The Prisoner: The Chimes of Big Ben   Rewatch 
July 4, 2014 4:35 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

A new prisoner, Number Eight, arrives in The Village. An arts and crafts exhibition is held.

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posted by DevilsAdvocate (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ah, I had a comment relating to this from the Arrival thread:
The A&E DVD has an alternate version of Chimes of Big Ben on the same disc, and the conclusion to that episode does make it very clear to 6 that his government is in on the cover-up. I can't remember if that's the first time it's revealed to him -- he certainly doesn't seem very surprised or shocked by it.
I'm more episodes in now than I was when I wrote that. Has it been explicitly revealed to him before this episode? Maybe not. Is he surprised? Certainly not: he has been questioning who and/or what side(s) run the Village for many episodes.

The other thing that watching the alternate cut illustrates is how essential the music in The Prisoner is in setting the off-kilter mood. The alternate cut is mostly unscored, and with different music dropped in over some scenes; and the missing music really makes a big difference.

(Also: much of the music is very earwormy. I have been finding myself humming the jaunty "Number Six investigates" theme to myself as I putter around the house.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:51 PM on July 4, 2014

I was looking up Richard Wattis, who plays Fotheringay in this episode and had a recurring role as one of John Drake's handlers in Danger Man, and I found this excellent site detailing all the actors who've appeared on both shows.

It's actually a very long list. I realize there are practical reasons why this happened (the pool of TV actors is not infinite; they were people the production team already knew), but I love the idea that 6 is surrounded by ghosts -- that the chess-playing general and Alison and Mrs. Butterworth can be read as doppelgangers for people from his past, mostly strangers that he barely remembers.
posted by thesmallmachine at 10:09 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

-I've been maligning "Chimes" a little over the course of this rewatch for the way its placement as the series' second episode makes 6 seem prematurely embittered, but it's just about perfect as the fourth or fifth. 6 has reasons now to be cynical about Nadia, to assume she's a plant, and to have contingencies in place to check that the escape isn't a ploy, even as the shared ordeal (with its torturous aspects of sleeplessness, pain, the threat of death applied and removed) brings him closer to a state of trust.

-The way he treats her makes more sense right at this juncture, too -- adopting the same smug knowingness that frightened and infuriated him when he met his first 2, the same reflective facade that he's learned from the other Villagers. It's a case of the most enthusiastic hazing coming from the person who suffered the most from being hazed.

-2's plan in this episode is strange, and I'm never sure how smart it is. The crucial emotional moment comes when 6 realizes that England and the Village aren't different, that the lack of a time change is symbolic of a greater interchangeability. And this interchangeability, the replacement of nationalism by international community, certainly is the center point of 2's character and the thing you'd expect him to want to teach 6. But the teaching comes from an error; from the way 2 acts at the end of the episode, it's clear that his plan was for 2 to buy the story and talk, and though 2 has brought him closer to his way of thinking, it's at the expense of another chip of his reason, his hope, and his soul. ("You were right about him," says Nadia sadly -- right that 6 is no use as "a man of fragments," and that it would be very easy to end up with only fragments if you don't hit him in the right place at the right time.)

-Nadia is another of 6's doppelgangers, struggling through her own version of the series' opening sequence while 6 watches from the Green Dome, echoing the "not a number" speech. Whatever sympathy he has for her, whatever hope he has that she's really his ally, comes from the extent to which he sees himself in her.

I think this is the first time a 2 has built a plan around showing 6 his reflection ("when the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they're looking into a mirror, they'll see that this is the pattern for the future"). It's certainly subtler than the attempt in "The Schizoid Man."

-It's interesting to hear Nadia Gray's genuine Eastern Bloc accent on The Prisoner. 6 spends so much time asking people where they're from, which side they're on, "which army," and we're meant to assume this is a serious question, even though 95% of the people in the Village are clearly either British or absolute masters of dialect and accent. It becomes part of the show's suspension of disbelief, and then then Gray comes in to make us wonder all over again why 6 is questioning the bona fides of people like the general.

-This episode returns more explicitly than we've seen in a little while to the idea that the Village sees itself as therapeutic, though in the mouth of Leo McKern the idea takes on a distinctly sarcastic tone. McKern's 2 is complicated that way, both a cynic and a true believer. He's under no illusions about the Village's true nature, and he's comfortable in the role of a camp villain, but he's also sincere in his faith that he represents a good cause and that 6 will understand that soon. He's playing a very knowing and complicated game.

-(I can't resist saying that the woodworking bit, while a joke and an excellent one, is also a neat echo of 2's concerns about 6: he's chipping away at that tree one fragment at a time, and the effort ends up being worse than useless.)
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:40 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

for 2 to buy the story and talk

for the record, yeah, that should have been "6 to buy the story and talk"
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:21 AM on July 10, 2014

Returning to this one for a moment. The villager's artworks all depicting Number Two is played as a joke, but I think it has some deeper roots: it's playing on ideas of religious iconography. The villagers -- at least those that have become cabbages -- have almost literally accepted Number Two as their savior; as the personified envoy of a higher outside power. Six's non-representational artwork is a rejection of that faith and is disturbing and confusing to them.

Also this episode suggests that timescales in the Village are longer, or more elastic, than we might think. Most of the previous episodes have been adventure-of-the-week plots in which the struggle between Two and Six, and the inevitable replacement of Two, play out over a few days. But McKern's Two has been in place long enough for the villagers to complete complex artworks of him. Weeks? months?

How long does Six really spend in the Village? It feels like the 17 episodes take place over a fairly short time. But there are also hints that the Village is a place where time can slip by unnoticed; most of its residents are here for life.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:20 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also worth noting that the Village appears strictly non-religious. There is a graveyard, but no church. Religion, God, spirituality in general are never mentioned.

I have a couple of theories:

1. It's easier to control the villagers if they're not allowed the hope that a religious faith could provide.

2. It helps preserve the Village's ambiguity: no markers of any specific religion means no clues as to the Village's location.

3. It's a stylistic choice, like the capes and umbrellas, that further heightens the Village's strangness. Its inhabitants speak English, but it is nothing like an English village. (The two social hubs of a village are its church and its pub; the Village has neither, although it does have an occasional speakeasy.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:34 PM on July 14, 2014

I haven't watch this one (again) yet, but I thought these might provide some context.

In 1961, Anatoliy Golitsyn, a KGB officer, defected to the West, bringing information to MI5 and the CIA that among others, Kim Philby was a Soviet spy. Famously, James Jesus Angleton was distrubed by this information, and the revelations of the deep penetration of the Western, specifically British, intelligence apparatus resulted in institutional paranoia.

Our Hero is well aware that there may not be two sides in this game after all, and all spy-cats are black in the darkness.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:14 AM on July 22, 2014

McKern is great as 2. And the reveal, that Our Hero's former compatriots, one at least, are in on it, burns.
2 here mentions something that I picked up on before: the quest for "information, information" is not the real goal. It is merely the last piece, the one real thing Our Hero is holding on to.

If they can have that, they can have anything.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:53 PM on July 22, 2014

Amazon Prime has this in original order and huh, yeah, it doesn't sit particularly comfortably as the second episode. It feels too soon for Six and Two to have developed such a complex protagonist/antagonist relationship; and too soon for the revelation that Six's superiors are at least partly in on the Village.

It's kinda weird how childlike Nadia's flirting becomes on the voyage; it feels out of character with how she presents at the start of the episode. Is Six fooled by it at all or is she simply a means to an end for him: the quest being not escape but information? He certainly doesn't seem particularly surprised to discover that London is simply another deception; his rejoining the Village's flow seems almost cheery.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:05 AM on May 17, 2020

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