The general has of course been referred to before in The Prisoner. I have to confess at the outset that this is not one of my personal favourite episodes, largely because I don't take to the Speedlearn idea. However Drake, true to form, remains only interested in his professed task of getting away: of course in these posts I am taking the view that that is not his actual or only aim, rather he wants to investigate his idea gone bad & getting away to report or publicise what is happening.
In reality the education pretense is another ploy by The Village authorities: those already broken go along with it enthusiastically, but it is another way to put pressure on Drake. It is as if The Village is a behavioural experiment: they've placed Drake in a pseudo-democratic environment to see how he responds, & now in a pseudo-academic environment. The wonder is that they bother: even seeing this series through for the first time in the sixties, by now you would have got Drake's response well sussed. The wonder, I suppose is that he goes through with - I guess in a spirit of continuing to find out what The Village authorities can do. You would think, though, that he would at least have some reasonable fear of 'programming' - a fashionable psychological fear of the sixties, influenced by the odd religions springing up at the time.
The fact is that it is plainly a pseudo-education. A degree that *everyone* has got is effectively worthless. The mere parroting of unexamined & unresearched 'facts' is not education, it is not teaching people to *think*. And this is the big weakness of this plot for me: anyone who has set foot into university level education (or into a grammar school, at the time this was broadcast) can see the falseness of the 'education'. The issues are rather around control & conformity, & this is so heavily-handedly obvious that the episode lacks subtlety on that basis alone. The General can even be interpreted as a figure of an old-man-in-the-sky all-knowing God, giving out instructions, even seen in the number of steps up to the General. There is nothing the General does not know!
Of *course* Number 12 is a plant. Of *course* Number 2 even defines the speed learn project as an experiment for himself. Of *course* the General is not a person. Of *course* the General was invented by the Professor, he's got regret written all over him.
I like Colin Gordon a lot as Number 2 - his intelligent, bespectacled looks suit the role in this episode to perfection, & John Castle as Number 12 is the perfect counterpoint to him, with his thicker features, & self-definition as 'a cog...in the machine'. I love the way the Professor has to be dragged in from the beach to do Speedlearn. And a very gratifying thing is to spot some books from Steed's library in Stable Mews, when Drake goes to see the General. I will have to resist creating a conspiracy theory around that fact & The Avengers, & put it down to props from the same source - internals on The Prisoner were shot in sets, not at Portmeirion. That said there is a lot of Avengers in the scene where the General overheats.
You can't really criticise the visuals in this: the scene with the busts & then the pretend-Professor is particularly effective. The dialogue sparkles to the point where you simply do not find yourself turning off during this episode. Drake's character is perhaps more confrontational, acerbic in this episode: the simple fact is he comes across as intellectually the superior of everyone else. The irony is that if it were a school he would be the sort of pupil who is forever at loggerheads with his teachers, but then ends up coming top: his teachers have bored him & his questioning was actually purely intellectual enquiry. I think this episode (watched in this order) is the one where as the viewer the series begins to play with your head. Drake is the intelligent rebel schoolboy, being held in statu pupillari by his intellectual inferiors. Yet the whole point ultimately of the village he envisaged, which is where he is, was to provide a safe container for agents who were twoo dangerous or at risk to be let out among the public. His own creation is what has wrong-footed him: he's like a boy in chemistry who moves onto the advanced stuff without knowing the basics & blows his eyebrows off! Although judging by the question he beats the General with, porbably philosophy would be more his bag.
So as I say, an episode whose premise doesn't really grab me, but with a lot of food for thought nonetheless, redeemed by its dialogue & visuals. It also doesn't really develop the idea of Drake investigating The Village, but instead manages to tell us as viewers a lot about The Village & about Drake himself.