August 12, 2007

Sundays in the Village: Free For All

Prisoner Free For All
Originally uploaded by Gordon D
Number 2: We want information... information... information.
Number 6: You won't get it.
Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.

Having failed to acquire the information through crook (i.e., the traitorous Cobb in Arrival), the new Number 2 decides to get it by hook - appeal to Number 6's sense of wanting change. Appeal to the sense of changing the system from within. And what better way than through elections? Encourage someone with an ambition that his best strategy is to get next to Number One...and be the power behind the throne?

"Free for All" had traditionally been televised fourth in the series - however, given that it was the second episode written and produced for The Prisoner, it makes much more sense to be second. (And for those who would argue that "Dance of the Dead" should be second, let me suggest that psychologically - and I will touch upon this next week - it is easier to ostracize someone who tries to upset the apple cart than it is to integrate a rabble rouser). In addition, written by Patrick McGoohan, it is probably one of the more "conventional" episodes, with many excellent lines ("Are you planning to run?"/"Like blazes, the first chance I get"), just be seen as openly contemptuous of "democratic" processes, and the similarly aligned observations about those elected. It's also a meditation on how easily, when given power, the noblest of us forget about the simplest truths about freedom and choice.

"Everyone votes for a dictator"

I have to admit that "Free For All" has some personal resonance for me as well - not just because I grew up in a city where politics was (and is) a contact sport. After I had moved to St. Louis, I was encouraged to run for the Steering Committee for a local group whose mission was to attract and retain young talent to the city. After losing two elections...for the same chair the same opponent....I became a little jaded. (Of course, I ended up running three uncontested races and served for a year and a half). In time, after being "drafted" into serving as elections commissioner, with two sides deciding not to play by their own rules, I had enough and left the organization. The fact that I retain my name and am not exiled in Wales speaks volumes.

This is said to provide context - "Free for All" always resonated with the I'll-show-them spirit. The willingness to make greater effort to change a perceivedly corrupt system. And through the episode, McGoohan shows that the Village is suspect. The current "council" is comprised of silent, still figures. After an abortive attempt to confront them, he is sent to a "civil servant" (who, according to one character, adapted to the Village rather quickly) who gives him a seemingly "telepathic" truth test. (Although, quite frankly, I think of it as a perversion of positive and negative conditioning - the Village powers-that-be assume Number 6's reasons, and are acting accordingly). And throughout all this, Number 2 both acts as ally (a drunken encounter in a secret cave) and enemy (the resulting political speeches). In short, it's no wonder that the name of the pub is the "Cat and Mouse" - McGoohan seems to suggest that politics is a cat and mouse game, with one person trying their hardest to vie for the votes - and approval - of the crowd. (At one point, when addressing his fellow residents, as Number 6 announces a policy of "Less work...more play", he - and McGoohan - share a smile that says I can't believe I'm actually getting away with this.

Ultimately, towards the end, there is a lesson which Number 6 forgets. After he wins the election, he then announces throughout the Village that they are "free to go"...and they remain. Despite his promises, Number 6 forgets that freedom is a double edged sword...and that the Villagers are also free to stay. (It's a sentiment that's prevented me from chastising some of my blogging brethen when arguing about the possibility of universal health care, or when a friend gushes over a candidate who spits out platitudes and promises).

In a slightly clever twist at the end, Number 6 is painfully reminded that there are various "ways and means" by which the Village will get the information in his head. He has drawn further attention to himself...and has branded himself a troublemaker.

The game has only started.

Coming in the next few weeks: Number 6 attends Carnival. The world's largest chess game. And, of course, Leo McKern.

Be seeing you.

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