How “The Prisoner” got me through this mess.

In 1967, Patrick McGoohan created one of the most controversial, cutting edge television shows ever to be broadcast. It not only featured technology that didn’t exist at the time (science fiction, go figure right?) but also a compelling character and situation that, especially in these challenging times or chaos and control in the hands of truly unstable people, shouted back at the world that the INDIVIDUAL is the most important component of society and taking away that INDIVIDUALITY is making one a true Prisoner.

This was no ordinary “Spy” show. This was something so far out of that genre it couldn’t be seen. I first briefly discovered it in the 80’s on Public Television here in the States and loved it, but forgot about it completely, until the Summer of COVID.

Like many, I was binge-watching everything I could find. Most of it proved to be Netflix dreck or drivel, but then I came, once again, across The Prisoner on Amazon Prime and decided to give it a go again.

This time, however, I also used it as a way to connect with my son as he had literally been stuck in his room, gaming and doing not much else except preparing for college and had become depressed and isolated–like the rest of us. We started watching two episodes each day at 3:00pm (So I could get set up for my “evening chores” and eventual drunken binge but that’s another story) and re-discovered it together.

From the get go, He wanted to know who Number 1 was . For those of you not familiar with the show, McGoohan’s character is an ex-spy who has resigned his post for no real reason and is drugged and taken to a place called “The Village” where he has no idea where he is or why he has been brought there. The people there are almost always automatonic and seem to follow the will of the unseen Number 1, who channels his power through his Chieef of Operations, Number 2; who executes his orders ot schemes.

There are no names in the Village; only numbers. McGoohan’s character is simply Number 6. Many feel the higher the number , the more important one is as is the information they hold, but that may or many not be true. In any case, the entire show; which consists of just 17 episodes, is about conformity to society. Each episode, Number 6 is put through a new scheme or trial in order for him to just tell them the reason for his resignation. That’s it. That’s all–at least that’s what they tell him anyway. And, each week, he refuses or finds a way to deny them what they want.

This refusal to give even the simplest answer is what McGoohan was on about. He was a firm believer in the power and rights of the INDIVIDUAL and each episode SCREAMS that. For example, In episode 1, “Arrival”, Number 6 arrives in The Village and is invited by Number 2 to a meeting to give him a tour and tell him why he is there. During the meeting, Number 2 tells Number 6 they know everything about him and shows him his file. Number 6 immediately points out that the date of his birth is missing and has it added: 4:31am, March 19, 1928. That was McGoohan’s ACTUAL birthdate…this was how personal this show was to him. Number 2 continues to push until Number 6 refuses to take it anymore and utters the immortal words:

From then on, it’s war. Number 2, Week by Week, episode by episode, is exposed to an increasingly surreal series of trials and tests in order to get him to just simply COMPLY….And he will NEVER relent.

As we watched the series together, my son and I increasingly began to debate who Number 1 was (as did 17 million people in the UL in 1968) with ever increasing theories and possibilities, some ridiculous–some not so much in light of the tone of the series. This is EXACTLY the kind of debate and analysis McGoohan wanted and, indeed, created the show to be about. Debating, analyzing and constantly interpreting one’s own situation as an INDIVIDUAL in a world where we are controlled by so many, many things. In other words, we are all Prisoners.

I will not spoil who Number 1 turns out to be although I will say my son came so very, very close to guessing it on a WILD theory he came up with about time travel of all things…I will leave that to you should you wish to view the series; an I encourage you to please do so. You may need to adjust your thinking a little and have an open mind but I promise you; you will NEVER see anything like it.

We spent the Summer of COVID, at least 17 days of it leading up to the final two, and most intense episodes, “Once Upon A Time”, and the infamous “Fall Out” where Number 1 is revealed. Needless to say, at the end of “Fall Out” when Number 1 is revealed, at the time in 1968, 17 million people tuned in to find out who he was. And then that same 17 million people in the UK hit the BBC switchboards to ask “What the fuck was that???”. You do not see it coming, unless you pay VERY close attention throughout the whole series.

My son and I bonded over the show. It was a hard Summer waiting on news on if and when I could resume my duties as a teacher and also worrying about how he would do at college with COVID being so widespread and getting worse. Would he be safe? Would I? Would our family? We lived day to day trying to get news and wondering what was being done to stop the spread and being continuously bombarded with data. Then it hit me, this was Prisonership. We were trapped. We were held hostage by a microscopic disease which created an entire world of Prisoners and they all had numbers; millions of them-sick and or deceased–and we saw those numbers everyday.

The parallel hit me like a brick. And now, this show has become part of my life. It always will be. From the surreal and beautiful place it was filmed, Portmierion, Wales (where my heart now truly lies) to the Black and White blazer I so desperately want to wear. I have watched it over and over now, catching little things here and there, and it has seen me through a lot of rough moments especially during my bout with alcohol; where I was a true Prisoner…to myself. That’s a clue right there, that is….as I wink to you slyly.

So, if you haven’t seen the show–give it a shot. You may like it, you may hate it…or it may hit you like it hit me; between the eyes and into the soul.

As they say in The Village, Be Seeing You.

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