As we learn in Episode 1, Number 6 can't leave. The Village's "citizens" might dress colorfully and stroll around its manicured gardens while a band plays bouncy Strauss marches, but the place is actually a prison. Surveillance is near total, and if all else fails, there's always the large, mysterious white ball that subdues potential escapees by temporarily smothering them. Who runs the Village? An ever-changing Number 2, who wants to know why Number 6 resigned. If he'd only cooperate, he's told, life can be made very pleasant. "I've resigned," he fumes. "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own." So sets the stage for the ultimate battle of wills: Number 6's struggle to retain his privacy, sanity, and individuality against the array of psychological and physical methods the Village uses to break him.
So does he ever escape? And does he ever find out who Number 1 is? "Questions are a burden to others," the Village saying goes. "Answers, a prison for oneself." Within this complete 17-episode set (which contains the entire series), all is revealed. Or is it? --Steve Landau
Viewer 1: "He got out."
Viewer 2: "No he didn't."
Viewer 1: "Yes he did."
Viewer 2: "No he didn't!"
Viewer 1: "He was driving down the A2 in Kent!!!"
Viewer 2: "It's allegorical you idiot!!!"
Anyway, such erudite musings aside, what can be said about The Prisoner that hasn't been said before? I'm not sure, so I'll just make a few observations and leave it up to you to decide if you want to go along for the ride.
In my view, The Prisoner, more than any other show or film, succeeded in creating it's own perfect reality and internal logic. The "village" itself, the numbers, the mind-numbing musak, the cheery announcements, the "Tally Ho," the ever changing No.2, and of course, the ever present "Rover."
Of all the iconic images in the show, McGoohan striding down the tunnel on his way to resign, driving home in his Lotus 7 and being stalked by the hearse, the Penny Farthing bicycles, the Mini Moke taxi's, the "groovy" 60's atmosphere, costumes and music - Austin Powers wasn't even close! - the crazy seesaw spinning endlessly in the Control Room, the Supervisor intoning "Orange Alert," it's "Rover" that leaves an indelible mark. What the Hell is it?! Is it alive, is it mechanical, is it both?!?!?! I dunno, but I certainly wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night in Portmeirion... I wouldn't even want to tangle with the "Baby Rovers" that appear in a couple of episodes!
I saw The Prisoner, as a child, when it was first broadcast back in the late 60's, in Dear Old Blighty. I didn't have a clue as to what was going on, but it was weird, immediately grabbed my attention, and fired my imagination! Seeing it again over the years, and finally buying it on video, I started to see deeper into the story, and formed an even greater appreciation for what McGoohan had achieved.
As far as the "order" debate is concerned, I think this 10 DVD set has got it just about right. No.6 mentions in a few episodes that he's "new here," or he's only "just arrived," these episodes have been moved 'up' in the running order, which makes perfect sense. And when you view the set as a whole, you now see the methods used to try and break No.6 growing more extreme and desperate as the series continues, 'til they culminate in the psychological battle that is "Once Upon A Time," again, a perfectly logical progression.
As far as my own personal favorite episodes are concerned, I would go with...
ARRIVAL: It sets the whole thing up!
FREE FOR ALL: Love that line, "Obey me and be free!"
A, B, & C: Gotta love the "... groovy party!" and the scene near the end where No.6 walks into the "treatment room" in his dream, and No.2 and No.48 spin around to look at the door behind them as it opens and closes on the screen in front of them!
CHECKMATE: Poor No.6, was he a little too clever for his own good this time?
THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN: Or should that be "Big Bill?" I enjoy this one specifically because of the interplay between No.6 and No.2, played by the wonderful Leo McKern.
THE SCHIZOID MAN: Two No.6's for the price of one, and the only episode where "Rover" is mentioned by name.
HAMMER INTO ANVIL: It's such fun watching No.2 lose the plot, an incredible, scenery chewing, Patrick Cargill.
LIVING IN HARMONY: A "psychedelic" western, man!
ONCE UPON A TIME: A breathtaking battle of wills between No.6 and No.2, once again played to perfection by Leo McKern!
The Prisoner is unique amongst television shows, it was a product of, and a comment on, its time... and ours. An examination of the Human Condition, of the individuals right to BE an individual, within a conformist Society.
It entertains, it mystifies, it challenges. It has hokey computers, wildly exaggerated fisticuffs, that wonderful 60's ambience... and "Rover!" Enter the village, and you may never leave!
I first saw this wonderful series as a 14 year old back in 1968, when it appeared as a summer replacement for "The Jackie Gleason Show" on CBS. While certainly a product of its time, its questions not only remain timeless but all the more relevant today, when privacy is at an even greater premium & the individual is bombarded with an endless deluge of homogenized consumer, political & cultural inanity & propaganda.
What began as a mystery/suspense series quickly became something much deeper, much richer -- but creator & star McGoohan was smart enough to provide plenty of excitement & adventure for those viewers who wanted nothing more than that (although the densely symbolic final episodes must have proven frustrating for them). In various episodes, the series explores the limits of democracy; the role of the media in shaping public opinion; the various aspects of supposedly benign Big Brotherism (both from Left & Right); the perversions of science & technology, often used to mold & control people rather than serve them; the morality of violence in service of the State; the boundary between individual conscience & community need ... and we're just getting started!
The dichotomy between the outer holiday atmosphere of the seaside Village & the cold, ruthless interior is powerful. Every episode is a goldmine of pithy, thought-provoking dialogue & startling images, often achieved by very simple means.
Complaints about the quality of the special effects completely miss the point. That's like concentrating on the flashy surface of the Village while ignoring what's going on beneath. In fact, the current emphasis on special effects in so many reviews only goes to prove that the triumph of style over substance is even more pervasive today than it was when this show was originally made. Rather than spoon-feed the viewers pre-digested ideas, it demands that they use their imaginations & actually THINK!
So visit the Village ... but be warned: once you go there, you'll never truly escape it. Most highly recommended!