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I have just finished watching the 60’s TV series, “The Prisoner“. I used to love watching it when I was a kid, though I probably had no idea what was going on. However, the opening and closing credits, along with the theme music, were brilliant and had me hooked.
Since then, the opening sequence of over 3 minutes has become iconic and the series has garnered a cult following and is frequently referenced, parodied, and paid homage to in comics, movies and television shows.
The series follows an unnamed British agent who abruptly resigns his job, and then finds himself held captive in a mysterious seaside “village” that is isolated from the mainland by mountains and sea. The Village is further secured by numerous monitoring systems and security forces, including a mysterious device called Rover that captures those who attempt escape.
The agent encounters the Village’s population, hundreds of people from all walks of life and cultures, all seeming to be tranquilly living out their lives. As they do not use names, they have each been assigned a number. The agent is told by the Village’s chief administrator “Number Two“, that he is “Number Six“, and they are seeking “information” as to why he resigned; the task of doing this is carried out by the ever-changing “Number Two“, acting as supposed proxy to the unseen “Number One”. As the series unfolds, the audience learns that the Village authorities have other interests in Number Six aside from the knowledge he possesses: interests that often spare Number Six from the more destructive information-gathering techniques employed by the Village authorities upon other inmates.
Number Six, distrusting of anyone involved with the Village, refuses to co-operate or provide answers. Alone, he struggles with multiple goals: determine for which side the Village works, remain defiant to its imposed authority, concoct his own plans for escape, learn all he can about the Village and subvert its operation. Some of his schemes, while not resulting in an escape, do lead to the dismissal of an incumbent Number Two on two occasions. By the end of the series the administration, becoming desperate for Number Six’s knowledge and fearful of his growing influence in the Village, take drastic measures that threaten the lives of Number Six, Number Two, and the rest of the Village.
The series features striking and often surreal storylines, and themes include hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination. A major theme of the show is individualism versus collectivism.
After watching most of the 17 episodes, the final chapters become more tedious and ambiguous, and unfortunately I felt that the 17th episode couldn’t finish quickly enough. It generated controversy when it was originally aired, because the last third of the episode was designed to be very obscure and be open to interpretation. On top of that, the desperately sought after answer to the question “who was number 1” was a big let down, and the whole ending caused the actor and writer Patrick McGoohan to go into hiding from angry fans demanding answers.
But the opening’s high production values have led the opening sequence to be described as more like film than television, and is one of the main things I remember about this series…along with the shout “I am not a number…I’m a free man!”