The Prisoner: Once Upon a Time   Rewatch 
September 7, 2014 9:31 AM - Season 1, Episode 16 - Subscribe

The Village, desperate for Number Six's soul, breaks out its most extreme measures. It's Degree Absolute: two men enter, one man leaves.

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posted by thesmallmachine (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
-Leo McKern is magnificent in this episode, oh my God. He comes really close to stealing it from McGoohan, who himself is offering both his finest and his most acting of the series' run. He's great from the opening sequence on -- his delivery of "the new Number Two," presumably the same used for "Big Ben," has sufficient nuance and irony to encompass the idea that he is not, in fact, new this time, but brought back as a desperate measure.

-He's sick of Rover being in his chair, but above all, he's sick of goddamned breakfast.

-"Take it easy! Relax! Why do you care?" 2 is talking to himself for most of this episode, and he's torn between wanting to win the encounter and desperately wanting to lose. The episode is obsessed with the question of whether it's worse to win or lose a duel to the death, until it decides that the contest is meaningless.

-I've noticed before that 6 on the screen provides 1's replies on the phone, but I never noticed that 6 lists seven things he won't be ("I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!") to inform 2 that he has one week. This episode is as obsessed with the number 7 as with the number 5.

-I think 2's only real victory is that 6 finally enjoys the ice cream.

-People have deconstructed McKern's apparent mention of "Drake" when he orders 6 to his study, but I think the "Jackie shall have a new master" bit is a knowing and deliberate nod.

-"No, sir, I'm a fool. Not a rat." 6 in a nutshell. He'll rebel when it's pointless; he'll rebel when it's dangerous; he'll rebel against the concept of counting.

-2 eventually gets 6 to stab him, but it's 2 who has the blood on his hands. The two sides, as 2 pointed out in happier times, are looking in a mirror.

-6's relief when he learns that the job is secret. 6 loves secrets and hates them; he's determined to find the Village's, but it is vital to his sanity that he keep his. That's why it takes him seventeen episodes to find out that they're the same secret.

-The increasingly incoherent, sign-detatched-from-signifier repetition of things like "international" and "top secret" and "state secret business."

-"I'll kill you." "I'll die." Again, symbolism breaks down; the threat of death, or being forced to kill, no longer means anything to 6. It changes nothing about his fundamental nature. It's just a biological fact. The symbolism is still very real to 2, and that's why he dies.

-"Who am I?" sounds frantic; 2 really wants the answer.

-The curtain slams down on 2's corpse, though in true stage-play fashion, he'll be back next week with different hair.
posted by thesmallmachine at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

One thing I'm very grateful for this rewatch is pointing out the allusions to theatre and television. Having had it pointed out it made me see a new layer in this episode in particular. It starts out with 2 watching 6 pacing in his false home on a screen, questioning him, and then watching a highlight reel. 2 as an audience. Then 2 and 6 are together on a stage, lit by spotlights, set up as if for experimental theatre, acting out various scenes together. Then there's the role reversal and at the end, 2 is caught in a false home, with 6 on the outside in the audience/interrogator role.

I think that this episode is where The Village wins and breaks 6. He can remain himself as a victim, as someone fighting a vastly stronger force. But because he can't yield, he embraces the role of 6 to win the contest between himself and 2. Information was the means to an end, the end was 6 himself acting on behalf of The Village. That's what they get, 6 in control, the boss.

Some other thoughts:

- Before he gets mind whammied 6 is fucking with random members of the village for fun.

- "Check Profundity!" that seems a little meta for this episode.

- Angelo Muscat gets one of my favourite moments in the episode, when 6 is choking 2 and he calmly walks up with a cudgel, turns, takes of his glasses, and clubs 6 in the back of the head. It's all so precise and unhurried, even as 2 is being throttled.

- "I am, I was, a good man but if you get him he will be better". It's an amazing line. McKern's 2 is a true believer. He's not in this for his own ego, or power, or sadism, or out of fear of his masters, he's willing to put his own life at risk in order to get someone who will be better at his job than he is on side.

- The 2/6 dialogue at the beginning that thesmallmachine points out offers some serious hints for the final episode.

2: "You don't want to risk damaging him!"
Screen 6: "My life is my own"

Which is kind of amazing given that this was the 6th episode produced, and Fall Out wasn't written until shortly before it was filmed.

- "You can do it all boy, you're the one man band." That line has some extra resonance in an episode produced by, written by, directed by, and starring Patrick McGoohan.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:29 PM on September 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

IMHO, this is the best episode of The Prisoner. Particularly since Fall Out is a bit of a failure, at least to me. What would have happened if this was the last episode? Yes, we'd never learn who No. 1 is, but maybe that would have been better given what they did do...
posted by wittgenstein at 4:47 PM on September 7, 2014

Something that I hadn't quite absorbed before I saw it in the Wikepedia list of episodes the other day - this was the sixth episode produced, between The Chimes of Big Ben and The Schizoid Man, which is why they have to give Leo McKern a makeover at the beginning of Fall Out (he'd changed his appearance for other roles). Consequently, while they were making the other episodes, they knew exactly where they were heading - the end of this episode. So Fall Out must have been a surprise to everybody.
posted by Grangousier at 4:06 AM on September 8, 2014

I also just realized today; 6 tells 2 why he resigned. "For peace of mind. Too many people know to much. I know too much!" and it doesn't matter. I believe this is the honest truth; 6, whoever he was in his life as a spy, just became disillusioned and disgusted by the whole business and resigned. But by the point he says it it doesn't matter. It's a tribute to how much is going on in this episode that it can casually drop the answer to what had been presented as a central mystery, an animating question, and it barely even registers.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:46 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think that this episode is where The Village wins and breaks 6. He can remain himself as a victim, as someone fighting a vastly stronger force. But because he can't yield, he embraces the role of 6 to win the contest between himself and 2. Information was the means to an end, the end was 6 himself acting on behalf of The Village. That's what they get, 6 in control, the boss.

I think you nailed it here. 6's actual explanation of his resignation is just a signpost on the way. And just as it's easy to miss his cursory but very real confession, it's easy to miss the fact for once a 2 has a plan that works, fueled though it is with his own breakdown and death. No other 2 has been willing to ask as much of themselves as of 6, and that's why no other 2 has succeeded.

(It also helps that McKern's 2 has apparently watched the show, even episodes, like "Hammer Into Anvil," that haven't been made yet.)

- "Check Profundity!" that seems a little meta for this episode.

posted by thesmallmachine at 10:28 PM on September 9, 2014

The names for things, "degree absolute," "check profundity" have the forced pomposity and chilling hollowness of names we are familiar with today, like 'disposition matrix.' I can imagine one of the lesser 2's briefing on the necessity of 'kinetic action' regarding Our Hero.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:39 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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