A poem by Emily Bronte

A FRAGMENT.

In the dungeon-crypts idly did I stray,
Reckless of the lives wasting there away;
"Draw the ponderous bars! open, Warder stern!"
He dared not say me nay--the hinges harshly turn.

"Our guests are darkly lodged," I whisper'd, gazing through
The vault, whose grated eye showed heaven more gray than blue;
(This was when glad Spring laughed in awaking pride;)
"Ay, darkly lodged enough!" returned my sullen guide.

Then, God forgive my youth; forgive my careless tongue;
I scoffed, as the chill chains on the damp flagstones rung:
"Confined in triple walls, art thou so much to fear,
That we must bind thee down and clench thy fetters here?"

The captive raised her face; it was as soft and mild
As sculptured marble saint, or slumbering unwean'd child;
It was so soft and mild, it was so sweet and fair,
Pain could not trace a line, nor grief a shadow there!

The captive raised her hand and pressed it to her brow;
"I have been struck," she said, "and I am suffering now;
Yet these are little worth, your bolts and irons strong;
And, were they forged in steel, they could not hold me long."

Hoarse laughed the jailor grim: "Shall I be won to hear;
Dost think, fond, dreaming wretch, that I shall grant thy prayer?
Or, better still, wilt melt my master's heart with groans?
Ah! sooner might the sun thaw down these granite stones.

"My master's voice is low, his aspect bland and kind,
But hard as hardest flint the soul that lurks behind;
And I am rough and rude, yet not more rough to see
Than is the hidden ghost that has its home in me."

About her lips there played a smile of almost scorn,
"My friend," she gently said, "you have not heard me mourn;
When you my kindred's lives, MY lost life, can restore,
Then may I weep and sue,--but never, friend, before!

"Still, let my tyrants know, I am not doomed to wear
Year after year in gloom, and desolate despair;
A messenger of Hope comes every night to me,
And offers for short life, eternal liberty.

"He comes with western winds, with evening's wandering airs,
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars.
Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,
And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire.

"Desire for nothing known in my maturer years,
When Joy grew mad with awe, at counting future tears.
When, if my spirit's sky was full of flashes warm,
I knew not whence they came, from sun or thunder-storm.

"But, first, a hush of peace--a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress, and fierce impatience ends;
Mute music soothes my breast--unuttered harmony,
That I could never dream, till Earth was lost to me.

"Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels:
Its wings are almost free--its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulph, it stoops and dares the final bound,

"Oh I dreadful is the check--intense the agony--
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.

"Yet I would lose no sting, would wish no torture less;
The more that anguish racks, the earlier it will bless;
And robed in fires of hell, or bright with heavenly shine,
If it but herald death, the vision is divine!"

She ceased to speak, and we, unanswering, turned to go--
We had no further power to work the captive woe:
Her cheek, her gleaming eye, declared that man had given
A sentence, unapproved, and overruled by Heaven.


This is public domain
The Prisoner opens when a secret agent, played by Patrick McGoohan (of Danger Man and Secret Agent fame, and also Ice Station Zebra), suddenly resigns from his highly-classified government job. He returns home and begins packing, intending to go on holiday, but as he does so anaesthetic gas hisses through the keyhole.

He awakes in what appears to be the same room, but looks outside to see a bizarre arrangement of Italianate spires and domes around a well-tended courtyard. This is The Village, a place where no one has a name, and where The Prisoner's insidious captors attempt to extract from him the reasons behind his resignation.

There are several disputes over the ordering for the 17 episodes of the show -- see episode orderings for `The Prisoner'. The standard ordering in which they were first broadcast is:

  1. Arrival
  2. The Chimes of Big Ben
  3. A, B & C
  4. Free for All
  5. The Schizoid Man
  6. The General
  7. Many Happy Returns
  8. Dance of the Dead
  9. Checkmate
  10. Hammer Into Anvil
  11. It's Your Funeral
  12. A Change of Mind
  13. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
  14. Living in Harmony
  15. The Girl Who Was Death
  16. Once Upon a Time
  17. Fall Out

Six of One, the Prisoner Appreciation Society, can be found at: http://www.netreach.net/~sixofone/index.htm .

Where am I?

In the Village.

What do you want?

Information.

Whose side are you on?

That would be telling. We want information. Information. INFORMATION!

You won't get it.

By hook, or by crook, ... we will.

Who are you?

The new Number 2.

Who is Number 1?

You are Number 6.

I am not a number; I am a free man!

In 1966, Patrick McGoohan, a bright star in the television firmament, quit his starring role in Secret Agent, and convinced Lew Grade, the head of the British television company ATV (later called ITC) to bankroll a new series he wanted to make. He had seven stories written, which he envisioned as being the entire lifetime of the show. His backer argued for a more marketable 26 episodes, and they compromised on 17. The series was called The Prisoner.

The backstory is simple, and is explained in the wordless opening sequence. A high-level British secret agent, played by McGoohan, abruptly resigns from the agency he works for. As soon as he gets home, the sinister man following him gasses him. Unconscious, he is spirited away to a tiny town, totally isolated geographically, surrounded by formidable mountains on all sides except for the seacoast. (It may be on an island, but the few times a location for it is mentioned or implied all give contradictory answers.) He wakes up in what appears to be his home, but a look out the window shows The Village, and a phone call inviting him to breakfast with Number 2, where the above dialog takes place. The information that his keepers want is, Why did he resign?

There is a story that McGoohan got
the idea for the series when, during a
conversation at a party, somebody asked
"What happens to retired spies?"

He quickly learns that The Village is where people are put who know too much to be allowed to live normal lives, and it gradually becomes apparent that many of the residents are guardians rather than prisoners. In fact the ratio is probably pretty high, and sometimes it seems that, apart from four or five episodes involving a temporary co-conspirator, Number 6 may actually be the only real prisoner there. In any case, he is (almost always) the only one who hasn't resigned himself to the futility of escape, and integrated himself into the strange society. None of these other characters is in more than one episode. In fact, Number 6 and the butler to Number 2 are the only characters who are in every episode. Number 2 himself, as evidenced in the above dialog (which was at the beginning of each of the first season's thirteen episodes), was a different person each week, with the exception of one that lasted two weeks and another that was recalled to the position at the end of the series. Mostly it was not mentioned why there was a new Number 2, though it is hypothesized that each one is replaced when his plan to get information from Number 6 fails; indeed, some of them are seen leaving The Village at the end of the hour, and not in good graces. The opening dialog each week is done in the voices of Number 6 and the new Number 2.

The Village is a strange, surreal place. None of the residents has a name; instead everyone is known by a number. They all wear a badge with their number on it, except for Number 6. He does not wear his, as a sign of his non-submission, though he does answer to the title. (There is one episode, The Schizoid Man, involving a lookalike planted by the authorities, in a plot to make Number 6 doubt his identity. He wears the badge throughout that episode, as does the impostor, and ironically, in the inevitable confrontation where they are both claiming to be the same person, he loudly insists I am Number 6!) The entire populace is under video surveillance at all times, and everyone acts as though their existence is perfectly normal. Many people are always seen carrying bright red, blue, and yellow umbrellas (though it never rains), which match cloaks that many others wear. In almost every episode there is a small brass band marching through the streets. People usually walk wherever they want to go, but a person of a mind to ride can call a taxi. (The taxis were Mini Mokes (kind of like large golf carts) with a cheerful red and white striped canopy.) But remember, local service only! There is some kind of an economy: there are shops to buy things, and occasionally people are seen to be working. Everybody gets paid once a week. Number 6 is never seen to have a job, though I got the impression that he was quite well off. Though generally upbeat, there is also often a 1984ish cast to the background seen in posters on walls bearing propagandistic sloganeering. People often part with a gesture like an OK sign with the thumb and forefinger circled in front on one eye which turns into a salute, accompanied by the ritual valediction.

As humorously alluded to in the opening dialog, it is never stated who is in charge of The Village, or even if it's the West or the East (remember, the Cold War was very cold at the time the series was made); sometimes there are even hints that it's a joint project between them.

Most of the episodes involve either an escape plot by Number 6 (juvpu fbzrgvzrf jbexf ng gur raq vg vf frra gung ur jnf nyybjrq gb rfpncr, naq gura oebhtug onpx) or some scheme involving drugs, electronic gizmos, or clever mind games by Number 2 to try to get Number 6 to divulge his secret, or a morality play exploring conformity, duty to society, and individualism . Some of them are just entertainment and playing with the viewer.

While Number 6 seems to be the most important prisoner — in several episodes, Number 2 is heard telling the underling doctor (or whoever) to back off, because they can't risk anything going wrong with Number 6 — there appears to be no hierarchy implicit in the numbering of people. Number 31 doesn't seem to be any more or less significant than Number 223. However, there is never an appearance by Numbers 3, 4, or 5. Nor by Number 1. Number 2 is in control of The Village, and Number 1 is implied to be the ultimate boss (back in the real world). Several episodes into the series, Number 2 starts occasionally to talk on a big red telephone to someone clearly in authority over him but who is never identified.

Often seen is a science fiction-y (from a 1960s viewpoint) hi tech view of the means by which The Village is controlled. In the Control Room, staffed by people doing the bidding of Number 2, is The Supervisor, the chief of the actual surveillance and action teams. At his disposal are input from cameras and microphones all over, radar, and whatever doohickey is required that week. In the middle of the Control Room is a seesaw holding at each end a technician facing outward and peering into a small video screen, while the seesaw slowly rotates about its center. These people never speak or give any information during the whole series.

McGoohan is said to hold the opinion that man has gone too far too fast with his technology, and to advocate a slowdown or even retrenchment in "progress". Some say this is why the symbol of the series is a penny farthing bicycle; pictures of them are often seen in the background (for example, on the label of the food cans in the market (all of which are the same brand, Village Foods)), and it appears on the ID badges that everyone wears. There is one standing in the back of Number 2's office, but curiously, only once is anybody seen riding one, and he's only on screen for a second or two.

Wondering how it all turns out? Well, Fall Out, the seventeenth episode, vf ernyyl fvyyl naq cnegvphyneyl jrveq, ohg qbrf frrz gb raq hc jvgu Ahzore 6 rfpncvat — sbe erny. Jvyy ur erznva serr?

Be Seeing You :)

"I wish to appeal on grounds of unfair treatment."
"Nonsense, you are being treated like all the others."
"Yes! That is why I wish to appeal - unfair treatment!"



WHO IS THE PRISONER?

One of the first "cult" television shows, "The Prisoner" was a short-lived series that used elements from spy shows and science fiction to explore ideas about individuality and society. The show followed the efforts of a nameless secret agent, known only as Number Six, to escape the physical and psychological bonds of a mysterious "retirement village" for spies. When not actually trying to escape, Number Six was kept busy fighting the Village's wide range of schemes to control him. Numerous techniques were used to get inside the Prisoner's head and turn him into a productive citizen of the Village. Drugs, computers, psychoanalysis, the modern educational system, and other contemporary issues were all explored in the course of 17 episodes.



IS THE PRISONER PATRICK McGOOHAN?

The Prisoner was created and largely controlled by actor Patrick McGoohan of "Danger Man" (or "Secret Agent", depending on which side of the pond you are on), and Number Six was played by him. This has led many people to assume that McGoohan controlled everything about the show. In fact, McGoohan was given an unprecedented degree of control over the show, having invented the central concept and written treatments for seven of the show's seventeen episodes. He actually scripted several episodes and directed two of them under pseudonyms. However, when attempting to unravel the various mysteries surrounding the plot and the supposed hidden meanings of the show, it is important to keep in mind that no televison production is a one-man creation. McGoohan did not control every detail of the series. The series producer, script writers, directors, set designers and other members of the crew made important contributions, many of which have become major enigmas for fans of the series.

Case in point - "Rover", the bizarre giant ball that tracks down and apprehends escapees from the Village. This creature, or device, looks like a big white weather balloon, and many casual viewers have wondered just what the hell McGoohan had in mind when he created Rover. The fact is that Rover was never meant to be a weather balloon. The original concept was a high-tech sort of hovercraft thing with a police bubble on top - a prop which cost a fair amount of money and required a contortionist to drive it. This Rover sank disappointingly during filming of one of the first episodes, and an enterprising (and probably quite stoned) crew member came up with the suggestion "Well, what if we used this weather balloon thingy instead?" It was ludicrous, and on most productions it would have resulted in somebody getting sacked. Instead, it became one of the central icons of this most iconic of shows.

Strange, unexplained elements like Rover kept popping up in the show, and every episode - including the finale - left viewers with more questions than it answered. According to McGoohan, this was exactly what he had wanted, but every member of the original crew has different opinions. Since McGoohan, probably the most reliable source of information on the Prisoner, rarely grants interviews and is usually unwilling to directly answer questions about the show, we will never know for sure.



IS THE PRISONER JOHN DRAKE?

In 1966, studio executives were all ready to send Patrick McGoohan into filming for another season of his runaway hit "Secret Agent". Unfortunately, McGoohan had other plans. He told Lew Grade unequivocally that there would be no more "Secret Agent". Instead, he proposed a new series - "The Prisoner". His conditions for making the show were unheard of at the time. In brief, he demanded and received full control over the series. The only point he conceded was the length of the series, which was originally to have been a mere seven episodes. Grade convinced him that at least 26 episodes had to be made in order to sell the show. McGoohan reluctantly agreed, but the show was cancelled after only 16 episodes had been filmed, and the crew were given only one more episode to wrap up the story. This is how the unusual number of 17 episodes came about.

Is the Prisoner a sequel to "Secret Agent"? More like a rebuttal, actually. McGoohan's rejection of the Secret Agent formula, not to mention the fame and wealth that role brought him, seems to parallel Number Six's own moral crisis. Unfortunately, just as Number Six never comes out and tells us why he quit, McGoohan has also never told us his reasons.

Patrick McGoohan has repeatedly stated on record that Number Six is NOT John Drake from the "Secret Agent" series. On the other hand, George Markstein, who worked on the Prisoner from the beginning as script editor, is clearly of the opinion that Number Six started out as Drake, but was intentionally left nameless to cultivate the series' mystique. This opinion is shared by other members of the core Prisoner crew. As we never learn the Prisoner's name, there is no clear answer to this question.



NEVER MIND THE PRISONER, WHO IS NUMBER ONE?

That would be telling. Let’s discuss the plot, shall we?

At the very beginning of the series, we witness the irate resignation of McGoohan's character and his mysterious transportation to the Village. As soon as he wakes in the Village, he tries to phone for help, but is thwarted by an unhelpful operator who asks him for his number and refuses to connect him to London. He then attempts to hire a car to escape. Unfortunately, he soon finds there are no cars for hire and the cab service is local only. He decides to set out on foot, first stopping to buy a map of the surroundings. Of course, the only maps available are some rather cheesy diagrams of the Village. As his cool demeanor begins to crumble, he is summoned to his first interrogation with Number Two, quoted above by C-Dawg.

The circular dialogue of this first 'interview' is characteristic of Number Six's interactions with the powers that control the Village. They want information from him - specifically, the reasons for his sudden retirement. He wants to know where he is, and which side controls the Village. Neither party is willing to give a straight answer to anything that might be an important question.

And then the mind games begin. Every episode featured a new Number Two, with a new plan to unlock Number Six's secrets or a new trap to foil his escape attempts. The captors were revealed as prisoners, the prisoners became traitors, Number Six was elected to rule the Village but it didn't change a thing, the lava lamps and the bizarre colour schemes got curiouser and curiouser and the sheer fuckedupedness of the whole thing got to be almost too much, too strange, too pointless, never leading us to a clear answer, never giving us what we expected. And every once in a while, Number Six would tell us something, something that, if we were paying attention, would get us not an inch closer to the end of the plot but a hell of a lot closer to what Patrick McGoohan really wanted us to know, and we would realise that it was all true, that the Government and modern society wanted us all to fall in line and give up our secrets. That we were all supposed to look alike and act alike and listen to the same bloody radio broadcasts and play the same games and think the same thoughts day after day after day. That we were all trapped in Villages and prisons of our own devising, and it was totally up to us to break out of them and do our own thing. That sometimes even rebellious individualism was pointless, and it wasn't necessarily bad to do what other people were doing, but we should do it because we liked it, not because some idiot with a TV station or a fancy title told us we would like it.

Is the Prisoner a spy show? No, and if you're expecting "The Saint" or "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." you'll be frustrated up to and after the final episode. We don't even know for a fact that Number Six was a spy - some fans have pointed out that he might be an ordinary civil servant, while others have made the weird suggestion that he actually worked for some sort of British Yakuza. One wonders how many hundreds of times these people watched the show before the brain damage became irreversible, but such theories are at least in line with the show's basic message of independent thought. Anyway, whether Six is or isn't a spy, the show is not a spy show. A better pigeonhole for it would be science fiction.



HANG ON A MINUTE - IS THE PRISONER JOSEPH K? HE IS, RIGHT?

“The Prisoner” has often been described as ‘Kafkaesque’, and even the most casual reading of Kafka's "The Trial" reveals strong similarities between that book and "The Prisoner". Just as the Villagers refuse to call Number Six anything but Number Six, despite repeated protests that he is not a number, Kafka's hero is rarely called anything but "K". In both works, the nature of the antagonists is unclear - their power comes from no named source, and many of the characters originally thought to be captors prove to be prisoners just like the heroes. Then, too, there is the fact that both heroes have strange, unexplained power over many of their so-called captors - when "K" issues an order, everyone complies, and Number Six creates chaos in the Village merely by doing as he likes. The only thing he cannot accomplish is leaving the Village, just as the one thing "K" dares not do is refuse to cooperate in his strange trial.

In fact, McGoohan claims to have never read any of Kafka's works, but he admits an admiration for Orson Welles's film production of "The Trial". Several Prisoner scenes seem to have been copied from this film, such as the shots of endless, dehumanizing corridors full of filing cabinets.



WHY IS EPISODE NUMBER SIX NOT ALWAYS NUMBER SIX?

The order in which the episodes of the Prisoner should be viewed is the subject of yet another violent debate, owing to several factors. First of all, there are only seven truly "core" episodes - the original seven episodes planned by McGoohan. The other ten episodes are more or less filler, although calling them that may seem demeaning for such a legendary series. The original seven are “Arrival”, “Dance of the Dead”, “Free For All”, “The Chimes of Big Ben”, “Checkmate”, “Once Upon A Time”, and “Fallout”.

Most of the confusion is due to the fact that production problems delayed the original broadcast of several episodes. Some of these were still in production on the dates they were supposed to air, so different episodes were substituted for them.

When CBS broadcast the Prisoner in the US, they used a different order, which was supposedly approved by McGoohan and corrected the flaws in the first ITC sequencing. However, it's worth noting that the CBS broadcast order was significantly different from McGoohan's original plan for the "core seven" episodes. Most notably, it pushed the episode "Free For All" to the fifth place, although FFA is quite obviously supposed to occur towards the very beginning of the story. Another episode, "Living in Harmony", was not broadcast at all in the first American run, due to its 'subversive content'.

Since the original broadcasts, the show has been re-arranged by the Sci-Fi Channel for its marathons, and by Six of One (the Prisoner Appreciation Society, one of the most active and devoted fan clubs any TV show has spawned), which has come up with an arrangement which seems to make the most sense based on an obscenely detailed analysis of plot and dialogue details throughout the series. The new DVD releases have been ordered based on Six of One's endorsement. As far as I know, McGoohan has not given any statement on this new order.



ALL RIGHT, I'LL WATCH IT IF I HAPPEN TO CATCH A RE-RUN, BUT AM I AT LEAST GOING TO FIND OUT WHO NUMBER ONE IS?

Yes and no. Complete mystery surrounded the identity of Number One throughout the series. The show’s small number of fans developed all sorts of theories, and on the day the finale aired they all expected an answer. It was a small-scale, Sixties version of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" or, if you prefer, "Who shot J.R.?” In any case, what the viewers saw when "Fallout" aired was clearly not what they expected. McGoohan has said that most viewers were, despite his best efforts, expecting a James Bond climax, with Number Six breaking free of the village and storming Number One's secret castle, guns blazing. What they got was... not that.

It was... not that... at all.

Viewer response was off the charts in a wide spectrum of opinions, but for the most part the people were simply outraged. Apparently, angry fans were lined up outside of McGoohan's residence, demanding some sort of restitution, although I'm not quite sure what they thought he was going to do - perhaps pull the REAL ending out of his sleeve with one of those secretive Number Six smiles? Instead, all he said was “all the answers, such as they are, are in the episode. What you see is all there is.”

Let’s be honest here. “Fallout” is not what it was supposed to be in McGoohan’s original secret scheme. The episode was written by McGoohan in a single weekend after the show got cancelled. He had 48 hours to wrap up the series. So it’s not surprising that the finale is a little rushed and completely bizarre. However, in my opinion McGoohan is telling the truth. All the answers really are there in the episode, hidden amongst the insane rush of symbolic imagery for independently thinking viewers to puzzle out and draw their own conclusions. And that, in the end, is exactly what “The Prisoner” is all about.

And now, I’m truly sorry but I simply have to say this -

"Be seeing you!”



Sources:

  • http://www.faqs.org/faqs/tv/the-prisoner/part1/
  • http://www.the-prisoner-6.freeserve.co.uk/setup.htm
  • Another American fan site which was amazing, but the URL of which I unfortunately forgot to note - it seems to be gone now, a mere six months later. Damn this dehumanizing Computer Age!
  • Interviews and ‘video guides’ included on the DVDs
  • Far too many hours spent watching and debating various episodes of “The Prisoner”


NO MAN IS JUST A NUMBER.

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