"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'll tell you... my first time listening to "I Met a Man Today," I thought Kate was not going to turn out to be #2. I thought that naming the character "Mrs. Butterworth" was Nicholas Brigg's way of misdirecting the audience and the twist would be she is as innocent as she seemed. Plus she was just so gosh-darned nice! What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that that conclusion was informed by scenes such as those between her and her maid and her and the barmaid.
"Six is now certain he can’t trust anyone. Any food or water in the Village could be laced with chemicals to alter his mental state. Going ‘nil by mouth’ in an attempt to prevent potential drugging, he finds himself dazed and confused by hunger and dehydration. And a prisoner in a secret laboratory makes some unnerving claims. Claims that lead to the identity of Number One."
This episode picks up exactly from where "I Met a Man Today" left off: with #2 and #6 sharing a slice of birthday cake... although #6 refuses to eat. In fact, it is at this point that #6 begins a hunger strike. #6 immediately suggests the possibility that the "Kate Butterworth" he met in London was a clone of this #2 but, for whatever it's worth, she denies it and says that everything he learned about her is true. #6 doesn't believe her. As nice as Mrs. Butterworth was, this #2 is sadistic. (I could provide examples, but just take my word for it.)
The next morning, #6 takes a walk in the woods which eventually takes him near a cave on the beach. Attracted by a voice in distress coming from within, he enters the cave which leads to a laboratory. Inside, strapped to a table, he finds Janet, his good friend (girlfriend?) and fellow agent from "Departure and Arrival." She tried following him, tracing the same route his jet took in the previous episode and was similarly ejected. The Village has somehow been inserting certain "scenarios" in her mind, and she distrusts the evidence of her own eyes. It is all #6 can do to convince her that he is real, and not part of some scenario. He quizzes her about what happened in Belgium but, not trusting him, she won't reveal anything.
He then notices that the lab is equipped with goggles and a screen and summarizes that whoever wears the goggles and watches the screen can tune into and observe her thoughts. With that in mind, he dons the goggles and, the next thing he knows, he's back in The Village. He meets Janet, the real (?) Janet, walking down the way. She has just arrived in the Village and is disoriented. She tells him the exact same story that "Nadia" did when she first met #6: that The village is in Lithuania and they can escape via the Baltic to Poland. #6 rejects that story out of hand and then realizes that, although he cannot see them, he can feel that he is wearing goggles and headphones.
As he tries to force them off, the scene switches to #2 and #52 observing his reaction to their scenario. Apparently, him discovering the headphones was not part of their plan. They mention "Phase One" and "Phase Two" of the experiment, and are about to begin "Phase three." By this point, those familiar with the television show recognize the "A, B & C" scenario. Within the dream, #6 finally manages to remove the devices from his head, and he and Janet find themselves back in Belgium.
The break free of this scenario and Janet admits that she has been working for The Village all along, but #6 doesn't believe her. When he asks how she got there originally, she tells him by train (a clear reference to the Disch novel). They make their way to the train station and Janet manages to wrest control of the train from #2. Once they are well away from The Village, Janet reveals the post-WWII origins of The Village and its actual location: North Wales.
Once back in London, they go to the headquarters of the British Secret Service and are met by Control. #6 accuses him of lying to his face, but Janet explains that #6 himself is responsible for his own predicament and assigned the number to himself. She then ushers him into the office of #1 himself. #1 is seated in a large chair with his back toward the door. When he dramatically swings around to greet #6 face-to-face at last, #1 is revealed to be... #6!
"#6 immediately suggests the possibility that the 'Mrs. Butterworth' he met in London was a clone of this #2 but, for whatever it's worth, she denies it and says that everything he learned about 'Kate' is true."
This has been in the back of my mind all morning. It never occurred to me before that "Kate" might have been a clone because I assumed she was simply a psychotic individual. BUT... What If... #2 is the clone? What if all the #2s are clones? #2... a duplicate... makes sense (in the same way #12 is the double of #6). I'm just guessing here... I've never heard the final four episodes. It seems to me that Nicholas Briggs is taking favorite fan theories (The Village is in Lithuania, The Village is on an island off the coast of Morocco, The Village is in Wales, #6 himself is #1)' addressing them and discounting them. Another Guess: The Village might might share certain similarities with the island in Lost.
UP NEXT: A different perspective.
I am intentionally posting this slightly out of order because Briggs' comments on "I Met a Man Today" foreshadow certain aspects of "Project Six."
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on "I MET A MAN TODAY":
"This is the episode that so many people cited as impossible to adapt for audio. So, at first, that just seemed too much of a challenge to ignore, particularly as I'm always saying that anything is possible with audio drama. But then, it also occurred to me what a perfect beginning to the 'second series' this would be, especially since I decided to start the narrative a lot later in the story, when Number Six had already arrived in London. With The Prisoner, I'm keen to wrong-foot the audience, and opening with him already in London seemed the ideal thing to doin that respect.
"Recording of this episode was a slightly confusing experience , because, for reasons of cast availability, we recorded this one second--with 'Project Six' being first in front of the microphones. So Lucy Briggs-Owen had the opportunity to be the particularly nasty Number Two before she played the far less nasty Kate Butterworth. My intention here was again to turn expectations on their head. In 'Many Happy returns.' there's a kind of sinister quality about 'Mrs. Butterworth' even whan she's being kind. But in this version, I wanted our 'Kate' to be completely credible as a nice person, even more confused and caught up in this than Number Six himself."
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on "PROJECT SIX":
"This episode was recorded first because of the availability of Sarah Mowat who plays Janet, the lady we heard Number six having a meeting with just before he famously resigned, in the first series.
"I wanted to take the central idea of the original 'A, B & C' -- of there being three fictional scenarios in which Number six was involved -- but to turn that around a little. the idea here is that we're not sure whose fictional scenarios they are. And given that one of the central concerns of Number six, the audience and the series is the question of 'Where am I?', I wanted each of the scenarios to, in some way, try to answer that question.
"What this version has in common with the original is Number six's grasping to keep control of his sanity. But how he grasps, exactly what he's grasping for, and what he really discovers, are all quite a departure. and give that Number Two's presentation of a cake to Number Six at the end of 'I Met a Man today' raised the obvious questions of 'Couldn't this be drugged? And f it is, why isn't anything or everything else in The Village drugged?'... Well, there were certainly all sorts of questions to deal with about what is real and what is not. Cue Number six being subjected to all sorts of angst again!"
HAMMER INTO ANVIL:
"For the new Number Two ‘the gloves are off’. His mission is to break Six, saying he must be either hammer or anvil. But Six has a plan to exploit a weakness in the system."
That was a good spot to take a break over the weekend as "Project Six" essentially brought us to the point of "Fall Out" at which #6 confronted himself as #1. As "Hammer Into Anvil" begins, #6 awakens on the "Project Six" table to find a new #2, who he immediately recognizes as Thorpe, in charge. Reality shifts again and #6 is back in his residence. #2 calls him on the phone, but denies ever seeing him in the treatment room. Later, #6 encounters #2's assistant, #26, and strikes up a conversation. #26 functions in this episode as the Controller, but she has been, in the past, a nurse, a taxi driver, and the voice on the P.A. system and VIPS. The details differ from the TV episode, but essentially #6 drives the paranoid and sadistic Thorpe #2 over the edge, primarily by faking a love affair between himself and #26 (who tells him her name is "Janet," BTW, and is definitely a clone). At one point, #2 uncovers #6's implanted "memory" of meeting himself and concludes that #6 is insane (thus addressing my personal fan theory), but later comes to believe that #6 himself is #1.
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on "HAMMER INTO ANVIL":
"Sometimes I think the original 'Hammer Into Anvil' is my favorite episode of The Prisoner. It's so clear-cut and far less ambiguous than some of the others. Hence the fact that I really liked it when I first saw it when I was a teenager. But given all the ongoing story developments I've made in this new audio reimagining of the series, having Number Two driven to the point of insanity by Number six presents some problems.
"What helped me to overcome them was to link this to the final confusions of 'Project Six' and delve even further into the question of 'What is reality anyway?'.
"this episode also gave me the opportunity to create two great characters. Making Number 26, the woman in the control room, a pivotal part of this was a choice inspired partly by the desire to make the focus of Two's paranoia related to a particular relationship Six was apparently having, but mostly inspired by my desire to give Helen goldwyn a role worthy of her abilities. Helen really rises to the challenge here, with spectacular results.
" Also spectacular is John Hefferman as Number Two. Having never seen Patrick Cargill's superb original, John was able to craft something entirely different without any paranoid feelings of his own. Where Cargill's irrationality was visible from the start, John opts for something far more slow burning. But be warned, the explosion does eventually happen!"
LIVING IN HARMONY:
"Six finds himself in entirely unfamiliar circumstances. He is also confronted with the seemingly impossible return of Number Nine. But worst of all, he is faced with a deadly choice. Just how much is his freedom really worth?"
This episode begins with #6 being crushed by G-forces aboard a space capsule. He has no memory of how he got there. He soon discovers a female co-pilot with a very familiar face and a Jamaican accent. She calls herself #90 and denies all memory or knowledge of ever being #9. Before landing on the Moon, she attempts to crash the ship. #6 is severely injured in the crash, but medical personal on Moonbase Harmony are able to heal his wounds.
They soon meet the female #2 in charge of the base, a Russian (the first we have seen). #6 questions whether he is really on the Moon, or if he is still in The Village. Who built the moonbase? NASA? the Soviets? "Everyone here lives in Harmony." The word "Harmony" is pregnant with double meaning throughout. "In the interest of Harmony"... "For Harmony's sake," and so on. A great deal of information is conveyed between #6 and "#90," but it's difficult to ascertain what is a clue and what is a red herring.
Apparently 390 was not trying to crash the ship, per se, but rather trying to sabotage the solar-powared force field generator. A meteor shower is approaching, and without the generator, Harmony would be destroyed. The Village is powered by the generator, and the feedback of its destruction would destroy The Village as well. A second attempt to destroy the generator leads to an explosive decompression in which #6 and #90 are both injured, and again healed.
There are families with children "living in Harmony" and, when #90 learns this, her resolve falters. #2 confronts #90 about her plans, but refers to her as #9. #2 believes that #9 will never go through with her plan because she loves children. #2 reveals that #9 became a school teacher when she learned she was unable to have children of her own. #9 (or #90) enlisted #6's help. With the generator down, they will also be able to escape in a space capsule. They proceed with their plan, but the generator is not destroyed. With the generator intact, the moonbase should be able to return the capsule to Harmony, yet they are allowed to escape.
#6 has sabotaged her plan because the deaths of the children was a price he was unwilling to pay for their freedom. #90 admits she was #9 and says she has had many identities. When she was "killed" by Rover, she expected to be given a new identity; now she expects to be killed "again." They land in The Village and are greeted by a male #2, the same one from "The Chimes of Big Ben." #6 is concerned that he may be becoming one of "them."
#2: "Whose side are you on?"
#6: "That... would be telling."
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on "LIVING IN HARMONY":
"By far the clearest message I received from listeners of the first series of our audio re-imagining of The Prisoner was that they wanted more completely original episodes. I have to confess that this surprised me--but it was a nice surprise.
"Since my adaptations are very loose and often very different from the original TV episodes, I wasn't too concerned about increasing the nimber of 'new' episodes--and here I found myself clutching hold of a title from the TV series, but constructing a story that is completely different.
"As you'll know, the 'Living in Harmony' made in the '60s was all about #6 fond himself in a drug-induced replica of a frontier town, complete with cowboy outfits, six-shooters and a saloon. This version exploits another genre which flourished in the 1960s... it's a 'Space Age' story. It somehow seemed in keeping with a series set in that decade and feels like the kind of thing they might have done if the series lasted longer. But maybe that is just me fantasizing!
"Perhaps most exciting of all was the opportunity to bring Sara Powell back, who had been so brilliant in the first series. It felt like she'd never left us. "
I forgot to mention that before #9 meets her final (?) end, she says something to #6 about "Selzman."
Set two was not any more "one big story" than set one was. Tomorrow I move into set three, and I will be listening to the next four episodes for the first time. I'd like to finish by the weekend, but the problem is: four episodes and only three days. I may listen to two tomorrow so I can wrap up on Friday. Nicholas Briggs said he wanted to give his audio version of The Prisoner the ending it never really had on TV. I thought that was to be set three, but after set wo he spoke of doing a third set an possibly a fourth, so I really have no idea what to expect. Up next is "Free For All" which, regarding the television episode I said had to occur early on when #6 still might have believed a "free and fair" election was still possible. Briggs does tend to veer wildly from the source material, though, so again, I really have no idea what to expect.
FREE FOR ALL:
"Time for an election in the Village. The regime seems to want Six to stand as a candidate to be Number Two. But when Two’s manifesto seems to be based on the notion of freedom, what platform will Six decide to stand upon? And can there ever be freedom in the Village?"
In the pre-credits sequence, #6 meets the new #2. She is an American (apparently, judging by the accent) and occasionally slips into and out of a convincing Southern drawl depending on how "folksy" she's trying to be at a given moment. Shots are heard in the distance and she explains that they are coming from the VRA, the Village Rifle Association. they stroll over to the gun range and #6 is given a gun (under strict observation, of course), and his litany ("I will not be pushed, filed, stamped," etc.) is repeated, punctuated by gunshots. This scene is not gratuitous, but almost literally serves the purpose of Checkov's "gun on the mantlepiece."
The plot proceeds much along the lines of the television episode, but with different dialogue and different details. For example, on TV, #6's maid, who spoke no English, was assigned to be his campaign manager. On audio, his maid, #43, is likewise his campaign manager, but she does speak English, albeit with a heavy middle-European accent. On TV, the maid ends up being the new #2 (or perhaps this episode's real #2), but on audio #43 and the American #2 are quite definitely at odds. At one point, #2 asks her, "waht were you called? 'The girl who...'?"
I never really did buy, on TV, that The Village had free and fair elections, that #6 would buy into it, or that he could have won on his platform. The audio makes a point that elections exist as long as another candidate for #2 stands, but that that has "never happened in living memory." When #6 stands before the Villagers in the square, he says nothing at all for several minutes, leaving the newscaster to interpret his intentions. Then he speaks three words, widely spaced out...
He runs from the square down to the beach and the Villagers follow him. Rover is dispatched, but before it catches him he stops running and makes his real speech. Basically, his platform is identical to #2's... except that he means it.
A debate is staged, televised from #2's office. Another egg-chair has been installed giving the two candidates equal footing. A live poll is running throughout the debate, which fluctuates depending on which candidate scores a telling point. (Somehow, it is a live stream of the Villagers' actual reactions to the debate.) It is then revealed that the debate actually is the election, and whichever candidate is ahead by the end will be declared the new #2.
Suddenly, a shot rings out! #2 has been assassinated by a gun stolen from the VRA range! The episode ends with #6 being declared the new #2. This episode contains very obvious and deliberate overtones of the current political situation in the United States, which is why I think an American was cast in the roll of #2.
Next up is Nicholas Briggs' adaptation of my least favorite episode of the TV series, but I suspect it will be an "adaptation" in title only, as was "Living in Harmony." Remember, I'll be back with my reaction to that episode later today, after my weekly trip to the LCS.
THE GIRL WHO WAS DEATH:
"Six finds himself free again, back in London. But how did he get here? An explosion rocks the city and Six must work out who he can trust. Will it be Control, Danvers, Number 43, Kate, Number Two or Potter?"
"Hello. Awake at last? What shall I call you this time, 'Peter'?"
#6 awakens in a London hospital. The words are spoken by Kate Butterworth. The year is 1973. #6 has been in a coma for five years. The backstory of what happened between episodes comes out in dribs and drabs. #6 was found at the site of a plane crash in Morocco. Eventually his photo crossed the right desk and he was expatriated to England. Control called in Mrs. Butterworth because he thought it would be nice for #6 to awaken to a familiar face.
#6 refuses to believe he's not still in The Village or that five years have passed. He sneaks out of the hospital and eventually makes his way back to his old flat, where Kate still lives. She's not a writer anymore. She tells him about the barmaid who paid her a visit. After #6 mysteriously disappeared, the barmaid turned up at the flat again. After that, Kate's live is a blur. When she eventually came to her senses, she was in Belgium, the same city where #6 met Janet in "Departure and Arrival" just before he resigned.
In the distance they hear the sound of an explosion, which they trace to the Houses of Parliament where a bomb has just killed the Minister of Defense. Also on the scene is Potter, an agent from #6's former organization who #6 recognizes as #358 from The Village. #358 was an instructor in the VRA and the assassin of #2. He had been abducted from that same town in Belgium while investigating Seltzman and woke up in The Village. He was in the same plane crash as #6, but thought #6 had been killed. He made his way back to London with essentially the same #6 as #6's, but no trace of The Village was ever found, and he eventually returned to active duty. In the distance, #6 spots #43, a.k.a. "The Girl Who Was Death," but she gets away.
The three go to a pub for a drink. A note stuck the the bottom of his now-empty glass tells #6, "You have just been poisoned" (the only aspect of the original, apart from the title, to survive the "adaptation"). He slips into unconsciousness and flashes back to the events immediately following "Free for All."
The Village is in chaos after the assassination. He and #43 are whisked away to the secondary control room. Soon, the assassin is brought before him and he meets Potter for the first time. (Although they worked for the same organization, they had never met.) Part of the assassinated #2's platform had been to exile all undesirables. Because #6 is the new #2 and he ran on the old #2's platform, it was incumbent upon him to carry out her policies. Because #43 had hired #358, she, too, was deemed undesirable. Because #43 had been #6's campaign manager, it was decided by The Council that it was unlikely he knew nothing of her plans, so he was to be exiled, too.
Ironically, though, #43 had no desire to leave The Village. She had grown tired of her previous lifestyle and wanted nothing more than to retire. She simply wanted The Village to be a more pleasant place in which to live and genuinely wanted #6 to be elected #2. All three were in the process of being banished from The Village when their plane mysteriously crashed in Morocco. When #6 awakens he is greeted by Control, who is no longer interested in why he resigned.
Control provides further information about "The Girl who Was Death." After being exiled from The Village and surviving the plane crash, she resumed her former way of life. Now she wants nothing more than to revenger herself on #6, who she blames for the failure of her plans to retire. She is also the one responsible for the death of the Minister of Defense, but it wasn't a car bomb as suspected. First, she seduced him and became his lover. Then, she slipped him a drug which simulated the symptoms of acute appendicitis. She had the real surgical team killed and performed the operation herself, Instead of taking his appendix out, she put a remotely controlled bomb in.
Now, Control wants #6 (or should I say ZM-73?) to find The Village and "wipe it off the face of the map." His first stop will be Belgium to investigate the mysterious Seltzman. One of the post-episode interviews let something slip that I certainly didn't pick up on. I think it was something of a spoiler, but no real surprise to anyone familiar with the original television series. I won't say anything about it now; I expect it will come out in "The Seltzman Connection." I had been concerned there was not enough time to finish the discussion this week, now I don't know if I'll be able to wait two whole days to listen to the final episodes!
I haven't listened to the audios fully but from everything I've heard, Nicholas Briggs has done a fantastic job of combining the old and new.