Thursday, 17 July 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: Free for All

This is the point at which I have to stop being creative & have to fall in line with the conventional allegorical reading of The Prisoner, because it's just too obvious to be ignored. In this episode The Village is very clearly allegorical of our world, & comments on various institutions (government, the press) are clearly being made. There's simply no escaping that.
What is frankly shocking, though, is how countercultural the commentary really is. We all know that those who go into politics choose to do so generously, & for the good of the community, don't we? In addition to the frequent criticism that politicians are self-serving time-wasters (& if my local councillor should read this, I still didn't vote for you, even after you finally sorted that problem with the rubbish), this Prisoner depicts those in power much more cynically, as forced into position, & then really being completely powerless. Either way, the allegory is very simple & very powerful: 'democracy' is a sham, a trick, a subterfuge, which covers up what is really happening in the world. The real powers know what is going to happen already - for which the fact that Number 6's election materials were all ready is the allegory.
I am beginning to realise how allegorical the phone & TV in Number 6's cottage are, for the power of intrusion that the Village authorities have over his life. Number 58 is initially allegorical for a further intrusion, that of intruding a person into Number 6's life.
As the episode progresses, her full allegorical standing becomes clear. For a start she talks gibberish; this may be intended to represent Polish but clealy really represents gibberish. This gibberish is understood only by Number 2: a clear allegory for the rubbish that our leaders regularly spout. It is only after Number 6's conversion to the cause of the election, & he begins spouting Village propaganda, that he can suddenly say 'be seeing you' in her language, indicative of an apparent change of allegiance. Of course ultimately she is another allegory for nonsensical, sadistic, self-serving, vacuous leadership: she is the *real* new Number 2.
Number 6's change of allegiance is only apparent, of course, & he tried to escape again. This may represent that his real allegiance haven't changed - certainly he allows himself to be fooled into a completely false bid for illusory power. Yet when Rover catches him he is spouting Village propaganda.
Which brings me nicely to two criticisms I have of the use of allegory in this episode. The main one is that the allegory falls flat on its face - impute whatever motives you like to him, but Number 6 plainly would not have fallen for the trick that is played on him. There is therefore a fault at the heart of the allegory here. My other criticism would be that in terms of allegory this episode is almost too rich - it's a proper episode to be chewed over at length by the fans, since so many things can be interpreted in so many ways. I therefore want to focus on the allegorical use of certain features of the episode.
One is the relatively heavy use of Rover. I commented before that I was having difficulty with Rover as an allegory, but here it is more clearly a power to be reckoned with, even able to summon other Rovers when necessary. The scene where Rover hovers menacingly is particularly effective, while it is often interpreted as a guardian of The Village, I feel it would not be unreasonable to interpret him as an allegory of the presence of Number 1.
The Village council - puppet legislative bodies who are just dummies, & the newspapermen - agents of the authorities who manipulate what becomes published - are both very obvious allegories. The psychiatrist character (not sure if that is actually what he is) is more subtle.
I'm also having difficulty allegorising the heavy use of silhouette in this episode. The outline in the truth test plainly represents a misuse of technology to get into Number 6's head. I suspect that the latest multimedia techniques of the 1960s would have revolved around Letraset & projection & probably to most people, seeing images normally achieved by projection on a TV screen would have represented an impossible-for-the-time technology. Of course the most obvious allegorical interpretation - one often applied to the black & white badges - would be an either/or milieu: you have to be with The Village or against it.
The pub without beer is an obvious allegory for the pretence of everything in The Village. When he has to be taken away by his minder it is like what we would now see as a celebrity being set up to fall by certain glossy magazines. The scene where he sees Number 2, apparently drunk, is a continuing allegory of pretence & deceit.
Having said that I wanted to interpret this one in the more conventional allegorical way, I feel it is possible to interpret it in the light of my hobby horse, where The Village represents Number 6's dream escape from his life. Often the end of an allegory is the key to its interpretation, & in this case the show must be interpreted as Number 6 seeking himself, since he is Number 1. Seen in the light of that the show becomes an allegory for Number 6's repeated attempts to seek his own power or actualisation, despite competition from society. In this case society even tells him it wants him to self-actualise. Where it gets really twisted is the fact that he himself therefore is the person who appoints The Village, including Number 2. He is therefore the main obstacle to what he is seeking, & the actual cause of all the problems he experiences. That said, I still want to do a series of posts reading the butler as Number 1!
In summary, a richly-detailed, if at times overly complicated from an allegorical point of view episode, if marred somewhat by a plot with a basically flawed premise.
My favourite lines:
Number 2: 'Are you going to run?'
Number 6: 'Like blazes, the first chance I get.'