Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Prisoner: Many Happy Returns

How I love this episode! It is strange, because I love The Prisoner & this episode is one of my favourites, despite it being definitely the odd one out. For me what marks it out is the apparent absence of institutional behaviour on the part of Drake: by this I mean that most episodes are marked by at least some manoeuvring with the authorities in The Village, & while present here it is not apparent that that is what is happening until the end.
In fact institutional neurosis is present in this episode: a major aspect of institutional behaviour is the fear of reprisals if you do something wrong, twisted in this case to mean that the authorities create an environment where there is something wrong, presumably calculated to create discomfort. The natural question would be to ask yourself what has happened & where everyone has gone: the obvious answer is that something has happened that you don't know about! A further institutional element in this story is that by making the village appear abandoned the authorities make Drake do exactly what you would think he would do: go home, to his own address before he was abducted. The only purpose for this can be to say to him: 'we know *everything* about you, everything you can & will do'. The point here is that by changing what they are doing the authorities behind The Village have *made* Drake make what he thinks is a bid for freedom, but they have foreseen it & forestalled him. The main thing Drake learns in this one, I think, is the sheer power & extent of those who control the village. The allegory about the shower & the coffee percolator in Drake's cottage, which don't work before he leaves The Village but do when he returns, is often taken to mean he has no life outside The Village (http://www.theunmutual.co.uk/article24.htm), but I think could also refer to dependence on The Village authorities, a truly institutional point to make.
The home element in this episode is actually more important than it may seem. He manages to 'escape' from The Village (albeit unknowingly with his captors' blessing), & goes home, that is to that place that represents all that is most important for everyone, right? I can't believe I've missed it all the other times I've seen this, but the house is only Number 1! So the embodiment of all that is most important for Drake is the thing he has been looking for in The Village, in fact it is himself, another whacking great spoiler.
The globalisation I talked about in my last post (on the Danger Man episode I Can Only Offer You Sherry), & commented that it wasn't present in The Prisoner, is of course present in this episode in the North African location of the The Village (derp). Of course it is plain that The Village could not be in Morocco. I don't care who you are but if you are uprooted from Europe to Africa you will notice that light, sunset, etc, are different, in addition to temperature. I'm in two minds about this one, & I'm tempted to add it to my list of things wrong with the plot in this episode.  
For me there are two other major things wrong with the plot (which needless to say don't ruin it for me). The first is the sudden emptying of The Village. The whole point is that The Village contains people with valuable & dangerous knowledge. Where on earth would you put that number of people at such short notice? The logistics of the behavioural experiment make it just too difficult to do, & also, frankly, Drake *should* have been suspicious of this. The other thing wrong with it is that Drake should be more wary of Mrs Butterworth than he is. It is inconceivable that an innocent member of the public would rent a house from which a man just disappeared without knowing about it. You could explain this by saying that the powers that abducted him would have set up a suitable cover story for his disappearance - or even buried the story somehow - but nonetheless Drake (or even Number 6 if he isn't Drake) should have been instantly more wary of Mrs Butterworth: he managed to be wary of the road block he comes across, after all.
It is interesting the human way she gets round him. His sympathy when she talks about pretending that there is still a man about the house is an unusual instance of his ice calm being in suspension. Presumably a combination of exhaustion & her kindness leave him wide open to this trick. The birthday cake is as much as telling him he has a weakness & she has well & truly used it.
The guest actors in this episode. - Donald Sinden, Patrick Cargill, Georgina Cookson - would normally make me criticise overloading the cast with stars, but here they don't overly draw attraction to their star quality as opposed to their character. Patrick Cargill is one of my favourites of the actors who appear in many 60s series: I love the dryness of the characters he often plays, such as here, quite different from his real persona:
'Cargill was a private man, who quietly disliked his famous status. He would shun the awards ceremonies in favour of a quiet evening at home playing mahjong. He never made any public acknowledgment of his private life as he felt that to admit to being gay would damage his professional image. Notwithstanding his reluctance to come out in this respect, Cargill was happy being gay in his private life and his wit when not in the spotlight reflected that. Once, whilst lunching with Ray Cooney, the theatrical impresario, Cargill observed, when a particularly handsome waiter mistakenly removed his soup spoon Cargill responded, "aah look Ray, the dish has run away with the spoon."' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Cargill)
Visually this episode is wonderful: the multiple settings in addition to Portmeirion are all winners. The touch of him landing in the road when he jumps out of the lorry in London is very effective, & there is a fascinating touch of the Avengers episode 'The Hour That Never Was' with the milk float in the airfield. I wonder if that could conceivably have been deliberate?
So all considered a superb Prisoner episode, not marred by some major quibbles with the plot, & aided by superb scenery & actors. It subtly develops the story of The Prisoner, while quite rightly raising more questions.
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