Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Prisoner: Arrival



For a moment this evening I thought I was going to get majorly derailed from my plan to watch through The Prisoner purely in the light of George Markstein's conception of the series (see here). This is because I'm looking forward with bated breath to Big Finish's release of audio versions of the missing Series 1 episodes of The Avengers, & watched through Girl on a Trapeze while I was eating, so this post was very nearly about that, until I disciplined myself.
The first thing to hint at an identification between John Drake & The Prisoner is in the titles: in the original half-hour Danger Man episodes, Drake is seen leaving a modern building & driving off in a topless car. Here he drives in to the underground car park of a -presumably - modern, or at least recently renovated building, in a car which would so obviously be John Drake's cup of tea. Did I mention that I wouldn't hesitate to over-analyse The Prisoner within an inch of its life? - I mean, everyone else on the internet does.
I have always thought the resignation scene felt contrived, it's way overdone. If The Prisoner is supposed to be someone of importance in intelligence, the 'scene' he makes over resigning does not signify a cool calm collected character. Suddenly it falls into place: if Drake was responsible for The Village originally, found it was being used in undesirable ways, then naturally he'd be very angry. However - if he wanted his resignation to trigger his detention in The Village in order to find out what was actually happening, then obviously an abrupt & unpredictable resignation would be the way to go. Of course the irony is that it is actually Markstein to whom he is giving his letter of resignation.
Frankly, he'd be better off out of the government body which has a hand in the abusive running of The Village: this body is clearly so paranoid that they have operatives on call ready to kidnap resignees. Even as Drake (sorry, it just happened, but what the hell, I'm just going to call The Prisoner Drake from now on) drives back out of the underground car park the car containing the men who gas him is on his tail. Either on call, or else his superiors saw some restlessness in him & sensed this was coming - The Village isn't big enough to have a replica all pat of every secret agent's home, but there's a replica of Drake's home all ready.
Drake actually overtakes the men in the other car on the way to his home, so they weren't just following him, which suggests a deeper knowledge of his psychology. I wonder whether he had been tailed for some time, since he is clearly a loose canon! The act of cancelling out his punch card implies the finality of going to The Village - it really is for life. I find it interesting that he pacls pictures of palms & beaches when he gets home - who on earth takes their postcards on holiday with them? Of course it is to suggest he has some plans disturbed when he is gassed - which could have beeb done with aeroplane tickets - but I find the knowing expression on his face at the sound of the gas interesying, as if he is thinking, So this is how it happens.
His concern to find out where he is & where The Village is, which dominates do much of this episode, needn't detract from the Drake identification - he might merely have come up with the idea, which was then developed by other people. The wonder is actually that he is not more confused than he is, having been gassed & waking up in a replica of his home in a completely different place!
'Local calls only' - I can't remember it being named as such but I wonder whether The Prisoner was an influence on The League of Gentlemen? The operator is quite school marmy when she says No number, no call.
Drake's idea that The Village is not in Britain has its seed sown by the taxi driver speaking to him in French, & explaining it as being because it's international when he asks why. Even though for the rest of the series everybody (with no major exceptions) speaks English, there is clearly an expectation that a stranger is not necessarily British. She then explicitly mention wondering whether he is Polish or Czech - strong stuff, suggesting that the British government is running The Village in tandem with nations on the other side of the iron curtain. That said, the visuals of this scene are the perfect counterpoint to the sinister implications of the conversation, showing Portmeirion is nothing more nor less than a holiday destination.
This is the thing about The Village - it is so small, in the sense of small-minded: it is a pretty place which could be a holiday resort. The only way to survive is not to ask questions & allow your horizons to narrow until all that is in your day is a game of chess. It is a retirement village, of a sort that *nobody* would willingly go to. It is nice & cosy on the surface but heavily fortified in some very science fiction ways, to prevent the residents from ever leaving. This is exactly the sort of place necessary to contain these valuable agents with their dangerous cargo of secrets & experiences.
It is clear that Drake's first priority is to find out where he is, since his first concern is to find a map. Of course the map tells him nothing. It strikes me that he wants to get the larger picture of where The Village is, & perhaps make contacts with local authorities, since surely being kidnapped alone would normally result in criminal charges for the perpetrators. He gives the impression of trying to get away, but again it may be to find out where the place is, & if you can get away you have an element of control over notifying the authorities.
I do like the way Drake looks horrified at the amount of information Number 2 has on him - as if he is thinking 'This is not what I intended'. In his interview with Number 2 it seems to me his expression returns to his knowing expression when Number 2 is not looking at him - he remains in defiant mode when Number 2 is looking. His agenda becomes clear when Number 2 tries to chivvy him along by telling him that The Village can be a nice place if you co-operate: he is there to resist with every last breath of his body. He is plainly furious at what his brain child is being used for, & he is going to be the one to break it. Drake is clearly convinced that his mission in the village is fulfilled - to prove it exists, & people are incarcerated there against their will & their privacy infringed - since when Number 2 takes him on the helicopter tour he is adamant he will not be there much longer. His experience of the village up to here is obviously enough.
However Drake has to be prepared for greater secrets than he can imagine in The Villagean demonstrated in the scene where the man is suffocated by Rover. I do love the childish way in which, when Drake asks what Rover is, Number 2 replies, 'That would be telling'! This scene serves, however, to suggest greater things afoot, & sets up Number 2 as an ultimate authority figure, by literally putting him up on a pedestal, & giving him the power to stop everything that happens by just saying so.
The mottoes in the waiting room at the employment exchange are strangely discouraging of asking questions - at least in a place that likes to ask all the questions itself. Don't talk, but tell us what we want to know - that's the slightly contradictory message. The office in the labour exchange is creepily reminiscent of Number 2's office, & the 'aptitude test' clearly another form of interrogation. Of course Drake isn't taken in by this. At this stage of the game, though, he is still too angry for subtler ways of dealing with this & resorts to defiance plain & simple.
He goes back to his cottage & gives the maid short shrift - suspicious is the key note here. The fact of the cottage being prepared in such detail for him, along with the diary entries when he explores the cottage reinforces my conviction that his resignation had actually been expected & planned for for some time. Ironic, given the presupposition that Drake had the idea for The Village, is outraged at how it is being used & resigns to investigate, if this is the case: the tables are completely turned on him! The scene in the control room after this one indicates again that Number 2 has made himself thoroughly cognisant of Drake's personality. Again the private sign outside his cottage is ironic, given the intrusion on privacy theme, including the music. He still wants to get to the bottom of it, asking the maid some searching questions when she returns. His continuing preoccupation with getting out is interesting, still possibly for the reasons outlined above. Her reply that successful escapees have been brought back, not always alive puts the stakes higher than has been apparent before: this is no surprise to Drake, though. He obviously knows the stakes involved. He also shows not surprise that she is a 'plant', he even points out that their captors will not pay up on their promise of freedom for her: it is completely clear to me in this scene that Drake knows the whole of what is happening here, understands what is at stake, even understands that it is what is inside the people of The Village, their knowledge, that means they cannot be allowed to escape. The only thing he does not know is who is actually running the show & where The Village is.
Drake says 'Be seeing you' to the electrician when he leaves the cottage, as he has said it to people so often in his career as Danger Man. I suspect this phrase may even have been some sort of code.
Drake makes the utmost efforts to fit in with The Village on his walk around, despite hiding in the bushes, where he is still spied by CCTV, & is then herded away by Rover. It is at this point he makes his first escape attempt. Can I make this apparently contradictory behaviour fit in with Markstein's concept of The Prisoner? You bet I can: Drake knows that nothing is real here. Remember he is supposed to have been the mind behind The Village in the first place, & so he actually makes a point of acting like himself. If the people behind The Village really know him as well as they seem to, they will be expecting him to be unpredictable, & would presumably think he was taking the piss, rather than behaving (for all of 10 seconds) hoping to be overlooked!
Also, he is there to investigate what is happening so in a sense he must make an escape attempt to find out how the authorities will try to stop him.
It is clear that Drake is himself a very valuable commodity, which means that the people in the village will not only bend over backwards to keep him there & interrogate him, but also make a point of keeping him alive. Rover doesn't kill him at this point, instead he wakes up in The Village hospital, faced with yet another plant. Drake's request, when the doctor says he will be fixed up with new clothes, for his old ones, bring up another matter, that of institutionalisation. The food in the cottage was all Village brand food. The Village is very much a total institution of the sort described by Goffman: you wear the institution's clothes, eat its food, etc. On discharge from hospital it is significant that Drake is given all the identification cards needed in The Village, since he emerges clothed as a citizen of The Village, transformed (at least on the surface) from the outsider he was before.
In his confrontation now with the new  Number 2, Number 2 not only will accept no criticism of what has happened in the faked suicide at the hospital, but questions Drake's motives. A classic strategy, of taking the high moral ground & questioning the motives of the other person. It seems to me that Drake was not expecting Number 2 to change so suddenly, or at all. He tells the new Number 2 to get him. It feels as if there is a change at this point: the people behind The Village clearly know Drake well, & their pally approach having failed, they're trying a different tack. It seems Drake does not know the possible strategies used in The Village that well, because of his surprise. The efforts to wear him down may actually be having some effect: he repeats the 'I am not a number...' Speech, perhaps as a psychological technique to remain orientated under torture.
Drake's attempts to fit in do somewhat make Number 2 think he has settled down. He makes an alliance with Number 9, to plan to leave. He is rightly suspicious of Number 9's motives. He does, however make another escape attempt, presumably as part of his investigation into the lengths to which The Village authorities will go to stop him leaving. I wonder why he is allowed to get as far as he does? - he is allowed to keep the watch to remind him he can't go, & of course it turns out Cobb is not dead. We know, but don't know the extent to which Drake knows, that all in The Village is smoke & mirrors.
In conclusion I can see nothing in this episode which cannot be explained as fitting into George Markstein's conceptualisation of The Prisoner. Of course this was one of the earlier ones when Markstein was still working on the series. This episode is sometimes looked on as merely introducing The Prisoner & The Village, which I think is to do it a disservice, since understood in this way it actually gives quite a lot of insight both into The Prisoner's motivations, into the workings of the organisation he has resigned from, & even some of the psychological techniques used in The Village.

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