The Prisoner

[This post contains information that spoils the end of both television shows titled "The Prisoner". You have been warned.]

I am a huge honking fan of the 1968 television show, "The Prisoner" which was created by its star, Patrick McGoohan. I've spent 20 years thinking about it, and how it has affected my life, and it's not the kind of thing that I can explain in a single blog post. I can probably sum up the show, though, since many people are at a loss as to what it all means. (It's all explained in the last episode, actually.) It's an exploration of the the role of the individual in society. This has been noted elsewhere. The point McGoohan ultimately hits is that most of the great heroes of literature and history were individuals. We, as individuals, adore individuals. However we, as a society, seek to assimilate and destroy them. The reason? Most of the great villains of literature and history were individuals as well. Number 1 is also, pretty much by definition, an individual, right?

So, if both ends of the hero-villain spectrum represent extreme individualism, what distinguishes them? Most villains see themselves above society, and either seek to dominate it or ignore it altogether. Heroes see the fullness of society and seek to protect other people from its more destructive aspects. This is made explicit in the penultimate episode of the original series, when Number 6 says it, "POP. Protect. Other. People." Really, you can't miss it. [Skip to 1:50 in this video.]

Anyway, that's why I think this recent Prisoner miniseries, produced by AMC, ultimately succeeds. It succeeds, by which I mean that it is a coherent and logical structure, but I can't say that I like where it goes. It's like that excellent novel you feverishly read to the very end because it's such a well oiled machine of a novel, and then throw across the room because the machine winds up grinding the main character into a smooth paste.

The original Prisoner series was about society trying to trap our individual. Society has every method to convince an individual to assimilate. At the end, our hero avoids every trap of society, even the urge to lead, and survives intact and secure. In this new version of the Prisoner, the Village tries a trap the old one did not. What if the Village itself is a method to protect other people, people who need to be protected? It snaps shut on the leg of our hero with a clang. A clang of success, certainly, but our hero fails.

I can't like it, but I must wonder what McGoohan's Six would have done. A trap to catch a king?"

2009.11.18 at 9:00am EST