August 5, 2007

Sundays in the Village: Arrival

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a television program that has had as much of an influence on popular culture in the past 20 years as Star Trek did on the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it's even so cool as to have been parodied on The Simpsons. It's a challenging, thought-provoking piece, integrating a slightly intellectual edge into its subplots involving espionage and individuality. In the spirit of Balactus' Friday Night Fights and the incomparable Bully's Wodehouse a Week, there is a few feature on this blog - each week, I will watch one of the 17 episodes and blog about it. (I'll be following the order of the The Prisoner - Complete Series Megaset on A & E rather than the "official" televised order. The A & E order falls roughly into chronological order, it makes for some more interesting takes on episodes, and quite frankly - it's the order my Prisoner DVDs are in. So there.

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own.”

When I had blogged about Jericho, one of my complaints was that, for a pilot, it had failed to do what it set out to do - set up the story and engage the viewer to tune in next week. "Arrival", essentially the pilot for The Prisoner, actually provides multiple bangs for the buck. Within an hour, the viewer is introduced to
  • Our main protagonist
  • The actions he takes that leads to his being incarcerated in the Village
  • His "arrival" in the Village
  • The setup of the main conflict (Number 6 versus Number 2 to gain the reasons for his resignation)
  • An initial "plot" (an old and new colleague are used to manipulate Number 6)
  • An initial "replacement" for Number 2
  • An introduction to life in the Village, including Rover
  • An iteration of the initial themes - individuality versus conformity, doing the right thing versus doing the easy thing, and the fact that (as another person says it), "We're all pawns, m'dear"
In fact, if anything, this pilot may be slightly overstuffed, but then again - this was a show that was not done with a "bible" in place. In fact, popular legend has it that McGoohan wanted seven episodes, the production company wanted 22, they compromised on 17. It's also the kind of episode that, if taken alone or followed up with much weaker episodes, could have been seen as a one-joke series like Gilligan's Island or Star Trek: Voyager - "Ok, is this the episode where the crew of the Minnow/Number 6 gets off the island/Voyager comes back to Earth." The production on this episode is critical, especially the details that pop out - Number 6's car heading for the "Way Out" tunnel; the echoing of Number 6's footsteps in the hall similar to the classic Point Blank; the appearance of two world maps on his boss' wall...and that's just before the main action begins.

New No.2: “Good day, Number Six.”
No.6: “Number what?”
New No.2: “Six. For official purposes, everyone has a number. Yours is number 6.”
No.6: “I am not a number, I am a person.”

But it's when Number 6 arrives at the Village that the stakes increase - we are not told anything about Number 6's formal duties. We know he resigned; in fact, Number 2 asserts that they know why he resigned. However, they know he has information, and assert that Number 6 was an unquestioning agent. However, a key sequence - when Number 2 shows a series of surveillance videos, suggesting a pre-Village paranoia in Number 6 - really shifts our understanding.

No longer is this about a man who resigns out of conscience, or who just wanted to leave - this is a man who seems to consistently bristle against authority, maybe secretly, but now it's more overt. Now, rather than emerge into "freedom" from bureaucracy and stricture, his identity is stripped down to a number, and ironically, does not even get anonymity - the very thing he is fighting against does not exist. He is known as someone with critical information, and who asserts that he will leave the Village.

(As a side note - does anyone know if someone has done an analysis of The Prisoner using the philosophy of Ayn Rand? I am far from being an objectivist, and don't believe that Ayn Rand is necessarily evil, but I am aware that she has handed these themes in one of her first novels. As someone whose thought and values were shaped by this show, I am curious to see if such an analysis exists, and what it says)

The rest of the episode serves as a kind of template (Number Two has a plan/Number Six fights that plan/Number Six gains a moral victory) for several other episodes in the series...but chillingly, a quote towards the end, where a hereby silent character tells another "We're all pawns" seems chillingly prescient.

I'm sure, right now, Patrick McGoohan is shaking his head while in retirement from acting. He could not have seen an age where we are more numbers than individuals. Our personal information is often shared for commercial purposes. From blogs to internet tracking, there's nothing that seems "personal and confidential." One can, for a price, track personal information for another person on the Internet. Reality television provides a nicely edited yet voyeuristic look into our lives. Memories are coopted into commercial endeavors, and even The Prisoner is due for not one, but two remakes.

Welcome, one and all, to the Village. Consider this new series of blogs my attempt to get you thinking. At the very least, it will help you increase your Netflix queue.

Be seeing you.


Roger Green said...

Citing Ayn Rand: Don't you know youse comic book guyz ain't s'posed to be be book learned or nothin'?

Bully said...

A wonderful idea for a series of posts! Love this show and interested in seeing your analysis and discussion of it.

Any chance you'll follow it up with a look at DC's weird Prisoner comic book?

Gordon said...


Actually, DC's comic will (more than likely) be blogged with or after FALL OUT.

(I've just reread SHATTERED VISAGE, which - as a Prisoner fan - I find a lot more satisfying than FALL OUT. Go figure)