"A secret agent resigns, then wakes up to find himself imprisoned in "The Village"... a bizarre community with a cheery veneer, but an underbelly of mystery and threat. All occupants of the Village have numbers instead of names, with our secret agent forced to accept the mantle of Number Six."
I was first introduced to this series by one of my college roommates, back in the days when we not only had to rent the tapes but the player, too. I did not make it though the entire series at that time, but I did complete a subscription through Columbia House some years later. The first thing I learned was that the order in which the episodes were presented was not necessarily the best order in which to watch them. In fact, "episode order debate" is a popular topic of discussion among aficionados of the show. There is production order and original broadcast order as well as several others as listed here.
Back when we were first married, Tracy bought "Set 1" of the A&E collection, which took pains to explain the order which they chose. I was impressed, but I told her I already owned the entire series on VHS. (Back then I was still buying an equal number of VHS as I was DVDs, just as, decades earlier, I was still buying an equal number of records on vinyl as I was on CD.) That was a mistake, but luckily that site I linked above reproduces the "A&E" order, which is also endorsed by 6 of 1, The Prisoner Appreciation Society. That's the order I'm going to go with and see if I agree.
EDIT: I have now determined my own viewing order, which is slightly different from A&E and AVC, the two main lists I had been consulting. The discussion follows the A&E order, but the list directly below reflects my personal favorite viewing order.
More recently, Big Finish has brought The Prisoner to audio with a series of adaptations as well as original episodes released in three sets. When set two was released I listened to set one a second time, but I have yet to listen to set three. Like the TV series before it, the audio series brings the story to a definite conclusion, but I've been reluctant to listen to it because I so like the ending I've thought of myself. After I re-familiarize myself with the television episodes, I plan to listen to the first audio set a third time, the second for a second, and the third for a first. Here is the order I plan to follow...
3. Dance of the Dead
4. Free For All
5. The Chimes of Big Ben
6. A, B & C
7. The Schizoid Man
8. The General
9. Many Happy Returns
10. It's Your Funeral
11. A Change of Mind
12. Hammer Into Anvil
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
1.1. Departure & Arrival
1.2. The Schizoid Man
1.3. Your Beautiful Village
1.4. The Chimes of Big Ben
2.1. I Met a Man Today
2.2. Project Six
2.3. Hammer Into Anvil
2.4. Living in Harmony
3.1. Free for All
3.2. The Girl Who Was Death
3.3. The Seltzman Connection
3.4 No One Will Know
"I am really enjoying this."
Enjoying it so much, apparently, that I've forgotten to post capsule synopses of the last two episodes (that, and I can't seem to get my formatting consistent). I don't suppose anyone unfamiliar with the series is even reading this, but even so it had been my intention to post a brief synopis of each episode to refresh the memory. Although I have been following the A&E recommended order, I am consulting multiple lists. My final order promises to be unique, if for no other reason than no other list places "Checkmate" second. When I finish the video section of this project, I will edit the initial post to reflect "Earth-J" order. In the meantime, I have divided the episodes into three sections which I have cleverly titled "Early," "Middle" and "Late." The "Early" episodes are all of an introductory nature and have a "hook" upon which to hang the plot. Specifically...
1. Arrival - #6's "arrival"
2. Checkmate - the human chess match
3. Dance of the Dead - the carnival
4. Free For All - the election
5. The Chimes of Big Ben - elaborate escape.hoax
Tomorrow I will begin to examine the "Middle" series of episodes.
I am following the A&E order, but there are also things about the AV Club order I like. I'm not considering only the order of the episodes, but also how they relate to each other. I'm going to look at the next five episodes as a block (which does not comprise what I see as the series' "Middle" episodes in its entirety, but rather the episodes where the two lists differ.
6. A, B and C
7. The General
8. The Schizoid Man
9. Many Happy Returns
10. It's Your Funeral
6. The Schizoid Man
7. The General
8. A, B and C
9. It's Your Funeral
10. Many Happy Returns
Whereas the Early episodes can be divided into either "escapes" or "experiments," the Middle section adds an additional element: whether #6 "wins" (gets the better of the Village) or loses.
[There's freezing rain today and Tracy's working from home; I may not be able to continue this discussion until tomorrow.]
Tracy is okay working with the TV on (I wouldn't be), and she has decided to work only a half-day today in any case. This has the feel of a "snow day" to me (in fact, it is), and I may end up covering more than just these two episodes. We shall see.
A, B AND C:
"The Village has developed a drug which enables the manipulation of dreams. #2 decides to use it on #6 to find out why he resigned."
"Speed Learn, a new way of learning extensive information in a matter of seconds, has taken the Village by storm, but #6 is an unwilling student and aims to stop it with the aid of a young ally."
COMMENTARY: These two episode feature the same #2. A&E slots "A, B and C" before "The General," AVC vice versa. In production order, "The General" is #10 and "A, B and C" is #11, but as broadcast, "A, B & C" was third and "The General" was sixth. (Honestly, I rather do like the idea of one of the #2s going away and then returning with no explanation.) This #2 suggests nothing so much as a low-level bureaucrat promoted to middle management. He is depicted throughout "A. B and C with a red phone and a pitcher of milk (as if trying to self-treat an ulcer brought on by stress) in the foreground. He is continually shown as being subservient to whoever is on the other end of the red phone, but I remain unconvinced that that is actually "#1" per se (although that is undoubtedly what the viewer is supposed to think).
As progressive as The Prisoner is in some ways, it is very sloppy in others, most notably episode-to-episode continuity (else why would there be an "episode order debate" in the first place?). In this episode, there is a guest at Madame Engadine's party who will later play Mrs. Butterworth in "Many Happy Returns." They are not intended to be the same character, but I like to think that they are. Like the linguist who creates the alien languages for Star Trek (who incorporates actors' "mistakes" into the vocabulary), I like to account for all such discrepancies in my continuity. Keep this scene in mind for the "Many Happy Returns" post.
The "General" ends up being the Village's super-computer, and the Professor its programmer. #6 "outwits" the AI with a simple, one word question he refers to as "insoluble" but for which I can think of at least three answers.
It should be noted that, at the end of "A, B and C," the Village gets the answer of why he resigned.
EPISODE ORDER: I like to think that, after their failure in "The Chimes of Big Ben," the Village's leadership would take their techniques to the next level by using experimental drugs. This development hearkens back to the line, "There are methods we haven't used yet, of course," from that very episode and seems to directly foreshadow the events of "A, B and C."
"The General" begins with an aerial shot of the Village (as did "Checkmate") which suggests to me a clear beginning. However, "A, B and C" begins with #2 and serves as a good introduction to the character, whereas he doesn't make and appearance until 12 minutes in to "The General." Although there is a certain "finality" about the last scene of "A, B and C," what settles the question for me, however, is that #2 refers to himself and #6 as "old friends" in "The General," which suggests that the events of "A, B and C" have already happened.
"The professor and I have certain privileges."
"As prisoners or as warders?"
"We came here voluntarily."
I'm glad she's not out in this crap.
I am incredibly glad to be home today. I was quietly jamming to The Prisoner music while working.
Tracy to client: "We want information....INFORMATION....INFORMATION."
THE SCHIZOID MAN:
"#6 awakens to find he is the new #12 and, in an ingenious Village plan to make him crack, a perfect double of him is now living in his cottage as #6."
MANY HAPPY RETURNS:
#6 awakens to fins the Village deserted. He builds a raft and escapes back to London, but finds that all is not as he left it."
COMMENTARY: I stopped adding a "trivia" section to these posts when I focused my intent to order the episodes, but there is one piece of trivia I left off for a wholly different reason. The birth date given for the Prisoner in "Arrival," March 19, 1928 at 4:31 AM, is Patrick McGoohan's own birthday. I left that one off because it's been repeated in nearly every series guide I have ever seen and I figured anyone reading this who cared already knew it. I didn't realize when I decided not to mention it how important that date would be in "Many Happy Returns." Not since "Free For All" has an episode title been so rife with double meaning. It is one of my favorite episodes of the series.
First, "The Schizoid Man." As their elaborate plans to crack #6 fail one by one, the Village's experiments become increasingly bizarre. As fantastic as "A, B and C" was, "The Schizoid Man" is virtually incredible. When that doesn't work, the Village launches their most ambitious (and desperate) ploy to date: they actually let #6 escape! "Many Happy Returns" a highly innovative episode. There is no dialogue (and very few words) spoken until approximately 30 minutes in, yet it is not without its sloppy continuity (see below).
Also, the cat (from "Dance of the Dead") is in this episode as well. It is, in fact, the same cat (name of "Tammy" and owned by a local couple), but the previous #2 said it was hers, and I tend to believe her (for no other reason than because I want to). I choose to believe that that #2 is still behind the scenes somewhere in the Village.
Most importantly, the location of the Village is revealed. It is on (or off) the Coast of Morocco, southwest of Portugal and Spain.
CONTINUITY CONSIDERATIONS: Mrs. Butterworth appeared in an earlier episode ("A, B and C") at one of Madame Engadine's famous parties. She is not intended to be the same character, but I like to think that she is. My only explanation is that #6 simply failed to recognize her. she mentions that her late husband's name was Arthur. Could that be the same "Arthur" mentioned by Cobb back in arrival? Probably not; that would be too much of a coincidence. But what about the Colonel? Is that the same "Colonel" mentioned by Cobb? It's either him or the "Colonel J." who appeared in "The Chimes of Big Ben." And the actor who plays Thorpe later appears as a #2 (in "Hammer into Anvil")! He's not intended to be the same character, either, but I like to think that he is.
We've already seen Colonel J. and Fotheringay as complicit with the Village, so why not Thorpe, too. (For that matter, why didn't #6 rat them out as well when he blew the whistle on the Village?) Someone in #6's former organization must be complicit, and who better than Thorpe? Yes, I know the pilot was replaced later on, but he had to be getting his information from someone. I like to think that this Colonel (whose name is "James," BTW) is not working for the Village, but in any case, he indisputably knows about it now.
EPISODE ORDER: "Many Happy Returns" takes place over 27 days. The plot ends on March 19, #6's birthday. Working back from this date, he awoke to an empty Village on February 21. "The Schizoid Man" begins on February 10th and goes up to February 20. The date can be determined by the 27 days in which "Many Happy returns" takes place (including 25 days at sea), and then by counting backwards from #6's birthday. Therefore, "Many Happy Returns" must follow "The Schizoid Man," but it must also follow "The General" because #6 trips himself up by telling #2 that he intends to meet with the General personally (which is why AVC slotted "The Schizoid Man" directly before "The General," but without taking "Many Happy Returns" into consideration. But A&E slotted both "The Schizoid Man" and "Many Happy Returns" after "The General" without taking #6s slip of the tongue into account.
The explanation is simple. "The Schizoid Man" (production number seven) and "The General" (production number ten) were broadcast as episodes five and six respectively. Obviously, #6's mention of the "General" was supposed to foreshadow the next episode. That means A&E and AVC both have it wrong. The true order should be something like...
A, B and C
The Schizoid Man
Many Happy Returns
I say "something like" that because A&E slots "It's Your Funeral" after "Many Happy Returns," and AVC before it. I'll have to watch "It's Your Funeral" before deciding for myself.
Tracy and I had a long discussion about The Prisoner last night. She watched four episodes with me yesterday but has not been following this discussion. She has zero interest in the "episode order debate." One other comment I wanted to make about "Many Happy Returns"... if I had been the Prisoner, when #2 showed up at the end with that birthday cake, I would have throttled her, plain and simple. (Honestly, I would have probably had a meltdown as soon as the ejector seat fired.)
IT'S YOUR FUNERAL:
"#6 learns of a plot to assassinate the retiring 32, but finds that he and his young ally are not being believed and must work alone to stop the killing."
COMMENTARY: This episode asks viewers to believe that the real #2 has returned from "leave" and that all previous ones have been "interim" #2s. This episode has two #2s: the "real" one and his "successor." The successor is set to take over the position when the real one "retires," but the one intends to assassinate the other before that happens. Evidence suggests that this episode's plot is not some sort of ploy, but is actually happening.
The "successor" #2 speaks to someone (on a yellow phones, not red) twice during the course of this episode. He addresses the person on the other side of the line as "sir," not "#1." He has a quite different relationship with his superior than the #2 from "A, B & C" did.
KOSHO: When I was in college I was intrigued by the game Patrick McGoohan invented and would have loved to play it. It consists of two trampolines separated by a tank of water. and an inclined ramp around three sides of the "field." The opponents wear long read robes and helmets. Judging by the backgropund music, the game is intended to be Asian. The objective is to toss one's opponent into the tank, but the rules beyond that are anyone's guess.
EPISODE ORDER: A&E places this episode after "Many Happy Returns" by virture of the fact that #6 was shown warning a succession of #2s against assassination and that he would have no way of knowing how many #2s served during his absence, but as the video evidence was faked in the first place, I don't see what difference that makes. OTOH, I see no reason to place it before "Many Happy Returns" either, so I'm going with the A&E placement.
A CHANGE OF MIND:
"When #6 refuses to conform he is branded 'unmutual' by the Village and must undergo brain surgery to cure him of his individuality."
EPISODE ORDER: I see no reason not to slot "A Change of Mind" (production number 9) after "It's Your Funeral" (production number 8).
INCONSISTENCIES: In "A, B & C" #2 used the red phone to speak to his superior; in "It's Your Funeral" #2 used the yellow phone to speak to his superior; in "A change of mind" #2 uses the yellow phone as a P.A. system to address the Village. these are the kind of niggling little errors that would not creep in if The Prisoner were made today.
OLD BUSINESS: I have reconsidered my initial conclusion regarding episode order in reference to "The General." Whereas I have "proved" that "The Schizoid Man" and "Many Happy Returns" occur back-to-back, my goal to assemble the optimum viewing order. Because "The Schizoid Man" so clearly foreshadows "The General," I have sequenced the latter between the former two like so:
6. A, B & C
7. The Schizoid Man
8. The General
9. Many Happy Returns
10. It's Your Funeral
11, A Change of Mind
NOTABLE QUOTATION: "The butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart."
This time around, I am watching with a mind of discussion and questions, rather than just enjoyment. It makes for interesting viewing since I have a good foundation of the episodes.