Patrick McGoohan's classic 1967 miniseries begins as an offbeat spy thriller and ends as a surrealistic allegory. It concerns an ex-secret agent (McGoohan) held captive in The Village, a prison camp that looks like a vacation resort. Everyone is identified solely by number, and our protagonist is No. 6. The Village is managed by No. 2, who reports to an unseen and unidentified No. 1 -- and who gets replaced regularly. THEY want to know why No. 6 resigned, he wants to know who THEY are and where he is.
A&E presents the miniseries in a revised order, intended to arrange events in their proper sequence, but having several additional benefits:
-Showing No. 6's increasing level of confidence and command of his situation
-Beginning with some of the more surrealistic episodes (in set 1), thus foreshadowing the surrealistic and allegorical conclusion.
-Keeping the original concept as intact as possible. McGoohan wanted only seven episodes, but was required to do seventeen. A&E groups five of the seven "essentials" together, at the beginning, in McGoohan's prescribed order. All ten additional episodes are inserted before the two that must conclude the series.
"Checkmate" is now one of the early episodes because of a reference to No. 6 being new. It also gives us our first look at the kind of "treatment" one gets in the hospital. I suspect "Checkmate" was originally postponed to save the large-scale escape attempt for later, but I feel it shows that No. 6 still had a lesson to learn. He'd progressed beyond the half-baked escape attempt in "Free for All," but still hadn't learned how few people he could trust. Although I felt the specific reason for his plan's failure was a bit predictable, I also found it interesting in light of how one of the BIG QUESTIONS would ultimately be answered in the final episode. A&E corrects a technical blooper found in the MPI release. "Checkmate" is an episode where the actor who will play No. 2 also performs the introductory dialog. But in the MPI release, the first few lines are done with that "generic" No. 2 (Robert Rietty) before switching to the correct voice -- with a rather obvious splice.
"Chimes of Big Ben" has been moved from second* to fifth -- which makes perfect sense to me. Yes, it also makes sense to put one of the more straightforward episodes at the beginning, but, as A&E points out, "Chimes" takes place over several months and establishes that No. 6 has been missing for several months, so it cannot precede the three episodes that call No. 6 "new." Furthermore, No. 6 has completed his transition from defensive to offensive tactics, and knows his way around The Village, as evidenced by his taking charge with Nadia. Two details that stood out for me were (1) his giving Nadia the nonalcoholic liquor spiel we saw him getting in "Free for All," and (2) his telling Nadia that an attempt to escape by sea has already been tried -- presumably a reference to "Checkmate." And it seems that No. 6 has learned his lesson from "Checkmate." This time, he involves only Nadia in his escape attempt, because she's a new arrival and hasn't been infected by Village mentality -- or so he believes. What I find interesting about the ending is that it combines victory and defeat. No. 6 fails to escape, but thwarts a plan to trick him into revealing information. The ending also suggest that his own people might be running The Village.
And now for the nonessential episodes. "A. B. and C." originally came early -- third* -- at least partly, I suspect, because it's both straightforward and upbeat. No. 6 doesn't escape, but he does make fools of No. 2 and the lady doctor who's been enlisted to help force information out of him. A&E places this episode later because dangerous drugs wouldn't have been used on No. 6 until other methods had failed. I agree with this reasoning, and would add two more points. First, No. 6 appears to have taken as much command of his station as possible. Second. I prefer this episode as an antidote to "Free for All," rather than a setup for the defeatism of that episode. I also find No 2's terrified discourse with No. 1 on the red phone interesting now that I've seen the whole miniseries and thus know who No. 1 is.
"The General" is what I call a "side trip" episode. Departing from the central conflict, it concerns an instant university-level education that's really a scheme to brainwash most of the Village population This episode introduces us to the gray-uniformed, white-helmeted goons we'll see in the final episode, as well as some of the equipment and underground corridors seen in that episode.
This is one place where I would debate A&E's order. Yes, "General" must come after "A. B. and C." because it features the same No. 2, who states the "No. 6 and I are old friends." But should it come IMMEDIATELY afterward? A&E theorizes that No. 1 said, "Okay, you get one more chance," but he could have just as easily said "You're fired," then later, "I'm calling you back in," as implied by the original order*. A&E also claims "General" must precede "Schizoid Man,"because the No. 12 in "General" has been there "a long time," and so can't logically appear after the recently-arrived No. 12 in "Schizoid Man." This makes it wrong to put "General" IMMEDIATELY after "Schizoid Man," but the insertion of several episodes in between would solve the plausibility problem.
The bonus material in this set is limited, but that's not a major problem, considering it includes four episodes. I do wish, however, that the alternate version of "Chimes of Big Ben" had been put here instead of in set 1.
*In both the U.K. and U.S.