Sunday, January 30, 2011
This is the Village and neither am I out of it.
The Prisoner was brilliant conceptually -- an archetype of oppression right up there with 1984. (A British show from 1967 about a spy who's kidnapped and held in a mysterious Village.) Great writing, acting and directing. But it was flawed in its execution. Patrick McGoohan -- the creative force behind the show -- gets some blame along with the credit.
A) He didn't take its political premise seriously. The show took place during the Cold War. Supposedly, the Prisoner didn't know which side was running the Village. But none of the #2s had a Russian accent! (Or American, Chinese or any other accent except British.) "Arrival" featured a few foreign accents -- and there were a few throwaway snippets of other tongues here and there. But the Village was British through and through.
B) He didn't take is cultural premise seriously. In other words, if the Village were a real place (and not an allegorical chessboard) it would have its own subcultures, languages and factions. The Prisoner would not be the only lone wolf individual surrounded by conformist sheep. The Village's villagers make the perfect editorial cartoon symbol for the deluded crowd -- but they're less than believable. (The exception to this is the very well-written "Checkmate" -- one of the few episodes that really convinced me the culture of the Village existed, and had some history and texture and three-dimensional characters in addition to the Prisoner.)
C) McGoohan set up a strawman to attack and put himself on a soapbox. The Village was simply a coterie of malign, oppressive thugs under a thin smiley face/holiday camp veneer. The Prisoner never encountered a true believer of a #2 -- one who truly believed in collectivism and the idea that the grand experiment of the Village would lead to a better world. (A good example of this would be the Operative in the Serenity movie.)
My take -- which is, basically, how I wish he'd done it. None of this takes away from the show's greatness.
Have advanced the theory before that the Village is McGoohan's very Irish satire of Britain's pseudo democracy.
The Prisoner Explained
Have also advanced theory that McGoohan wrested creative control from chief story editor George Markstein who originated concept and wrote "Arrival." The point of disagreement: Markstein wanted a realistic concept; McGoohan wanted a Fellini-esque allegory. McGoohan won.
The Prisoner's Dilemma