The Prisoner Vs. The Prisoner: The Final Battle

It's Jim again,

“It can’t get any worse. Really, how could it?” I kept telling myself that over and over again. That’s the kind of guy I am. I always think that we have hit the worst of things and the only direction left is up.

This mentality has led to many, MANY disappointments during my life. But nothing can dissuade my from this though process. That’s the kind of idiot I am.

So, after hitting the midway point of the massive train wreck in slow motion that is the remake of “The Prisoner,” I was content that there was at least a chance of a watchable show emerging despite Campbell’s vehement warnings to the contrary.

I am really quite stupid.

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or

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How do the final three episodes compare to the first three? Not favorably. Not favorably at all.

Massive Spoiler Alert Ahead!!!

From this point on, everything that you read will spoil one or both of the shows. If you have yet to see them and want to have some surprises then stop reading. If you just enjoy the articles and don’t care then go right on ahead.

1) The location of the village

Let’s start with the stickiest, and most obvious, wicket of the bunch out of the way first.

In the original The Village was located on The Island, just beside The Sea and The Mountains. It was real, and in it’s reality it is supremely terrifying. Think about it. You are in a place that exists and nobody on earth knows that it exists. Nobody knows you’re there because nobody knows where there is. It could be 5 miles from a major city and you would never know it.

Can you think of anything more terrifying? Not only are you trapped somewhere, but it’s somewhere that people aren’t only ignorant of, but that a group of powerful people are keeping anyone else from knowing about it. It’s like being kidnapped and held in a secret basement somewhere. You literally cease to exist.

Before I even got started with the second disk of the new version I had a theory about this detail that I dismissed out of hand for being “too stupid to be filmed.” I should not have done that.

In the remake, well… I really… I mean… You’re in someone’s dream!?

It’s like a knock off of “Inception” that came out while “Inception” was being filmed.

There’s a woman who is dreaming, like an architect, who discovered a state beyond unconsciousness and created a… I guess mental health spa of sorts. Oh, and people are found by this major corporation for some reason and are put into this dream spa without their knowledge or consent.

Oh, and apparently “The Prisoner” is a higher end version of “Inception” because this woman is upgraded to WiFi, because there aren’t any wires, or a central location, or any rhyme or reason. Don’t understand science, that’s ok because neither do the producers of this. Dreams work however you want them to.

Oh, and the woman who is The Village, because that’s what she is, she’s The Village, has to be given drugs to keep her asleep because she keeps waking up and that is causing holes to oblivion to pop up all over the place and if this sentence isn’t enough to keep you from watching than nothing is. Let me clarify, they give her the drugs in the dream state. That’s right, this dream world is so powerful that chemistry works there.

I am going to put all my feelings about this fantastically idiotic contrivance aside for a moment and focus on what is at the heart of my problem with this. Do you remember when you were a kid and that really obnoxious guy on the school bus would tell a "joke" that was some long, involved, drawn out adventure story about them being in a building being chased only to end up on the street almost getting run over and running away to a house where they get trapped and just when the baddies were about to get them they would drop the HILARIOUS "and then I woke up!!" punchline? First, if you don't remember that kid it's because you were that kid. That shit was annoying in elementary school because you got somewhat invested in what could be a cool story only to have the entire thing pulled out from under you and reduced to a pointless exercise in someone being an asshole in lieu of creativity. My problem, this isn't some stupid joke on a school bus! This is a high budget, internationally produced miniseries based on one of the best shows to ever hit the airwaves. What's the best they can do? An insulting, contrived, pointless joke of a plot twist that devalues the entire show while adding absolutely nothing to it.

In summary, it’s very scary and surreal in the original, and very, VERY stupid in the remake.

2) The Nature of the Village

This one is a biggie. Why are these people there?

The original is somewhat brilliant in the way this is handled. As cruel and fucked up as it is, The Village makes sense. What happens to a spy when he retires? Is it safe for someone with that level of sensitive knowledge, who has seen and done things that need to be kept secret to just be set loose upon the world with no official ties to the agencies they can compromise? There is a significant amount of danger out there for those people, not just from a national security standpoint, but from a personal safety one as well.

Think about it. At that point you are a private citizen with no extra support or protection. What is to keep an enemy power from just snatching you up and torturing you until you tell what you know?

Why not set up a place where those people can live out their lives in relative comfort and absolute safety? I’m not saying it’s right, but there is a logic to it.

Then there is the flipside to that coin. Who really runs the island? The assumption is that 6 is being held by his former bosses, but there is absolutely nothing to support that. It is as likely that he is being held and interrogated by an enemy power.

The only thing that is clear about The Village is that 6 is there to be interrogated. This clarity of purpose creates a clearly defined conflict. This goes along with the constant rotation of 2. The Village is a prison with a purpose; if the warden is unable to fulfill that purpose he is replaced.

In the batshit insane dream world that is the remake the purpose is unclear to say the least. It is repeatedly mentioned that it is a sort of intensive dream therapy, and that the people who are in the program are chosen without their knowledge or consent. As nefarious as this sounds, the people behind the scenes can at least claim altruistic motives.

But it is still unclear. Why does it exist? Why and how are these people chosen? What is the motivation behind the therapy? From a strictly logical standpoint this thing is a fucking nightmare because there is no logic to it.

Don’t believe me? Which of these sounds more plausible?

1) A top secret government agency develops an ultra high security detention center for people who know things that make their continued freedom a risk.

2) A top secret government agency develops an ultra high security detention center to interrogate high ranking agents of enemy governments.

3) A corporation of some sort, which has unlimited access to oddly personal video footage of people all over the world, creates a high tech, dream based mental health clinic which is used to help people who have been coerced into living in a surreal dream village while they may or may not be able to continue with their normal lives and are either completely aware or unaware that they are being treated in the dream spa.

Does one of these seem slightly less likely/more insane than the others?

3) The nature of Number 2 vs. the role of Number 6.

This is the key to the entire series.

Originally, 2 is a nameless bureaucrat whose personality is defined by their approach to the job. They are the symbolic faces of the machine who serve as functionary parts of it. 2 is easily replaced and not the absolute power. The different personalities are representative of the different ways power can be abused. Some come with a friendly face, other with an iron fist, while others are coldly clinical. There is a clear statement here that the function of power in a system is to serve those above you.

In having the power structure set up this way it makes the entire nature of The Village impossible to figure out. Is everyone there a prisoner or is it an elaborate trap set up to extract information from 6? It’s never made clear.

Something else that is interesting, 6 never reacts to 2 as if 2 were a new person. The face, the personality, and the methodology change, but 6 always reacts to them as if they have been there the entire time. Why? Simple, it shows that 6 realizes that 2 is simply a functionary of those above him. His identity is irrelevant because he is a symbol and 6 is at war with the meaning of the symbol, not the symbol itself.

While each episode has different thematic and allegorical ideas that struggle is the overall thematic thread running through it all.6 represents the converse of this, the strong willed individual fighting to maintain his identity in the face of absolute control and conformity. There is a clear differentiation between the two; power and control versus freedom and individuality. This balance drives the show and gives it meaning. Without this struggle there is no point to any of it.

Speaking of no point…

In the remake 2 becomes some benevolent father figure who is trying to assist people. There isn’t any motivation for what he does or any logic behind how he does it. I guess there could be some commentary on corporate omnipresence and the loss of personal freedom but there isn’t any time given to develop that theme. It just sort of appears at the end.

2 appears as some heredity titled all powerful mayor of a desert community. He is the only authority and he answers to nobody. There have been other number 2s throughout The Village’s history (we learn this when 6 goes undercover at a school, it’s a stupid as it sounds), but it is clearly a title, not a job.

Without the struggle between the all powerful system threatening to crush the will of the individual there is no philosophical battle being fought. The Village goes from this enigmatic surreal symbol to a functioning, albeit bizarre community where one man doesn’t fit and it is never really made clear why.

This may not sound like much but losing this kills the philosophical meaning of the entire show.

4) The identity of number 1

This is something that pissed viewers off a LOT originally. So, who is number 1? Well, let’s look at the opening credits of the show and I think you will be surprised at what you can learn:

Number Six: Who are you?

Two: The new Number Two.

Number Six: Who is Number One?

Two: You are Number Six.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, look at the inflection.

Number Six: Who is Number One?

Two: You are Number Six.

Change the tone a little and you get…

Number Six: Who is Number One?

Two: You are Number Six.

That’s right, you go through all of this and find out that 6 is actually1. There are a LOT of logistical debates around this. Questions like, “Does 2 or the controller hear 6’s voice on the phone?” are fairly common.

But that’s missing the point. What is this trying to say? Who really has the power? What does it take to recognize that power? By showing 6 that he is the enigmatic 1 you open a massive philosophical can of worms. It is the quintessence of thought provocation because the meaning of it depends entirely on your thought process.

But in the remake…

1 is apparently God. Or 1 could be the wife. You know the person who discovered the dream state and is somehow the wireless access point to The Village. There is no attempt to explain this. All I can assume is that 2 is 2 and not 1 in this because 2 was 2 and not 1 in the original. The numbering system appears arbitrary so there is no real significance to 2 being 2.

Honestly, this is one of the most annoying parts of the show, and that is saying something because this fucking thing brings the annoyance with an 18 wheeler.

5) The resolution

So, how does it all work out in the end?

In the original 6 discovers 1, and is then taken by flatbed truck (it sound silly and is, but it makes sense when you see it) back to his London apartment where he is apparently free to go about his life.

So what I’m saying here, is that it is somewhat anti-climatic if taken literally, but is completely unresolved if taken otherwise. Is he really free? What happens to The Village? What does he do from here?

It’s a touch maddening, but there is a method to it. The show is meant to fuck with our ideas of how a story can be told and in that way the ending to the original is perfect.

The new one has 6 taking over for 2, one of his romantic interests becoming the new host, it is still unclear if people wake up and live normal lives, the other woman is cast off and forgotten entirely, and basically the entire thing is a hot pile of garbage.

The reason for the conflict is never fully developed, you don’t know anyone’s motivations, 6 doesn’t make sense in this world that doesn’t make sense, and therefore the ending can be nothing but disappointing because there is no emotional weight placed on how things turn out. Is it good or bad that he is staying? What did he lose both physically and philosophically, what did he gain? They never even come close to letting you know, therefore you don’t care, and therefore the ending is pointless. They never even hint at why 6 is so special as to be desired for this position.

As strange as this will sound, given what I’ve said about the original, this thing makes no sense. The difference is, it’s trying to make sense. The original is an attempt at deconstruction, allegory, and post modern story telling. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to make sense. The new one tries and fails.

Which brings me to the root of all the problems.

6) Thematic conclusion

How is this one different from the last one?

This show was always about more than it was about. The events on screen were always tied to a larger idea. While the episode might be about an election it was really about how the circus of politics turns everyone involved, including the voters, into puppets and that anyone really trying to follow their ideological beliefs is doomed in that arena.

There are many layers present at all times.

So, the show ends 6 finds out he is 1, he gets transported back to his home and everything appears to be ok?

What does that mean? Well, that is completely up to the viewer.

Personally, I think it’s saying that we are all the wardens of our own prison and that we can free ourselves by simply acknowledging that fact. You might have a different idea; let me know what it is. I actually am interested in discussing this.

That’s the thing about this show; there is potential for intelligent discourse about its meaning.

And for as anticlimactic as some people find the ending at the very least there is a clear sign that the major conflicts have been resolved and the major questions answered. Now, it might all just be another trap by 2, but as far as we see things are cleared up.

Now the remake has a problem on this front because there is more time spent on making, eating, and discussing wraps than on developing an overall theme or series of themes.

Because no weight is given to any action how can there be any weight given to a conclusion. There is nothing at stake at any point. It’s as if you are expected to recognize 6 as the protagonist and be on his side because of that, and that 2 must then be the bad guy.

Had there been any, ANY attempt at adding a level of subtext, or even a hint of meaning or message this could have played, but given how carelessly it was handled there was no hope.

I am going to put all my feelings about this fantastically idiotic contrivance aside for a moment and focus on what is at the heart of my problem with this. Do you remember when you were a kid and that really obnoxious guy on the school bus would tell a "joke" that was some long, involved, drawn out adventure story about them being in a building being chased only to end up on the street almost getting run over and running away to a house where they get trapped and just when the baddies were about to get them they would drop the HILARIOUS "and then I woke up!!" punchline? First, if you don't remember that kid it's because you were that kid. That shit was annoying in elementary school because you got somewhat invested in what could be a cool story only to have the entire thing pulled out from under you and reduced to a pointless exercise in someone being an asshole in lieu of creativity. My problem, this isn't some stupid joke on a school bus! This is a high budget, internationally produced miniseries based on one of the best shows to ever hit the airwaves. What's the best they can do? An insulting, contrived, pointless joke of a plot twist that devalues the entire show while adding absolutely nothing to it.

I really don’t think there is any more to say. Well, maybe there is, I just don’t want to go into it any more. This new version has me scratching my head in utter disbelief and wanting to return to the original, which I will do presently.

Oh, by the way, the newly remastered Blu-Ray that just came out is spectacular. It looks brand new. Do yourself a favor.

Be seeing you.



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