THE PRISONER - Episode 3: Anvil / Episode 4: Darling

Anvil - 16th November - AMC - 8.00pm
Darling - 16th November - AMC - 9.00pm

And so we get to the middle episodes of the six part mini-series. Anvil shows a distinct improvement and the central premise is enough to keep reluctant viewers tuning in. Two decides to employ Six as an Undercover working with a man called 909 (rather well played by Vincent Regan) to spy on other undercover cells in the Village. Undercovers attempt to find the 'dreamers', people who still have memories of the outside world, and expose them to undergo treatment at the Clinic. The Village therefore is depicted as a whole community of spies, all spying on each other. Two thinks that Six's experience will draw him into the Village whilst also leading him into a trap.

The entire episode then becomes a vast game of cat and mouse. 909 and Six are assigned to observe and report on a history teacher and Six is given a cover as a teacher required to take surveillance lessons with the children in the school. It's here that he asks the question 'Who is Number One?' and is told by a girl, 1100, that there is no Number One because Number Two is supposed to represent humility. As this spying game continues, 313 starts to draw images of the outside world and realises that she must distance herself from Six. "People who get close to you, they don't tend to live very long," she says. The relationship between them is in continual flux in the episode and Ruth Wilson is certainly starting to turn 313 into an interesting character. We still don't know whose side she's on and that gets even more complicated in the following episode.

The most interesting aspects of Anvil are the developments with Two's family. Ian McKellen is realy the only reason to try and keep faith with this adaptation and he's quite excellent again. We see Two revive his wife from her coma and understand that he is only allowed to do this periodically. After a brief conversation about 'the other time' and her enquiries about their son 11-12, Two knocks her out with a spiked glass of wine. Bill Gallagher's navel gazing story never seems to provide any clues whatsoever and we are therefore completely nonplussed as to why she's in a coma and why Two has to keep knocking her out and sedated. Structurally, the entire series is becoming a mass of meaningless non-sequiturs and although it seems to be a pattern that the writer is keen on I suspect the audience is starting to desert this in droves. I like a good puzzle and I don't mind working hard for answers but this version of The Prisoner is far too keen on presenting each episode as a series of obfuscations with no clarity of purpose before leaving them to one side and then starting afresh in the next episode.

In the original series we got a sense of Number Six's life in the Village. Here, he just seems to start from scratch at the beginning of each story, forgetting pretty much all he's already done in previous installments. Jim Caviezel is still behaving as if he's had surgery to remove any charisma or appeal and plays Number Six on one monotonous level. The major failing here is to not give us someone we feel we can empathise with amidst the admittedly relevant themes. Jamie Campbell Bower at least gets to put some flesh on 11-12's bones instead of sticking limpet like to McKellen's side. Two is spying on his own son as he's trying to find out why he's behaving so oddly whilst Six discovers that 909 is actually observing him and 313. The episode, whilst slowly paced again, stylishly develops this multi-level plotting and we discover that 11-12 is actually gay and having an affair with 909.

The fact that Six decides to blackmail 11-12 in order to put a stop to the surveillance on 313 suggests the series is perhaps attempting to tackle relevant gay issues in the military - the 'don't ask - don't tell' policy in the US particularly but whilst the gay sub-plot is indeed very welcome in a series that deliberately flirts with a social and moral code that belongs to the McCarthyist 1950s it's ultimately quite disappointing for a drama made in 2009 that a young gay man is forced by his father to murder his gay lover. It's a negative stereotype and I can understand that 11-12 was forced to do so because Two threatened to throw 909 into the Clinic. However, did they really have to use a gay sub-plot to achieve that? Two displays some unpleasant homophobia and 11-12 suggests its easier to accept its repressive force than challenge it.

Six pursues a kidnapped 313 into the Tunnels where miscreants are sent to be treated or absorbed by a glowing Rover. Here he meets 1100 and she helps him and 313 escape. The conclusion reveals that 1100 is actually spying on both Six and Two. In one of the best scenes in the episode, Two offers her an ice cream as a prize for spying on Six but then says she'll have to go for treatment...after she's had her ice cream. What happened to Two's trap for Six...God knows!

It's a strange episode, full of counter spying and bluff but one in which several murders occur because of Two's manipulation of Six, 313 and 11-12. McKellen is a picture of calmness as all this mayhem goes on and there is at least a distinct sense of threat and the Village as a thoroughly unpleasant place to be, an allusion perhaps to post 9/11 America and the advent of Homeland Security measures.

Less can be said for Harmony. A complete pile of drivel from start to finish with a flicker of decent plotting buried beneath a very turgid story revolving around a love triangle. If you thought you couldn't get a handle on Six as a character in the last three installments then this will really test your patience. This is as far away from the original series that this remake has strayed and it shows. Confusion reigns because the love triangle is conducted between Six, 313 and Lucy, the woman who has been in Michael's apartment in the flashbacks.

She turns up in the Village as the blind 4-15 and much of the episode is either showing Six falling in love with her because Two and 313 are pumping Six full of genetic material to make him love someone or cross cutting to the flashbacks with Lucy and Six/Michael falling in love in his apartment. The cutting is so badly done between the two locales that you really lose track of where exactly you are and it all blurs boringly together. Quite frankly it's dull and unconvincing and has a very silly cop-out ending where 313 kisses Six and, bingo!, he's miraculously fallen out of love with Lucy. Nonsense, really. And we still don't quite know what's going on in 313's head. 

More interesting is the sub-plot with the taxi-driver and his family as he deals with the loss of their child when she falls into one of the strange 'ambient anomalies' that have popped up in the Village. These holes into oblivion could turn out to be an explanation for the existence of the Village but I'm not holding my breath because writer Gallagher is seemingly intent on making this up as he goes along. Two describes the holes, “It’s a nothing. It’s oblivion. It’s beyond all hope,” and unwittingly sums up the series so far in my opinion but amusingly he prescribes a pig for every family as a way to ward off such an “ambient anomaly.” Yes, flying pigs would be a perfect description for when we might get some sense of gathering up the incongruous lumps of plot that the writer has so kindly dumped on us.

A confusing mess of plot cul-de-sacs can't help the stylish visuals be more than they are. They're emblems without any real meaning or purpose even if they are beautifully put together. It all looks slick and glossy but it's as empty as one of the ambient anomalies. And the real world flashbacks are getting just as obscure too. Lucy seems to be an employee of the same company, Summakor, knows about some report that Michael has seen and it's caused a kerfuffle at board room level, he's resigned and now she's been blown up in terrorist bomb. In the Village Lucy seems to get zapped by Rover, has a fit of conscience and then throws herself into one of the holes. Perhaps Gallagher will tip the whole Village in there at some point. It would seem fitting.

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