September 16, 2007

Sundays in the Village: The Schizoid Man

When last we saw Number 6, he had successfully destroyed a major indoctrination project in the Village. He has repeatedly thwarted the attempts of Number 2 to learn about his resignation. In "The Schizoid Man", the new Number 2 arrives at a very devious, extremely malicious plan - turn Number 6 into a co-conspirator (through drugs, operant conditioning, and other means), and basically break him down through an extended mind game. Or, to quote the episode directly:
"Your job, Number 12, will be to impersonate him (Number 6). Take his sense of reality away. Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he'll crack"
This is one of those episodes of The Prisoner that is something of a mixed bag - if you gave the story a letter grade, it would be a B+, but only because of the last 15 minutes...and ironically, even though it misuses the word "schizoid" in 1960's terms, Number 6 seems to fit the DSM-4 criteria.

The episode crackles along, with Number 6 and Number 12 (or "Number 6 version 2) playing an unusual game of psychological oneupmanship. The symbolism is sharp (both in terms of who wears which color jacket, as well as Alison, or Number 24, "divided" by Numbers 2, 6, and 12), the dialogue crackles (Number 6's insults of Number 12 being from "the people's copying service" and "the economy pack"), and the irony of Number 12 "asserting" that he is Number 6 is subtle. The overall goal seems to begin with "Getting the information from Number 6" (on a "I know something you don't know" basis), but as Number 2 so malevolently points out, "By the time we're finished...he won't know whether he's Number 6 or the cube root of infinity". In these terms, the episode works as a great example of psychological manipulation.

However, there are a few things about this episode that, well, ring slightly false.

First, this episode uses ESP as a plot point, and quite frankly, I have a slight bias against the use of ESP. Often, it is used as a "magical" device, and given The Prisoner's bias towards realistic science, it is slightly misused here. (There is an alleged "mental link" between Number 6 and Allison; however, given that the dialogue indicates a 68 - 74% success rate in mind reading, all it suggests is that Number 6 should never play poker with Allison). I can believe in the fantastic, whether it is a time-travelling alien in a box bigger on the inside than on the outside, or that a ship can surpass the speed of light; I cannot believe that telepathy is given a "serious" treatment in this episode.

In addition, the last fifteen minutes are rushed, with various plot points being hammered home in a variety of cliches. (And there's no first-time-for-this-cliche either). It could have used another run through the typewriter; the fact that it leads to a "failed escape attempt" on Number 6's part just seems rushed.

Finally - and this is more of a general complaint - we see a Haitian and (presumably) a Sikh. That's not the complaint - other than those individuals and a female Asian in "Arrival", the Village seems totally non-diverse in terms of its population. Granted, it is unfair to compare a 1960s show (created by a man born in the 1920s) to 21st century standards. Just to put in perspective: at that time, there was a pioneering African-American male in the lead of an espionage drama, a leading co-star in the major hit of the day (which also featured an Asian guest star in its first season), two shows featuring a mixed cast, including a show focusing on young people and one which featured a paraplegic detective.

All of those were "formula" shows, yet demonstrated some movement towards diversity. It's a shame that The Prisoner - focusing on the fear of "one world" - never approached that. Or was it deliberate?

Who knows: after all, “Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.”

Coming soon to Sundays in the Village:

“I know every nut and bolt and cog--I built it with my own hands!”

“I understand. The fact that you won't explain . . . explains everything.”

“To borrow one of Number Two's sayings: `The butcher with the sharpest knife . . . has the warmest heart.' ”

"A weak link in the chain of command. Waiting to be broken"

Be seeing you.

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