Monday, 27 October 2014
Allegory in the Prisoner: Fall Out
Bearing in mind that the key allegorical interpretation of The Prisoner is of The Village as society, with reference to the various institutions etc, & their ability to harm us, it is capable of incredibly countercultural interpretations, as I think has been apparent in previous posts in this series. Fall Out makes this allegory unsustainable by turning it round to the pursuit of the individual's self-actualisation, or whatever you want to call it. 'We thought you would feel happier as yourself' are the words at which it becomes apparent we're in completely different territory here.
It is still open to allegorical interpretation, just differently: here The Village becomes the means to the individual's pursuit of himself - it's as if it has been testing for the one thing it has said it doesn't want. The juke boxes in the caverns under the village, pouring out All You Need is Love, represent the Village authorities' use of the mass hippie media to promote their message of integrity. I find this reversal of the allegory here very unsatisfying. Contrary to the impression given through the series it is actually all about Number 6. He's the point of the whole thing. This can't be how this show was meant to end, it's unconventional in the extreme but makes an unsatisfying resolution of the situation set up.
I suppose a key interpretation here could be of the need to overcome something as a means to the realisation of oneself as an individual. This is the falling apart or rebirth I referred to in the last post, & would fit with the initiatory/baptismal themes of the show. This begs the question of who or what Number 2 represents - it's possible to see the various Number 2s as aspects of the self that need to be overcome, or even as outside interference. This actually fits better with my hypothesised allegory of The Village as representative of Number 6's dreamed-of escape from his humdrum spying life.
Nor does the episode hang together well allegorically on its own. Number 48 is painted as symbolic of youth yet sings a Gospel song, surely in Prisoner terms symbolic of the power of the Church, especially when contrasted to the Beatles song. The episode ends in the seat of British power - Westminster - & in Number 6's own home. We're back where we began & it's profoundly dissatisfying. The door opening at the butler's approach however gives a hint that just possibly the apparent acceptance of Number 6's individuality is a fake, the whole episode is yet another fake test, & actually The Village is still there at every step, watching & waiting for him to give his secret away.
I was initially going to say that I don't like the section where Number 48 initiates a 'revolt': it can seem another incongruous element. However in allegorical terms it is almost an attempt to reintroduce the main allegory of the series - of power, authority, conformity, & the lack thereof. It is spoiled in the programme's context by Number 6 sitting on a raised throne, which implies (as indeed he is) that he is the authority, but this revelation hasn't yet been made. The place in which he is told by the judge that he has (words to the effect of) revolted in the right way is fairly obviously a red herring & it is a relief to see Number 6 initiate another revolt after being invited to meet Number 1.
A further nonsense is made of the whole premise of the show by the rebirth of Number 2, since the whole point here is that Number 6 has overcome Number 2 & is so 'realised' as Number 1.
I feel the allegory of this episode, indeed of the whole series, may be best resolved by a more psychological reading. In this The Prisoner is about as sixties as it can get, although the themes of self, seeking, autonomy, death, & rebirth are usually subsumed in the business of The Village. My preferred psychological reading would be that the whole series represents Number 6's journey of self-discovery & self-actualisation. He has to fall apart to return to himself - his normal home & life. He has undertaken a pillgrim's journey, such as is undertaken in Pilgrim's Progress, Way of a Pilgrim, & other such classics. In this countercultural version, though, he is the end of his seeking. I notice that I got the impression before that the series almost went off its head as it went on, as if the production team got more & more stoned. This impression is interesting coming from the devoutly Catholic McGoohan. In fact I think this episode is best explained as either a hasty attempt to tie up the loose ends or a late-sixties psychedelic trip!
Or else, it could be a critique of the feel good movements of the time. Number 6 has apparently actualised himself, but nothing in the Village is real, & the opening of his house's door at the end suggests that it isn't real, also suggesting a possibly more nihilistic moral, that nothing is real, which would be much more in line with one of the underlying themes of the series.
The ending further reinforces another underlying theme (despite the Carmen Miranda soundtrack) - that of the Butler, of whom I remain suspicious.
As a resolution to the allegory of this series, this episode falls down badly by clouding the whole issue & reversing the existing allegory to put Number 6 in the throne. Since many allegories are only fully explained by their resolution, I would suggest that the whole series may actually not lend itself that well to an allegorical interpretation, & may be better interpreted in psychological terms, or simply 1960s 'trippy' terms. Nor does a single allegorical interpretation hold up well through the series, instead individual episodes perhaps lend themselves better to different allegorical interpretations.
Thus ends my series of posts on allegory in The Prisoner. For next year I am projecting some work on echoes of Apartheid in The Prisoner - although don't hold your breath, reading about about Apartheid makes me physically sick - & I'm still interested in The Butler!