THE PRISONER - Episode 5: Schizoid / Episode 6: Checkmate



Schizoid - 17th November - AMC - 8.00pm
Checkmate - 17th November - AMC - 9.00pm

After the nonsensical romance of Darling, we're back in more confident tone with this fifth episode. A doppelganger of Six stalks the Village...or does it? Six meets his twin at the gates of Two's palatial home and the twin is obsessed with assassinating Two. Except Nick Hurran and Bill Gallagher do make suggestions that in fact Six is actually suffering from a schizophrenic episode and is simply projecting his 'bad' twin into the world. There are a number of shots that cut away from the encounters between the two that show Six is merely talking and fighting with himself.

The episode opens up what we've been told about the Village and starts to plant the idea that the place is either in an alternate reality or the inside of someone's head. It would certainly explain many of the visual and narrative non-sequiturs that litter the six episodes. It also fleshes out the Two and 11-12 characters with Two deciding to take the day off and openly stroll amongst the inhabitants of the Village whilst he offers 11-12 the key to the pill cabinet. 11-12 wakes his mother from her coma and discovers that only those not born in the Village can actually be allowed to go back to the 'other place'. 11-12 therefore has to make his mind up about whether he wishes to spend his life in the Village forever and either keep his mother awake or put her back under. Much fretting about in the desert and throwing away the key to the cabinet later, he puts her to sleep again and more or less seals his fate. This affords Jamie Campbell Bower some opportunities to give 11-12 some depth and motivation and there's a developing relationship with Six that may play out in the final episode.




If anyone can fathom out what exactly is going on with 313 then they need an Honorary Degree for interpreting obfuscating flash backs and flash forwards scenes. She has visions of her her childhood and eventually trots out into the desert and stands in front of the entrance of what we assume is Summakor to observe some memory of her former existence in the 'other place'. Confused? You will be.

By far the best thing about this episode is Ian McKellen. His devil may care version of Two - the unTwo - is great and there is a wonderful scene in the Village Shop with 37927 (an excellent David Butler) about smoking and cigarettes. This monologue is beautifully delivered and is offered as a kind of treatise on the human condition and its death wish as he dryly discusses the ills of smoking and those who are seemingly addicted to it. How this fits into Two's scheme to drive Six mad with his willful invitation for assassination is somewhat beyond me. As the shopkeeper tells Two, ”that’s a bit philosophical for a Thursday.”



As all this is going on, in the 'other place' we see Michael accessing Summakor with a security card he's had the Access Guy (the Village shopkeeper's real world self) fix up and he enters the Purpose floor which is filled with monitor screens of all the Villagers he's met. Michael then seems to imply that he's been responsible for putting all these people in the Village in his role as an observer and reporter for Summakor. He then looks out of the window of the towers (remember those towers?) and sees the Village in the desert and attempts to get Six's attention. Two's plan to get Six to assassinate him backfires when Six and his doppelganger are reintegrated after Six prevents the impostor from killing Two. They were just aspects of the same person, y'see.

It's quite a good episode because it doesn't bust its guts with precious visual flourishes and there is a fairly comprehensible storyline in the middle of all the ponderous, chin stroking metaphysics. Visually it's still impressive and McKellen is a joy. Caviezel can't do anger unfortunately and he just isn't up to the task of being Six. You certainly don't sit there rooting for him much because he isn't a particularly appealing character.



The nub of the problem with this remake of The Prisoner is really exposed in this final part, Checkmate. I don't know if The Prisoner fans out there will come away from this feeling betrayed or not. What you should come away with is the notion that categorically this was not The Prisoner. I'll explain that in a moment.

In Checkmate we learn that the Village is in fact a construct of the unconscious created and maintained by Two's wife. A biochemist, she's discovered a pharmaceutically induced form of psychotherapy that takes 'broken people' to the Village to mend them. Hence, we see all the counterparts of familiar figures from the real world in the Village. Some people can move between both states of consciousness whereas others are complete fictions created in the Village. This is the tragedy that befalls poor 11-12. Not only is he a gay man mocked by a homophobic and unfeeling father but he's also a child of fantasy imagined into being by a woman who's off her head on a drugs cocktail.And when he discovers that he actually isn't real and can never escape from the Village then he suffocates his comatose mother and hangs himself. It's a very shocking and arresting story development.



Two's challenge to Six in this episode is to either conform or die. Six chooses death and falls ill. For some time we follow the same path that each of the episodes has followed with Two putting the pressure on Six. However, after the death of Two's son and a lengthy flash back or flash forward to Michael's visit to the head of Summakor, a certain Mr. Curtis, the real world version of Two, and his wife Helen, the long expositional explanations come flooding through. Instead of a plot where Six attempts to leave the Village and the series following the original series treatise on identity, freedom and the individual versus the state, Bill Gallagher promptly makes a left turn and the entire story is resolved as a notion to get Mr and Mrs Curtis (e.g Two and his wife) out of the Village and using Six and 313 as replacements. He even gets Two to blow himself up with a hand grenade to emphasise the point.

There is some psycho-babble about Six becoming the new Two because 313 was able to open up to him in ways that she couldn't with Two. It would seem that as Two and his wife were unable to reach 313 to get her to take the place of Helen then Two brought Six to the Village. Essentially 313 was abused as a child and needed therapy - so enter Six. Her decision here to trust and accept him was her 'therapy' and in this acceptance she makes Six the new Two. She takes the pills and goes into a trance state where at the end Six is the new Two planning a new Village, presumably one not based on fear and repression. Back in the real world Michael returns to Summakor as its new controller (essentially its new Two) and returns to observing and reporting on people. He never gains any kind of freedom at all and capitulates to a corporatist form of fascism. Perhaps it's about facing your fears instead because this finale also implies that Rover is simply Six's fears manifested and not a big white balloon shaped police force that suffocates escapees to death. How very 2009.



And that, ladies and gentleman, puts two fingers up to what I've always believed the original series was cherished for. In it, the Village is simply a metaphor for the world and Number Six the individual fighting for self-identity and freedom within that world. One of its conclusions was that we are prisoners of society itself and we have a choice to accept or not various forms of freedom within it. It's about the everyman navigating through a world of lies and deception to achieve a personal freedom. Perhaps then it's best to simply try and appreciate the Bill Gallagher version as a different series completely because if you try to find in this concluding episode the kind of values you admired in the original then you're on a hiding to nothing.

In the end Checkmate does give us the answers to many questions and it doesn't, rather bravely, offer a 'happy ever after' ending. Six becomes Two in a version of the Village in 313's head and actually conforms rather than rebels. The Village is a landscape of the mind where psychotically challenged people are fixed without their consent by a real world 'Big Brother' corporation. Perhaps Gallagher is now saying that the Village is corporate power with its own need to brainwash the populace.  It's an interesting, albeit very confusingly presented idea and the explanations don't all cover the fact that 147 and his family (including the missing daughter) seem superfluous to the entire plot and as similarly neither do 417 or 909. They just simply have no further purpose in the story.



The remake is remarkably risky and adventurous by indulging in deliberate incoherence for at least four episodes and it could hardly be called audience-friendly. It's beautifully made and looks really slick, suffers from an appallingly crippling pace which borders on the self-indulgently 'arty' but boasts some very committed performances from Ian McKellen, Ruth Wilson and Jamie Campbell Bower. Caviezel is the weaker of the main cast and struggles to convince on a number of occasions in the series. He doesn't do rebellious terribly well. On the whole then, an interesting failure that will probably benefit from a repeat viewing. Better still, go back to the original 17 episodes made in 1968 to see how it was done better.



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Comments
One Response to “THE PRISONER - Episode 5: Schizoid / Episode 6: Checkmate”
  1. chas_m says:

    Nice summing up.

    An interview with Gallagher convinced me that he had the idea of "The Prisoner" completely wrong-headed, so I avoided seeing the show not just out of respect for the original but because I fundamentally disagree with Gallagher's contention that society and conformity are more than "necessary evils," that they are actually good things, and it is rebellion and freedom that are bad things.

    The original Prisoner was about the struggle of the individual against the darker aspects of society; this abortion is about how society is right and the individual is wrong. Like we don't get enough of that in everyday life!

    Ironically, this series might as well have been a propaganda film put out by The Village of the original show to convince rebels that they're fighting for, ultimately, nothing!

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