Television

Friday A/V Club: Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Number 6

The Prisoner celebrates an anniversary.

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ITV

Two cult science fiction shows celebrated 50th anniversaries this week. For Star Trek, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of New Frontier liberalism, it has been 50 years since their first broadcast. For The Prisoner, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of psychedelic libertarianism, it has been 50 years since they started filming at the Village location they'd found in Wales. (Their first episode aired a year later.)

Reason already nodded to Star Trek earlier this week, so today we'll be seeing that other, better show—the surreal spy-fi allegory about Number 6, the individualist held captive in a totalitarian seaside hamlet. As an antidote the presidential campaign, here is "Free for All," the episode where Number 6 runs for office:

For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For my favorite piece of Prisoner dialogue, go here. For more from Reason on The Prisoner, read appreciations by Emmanuelle Richard here and Larry Niven here.

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  1. …so today we’ll be seeing that other, better show…

    Oh, my.

    1. I’ve seen the Prisoner. I don’t think most people would consider it a ‘better’ show.

  2. The individualist alternative was so much easier to see back when the memory of Hitler was still fresh and the Soviet threat still loomed large.

    Nowadays, it’s harder to convince people. People think of collectivism as a boogieman hiding in paranoid libertarians’ closets, or that we’re racists for thinking that the smiling black man they see in the media everyday is a collectivist menace.

    The Twilight Zone could be blatantly anti-authoritarian, too, and shows like Bonanza could be vividly libertarian and capitalist.

    I guess we’re lucky to live in a society where the threat of totalitarianism isn’t as obvious as it used to be, but the progress we made in the past may have been driven by the contrast to Hitler and the communists.

    The fear of not being like Muslims isn’t much of a replacement either. Instead of highlighting the contrast between individualism and the state, fear of being like Muslims just seems to make people disregard the principles of the First Amendment.

    Why did God create the devil? Maybe respect for negative liberty require a villain in contrast? I hope not. We’re not all like children. I’d like to think some of us can outgrow our need for villains.

    1. I think about this from my own theological POV: Loki is generally considered the “trickster”. But what is interesting is that Odin and Loki were essentially blood brothers at one point (contrary to the Marvel universe where Loki and Thor are the “brothers”). So in my belief system, personal freedom is an important value. Odin, is the leader of the Aesir, but the stories don’t ever refer to him ordering the others around, or for that matter arbitrarily manipulating people (Like in the Greek and Roman myths). It isn’t until Loki actually causes the death of Baldur, that they can’t tolerate him anymore and finally lock him up (until he escapes at Ragnarok).
      But even then, there really isn’t the concept of a constant villain (like Satan in Christian theology) constantly at odds with the Aesir and Vanir. There are always enemies (it is after all, at its heart a warrior religion), but not one all encompassing adversary.

      1. I’ve read it well argued that Loki and Odin were actually the same god.

        I’m talking about the chapter on Loki.

        https://is.cuni.cz/studium/predmety/ index.php?do=download&did=62017&kod=ARL100252

        I think Odin is the most interesting god ever. I also suspect his story as we have it has been heavily influenced by Christianity. The story about how he hanged himself as a sacrifice to himself (for nine days) reads like something 9th century Vikings who were exposed to and maybe believed in Christianity (along with the old tradition) picked up from Jesus dying on the cross. Meanwhile, the characterization of Odin being defeated at Ragnarok reads like something that may have been written by later Christian monks who hated the old tradition and wanted to portray Odin as if he were the loser in Christianity’s Armageddon.

        I think Odin is fascinating, his historical worship went to places I could never follow. The sacrifices at Uppsala wre hideous and the rites leading up to them maybe more so. Even Odin’s vision of heaven, where the lucky few kill each other in battle everyday, only to be resurrected and fight again the next day, in perpetuity, in preparation for Ragnarok? That reads like hell to me. I’d rather go to Freya’s hall. And if I were choosing a tattoo, I’d probably go with Mjolnir rather than the valknut.

        But that’s just me.

  3. …the Village set they’d built in Wales…

    The Village set was not built for the show, it was already there. The only sets used were for scenes shot outside of the Village.

    Portmeirion was designed by architect Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis who began construction on his own private peninsula on the coast of Snowdonia in 1925. Today it is open to visitors and home to Festival No.6.

    1. Not only is Portmeirion a real place, it is largely a hotel. It remains one of my all-time favorite places in the world. It is a site of infinite charm. Staying there (I’ve been in Bridge House 2 each time) has always been magical.

  4. You’re right; “set” is the wrong word. I’ll rephrase it.

  5. I recently watched the Prisoner on Netflix, and it sure didn’t age well. I was glued to the TV as a kid, one of the most-anticipated programs on then, and memory says it was because it was so strange. On rewatch, it just seemed quaint and predictable in its quaintness.

    1. That’s what’s so hard about programs and novels that are sort of obscure yet revelatory for their time. The Prisoner has been ripped-off, lovingly imitated, mixed into pastiches and referenced without audience recognition so many times that it seems to be the stale product when you watch it now.

    2. You also have to remember that it is the bridge between McGoohans’s Secret Agent Man and Get Smart.

      Its premise is pretty crazy: What does happen to secret agents whose knowledge is too valuable to be allowed to walk around? The Bourne method is one alternative (kill him with other agents). This crazy Sgt. Peppers/1984 mashup is another.

  6. I’m making $86 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $95 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss. This is what I do,

    ?? ? ? ? http://www.review40.com

  7. Also of note is the late 1980’s comic book sequel to The Prisoner, “The Prisoner: Shattered Visage” by Dean Motter that takes place in the 80’s. It’s not quite so heavy on the individualism, a bit more heavy on the mysteriousness, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

    It’s still in print from DC Comics.

  8. Fame at last!

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