November 4, 2007

Sundays in the Village: Once Upon a Time

"I'm not an inmate....You can say what you like, you brought me back here. I told you last time, you were using the wrong approach. I do it my way, or you find somebody else."
"Once Upon A Time" was one of the first episodes of The Prisoner to be produced - it was supposed to close the first 13-episode season. And, in my opinion, should have been the finale closer, beating David Chase to the punch by 40 years.

It's hard to write about this episode objectively, or to discuss the plot - not because of spoilers, but because this episode is well-directed, well-written, and well-acted. We see the return of Leo McKern's Number 2, perhaps still smarting from his last failed attempt to break Number 6. After checking out Number 6 in his "natural habitat" (asking repeatedly, "Why do you care?"), and watching a montage of early clips, Number 2 invokes "Degree Absolute" - basically, a psychological cage match. Two men go in, find the missing link, put it together...than bang! (Of course, Number 2 did not account for the amount of transference and countertransference that would happen...but that would be a spoiler, now, wouldn't it?)

But what's revelatory about this episode is how stripped down it is...and how effective it is in revealing much about the characters of Number 6 and McKern's Number 2. We learn that Number 2 considers himself flawed (as he himself stated, "I was a good man once", and reluctant to go back to his old Village ways. But we learn much more about Number 6 - his issues with his father (perhaps presaging his rebelliousness?), his unwillingness to kill (perhaps fulfilling this theory?), but most importantly, another rationale for his resignation ("Peace of mind....Too many people know too much...").

But ultimately, why do I feel this should have been the last episode? Ultimately, it took the themes of The Prisoner and distilled them into a battle between two men: the man who would not conform vs. the man who did and regretted it. In many ways, Number 2 and Number 6 are flip sides of the same coin. Plus, the way the episode ends leaves it open for multiple interpretations, and would have set up an interesting context to view the previous episodes. Although it still would have come up as insufficient in answering questions (Who is Number 1? Who runs the Village? Who is Number 6, and why did he resign?), it would have ended the series on an excellent note - it's an episode that's as perfect as a three minute pop single.

This episode should have been the finale.

Instead, we got Fall Out.

But more on that - and the graphic novel sequel - next week.

Be seeing you.

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