Sunday, 1 June 2014

Danger Man: The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove

One of the things I was hoping to happen, when I started blogging about old tv programmes, was that the process would make me think more deeply than is usual about the TV programmes I watch. Television is a terribly seductive medium: it sits in the corner of the room & the remarkable thing is for the most part people pay it no attention at all! Over the past decades it has spread, often into every room in the house, & is on pretty much all the time. Personally I think this is to do it a disservice. I only watch what I want - exclusively either on the internet or DVD. I personally never watch TV when it is actually scheduled. By a focussed attention you begin to realise a lot of the little subliminal tricks that go on, in advertising & so on, when you do watch it. You notice how the images are manipulated. Much of the information that enters our heads is unbidden & designed to work on us insidiously. To turn off from this is to become automatically eccentric, but also to pay a different sort of attention to things.
Watching TV even in this way I realise I wasn't thinking things out as much as I could be. I realise I wasn't attending to what was going on on the screen, properly. This Danger Man episode is a case in point. I have seen it numerous times before, it is one of my favourites. The approach I was going to take was that this is a straightforward have-a-good-go-at-driving-the-spy-mad story. I was even going to make a criticism that this story is very obviously an apparent set-up from the beginning, leaving the only source of suspense, the amount of pain exerted from the agent, albeit that it is apparently a dream. I can't really phrase the approach I was originally going to take, better than henri sauvage does in his imdb review:
'Speeding on his way to the airport, secret agent John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) swerves to avoid a couple of young boys chasing a ball and loses control of his car. After a devastating wreck, the camera lingers on his shattered dashboard clock, stopped at exactly 12 noon.
'The rest of this story is supplied by Drake's subconscious: A duel of wits in which the hobo he passed on the road right before his accident morphs into the suave, sinister (and much better groomed) music lover and casino owner Mr. Alexander (Francis de Wolff), whose unsavory deeds range from attempting to blackmail Drake to passing secrets via microdots on gambling chits.
'What's impressive about this episode is the way it's framed from the first as a dream, and evokes the alternating logic/illogic of a dream state quite nicely, without succumbing to the temptation of going wildly overboard. Just a subtle, gathering wrongness (like every clock you see during the episode shows twelve o'clock) and unsettling discontinuities (such as the title character, Mr. Lovegrove, who -- to put it mildly -- wears many hats in this story) leading to an appropriately bizarre and manic crescendo.' (http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0553854/reviews?ref_=m_tt_urv#showAll)
But I've been forced to rethink that view. Of all the Danger Man episodes I've written about so far, this is the one that I feel is the real precursor of The Prisoner. It looks like The Prisoner. Drake acts like Number 2. Something is wanted from his by a suspicious power. Some of the scenes are almost straight out of The Prisoner. This *is* The Prisoner. The number of Prisoner-type 'tropes' I can identify would include the following (tropes in brackets have been taken from the Prisoner tropes at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/ThePrisoner):
Drake drives purposefully in a topless car at the start of the episode (cool car).
The vagrant looking for a lift is very probably a first attempt at getting hold of him (sinister surveillance).
A child-like way of setting his course astray
The action after the titles begins & keeps reverting to, Drake's own home, which even looks rather like Number 6's cottage in The Village.
His home is already invaded by another man.
Mr Lovegrove wants to see him at the Treasury (Number 2 wants to see him at the green dome?)
Repetitive questioning about how he has done something he knows he hasn't, with concerns raised about his security.
He behaves nervously, almost with a tick, which makes Lovegrove laugh uproariously = Number 2's bonhomie pretence (affably evil).
Lovegrove makes out he is more understanding than the Minister = Number 2's attempts to be understanding or chummy (affably evil).
The casino doorman's familiarity, ?intended to set the scene that he goes there regularly but has forgotten.
The man behind the desk recognises him, ditto.
The casino is a scene of luxury, parallelling the village hall & much-vaunted amenities in The Prisoner (Becoming the mask; dystopia; gilded cage).
Drake is taken to Mr Alexander, who behaves very much as Number 2.
Pretend concern for Drake's wellbeing & reiteration of the idea that he owes them money.
Drake rationalises against all these apparently sane people = he is the only sane, or just plain sensible, one there.
Dramatic music behind this scene.
Alexander then produces the real reason for taking him in to the casino: he hints they know he is in the 'travel business' = hints they know about him, but they want more.
The other people in the casino all seem sane & calm.
Drake's vision shifts, people look different, he focuses on some very specific things here & there - this to me looks very much like the visuals of The Prisoner.
Drake tries to find an ally in Lovegrove, but it's apparent at times that he's on the other side (government conspiracy; hoist by his own petard).
Drake changes his game to become a 'real gambler' to clean it up (hoist by his own petard).
The corridor he walks - in a rather wobbly fashion - down is very reminiscent of some scenes from The Prisoner.
His interview with the doctor is eccentric enough to have taken place in The Village.
He can't resign: he wouldn't get a pension (resignations not accepted).
There is another John Drake (identical stranger).
Polite party chit-chat covers up the agenda of a femme fatale (Daddy's little villain).
Drake befriends the woman at the casino, only to find she is in Alexander's employ.
Drake's position as seen by the enemy is delineated in the allegory of a game, in this case of cards (human chess?).
Drake is given a final ultimatum, threatening him with destruction (determinator).
The people that Drake should be able to rely on - his superiors - do not believe the story he tells them (deadpan snarker).
Drake examines himself & finds someone else in the mirror.
There are strangers with demands in his house again.
When softly softly fails, his interlocuters resort to violence.
Drake appears to play along, or at least sympathise with, his enemies - clearly a tactical strategy.
The apparent friend, who turned out to be an enemy, reappears as his friend. She confirms his suspicions as to what is happening at the casino.
Even the patrolling policeman is revealed to be one of Drake's enemies (dramatic unmask).
Drake sees the evidence of his car crash being 'arranged' then it vanishes again.
Drake 'turns the tables' on the enemiy by 'playing them at their own game'.
Drake deals with a femme fatale again, with no reciprocation on his side (celibate hero).
The enemy - what he is fighting against - is revealed to be Drake himself (Batman grabs a gun; identical stranger).
The image is seen as allegorical of the reality it depicts.
The characters in the dream are finally revealed to be 'actors' in Drake's car crash (all just a dream; but you were there, & you, & you).
What is missing here that is very prominent in The Prisoner, is the theme of control & messing with the mind. Clearly it would not be possible for this one show to represent *everything* that happens in all The Prisoner's episodes, but I find it interesting how may similar ideas to The Prisoner appear, in an episode which is not normally a runner for the role of Prisoner inspiration.
I am not wishing to imply that there is anything else happening in this story than the plain plot line, strange as it may seem. It sounds like I'm trying to project The Prisoner onto this Danger Man: in reality I think it is possibly that the dream world depicted here inspired the world of The Prisoner in a very subtle way. Perhaps The Prisoner is therefore more of a dream than is immediately apparent: if Number 1 is oneself, then The Village can also be the production of ones own psyche.
I am astonished at how much magical thinking there is in this episode - connections are made between things that have no obvious causation. This is exactly the ethos of The Prisoner - the reason for everything, the 'prime mover' is always hidden & there is no apparent reason for much of what happens.
So all in all an interesting episode which can be read on a number of different levels - as in deep good television always can - including possibly containing some seeds of ideas for The Prisoner.
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2 comments:

Mitchell Hadley said...

Another good episode and another good recap. I particularly like what you say at the very beginning, about how hoped blogging would make you think more deeply about the shows you watch. I know that's been the case with me; and while there's the odd show that's suffered because I look at it in a different way, I find that overall it's been a much more enriching experience.

It's also changed how I view contemporary shows, not only in the way they measure up to the shows of the past, but in the ways they present ideas, use iconic types, and such. In short, there are many ways in which storytelling has changed between then and now, and much of the time it's not improved.

Cult TV Blog said...

Thanks! The irony is that your comment came for moderation just as I was deciding to give up on Life on Mars - I ought to have loved it but it just wasn't going to cut the mustard!