There was nothing like “The Prisoner” on television in 1968. There is still very little that compares to it today–in its deliberate quirkiness, its refusal to follow the established formula of the 6o-minute teleplay. Imagine the staid audiences of 1968-trained on “Gunsmoke”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, “F Troop”, even the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and –tuning in to “The Prisoner”. More than one viewer probably called their station to complain–or maybe called the TV repairman to get their “regular TV back on the screen”.
I was 8 years old in 1968, left alone during summer Saturday evenings–and “The Prisoner” fascinated me. Man it was weird-soooweird. And creepy. What the hell was that big latex ball? Gave me nightmares-still does.
And that concept–falling asleep, waking up in your own apartment–but transported to an entirely different place–how cool was that? I remember looking out my bedroom window wondering if I really was where I thought I was.
McGoohan gave no quarter in that series, he never succumbed to the conventional demand for closure-revelling instead in the ambiguities raised by his premise, and engaging the philosophical complexities of the post WWII cold-war society we were creating. And if you shared his dark sense of humor-“the Prisoner” was funny -like a knife.And colorful–love those umbrellas. The ‘ending” to the series is no ending at all–a maze within a puzzle within a riddle–it answers nothing and yet confirms our worst expectations. Did Six escape? Is there an escape?
It’s the narrative possibilities that stay with me today. The questions the series raises-about individuality, about the social collective, mind control-media control; the symbols McGoohan utilized to engage difficult ideas in an entertaining way.
I’m not hopeful for the new series–“The Prisoner” was the result of one man’s vision. And like any work of art, there’s no recreating it–why bother? It’s like trying to repaint Matisse.
So I imagine they should have a parade to celebrate Six in Portmerion. Bring out those rainbow umbrellas, march in unison throughout the square-chanting”SixSixSixSix”.
Patrick McGoohan would’ve hated that. and that’s as it should be.
Be seeing you.