Friday, 17 January 2014

The Prisoner: The Girl Who Was Death

I commented in my last post on The Prisoner that from here on I thought the series would be less capable of being understood in terms of Number 6 as John Drake, the agent who resigned to investigate his brainchild Village. I especially thought that of this episode, but I've been obliged radically to reconsider that view; I knew blogging about TV would get me thinking about it. I've always thought that late 60s weirdness infiltrated The Prisoner towards the end of the series, & to be frank I think I've always assumed - as a result of not paying enough attention - that the production team got more & more off their heads as it went on, smoked too much weed, & set out to find themselves, resulting in the discovery of who Number 1 is.
How relieved, then, I am to find that this episode can be understood in terms of Number 6 = Drake. The bedtime story he is telling the children is plainly the story of some of his exploits on active service as Danger Man. In fact this episode is said to have recycled two unused Danger Man scripts. The argument against this may be that it contains too many surreal elements to be a flat description of a secret agent's mission, but of course it isn't. The report Drake would have given his superiors would have been radically different from the highly dramatised version it becomes as a children's story.
It is plainly also not a story in the same vein as Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, which is composed of what would now be called virtual reality, referring in an allegorical way to the whole plot of Danger Man. Rather here, it is plainly the account of one of Drake's exploits, turned into a somewhat disturbing bedtime story, & with an anarchistic twist, which is that this bedtime story is actually aimed at children everywhere. These two things mean that it plays with the viewers' minds very cleverly - following straight on from Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, the viewer would naturally assume it is another virtual reality plot.
What makes it clear this is not virtual reality, despite the oddness of it (inserted for the entertainment of the 'children'), is the point at which the words on the bottom of the beer glass appear, in The Village's characteristic typeface. The 'reality' of The Village never intruded on the virtual reality in Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, & the viewer who has been following up to this point will understand this to refer to the sinister hand of those who run The Village being behind the events of this episode. The surrealism of some of the things Sonia can do may either be seen as touches added to improve it as a children's story, or may refer to the way The Village authorities can twist reality to suit their purpose. That this is a story for children everywhere makes it a warning to us all that we cannot be sure what powers are running our governments & lives.
The people with Drake as he tells the children the story look like the baddies in the story he's telling & were hoping he would let out a clue of why he resigned. The significance of this of course is that implies that The Village were already involved in Drake's life in some way before he resigned. Perhaps that was the real reason he resigned, his brainchild Village, rather than being a place of safety for vulnerable/dangerous agents becomes this all-dominating web that takes over everything. He won't tell them why he resigned because he sees it as so obvious. It's as if he's cancelled his Google+ account because it takes over everything, then google ask him why (just kidding).
I'm not very taken with the view that this episode relates to Sadism. I mean, to me it is very plain that *all* Sonia wants to do with Drake is to kill him, not really to have sex with him. The commentary to me is just playing with his head. Not that this episode is in any way lacking in sexual imagery, it is literally everywhere, but personally I feel it is better understood as a parody/criticism of thrillers of the James Bond type:
'John Le Carre said back in 1966, "You felt he (Bond) would have gone through the same antics for any country really, if the girls had been so pretty and the Martinis so dry." I think for people like McGoohan and Le Carre, Bond represented an adolescent fantasy that was fundamentally suspect and emphasized all the wrong things. To them, and even in fiction, espionage and spies were a much more serious business. It was about people at the forefront of a nasty secret conflict between very different ways of life and which potentially could have terrible consequences, and not about martini preparation.' (http://www.douxreviews.com/2012/06/prisoner-girl-who-was-death.html?m=1)
The scene where Drake is poisoned is the comment on this - he goes on a bender of all the spirits they have, showing the ridiculousness of settling down to an orgy of drink or girls in the midst of a dangerous mission. Therefore by using an apparently 'filler' episode to make a point by spoofing spy films of that type, this episode actually makes a very serious point about the serious business of espionage, albeit with a twist here, referring to the masochistic nature of those who put their lives on the line for their country.
And it is not merely Bond that is parodied in this episode - it makes as many, if not more nods to The Avengers, including the somewhat kinky dynamic of The Avengers. The Merrie England references of the cricket match & the pub are so Avengers. It seems facile to say that the countryside looks like it does in The Avengers, but I think this show may well have used the same part of the country to film in. This Prisoner uses - in fact pointedly overuses - the technique of magical omniscience. Drake just keeps meeting his contacts, going to his rendez-vous, with no infilling or explanation of how this happens, making this show fast-paced at the beginning, slowing down where Sonia is trying to kill him, indicative of pain & a fight to the death. The Jaguar Sonia drives in their car chase is very Emma Peel. The place Drake arrives at at the end of the car chase has the makeshift feel - although not explicitly so - of the old set used in The Avengers episode Killer: as it happens this was broadcast the year after The Girl Who Was Death, so conceivably the influence could have been the other way round, The Avengers may have been carrying it one step further as usual, or it may just be a case of picking up on the crazy late sixties zeitgeist. The very themes - of megalomania, possibly masochism, insanity & attempts to take over the world - are so Avengers, just with the difference here that we don't put up the union jack & have tea at the end. Perhaps the most Avengers thing about this Prisoner episode, though, is the postmodern commentary on the genre itself, a spy show commenting on spy shows.
To be absolutely honest, I love this one so much I'm unable to criticise it - it definitely has to go into my stonking good television category. And I am so relieved to discover it can be interpreted to mean Drake is Number 6.
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