Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Prisoner: Dance of the Dead

I am in danger of being completely side-tracked from my aim in this run-through of The Prisoner, namely to examine the series in the light of the theory that Number 6 is John Drake, by this multi-faceted episode. So to start off with I will resolutely stick to that plan & allow myself to be deflected later in this post.
The biggest issue, it seems to me, with this episode, is one of placement in the series. It was made & broadcast eighth, but many viewing orders recommend watching it second: placing it so early in the series is based on the fact that this is one of the episodes where Drake says, 'I'm new here'. I feel this issue is inescapable in explaining Drake's role & the progress of his investigation in this episode, so I will fearlessly weigh in & express the opinion that this episode should *not* be placed early, that Drake is *not* new in The Village when he says these words, & that at least one of the things he says in the sequence where he says that he is new, is not literally true.
For some reason it seems to be largely ignored that when Drake tells his new maid that he is new, he also tells her that she looks different from the others (plural), & that 'they' come & go. If this is taken literally this episode cannot possibly be second, since up to that point Drake has only had one maid. On the other hand, this could be taken as a figure of speech, 'Oh, maids come & go', very much like Saki's, 'As good cooks go, she went'. If you don't take his plural maids reference literally, there is also no need to take his statement of 'I'm new here' literally either.
And this is the nub: Drake here is resolutely the outsider, he is damn well determined to remain 'new', that is not indoctrinated with the ways of The Village, until he gets out of there. I feel there is another indicator of the relative lateness of this episode: the policy of The Village is to extract information from you nicely at first, & this episode starts by showing the failure of sophisticated scientific methods to extract information. There is *nothing* nice about what is done to Drake, nor what he discovers in this episode. Part of Markstein's conceptualisation of the series was that Drake was so horrified at what had become of his brainchild Village, he had to investigate himself. In this episode he has his worst fears confirmed: The Village, far from being a safe place for the vulnerable/risky/dangerous receptacles of knowledge who are retired agents, will not only expect them to hand over their knowledge, but once they've done that will not be satisfied & will continue to wring people for knowledge, even to the point of death. This, to me, means that this episode can be 'read' in accordance with Markstein's theory of The Prisoner. The subjects of conformity, crowd psychology & peer pressure, that are on the surface in this episode, are the relatively sophisticated ways The Village uses in its totalitarian pursuit of the destruction of the individual.
It is ironic that I think the present ending works better with the Number 6/John Drake identification than the original, unfilmed, ending:
'Confronting Number 6 in the telex room, Number 2 says: �A man can only die once. And you�re already dead, aren�t you? In our little room�. Led to the girl observer, Number 6 says: �i�ll never give in� Being dead does have its advantages�. He then smashes the telex. The script reads: �Turning to the girl he asks: �Shall we dance?� They leave Number 2 surrounded by the broken parts of the telex. They return to the ballroom where a hectic formation dance is in full swing. They join in. They dance as if the devil is playing. Continuing the music faster and faster. The Village is brightly illuminated. No-one about. Pull back so the sea comes between us and it, until the Village is only a glow in the darkness of the night. END CREDITS.� (
That ending would have made it very difficult to continue the series, since Drake would apparently have capitulated to his former masters & become a Villager. The outsider theme brings up another question for me, Drake's nationality. In the earlier series of Danger Man his accent varied so that he could be Irish or American: for me there is something about his insistence that he is a free man that sounds un-British, by which I mean there is more emphasis in the American constitution, & therefore American psyche, on rights & freedoms. In the Britain of the 1960s I think the idea of liberty would perhaps have been seen as more foreign, & I feel the question of rights is one that has arisen since we went into Europe. I have no doubt that this argument can be  contradicted at length, I'm just painting it in broad strokes to make my point here. For me this is another aspect that solidifies the identification of Number 6 with Drake, in fact an early Drake, since for me Number 6 is not British. It is also interesting that the radio speaks of freedom being 'restored': it is not clear where this broadcast is coming from, but it implies that there are allies outside The Village who can see what is going on.
One of the things I like about this episode is the many ways it can be understood, for example:
'If "Dance of the Dead" is about anything, it is about the need for the Prisoner to be �won over� to the Village. The opening scene shows how the methods of scientific violence are ineffective against deeply ingrained resistance. Number 2 must wage a psychological war against the Prisoner�s identity. She must put him to death � a theme signposted by the corpse, the demise of Dutton, the scenes at night, the black cat, the long black pause before the final credits, and (in the original script) a chilling burial scene.' (
I absolutely wouldn't contradict any of this, but for me if this episode is about anything it is about relationships, human relationships of all sorts. Sex has been mentioned before I think, in that some of the Villagers have actually started children, but here relationships in a broader sense are meant. In this view the pivotal thing is The Village using Drake's relationships & trying to manipulate him into a different relationship with The Village by treating him in a particular way.
For a start an old friend & colleague of his is placed to tell him that there is no point, The Village will continue to squeeze you after you've given them everything. His significance is indicated by the fact that, at least behind the scenes of The Village, he is referred to by a name not a number.
There is a relational element to the way in which Drake is treated as the odd one out at the fancy dress ball, almost cold-shouldered as being the one who remains himself when everyone else (in The Village, that is) has taken on a different identity.
The photo in the wallet is also indicative of relationships, in this case a romantic or sexual one, since this is clearly a picture of a couplle taken in The Village. It is significant, seen from this angle, that this is the only episode where Number 2 is overtly a woman (rather than being revealed to be one of the female characters, as she is in Many Happy Returns) throughout the episode. This allows for a sexual dynamic to develope between Drake & Number 2. Yes I know he didn't want to be seen kissing a woman on screen, but I must insist that the dynamic is a sexual one, it's that of one of those relationships where there's a funny power play between the two people. It isn't quite sado-masochistic, but it feels to me like Number 2 is going to get the upper hand & Drake is almost unwillingly drawn into this dynamic by his resolution not to go along with what The Village expects of him.
Mary Morris is certainly among my favourite Number 2s. Much is made of the high proportion of homosexual (in real life) actors who played Number 2, & the sexual dynamic with the butler, including Patrick Cargill saying to Number 6, 'You have come between us'. Mary Morris is usually casually numbered amongst this number. I can't think why. In real life she wouldn't have wanted a relationship with McGoohan. In the series, I feel this is the most sexual dynamic between Number 2 & Drake, for the reason that Number 2 is a woman! The illustration is a Ronald Searle cartoon of Mary Morris.
I realise I haven't done this episode justice, but it does not give me any cause to think that Number 6 could not be John Drake, which is my main intent in this run through the series.

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