I never tire of the opening credits from The Prisoner. It is wondeful storytelling that establishes everything about our character without a single word. And I love the longer than you would think necessary pause after he is gassed as it serves as to introduce the opening title credit for each show after he awakens. I will also confess that his car is my dream car. You can have one made for about $25K. The typeface for the credits is also something with history in that it was designed for the show and is wonderfully distinct. The opening credit typeface is also the typeface used throughout Village.
Episode 2 is where we are introduced to much of what many people remember from the series: the verbal exchange between Number 6 and Number 2 in the opening sequence:
6: “Where am I?
2: “In The Village.”
6: What do you want?”
6: “Whose side are you on?”
2: “That would be telling. We want information. Information. <sterness bordering on anger> INFORMATION!”
6: <smugly> “You won’t get it!”
2: “By hook or by crook, we will.” We are visually shown a short video clip of a new Number 2.
6: “Who are you?”
2: “The New Number 2.”
6: <almost robotically> “Who is Number 1?”
2: “You are Number 6.”
6: <yelling> “I am not a number! I am a free man!”
In just this we are getting introduced to the instability of the environment. The direct contact that Number 6 must confront on a regular basis changes randomly. In episode 1 we establish that Number 2 can change without notice, and our notice in this episode comes immediately within the opening credits.
I should also take this moment to clear up an enormous oversight in my writeup of Arrival (Episode 1). I stated that until The Prisoner that there was not part of television challenging the viewer outside of Star Trek’s occasional foray into less subtle allegory. This enormous oversight was, of course, The Twilight Zone. The Twilight Zone regularly faced deep and contentious social issues both straight forwardly and subtly. I can’t imagine trying to go back and watch and summarize and write up The Twilight Zone. It’s amazing and daunting and almost impossibly difficult to watch now from an emotionally stirring standpoint for myself. One of my great loves of The Prisoner, though, is that it doesn’t strike so forwardly and it shows Number 6 in a contemporary, slightly modern and familiar world but also one that is strangely separate from our daily reality. We also receive no commentary from the omniscient narrator to guide us or provide us with elements of thoughtful discourse. We must decide for ourselves what it is we are seeing.
Free for All
Number 6’s phone rings. Despite his earlier tacit acceptance, he fights the numerical designation verbally on the phone. Number 2 is ringing. We hear him and see him on a television screen.
They exchange words. Number 6’s words are angry. Number 2’s words are jovial, but they are never words that relent control.
6: “I like to mind my own business!”
2: “So do we.”
Number 2 walks into Number 6’s apartment immediately after hanging up.
We begin with allusion to mountain climbing, card playing, and Mohommmed.
6: “Um. Whose move.
2: “Yours only. Confide, and we condede.”
Breakfast is served by a maid. She has a number (58). She looks nervous. Number 2 lets us know that she also has a great variety of information. She has a photographic memory.
The public PA rings in with a tone and an announcement: “Good morning, and congratulations on yet another day!” My wife, watching with me, immediatley points out exactly how creepy this is.
Number 2 mentions that it is election day. Every 12 months. Number 2 encourages Number 6 to run.
6: “Elections? In this place?”
2: “Of course. We make our choice every 12 months. Every citizen has a choice. Are you going to run?
6: “Like blazes the first chance I get.”
6: “You have a delicate sense of humor.”
2: “Naturally. Humor is the very essence of a democratic society.”
A fanfare comes from the PA. A crowd gathers. A parade for Number 2 in support of him!
Let me point out that this is a starting point of one of the great elements of The Prisoner: The music. The music from The Prisoner is so incredibly distinct that I can think of few other television shows that truly used music so far beyond the title themes to establish the mood and nature of the elements of the story. Opening title themes are famous throughout television, going back to The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, Doctor Who, Starsky and Hutch, Star Trek (both series). But music within each episode that went so far beyond simply being incidental music is a rarity. But for anyone that has sat down and listened to The Prisoner’s soundtracks then you come to realize that music was never used simply to be incidental in The Prisoner. It never feels there to lead you to a feeling, but to suggest to you the nature of Number 6’s reality. This establishes itself early on through the use of Pop Goes the Weasel and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, tunes we all have longstanding cultural associations with that are used in The Prisoner to put your mind off guard by invoking feelings of innocence or celebration in order to truly grind you into a place of confusion by using the themes so opposite to their associations.
2: “Some of these good people don’t seem to appreciate the value of free elections. They think it’s a game.”
6: <slyly> “Everyone votes for a dictator.”
2: “Not at all.”
6: “What happens if I win?”
2: “If you win, Number 1 will no longer be a mystery to you.”
Number 2 addresses the crowd.
This episode is everything I love about this show. It is organized madness. It is the music that I love, the colors of the costumes.
My wife points out that this is Number 6’s double-edged sword: he has no choice but to play the game to try to escape, but playing the game still makes you a player. Quitting the game is not one of the available moves.
Number 6 is, of course, suspicious. doubtful. But he watches. Suspiciously, as always. Number 2 speaks, and the crowd responds as per queue cards. “ra ra ra” “progress progress progress”. (Insert picture.)
2 points out that Number 6 is particularly “militant” and about “individuality”.
6: “I am not a number. I am a person.” He points out exactly why he is there.
6: “I intended to discover exactly who are the prisoners and who are the warders.” He plays exactly into what Number 2 wants. The crowds adores and engulfs number 6.
2 drives away: “Be seeing you.” through a megaphone.
New morning. 6 exists his apartment and is angered by the maid (Number 58) awaiting him outside. He argues with 2 that he does not want her there. That she doesn’t even speak English. 2 informs 6 of how he goes about ‘officially’ running for office and that he must come to the town hall.
Number 58 is to take him to the town hall, but he decides to walk. Her car has a placard with his picture and a giant NUMBER 6. They meet at the map we saw earlier. He rides. There is press (number 113 and 113b). Many questions, all responded with NO COMMENT, all written down as what the reporter wants to say. The papers are already written as soon as he exits the car. His interview published.
In the interview, the reporter (Number 113) ask many questions, and for each question except the last 6 answers “No comment.” and the reported just makes something up.
Until the last question.
Number 113: “How do you feel about life and death.” 6:
Number 6: “Mind your own business.”
Number 113 writing: “No comment.”
As Number 6 exits the car the paper with his interview is already being sold. The editions are sold from large rolls, and the top roll shows large words in red letters: freedom, security, opinion. The paper salesman tears off a paper (The Tally Ho) and gives one to Number 6 with the headlines “No. 6 Speaks His Mind” and the photo used is the same photo we see at the beginning of the show’s opening credits on his identification badge.
This is one of my favorite and re-watchable scenes from not only the episode but from The Prisoner period. It uses such a short sequence to establish a profound, disturbing, astute and all-too-accurate portrayal of how the press deals with politics and elections in particular.
Our giant balloon mysteriously arrives as Number 6 reads the paper. It corrals Number 6 toward the Town Hall.
For the record, the balloon is named “Rover” and I am not entirely sure if Rover is ever named directly in any episode, but there is an enormous amount of information about Rover online (Wikipedia article on Rover here.) Rover is a fun production read since it discusses the fact that the balloon was improvised after the mechanical device they used failed miserably when it hit the water. While I can certainly see how a mechanical device in particular can be used to great effect to show a machine controlling the individual, the use of Rover as a balloon turns out to provide the entire series with one of it’s most iconic pieces while at the same time providing some incredibly disturbing imagery with its use as a device for capturing and controlling the citizens of The Village. In this episode it is later used to great effect without being used as a device for controlling Number 6 or the other citizens.
Number 6 is called on the public PA to come to the Town Hall. He arrives and we are introduced to a gathering in the round. All but Number 2 are outfitted in dark pants and solid color shirts or striped shirts of white and whatever color the dark colors are of the solid shirts (this is very reminiscent of the Star Trek episode Let that Be Your Last Battlefield. All wear top hats, except Number 2. The town hall is cavernous but clearly mechanical in nature. Red light illuminates from below. Number 2 beckons Number 6 to enter. Number 2 sits at the elevated head of a roundtable with a very Illuminati style symbol/obelisk behind him with a flashing blue eye at the tip of the triangle.
2: “Play the game.”
6: According to Hoyle?
2: According to democratic society.
2: “You are a civilized man and would not, I’m sure, deny the right of proper procedure.”
Number 2 goes on and Number 6 has questions.
6: “Where did you get this bunch of tailor’s dummies?”
2: “They were here when I arrived. Do you wish to question them?”
6: “I do.”
And he proceeds to do so, quickly arriving at one of the mainstays: “Whose side are you on?!” During the questioning he is in the center of the circle and must stand on a disc and is involuntarily spun about during his question.
Number 2 smashes a gavel: “Don’t get to personal my dear fellow.” A beep. A blue light.
Number 6: This… FARCE. This 20th century bastille that pretends to be a pocket democracy! Why don’t you put us all in to solitary confinement until you get what you want and have done with it?”
Number 2 pounds his gavel. Number 6 confronts him and all others.
Number 6 is spun more and more until he is spun out of control.
Again, so little is actually said in the words, but once again we see Number 6 portraying a basic underlying anger carried by the Everyman of every society of the frustration toward the system in which one must operate. Even as Number 6 tries to play the game and to move forward, he finds himself spun out of control, watched, not responded to by the other members of the processes. The recent local elections in London garnered a whopping 36% turnout. Over 40 years ago the loss of faith in genuine democracy was already publicly on the wane and a point of concern for people.
Number 6 is lowered from blue to red, into depths. Into a hallway. He is sick. He arrives in another round room. Arches. A well dressed, gray suited gentleman (his suit has tails) offers him tea. Our well dressed man in a grey suit (tails, jacket buttoned)
We see Number 2 speaking with someone in a control room. Number 2 ask “Where did you get him?” A lackey responds:”Civil service. He adapted immediately.”
Number 2 receives a call and discusses Number 6’s stubbornness.
2: “Certainly I warned them not to damage the tissue.”
The gentleman in the grey suit receives a call: “Yes. Oh yes. First stage only. Clearly understood.”
He locks down 6 in a chair electronically.
Gentleman: “This is merely the truth test. There is no need to be alarmed. Why did you wish to run for electoral office? … Why did you wish to run for electoral office?”
Number 6 does not answer, but there is some for of mental extraction underway.
Gentleman: “THAT is a lie.”
We are symbolically given a representation of 6’s truth and like and they combine in his mind. He passes out as the symbols for truth and lie combine.
Number 6 is catatonic. He returns. Sweating. Dazed. Tired. He stands. Feels his face. Wipes the seat away. Our civil servant looks on.
6: :Thanks for tea. Be seeing you.” He yells it again on the way out: “Be seeing you!” As he leaves, he gives the salute attached to this saying.
Truth and lies become one in Number 6’s head. It doesn’t get much simpler than the symbolic representation we see here, and while it might come as a club over the head, it actually is quite effective.
Number 6 seems adjusted. Adapted. Playing the game. He seems simply now being saying exactly the same things as 2 says. A television commercial with him plays. The non-English speaking maid (Number 58) in his apartment watches with him.
6 seems strained in his statement in the commercial: “Anything I can do to maintain the security of the citizens will be my primary objective. Be seeing you.”
He tells Number 58 “Obey the rules, and we will take good care of you.”
She pours tea.
6: “Try it.”
Then 6 says “Be seeing you.”
6 <yelling>: “TRY IT!”
At first, you think he means the tea, but then he speaks in her native language and says “Be seeing you.” to her. She is happily surprised and says it, along with the salute. And then… Number 6 breaks down. Runs. Drives. He runs to the town hall. Number 58 follows. The helicopter chases. The butler approaches (and we will need to discuss the butler eventually, folks, but not today). Number 6 attempts to take a boat, succeeds, but there are men on the boat. The helicopter follows. He fights the men. One is knocked off. He is knocked off. He pulls the man off. Climbs back aboard.
Number 2 is on the helicopter. “You’re doing so well. Now you’re being foolish. Go back before it’s too late. Go back before it’s too late.”
Number 2 via radio: “Southern perimeter alert.”
Control room operator: “Now approaching.” *alternating timpani drums play*
Rover is released. The boat will not turn. 6 dives. Rover slowly consumes 6. We are treated to disturbing imagery of this consumption.
Number 6 awakes momentarily with two rovers astride and repeats his election speech.
Number 6 in bed in his apartment, dreaming. He replays all the things that have happened in his dreams. It ends with him saying “I am not a number! I am a free man!”
The light above his bed flashes.
Number 6 is shown again, giving a speech. The speech is on a giant queue card. His speech simply reflects what the Village ‘values’ already are. 2 gives his speech, questions if 6 can deliver. He even promises he can provide the change of the seasons if that is what the people desire. Number 6 rides in the car with a crowd that supports him delightfully.
One of the key elements of this speech are not the words Number 6 says, which essentially are exactly the same “policies” as any Number 2’s policies, but his more strained and almost uncontrolled delivery. He often borderlines on madness in his voice during these speeches and often approached what can only be described as sounding very much like a Dalek from Doctor Who in his raising voice and intensity and anger.
Number 2 gives a speech, wondering if Number 6 has the administrative ability to deliver what he promises.
Number 6 rides back, a crowd follows, he gives a speech from the car essentially praising the old regime, ending his speech with another recurring phrase.
6: “They say, six of one, and half dozen of the other! Not here! It’s 6 or 2.”
Number 2 watches this exchange.
6 and 2 meet in the town square. They exchange publicly.
2: “You seem to be doing pretty well.”
6: “What do you do in your spare time?”
2: “I cannot afford spare time.”
6: “You hear that! He’s working to his limits! Can’t afford spare time! Leisure is our right!”
2: “In your spare time,if you get more spare time, what will you do?”
6: “Less work. More play!”
Number 6 and the Number 58 at a club (Cat and Mouse). 6 demands alcohol. The Village has none. He is angry, but already seems drunk. He and the maid wander. She seems to know where alcohol might be. They leave the club.
Number 6 is suspicious and doesn’t hide it and constantly ask Number 58: “Spying on me, aren’t’ you?”
Number 58 runs off. He finds someone running a still in a cave. Number 2 is there. Seemingly drunk.
6: “You’re scared aren’t you?”
2: “Frankly, yes.”
6: “Of what?”
2: “May seem improbably to you, but I’m wondering what’s going to happen to YOU?”
Number 2 and Number 6 discuss the true nature of The Village and they drink.
Number 2 beckons Number 6 once again.
2: Come with me. I’ll show you something.”
They approach a chalkboard. They drink and talk. Number 6 passes right out. Number 2 is immediately sober. His brain washing is slowly explained:
“The portions exact to take him right through the election.”
I have wondered what this section means, and at best I can come up with only the most superficial reckoning that Number 6 is being lulled into a belief that Number 2 is equally coerced. Symbolically I believe this scene is to show us that in the political process no one is to be trusted to be even remotely honest or human, and that once again we see Number 6 simply being manipulated and having his beliefs manipulated to make him believe his is in control, participatory, genuinely able to connect with the human elements of his captors and to get them to connect to him.
It also implies that for any politician to survive the process of an election they must be in a catatonic stupor, unable to protest or be declarative on anything.
Election day. 6 wins. He is given the number 2 badge.
2: Come with me. I’ll show you the ropes.
Fanfare music, then a slow and teasing version of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” plays that increases in strain and devolves into discordance.
Number 6 waves, but the wave is suspiciously familiar as it is the old Number 2’s wave. The crowd is utterly silent.
2 takes 6 by the hand and leads him to the Green Dome.
The enter the Green Dome. 2 beckons with his hand (which we see from his perspective).
2 leaves and points out that 6 is the boss.
2: “No point going into detail. Anything you want to know, press a button. You’re the boss. Well, I’ll be on my way.
Number 2 shakes hands with Number 6 and says “Thanks for everything.”
Number 2 looks at Number 58 and says “Be seeing you.” in her native tongue and gives the salute. She responds in kind. Number 2 leaves, the door automatically closes.
I paused the DVD here to write, and I really was able to get a good look on Number 6’s face. A look of slight disbelief mixed with fear and exhaustion as the old Number 2 leaves. This mainly struck me as a wonderful piece of acting from McGoohan in that he is able to show all of this in such a single look and short instance. Number 2’s very slight statement that “Anything you want to know, press a button.” is subtle yet powerful. It speaks to the well know “button” of the cold war era, and it also once again calls up the idea that everything in The Village is automated and quite possibly doing nothing more than running on automatic. The lack of the presence of Number 1 implies this as well, as The Village’s leader and figurehead (symbolically represented here by Number 1 since all designations in this society are alphanumerical and thus the leader is logically the beginning, the first, that which is immediately after zero or nothing and is implicitly the most important something as it is the first something) is never present.
The door to the control room opens and Number 58 acts delighted. Number 6 enters the earlier domed control room we saw in the previous episode where he first meet a Number 2. They stand in the room. She presses a button and a hair arises. 6 flips through the cameras and watches video feeds of The Village and he is even shown a video feed of himself (which is somewhat… bizarre).
Technology abounds and 6 finds it difficult to control. Lights flash. A particular, single blue light entrances him. A lit wall flashes. Number 58’s cheery attitude changes immediately to one of sternness. Number 58 leads him to a wall of rotating lights and there are sounds to pull him in. He is hypnotized. She removes his Number 2 badge. She slaps him repeatedly. Angrily. Smirkingly. He attempts to turn everything off. Announces, over and over again…
6: “This is our chance! This is our chance! Take it now! I will immobilize all electronic controls. You are free to go! FREE TO GO! FREE TO GO!” This echoes throughout The Village over the public system. In the control room, a stretcher rolls in. Men rise out of the floor in The Village version of white coats.
He attempts to flee and he enters a room with a Rover surrounded by men basically worshiping it in sunglasses. The turn to face him. Number 6 fights the white coats. He is beaten down. Taken to a stretcher as he almost collapses.
Number 58, the maid, now stands with Number 2 badge on her lapel.
2: “Will you never learn? This is only the beginning. We have many ways and means but we do not wish to damage you permanently. Are you ready to talk?”
Number 6 is put on the stretcher unconsciousness and taken to his apartment.
As the old Number 2 leaves, the new Number 2 says “Don’t worry, all will be satisfactory in the end. Give my regards to the homeland.”
Old Number 2 leaves via helicopter.
And that ends episode 2, Free for All, or, as I like to call it, Scathing Endictment On Democracy.
The themes of the episode: Democracy. Being convinced by society and its leaders tha you have a choice. Being beaten down into participating. Being drugged into participating. Truth and lies being equivalent in one’s own mind and then believing they are different and that you are different while at that very moment becoming identical to all around you. Being led by something you don’t fully understand and are convinced doesn’t understand you, but who we find out understands you all too well. And the ever present “escape is not possible.”
This is certainly the most overtly political of nearly all of the episodes. Yet it never states a political side because that would defeat the point: democracy is not about the words said or the sides that people take as in the end it is all the same all the time. This is the ear of the cold war, after all, and we are being led a bit by implying that Number 58 is from an eastern bloc Soviet nation. Yet, Number 2 is very properly British. Until the end when Number 58 is revealed to be the new Number 2.
This episode is frightfully difficult to actually write about because for me there is so much to love here. The establishing of the methods of the captors. That their identities cannot be understood by the words they say or the languages they speak. The music in this episode establishes itself as iconic. It’s difficult to write about because I simply adore it so much.