws some History questions at Number Six and he knows all the answers. Number Two joins in with Number Six's final answer and they both follow each other word for word. When Number Two and Number 12 leave, Number Six picks up the phone and asks the operator the same questions. The operator answers them, exactly the same, word for word like Number Six did.

Those eyes. Big Brother is watching you.
Number Six goes back to get the recorder. It's gone but he hears a branch snap and finds Number 12 behind a bush, who says "You want to get out of this place, don't you?" and offers him the recorder, "Here's your passport." Understandably, Number Six is skeptical. As an audience we are aware that everyone who has ever offered to help him in the past has turned out to be on Number Two's side. "I don't trust Number Two. I don't trust you. And I don't trust your tape, Professor." After Number 12 has gone, Number Six plays the tape. It is the Professor's notes for speaking to his students. He says "Speed learn is an abomination", he calls it "slavery" and they must "destroy the General" in order to be free. Will they be though? Can anyone really be free whilst they remain in the Village?

Later Number Six is in a garden. The Professor's wife (Betty McDowall) was on television before and is around in the garden. Number Six has drawn her in a military uniform, a general's uniform? "So art's your subject too?" she asks. "No. Military history. Generals and that sort of thing..." He shows her the drawing and she tears it up.

Number Six sneaks inside a building nearby. A room is filled with plinths, covered in white sheets. The Professor's wife appears and says "This is a private room." Number Six begins to remove the sheets, revealing busts underneath. One of them is of a Number Two, previously seen at the arts and crafts fair in 'The Chimes of Big Ben', another is of the current Number Two and of Number Six. Suddenly Number Two appears, as does a doctor (Conrad Phillips), who earlier we saw leading the Professor away from his typewriter in an office-type room. The doctor says the Professor is not be disturbed and we see him lying in a bed in the next room. Number Six has picked up a club and bashes the Professor's face in, which is fine, because it isn't really the Professor. It's just a hollow sculpture. I feel like I am missing something as the reason for this is never explained, nor for any of the other sculptures.

Number Six is chuffed with is likeness
Number 12 stages a power-cut so he can come and talk to Number Six without being overheard. He gives him a pen and a couple of chips with the Village's penny farthing design on, asking Number Six to come see him the next day.

There a lot of men in black suits, top hats and black shades. If it wasn't for the shades they would look like undertakers and if it wasn't for the top hats they could be Men in Black. They are all asking to enter a Lecture Approval Session and putting one of the chips into a machine. Think 'Thing' from the Addam's Family because this is what it was inspired by. A little hand reaches out and takes the chips, allowing them through. Number Six is also dressed up, wearing the Number 56 badge, and hangs around before doing the same with one of his own chips. He heads to the projection room, taking out a couple of guards on the way, who are dressed up like US military policy. Whilst taking out the projectionist (Peter Bourne) Number Six gets a cut to his hand. There's a machine with thin tubes and Number Six removes a metal rod from the pen Number 12 gave him, then inserts it into one of the tubes.

We are the Men in Black!
Number Two and the other men in black have had a chat and decided to broadcast the lecture. Images of the different broadcast rooms appear as they check that everyone is ready. Number Two is drawn to the cut on his hand, recognising Number Six sat in the projection room and it's no wonder. He's removed his suit and put on the projectionist's white t-shirt. If he had at least kept his shades on he might have got away with it. Some guards sneak up and knock Number Six out.

Number Six has his arm in a sling and is being interrogated by Number Two and Number 12 ("Who's the head man?" "Santa Claus.") but Two knows it's useless. They take him off to meet the General. They enter the office where the Professor is typing away. Number Two explains "The general can answer anything, given the basic facts." The Professor has just finished typing a piece of paper and puts it into a machine. Out of another section a metal strip with holes in comes out. Number Two says "Allow me to introduce the General." The Professor pulls back a curtain to reveal a huge machine, a great big computer. If you have never seen a 1960s' computer before, imagine the biggest computer you can think of and then make it ten times bigger.

Number Two thinks it is brilliant. They can subliminally deliver huge amounts of knowledge and "no more tedious learning by rote." For now only history, but soon they plan to move onto other things. Number Six is not impressed, commenting that they will get "A row of cabbages", to which Number Two replies "Knowledgeable cabbages."

Number Two wants to demonstrate it's brilliance to Number Six and asks the Professor to note down some information. "Point one: a traitor in the Village. Point two: security pass discs were issued to Number Six. Point three: access to these is through [he looks at Number 12] where? Through where?" "Administration, sir." "Exactly. Put that down. Also that Number 12 is an official in administration. Now ask the General-" Number Six interrupts. "A question that can't be answered." It is clear that Number Two has worked out that Number 12 has been helping Number Six. More on that later...

Number Six says "There is a question that the General cannot answer." "Impossible." Number Two replies. "Allow me to ask it." "No." "You afraid?" "...Go ahead." So Number Six types out the question and puts the paper in the machine. The metal strip comes out and the Professor takes it over to the General. A dial swings to 'DANGER', smoke starts appearing and then there are explosions. Number 12 goes over to help the Professor but they both end up dead on the floor. "What was the question?" Number Two demands. "It's insoluble of man or machine." Number Six answers. "What was it?" "W. H. Y. Question mark." "Why?" "Why."

I can't help but wonder why Number Six did not choose to ask the machine who Number One is. Or where the Village is. Perhaps he thought the machine would not know. Perhaps he knew that the answers didn't matter. They would certainly have been no help to him, only resulting in him knowing a bit more about where he was stuck.

Number Two was about to ask the machine a question that would have exposed Number 12, who was certainly looking very nervous. As in 'A. B. and C.' this episode ends with Number Six getting one over Number Two and the Village. There is no evidence that Number 12 was luring Number Six into a trap and Number Two's suspicion of him appeared genuine. This episode then, is the only time so far that someone else in the Village has genuinely tried to help Number Six, without having an ulterior motive. It wasn't another prisoner either - it was one of the warders. During this episode Number 12 is depicted as Number Two's right-hand man. It confirms that there are people who do want to help Number Six but nonetheless, it still really is impossible to tell who.

Be seeing you.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

The Prisoner - The Schizoid Man

Episode 5: The Schizoid Man

First ITV broadcast: Friday 27th October 1967, 7.30pm (ATV Midlands/Grampian)
Estimated first run ratings: 11.7 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 6th July 1968, 7.30pm

Pay attention. It's going to get complicated. There have been many Number Twos but there is only one Number Six. "I am a person" Number Six proclaimed last week. The Prisoner is very much a programme that emphasises individuality. It is in part about the importance of holding on to one's identity, even when up against a world that wants you to conform. But in 'The Schizoid Man' Number Six becomes more than one person and there's nothing he can do about it. The Prisoner has a double, Number 12, who becomes Number Six, whilst Number Six is meant to be Number 12. The real Number Six is drugged and brainwashed. When he wakes he is in the Number 12 house and everyone calls him Number 12 now. But Number Two wants him to pretend to be Number Six, even though he really is Number Six, in order to confuse Number Six, who is really Number 12, pretending to be Number Six in order to confuse the real Number Six. Still with me? I hope so.

I was incredibly impressed by the scenes in which both Number Sixes appear on screen at the same time. This episode in particular demonstrates what a fantastic actor Patrick McGoohan was. He has a fine repartee with himself and it's interesting watching this change slightly. As the real Number Six begins to doubt himself, he becomes less and less like the Number Six we know (or think we know at least) and starts to turn into a cowering, retreating wreck. The scenes with both Number Sixes were all filmed twice, giving Patrick McGoohan's stunt double, Frank Maher, more work that usual this week. Despite this, he isn't credited.

The episode gives us enough information to know more than the real Number Six does. A light pulsates over his bed before he is taken away on a stretcher by two men in white coats. They also pick up his calendar and his watch. We see that the calendar says 'February 10th'. Next he is sat up in a bed and he is approached with a metal pole. He puts up his right hand but gets a shock. "Left handed, Number 12" he is told. Number Six wakes up in a different bed and as he rubs his face he finds a moustache there. In the wardrobe he finds his black jacket with a '12' badge attached.

Number Six is terrified of moustaches
 Thereafter there are several things to notice. Number Six goes to meet Number Two (Anton Rodgers) and opens the breakfast tins with his left hand. He settles for flapjacks. At least that's what Number Two calls them, but they aren't the flapjack I think of when I hear flapjack. They look like omelettes or pancakes and they are served with lemon wedges. Odd. Number Two tells Number Six (who he's calling Number 12) the plan to impersonate Number Six. "Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he'll crack." This is the whole point of the plan. Get Number Six to crack and he will tell them everything. Number Two attaches a Number Six badge to Six's lapel but Six removes it, telling him "I shan't need this to remind me that am your Number Six." Should we ever doubt the real Number Six during this episode, this is one way to help spot the real one. Number Six has never worn his badge and still refuses to.

Number Six is a gentleman and so when the real Number Six meets the fake Number Six it's all very polite. The real one (wearing his usual black jacket with the white trim) offers the fake one (wearing a white jacket with black trim) a drink and they head to the drinks cabinet. White-Jacket takes ice with his whiskey. Black-Jacket uses matches, not a lighter, to light his cigars. Black-Jacket says "I have a very strong sense of identity." White-Jacket "You? Oh! Oh oh oh yes! I was forgetting - you're supposed to be me. You are the goodie, Number Six, and I am the baddie who's supposed to be proving you wrong, is that it?" "That's right - except there's no supposed about it." In the years before The Prisoner was broadcast cowboy films had been popular. Tradition held that the goodies wore white hats whilst the baddies wore black hats. Kids would always know who they should be cheering for. The Prisoner doesn't usually have such strict goodies and baddies; rather, it is them and us. Or Them and Number Six. This episode there is a definite baddie but interestingly enough, he is wearing the white jacket.
Who is the real Number Six?
The two Number Sixes do some shooting and fencing to try and prove who is better. The fake Number Six gets the better of the real one every time. After some bare-knuckle boxing is started outside the real Number Six is beginning to look like a shadow of his former self. Rover appears and escorts them to Number Two where various tests are done to try and prove who the real Number Six is. At the start of the episode we saw the real Number Six with Number 24, Alison. They have a mental link and she was practicing a mind-reading trick with some magic cards. The real Number Six calls her to Number Two's place and attempts the same thing. But this time she gets almost every card he picks wrong and all of the fake Number Six's right. Alison says she would have known anyway as the real Number Six has a mole on his left wrist. The real one checks and he doesn't, but the fake one does.

That night Number Six looks like he's cracking. As he twitches in his sleep, we hear the voices going through his head and then see him remembering bits and pieces. He remembers when Alison visited she knocked over his soda-siphon and left a bruise on his fingernail. He checks the photograph she gave him afterwards and spots the bruise in the photo. He checks the finger to see that the bruise has moved as the fingernail has grown. Number Six tries to remember and it all comes back to him. The shocks, hypnosis, having his hair cut and dyed. We see him with headphones on, muttering "I am Number 12... I do not smoke cigars... I smoke black cigarettes... Flapjacks are my favourite dish..."

"Left hand only, Number 12."
In the present he takes a white cigarette out and breaks it open. There's a wire inside. Then he does the same with one of his cigars and finds a wire inside it again. The black cigarettes are normal. Reaching for a black cigarette with his left hand, there is a voice over. "Don't forget Number 12 - you're now left handed." The lights flicker in the room and it's clear there is something wrong with the lamp. Number Six picks up the lamp with his left hand and with his right he reaches over for a metal pipe on the wall. He gets a shock and is thrown. Getting up he knocks a box off a table and quickly catches it with his right hand. He is himself again.

After confronting the fake Number Six and getting a password out of him, they both head outside and confronted by Rover, the real Number Six gives the password "Schizoid man". The fake Number Six tries to but Rover edges towards him. He runs and is attacked. This is the only instance that Rover definitely kills someone. Number Six takes the white jacket.

The next day Number Six, now pretending to be Number 12, goes to see Number Two. Speaking of the operation, Number Six tells Number Two "It was your idea." "That's a strange thing to say. You know it wasn't." Number Six collects Number 12's things. He picks up a wallet that contains a photo of a woman. As he and Number Two take a taxi to the helicopter, Number Two remarks "I remember Susan saying only a month ago that you're generally quite unflappable." As Number Six gets into the helicopter, Number Two says "You won't forget to give Susan my regards, will you?" "I won't." Number Six is blindfolded. The helicopter takes off. It lands and Number Six gets out, removing the blindfold. Number Two is standing there. "Susan died a year ago, Number Six."

Like last week's episode, 'The Schizoid Man' ends with some frustration. Number Six had won, he had beaten them and he was going to escape in a rather brilliant way. Yet it was all taken away at the last moment. It was something he couldn't have known and couldn't have predicted. All the episodes show Number Six striving to maintain his individuality and sense of self, but none more than this one show to what lengths the Village's controllers will do in order to take it away.

One final point. The Village is described early on as 'an international community' yet I believe this is the first episode in which we have seen any inhabitants who aren't white. One of Number Two's assistants, Number 106, is played by a black man, Earl Cameron, and has a few appearances during the episode. There is also an Indian man wearing a turban who greets Number Six as he comes out of the Number 12 house, "Good morning, Number 12." The in-story explanation I have come up for this is that the Village has been created by the British and most of its inhabitants are there, it seems, as a result of knowing Cold War secrets. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, it would make sense that the majority of those involved are white, although you would still expect to see a few more non-white faces there. The real-world explanation is far more simple: The Prisoner was filmed in Portmeirion, a small place in North Wales, where there isn't very much apart from the beautiful scenery. There would not be many reasons for immigrants to move there and so the population stays white. This is reflected in The Prisoner as many of the locals were used as extras.

Be seeing you.