Revisiting The Prisoner, when McGoohan wears spurs and chaps

Living in Harmony

The most unique episode of The Prisoner, ever, and for a show like this, that’s saying something.

It’s actually an episode that is absolutely simple and also incredibly complex. You have McGoohan in the role of a lone gunman in a wild west setting, a man who has given up his badge and then… He’s ambushed. Knocked out, and taken to Harmony… Where he’s asked by The Judge to become the new sheriff. He refuses and resists… Of course.

It is, of course, a mind game, a hallucination that is provided using Village technology, but this is found out late in the episode. For most of this episode you have to just accept what is happening with no explanation whatsoever. It’s a risky prospect for any television series… It uproots and potentially alienates the viewer. They did it anyway.

The most intriguing aspect of the episode is that McGoohan wins in the end… The technology that was used to make him think he was in the old west ends up destroying the mind and lives of the two Villagers who were in the same hallucination. Number 8, who in the hallucination was the mute Kid, ends up losing his identity and his mind, killing the woman he had also killed in the fantasy (Number 22). A bittersweet victory, but still a victory.

This is a provocative episode, in that it is absolutely focused on the sense of self. McGoohan is still McGoohan, whether he is wearing chaps or the modern clothes that was imposed on him by the Village. The others? They lost themselves, and by doing so, died. A lesson on the importance of individuality? From this show? Well, duh.

Other aspects of this episode that is noteworthy: Alexis Kanner, who plays Number 8/The Kid, returns in the finale as a new character, Number 48. Or does he? Does Number 22 really die at the end of this episode, or is it part of a Long Con that the Village warders are playing out? Additionally, this episode was not shown in the US because the network said that it “encouraged drug use.” Really? Or was the point of McGoohan not wanting to take up/use a gun in the western segment of the story too close to the anti-war sentiment that was brewing in the country at the time? We’ll never know.

One of the essential must-watch episodes, and one of the best.

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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