October 7, 2007

Sundays in the Village: A Change of Mind

"We deplore your spirit of disharmony"
Number 6:"That's...a common complaint around here, isn't it?
Originally, I was going to review "A Change of Mind" along with "Hammer Into Anvil", but two things prevented me. One is that "Hammer Into Anvil" is an extremely intense episode that deserves its own column. But more importantly, recent events involving a presidential candidate and his unwillingness to "demonstrate his patriotism" make our present entry timely. Well, that and the Chicago Public Library's One Book, One Chicago selection.

"A Change of Mind" is The Prisoner at its most allegorical...and its most Orwellian. The allegory is razor sharp, and serves as a timeless critique of movements ranging from the Red Scare to political correctness. It's also one of my favorite episodes, but for a different reason - for one year, I attended a for-profit graduate school in psychology. While there, I encountered several dangerous tendencies towards groupthink, including being forced to leave due to an individual deciding to "leak" information from a confidential group therapy class, thereby painting me in a negative light. Luckily, after a year off, I attended a real graduate school...but enough of my ranting - onto the episode.
Number 2: There is a saying: "The slowest mule is nearest to the whip"
Number 6: Yes, and another: "He who digs a pit will one day lie in it
The story begins with Villagers taunting Number 6, proclaiming that is behavior is "not (that) of a citizen", and that he will be brought before the "committee" for their unique "social work". It is this episode which sharply analyzes how group behavior can slowly, but surely, degenerate into mass hysteria. Most of the Villagers' dialog consists mainly of buzzwords: "Disharmony". "Believe me" "Reactionary! Rebel! Disharmonious!" All this helps whip the Village against Number 6, who is determined to be "unmutual", which is "doubleplusungood"for Number 6.

What furthers this is Number 2, who serves as the kindly, Big Brother-esque leader of the situation. Much like Lou Ford in Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, this Number 2 decides to "kill with kindness", using banal phrases in an attempt to wear down his opposition. Since Number 6 will not overtly cooperate, Number 2 enlists the help of Number 86 (who is an attractive blonde, and not Maxwell Smart) to insure Number 6's cooperation, eventually leading to a high tech lobotomy to reduce Number 6's resistance.

Or does it?

As the lobotomy sequence proceeds, we see that on some level, The Prisoner reflects much of the "mental-illness-as-unconventional-thinking" philosophy of Thomas Szasz. However, it is soon revealed that the goal is to keep Number 6 drugged through Mytol (which, believe it or not, is a real drug), and Number 2 attempts to utilize the situation to gain the holy grail: the reason behind Number 6's resignation. We're given a tantalizing clue - Number 6 mutters "Time to think" - but soon, Number 6 turns the tables on Number 2, and uses the Village groupthink against its initiator.

Admittedly, this is one of the episodes directed by Patrick McGoohan, and it's well paced...except for the ending. Production around this time was hectic, with McGoohan and script editor George Markstein clashing over the direction (Markstein wanting a more conventional espionage thriller, McGoohan wishing a more allegorical direction). There are several episodes of The Prisoner that deal with the psychology of power and control between individuals. This week's episode handles group dynamics...but what about psychological dominance?

Coming soon:

What if...the roles were reversed, and Number 6 "tested" Number 2?

What if...Number 6 was played by another actor?

What if...The Prisoner took place in the American West in the late 19th Century?

Be Seeing You.

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