October 21, 2007

Sundays in the Village: Forsaking Harmony

Living in Harmony
Originally uploaded by Gordon D
This week's two-fer shares one thing in common: a slight reference to High Noon, the "existential Western" that shares a similar one-man-against- the-community theme with The Prisoner. One episode references a key song; the other a genre. And looking at both episodes, the differences are astounding.

"Do Not Forsake Me O My Darling" is...a mess. It isn't even a redeemable mess, or even a Get Smart-esque satire. Filmed while McGoohan was off working on Howard Hughes' favorite movie, the script is uneven and cliche, the acting is poor, and provides little - if any - information about Number 6 or the Village. It's about a step away from being openly mocked by Bill, Kevin and Mike. Your life won't be changed if you never catch this episode. Definitely worth avoiding.

However, "Living in Harmony" - allegedly not shown in its original run in 1968 for various reasons (including a strong anti-Vietnam message, concerns about violence and drug use portrayed onscreen) - is not only an effective episode, but serves to provide some really interesting grist for the mill. In this episode, the Prisoner is recast as a Western, with Number 6 attempting to "leave" as sheriff, only to find himself in the town of Harmony. Like in many episodes of The Prisoner, Number 6 (or "The Man With No Name") finds himself in situations similar to a usual Prisoner episode - fighting for a troubled young lady, as well as meeting up with a young not-quite-there gunfighter...until we learn that it has all been a massive role play - the 1960's equivalent of "virtual reality."

However, "Living in Harmony", I think, contains a key piece of insight - something which tends to get overlooked, but I think is a great possible "theory" behind Number 6's resignation.

At one point, in Harmony, Number 6 tells "the Mayor" that he will take "the badge, not the gun" - we see Number 6 relinquish firearms at the beginning of the episode, and throughout he relies more on bare fist fighting for self-defense. However, at a later point in the episode, Number 6 takes a gun...and turns in his badge. (It's actually one of two instances we see Number 6 pick up a weapon - the second will be in "Fall Out"). Granted, Number 6 is really drugged and being fed information, but given that even under the best of circumstances, there are still opportunities for Freudian slips - for Number 6 to reveal information even subconsciously.

What do we know from previous episodes? Number 6 was a good worker who rarely, if ever, questioned orders. He distrusts women, but repeatedly runs to the rescue of "damaged" women. "Many Happy Returns" shows Number 6 revealing an open disdain for gun runners. He has cited that his resignation is both a "matter of conscience" and that he needed "time to think".

Scenario - Number 6 is placed on an assignment that involves the deliberate taking of human life, an assignment which goes against his moral code. During this assignment, he works with/is under the influence of a woman - a woman who initially demonstrates a weakness and/or "need to be rescued", but who ultimately ends up betraying him. (Think "Big Ben" or "Schizoid Man"). During this assignment, Number 6 is forced - for survival reasons - to shoot and kill this particular woman. As a result, he realizes that his job will force him to make difficult choices - and by taking a deliberate life, he needs time to consider what he has done, and how he wishes to conduct himself in the espionage world. In short, how does a moral man "live in harmony" with an amoral environment?

This scenario accounts for many aspects presented in the series, yet still leaves the question of "what information does Number 6 possess?" open for speculation. It helps us understand why Number 6 relies on his brains/fists so frequently (more personal way of contact, and does not bring up a very painful situation). This scenario also allows for Number 6 to simultaneously distrust women (especially the four-legged variety) and yet act out of some chivalrous code in other situations. (It also explains why his relationship with his "fiance", Janet, seems rather distant in "Do Not Forsake Me...") Finally, we understand why Number 6 absolutely refuses to cooperate with the Village - he is very much like Rorschach in Watchmen, a man unwilling to bend to make life easier, who refuses to compromise his principles.

Even in the face of Armageddon.

Which, in series terms, is about three episodes away.

Coming soon: A charming distraction. The episode that should have ended Prisoner. The one that did. And the graphic novel sequel.

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