"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...

VIDEO EPISODES:

1. Arrival

2. Checkmate

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

AUDIO EPISODES:

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

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All I remember is that the giant dumplings that ate people freaked me out when I was little.

OPENING CREDITS: The opening credits sequence sets up the premise. One video clip being worth 1000 words, click here. I tried to reenact the scene of #6 running on the beach when Tracy and I visited Portmerion a few years ago but I'm ambivalent about posting a clip of it because it's basically just a fat guy making a fool of himself.

I've only watched The Prisoner a few times, and came away confused more than entertained. It probably didn't help that I watched the series finale after reading a column in The Straight Dope about how it was more confusing than entertaining.

I fear that The Prisoner is for me like Jack Kirby's artwork: I can appreciate its reputation, but I don't actually like it, no matter how much anybody tells me how wonderful it is.

"I've only watched The Prisoner a few times..."

i take it you mean "a few episodes," not "a few times through"...

"It probably didn't help that I watched the series finale after reading a column..."

That is indeed unfortunate... not only that you watched the series finale before watching the final episode, but that you read that article. First of all, the guy who wrote it is full of $#!t. Whereas he gives an accurate description of what happened in the final episode, he makes several other assumptions and factual errors. His bias against the show is obvious. Second, I'm not going to defend that final episode, the least reason for which is that I don't want to get ahead of the discussion. Did you ever watch the first episode? 

ARRIVAL: The first episode set the tone for the series, which creator/star Patrick McGoohan describes as "an allegorical conundrum for people to interpret for themselves." In it, all of the show's main attributes are introduced, including the Green Dome, the Stone Boat, the Pennyfarthing Bicycle, the Bandstand, the Chess Lawn and Rover (or "the giant dumpling" as Bob put it). The Village is run by "Number Two," a succession of Number Twos, actually. Some episodes have two; sometimes they leave and them mysteriously reappear several episodes later. The "Prisoner" is Number Six.

"I am not a number! I am a free man! I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own!"

Most episodes revolve around either an escape attempt or some experimental psychological procedure designed to get #6 to crack. the plot for this first episode is a very simple escape attempt. After being retrieved by one of the Rovers, #6 is taken to the hospital where he finds Cobb, a former agent, also a prisoner. When #6 leaves the room for a moment, Cobb commits suicide by leaping from the window. At the funeral service, #6 sees a woman mourning and makes contact. He doesn't trust her, and rightly so; she's a double agent working for the Village. But she convinces him that she and Cobb had an escape plan, and she give a device designed to override the Rovers to #6. The escape doesn't work; the Village was in control the whole time, but the woman really was sincere. She was being played as well. We then learn that Cobb is alive and has transferred his loyalty to whoever is behind the village.

SIGNIFICANT DIALOGUE:

#2 to Cobb: "You know how important this is." (breaking #2)

Cobb says that he "must report to my new masters."

When they part, #2 says "au revoir" and Cobb says "auf wiedersehen." 

FREE FOR ALL:

"It's election time in the village, and #6 decides to run for the position of #2."

COMMENTARY: I have been thinking about launching this discussion for many years, but I heald off because I didn't think I'd be able to do it justice. With my narrow focus* (which order to watch the episodes), I decided to give it a shot. First of all, I don't care about answering the question "Who is #1?" Second, I don't think there even is a "#1." I don't think Patrick McGoohan knew or cared, either. I think the idea of a "#1" is misconception on the part of #6 (and the individual viewer). Various #2s answer to someone, certainly, but I don't think it's an individual. 

*This is not a "beginner's" discussion; expect "spoilers" throughout.

TRIVIA: #58, #6's maid who turns out to be the real "new #2," spoke a fictional language throughout, based on Yugoslavian but with the rhythms and accents changed.

EPISODE ORDER DEBATE: Often broadcast fourth, this episode was second to be filmed and titled "Episode Two" on the shooting schedule. Also, #6 is referred to as "a recent recruit." Besides, this plot has to occur early on when it was still reasonable to assume that #6 might believe the election was legitimate.

SIGNIFICANT DIALOGUE:

#2 to #6: "If you win, #1 will no longer be a mystery to you... if you know what I mean."

#2 on the red phone: "I'm aware that he's important to us."

The New#2 to the Old #2: "Give my regards to the homeland." 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

"I've only watched The Prisoner a few times..."

i take it you mean "a few episodes," not "a few times through"...

"It probably didn't help that I watched the series finale after reading a column..."

That is indeed unfortunate... not only that you watched the series finale before watching the final episode, but that you read that article. First of all, the guy who wrote it is full of $#!t. Whereas he gives an accurate description of what happened in the final episode, he makes several other assumptions and factual errors. His bias against the show is obvious. Second, I'm not going to defend that final episode, the least reason for which is that I don't want to get ahead of the discussion. Did you ever watch the first episode? 

Yes, I have watched the first episode. And the second, immediately after. And a couple more in the middle of the run.

As for the guy who writes the Straight Dope column, well, I've never heard him described as being "full of $#!t," but I suppose that's as fair an assessment of his work as any.

I've never heard of him, never heard of his column, never read his work, apart from the column you linked. He appeared to me to be sounding off authoritatively about something he knew little or nothing about.

"Yes, I have watched the first episode. And the second, immediately after. And a couple more in the middle of the run."

Well, you gave it a fair shot, then. If you watched the first two episodes plus some others and didn't like it, you wouldn't like any of the others. Me, I love it and have from the very first moment I saw the first episode. I will readily admit, however, that the final episode is more confusing than entertaining. I'll have more to say about it when I get to that point, plus, the other reason for hosting this discussion at this time is I'm eager to find out how the folks at Big finish ended it. There have been two comic book series based on The Prisoner and a TV mini-series, all of which I found at least somewhat disappointing. 

I just finished reading the unfinished versions by Jack Kirby and by Steve Englehart and Gil Kane. The episode order Englehart endorses is quite similar to the one I'm following, and I just verified that the order used by the Columbia House Video Tape Club is the one I'm using, but I recall finding that order not altogether satisfying to begin with. It's been a while since I've even seen the series in its entirety, though... almost 20 years. 

I haven't read any Straight Dope columns for a while, but I doubt he'd be the guy I'd go to to explain the appeal of an enigmatic old TV show. For questions that have knowable answers, he's pretty good at ferreting out the truth (or a possible truth). But the reader was basically asking him to explain other people's taste in entertainment, and dissect a piece of art. That doesn't really seem to me what the column was built for.

I'd write more, but I have to go as Dan Savage about hot investment tips.

DANCE OF THE DEAD

"It is carnival time in the village, but when #6 finds a dead body washed up on the beach, he chances upon an opportunity to contact the outside world."

EPISODE ODER DEBATE: This episode has a very "introductory" feel to me. I think #6 should know a bit more about life in the village before he "runs for office" (as he did/does in "Free For All"). Also, this episode's #2 says, "We are democratic... to a degree," thus setting the stage for the election. For those reasons, I will slot "Dance of the Dead" before "Free For All" in the future. Although broadcast as episode eight, "Dance of the Dead" was filmed fourth and is certainly a very early episode. #6 says to the maid, "I'm new here," he also tells Dutton that he arrived "quite recently."

TRIVIA: The cat in this episode belongs to #2. The same cat appears in "Many Happy Returns."

SIGNIFICANT DIALOGUE: 

Dutton (a former colleague of the Prisoner's and a prisoner himself) mentions "you, me, Arthur, the Colonel... everyone."

#2 referring to Dutton: "He is expendable" (the emphasis indicates that #6 is not). 

Exchange between #6 and his "observer":

"This place has been going for a long time."

"Since the war? Before the war? Which war?"

"A long time." 

CHECKMATE:

EPISODE ORDER DEBATE: The very first time I watched the series through I got to this episode (fourth in sequence) and determined I was watching them out of order. At that time I didn't know anything about production order or broadcast order or even that there was a "debate" of any kind. ("Checkmate" was filmed third and broadcast eleventh. Eleventh!) If for no other reason than the cinematography alone, I determined that this was the second episode. "Checkmate" features location shots from every single corner of Portmerion, more than any other episode. But, even more importantly, storywise it's obviously a very early episode. 

Obviously, not everyone who lives in the Village is a prisoner. "Arrival" indicates that part of its function is to serve as a sort of "retirement home" for spies (and others who might have once been privy to classified information). If you woke up and found yourself captive in such a strange place, what's the first thing you would do? I think I would try to determine who are my fellow prisoners, and who are the warders. and that's exactly what #6 sets out to do in this episode. (Eleventh!)

Also, chess is a symbolic motif. In arrival, a retired admiral plays chess first with #6, then with the woman observer at the very end. The last words of the episode are the admiral saying to the woman, "We're all pawns, my dear." That makes a perfect segue into the beginning of the second episode (in my estimation), in which #6 finds himself playing a human pawn on a life-sized chessboard. 

NOTABLE DIALOGUE: The chess champion says, "You must be new here. In time, most of us join the enemy--against ourselves."

THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN

EPISODE ORDER: Because of the long time frame over which this episode takes place (the arts and crafts show is six weeks away at the start of the story) and a mention is made of a "gap of months" that #6 has been missing, this story must not be treated as an early episode (even though it was originally broadcast second). 

COMMENTARY: I am really enjoying this. Even going to Portmerion a few years ago didn't inspire me to re-watch the episodes, but the goal of assembling them in the "proper" viewing order has re-energized me. Why were the originally episodes broadcast so wildly out of order? I suspect I know. Sometimes Networks make decisions for reasons that don't make good storytelling sense. Case in point: the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast was "The Man Trap" (the 6th episode produced) rather than "Where No Man Has Gone Before" because the Network wanted an episode with a more traditional B.E.M. Similarly, as The Prisoner went on, the stories were filmed less often on location in Portmerion and more frequently in the studio, and I speculate that maybe ITC wanted to "mix then up" a little bit. In any case, the first six episodes were filmed in a block and, apart from the last, the first five of those should be the first five shown... in whichever order one thinks best. 

NOTE: The sixth episode filmed was intended to be the first season cliffhanger, and was ultimately slotted in as the penultimate episode of the series.

Most episodes of The Prisoner fall into one of two categories: either an escape attempt on the part of the Prisoner, or an exotic experiment on the part of the Village. "The Chimes of Big Ben" represents both. #6's erstwhile "ally" this episode is ultimately revealed to be a double-agent working on behalf of the Village, but #8 (or "Nadia") plays her part to the hilt. She is very convincing. I viewed the episode this time with a an eye toward plot holes or misdirection, but didn't find any of either. At any time #2 was talking about her, it was for #6's benefit, and there wasn't a time she was shown by herself that she wouldn't have known she was being observed (by #6). 

The location of the Village is "revealed" to be in Lithuania, 40 miles away from the Polish border, but that "fact" can be discounted because it's part of the plot. What can't be discounted is that, while #6 thinks he is in London, he recognizes both the Colonel and Fotheringay. this means, at the very least, that those two men (if not the entire government) are in league with the Village. 

NOTABLE DIALOGUE

"There are methods we haven't used yet, of course."

"He doesn't even bend."

"That's why he'll break."

And, significantly...

#6: Has it ever occurred to you that you're just as much a prisoner as I am?

#2: My dear chap, of course! I know too much. We're both Lifers. I am definitely an optimist. that's why it doesn't matter who "#1" is... it doesn't matter which "side" runs the Village. 

#6: It's run by one side or the other.

#2: Oh, certainly, but both sides are becoming identical. A perfect blueprint for World Order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they're looking into a mirror, they'll see that this is the pattern for the future. \

#6: The whole Earth as the Village?

#2. That is my hope. What's yours?

#6: I'd like to be the first man on the Moon.

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