The Prisoner: The Girl Who Was Death   Rewatch 
September 2, 2014 5:38 PM - Season 1, Episode 15 - Subscribe

Number Six investigates a murderous young woman and her insane father in an episode featuring the most covetable pint glass in all of television.

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I'm putting this one up a little early; comments have been light for the last couple of episodes, and I suspect we're all eager to move on to the finale.

The third in a trilogy of episodes about things that never happened to 6: a trip abroad in another man's body, an elaborate cowboy hallucination, and now a story hour.
posted by thesmallmachine (8 comments total)
-This episode is a spoof based on a rejected Danger Man script, but from what little I've seen of Danger Man, the hallmarks of "Death" -- gadgetry, saturation-level music, goofy death traps, fake beards, and vomit -- aren't parodying it in particular.

-That said, the site here points out some Danger Man mythology gags, and also the fact that Kenneth Griffith was originally going to play his character as Hitler, which McGoohan didn't think was funny.

-I don't think we can shoo out the clowns before saying a few words in praise of Frank Maher, the hardest-working man in show business. In addition to being McGoohan's stunt double, he was often used for footage of 6 running frantically around locations it was inconvenient for McGoohan to get to. (The entire funfair scene is Maher; the few shots of 6's face are back-projected in the studio.) He can also take the credit, or the blame, for the idea of "Living in Harmony."

-6's sense of whimsy hasn't been much on display in The Prisoner -- the end of "A, B, and C" being a prominent exception -- but I guess they haven't beaten it out of him just yet.

-(I think it would be fair to describe the essential joke of this episode as a weak "A, B, and C.")

-"Tell me again about her last cavalry charge." I'll say this for this family: they're around for about forty minutes too long, but they certainly know how to have a good time.
posted by thesmallmachine at 6:32 PM on September 2, 2014

I may be in the minority but really like this episode's surreal pastiche of spy and detective story cliches. There are some neat gags. I honestly laughed out loud at: "Murdered at cricket match; one short of his century." That headline may be the most English thing ever.

As far as the comparison to A, B, and C goes; in that episode 6 subverted the dreams, but he did it in order to make a fairly serious point. He wasn't resigning to defect or to sell out. In this episode we see 6 treating The Village like a joke, referring to them as children, placing a clown doll in from of the camera. The entire last half of the story can be seen as 6 roundly mocking his captors. He evades the traps set for him in Death's ersatz village, then he casts 2 as a vainglorious fool destroyed because of his obsession with information.

Thinking about it, it really works to set up "Once Upon a Time", the Village doesn't have much left to work with. The Village isn't scary to 6 anymore, the Village isn't the evil sinister force, it's a thing 6 can fight, manipulate, and mock. Sure it can still kill him, or do nasty things to his brain, but there's not a lot of leverage there, since they've established that they probably won't; enter McKern and "Degree Absolute".
posted by Grimgrin at 7:27 PM on September 2, 2014

he casts 2 as a vainglorious fool destroyed because of his obsession with information.

Heh -- I didn't make that connection, but yes, it's the papers that kill him, his need to preserve all that crap when the world is literally exploding around him. The Prisoner was a viciously countercultural show, for all of 6's outward squareness.

The Village isn't scary to 6 anymore, the Village isn't the evil sinister force, it's a thing 6 can fight, manipulate, and mock.

I really appreciate your reading here. I wish we'd had a clearer sense of how this happened -- of the moment of transition where he stopped taking the place seriously, somewhere post-"Many Happy Returns" -- but it's just what's going on.

"Death" is also important because some of its images are sketches for the finale: the disguised rocket, 6 laying waste with a machine gun, Kenneth Griffith as a deranged authority figure.
posted by thesmallmachine at 12:30 AM on September 3, 2014

In 1968,


. . . and Six's solution to that problem were one of the greatest things I'd ever seen on teevy.

*Rendered in the distinctive Village font, you'll notice.

You can order your very own You Have Just Been Poisoned pint glasses from various sources today; to what end, I can't tell.

posted by Herodios at 9:48 AM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was a little unclear on how this plot works from the Village's point of view. I figured it was: They are spying on our hero while he tells some weird stories to some kids; he keeps them guessing by weaving a story that at first might have gotten them excited about revelations of a past operation, but it turns out he's just spoofing them. Is that all there is to it?

I didn't really like the episode. The start was cool, and the first deathtrap or two were okay, but it got repetitive with her omniscient deathtrap superpowers. At first I figured it was a drug-induced hallucination. And maybe it was?
posted by isthmus at 10:27 PM on September 4, 2014

I can best accept it as a lead-in to "Once Upon A Time", which I like much better.
posted by isthmus at 10:33 PM on September 4, 2014

For reasons best known to TV schedulers, this episode alone was repeated as part of a themed evening on Channel 4 in about 1982, which allowed me to videotape it. So, although I know I'd seen episodes of the original run from various angles, and I'd voraciously watched the 1976 repeat, this was the first episode I'd had the chance to rewatch over and over. So I've seen it more often than any other episode, including Arrival and Fall Out. Probably more than all the other episodes put together.

I mean, I used to be able to quote whole sections of the episode verbatim. Strange, but true.

Generally, it's very likeable, I think. These three episodes (Darling, Harmony and Death) serve as a sort of break between the general Village episodes and the last two - the leap from the odd but consistent world of the Village to the Once Upon a Time psychodrama (and whatever Fall Out is) might have been more than even the remarkably indulgent 1968 audience could take, but after those three we're prepared to accept that the series could go almost anywhere. As it did.

Because I was so familiar with it, I noticed a lot of the callbacks (the only one that comes to mind right now is Beachy Head

It contains some of my favourite incidental music - the saxophone boogie as Sonia is throwing grenades at 6 while he advances in a bulldozer is an especial fave, and, particularly, the chase music.

(One curious thing about The Prisoner is that they got a lot of their music from French libraries - library music from different countries have very particular flavours and can often be popular in quite separate territories: for example, most of the music from Ren and Stimpy is British, most famously Puffin' Billy, which I believe is best known in the U.S. as the theme to a classic children's programme. Also, The Gonk, from Dawn of the Dead. Italian music of the era tends to be ridiculously groovy. French music hugely idiosyncratic. This is all completely irrelevant to the subject at hand, except that I found a lot of great library music trying to track the chase scene music down, before it was all neatly arranged on soundtrack compilations.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:22 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the reading that Our Hero is now comfortable enough to screw around with the Village and its masters. But where did the kids come from? I don't remember seeing any kids before. Were they born there? Get shipped off with their parents?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:44 PM on September 14, 2014

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