Revisiting The Prisoner, part 1: whereas McGoohan glares at various people, places and things

There are few things in life I love more than The Prisoner, that great 1960s spy series that was the brilliant creation of actor/writer/producer Patrick McGoohan. I wrote of many of the reasons I loved it in my obituary of McGoohan here, and I will not repeat that here – suffice it to say, it just works for me.

Next month (November 15th – 1+5=6) AMC will be showing a new “reimagining” of The Prisoner, which I think is going to be more of a sequel than a remake. What excites me about that project is it will give many people who have never heard of the original the opportunity to see of the ideas that McGoohan proposed in his original… proposals about the nature of man and freedom that I think we are in dire need of being reminded of today.

To celebrate the new, I’m taking a trip back to the old – rewatching the original 17 episodes, in order, and posting my thoughts here. i hope to get through all of them (I’m especially excited about rewatching and reflecting on the last episode, “Fall Out”) before the new mini-series airs. So, let’s get on to it, shall we?


Wow, McGoohan is ticked off.

(Oh, and while I know that the scripts referred to his character as PRISONER, I will in my musings on the series call him McGooghan – his character and his own views are so intertwined that I just consider the character on the show a reflection of the actor, and the man – hence, to me he’s McGoohan – and not John Drake, or Prisoner, or Number 6.)

We begin, and before titles start, McGoohan glares at EVERYTHING, starting with you, as he drives his Lotus through the London desert (!) – this is a man not to be trifled with.

Driving out of the desert and back to London, McGoohan resigns from some double-aught spy organization at the beginning of the series, and he’s so mad he bangs the desk of his superior and breaks a tea cup. When an englishman does something like THAT, you know he means business.

As he arrives at his flat (after glaring at the door), he passes a hearse and before he can pack his scuba gear and copy of Esquire for the flight, gas pours in the keyhole and he’s knocked out.

He wakes up in The Village.

Which, we will find out as the series progresses, is everywhere. And nowhere. We are all in The Village, in some way or another… and McGoohan is the only one who is angry about that.

The Village is for people who have secrets – information that should not be “let out” and must be controlled by the Powers That Be – Powers we all report to, in one way or another.

After stumbling around to try and find out where he is and what has happened, McGoohan meets the head of the Village, Number 2, who does a great bit of monologuing to explain the basic premise of the show to the viewers.

(We also get a wonderful “tour” of Portmeirion, in Wales, where the series was filmed – the unique landscape and mixed architecture being the perfect setting for the series. I hope to go there, someday.)

McGoohan resigned, and the Powers that run The Village want to know why. McGoohan’s response? Surprisingly, he glares at him. Number Two tells him “You can’t escape, Number Six” – the number he is assigned in The Village – McGoohan, of course, then immediately tries to do so, and runs across a weather balloon with attitude called Rover (the weather balloon was a last-minute replacement for a mechanized vehicle that ended up sinking the first time the producers tried to use it).

Knocked out, McGoohan wakes up in hospital, meets an old spy friend Cobb – who then proceeds to jump out the window. Or did he? The Village is filled with secrets.

Later, at Cobb’s funeral, Mcgoohan sees a woman crying – a friend of Cobb he confronts and asks what she knows. Apparently, she doesn’t know how to respond to glaring because she bursts into even more tears and promises to help him escape. Which… is a trick. You see, they are trying to demoralize McGoohan, and make him realize that he can’t escape.

We’ll see about that.

All in all, a great start for the show – McGoohan is wonderful, the premise is terrific and the show will go on to bigger and better things.

And hey, don’t have time to rewatch it like I did? Here’s Prisoner-in-a-minute!

We’ll continue, soon, with “The Chimes of Big Ben.”

Be seeing you.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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