Allegory in The Prisoner: Once Upon A Time
The end of this look at allegory is nearing with this episode, & you would be forgiven for thinking that I've rather lost my relish for the subject as I've gone through. What I was expecting to find was that the series was susceptible to numerous different allegorical interpretations, which it is in certain places. However I'm expecting my conclusion to be that some episodes lend themselves to an allegorical interpretation better than others. Notoriously not even McGoohan knew how the series would end while it was being filmed, & additional conflict about the number of episodes/series shows in a certain lack of direction as the series progresses, in my opinion.
Additionally in my inner INFJ world of making connections I've been distracted by the similarities of The Villages to totalitarian regimes, specifically Apartheid-era South Africa. That is the one about which I know most: as a young theology student I wrote an essay on the theological underpinnings of aparthied. This is the point at which people are either surprised I have a degree in theology or even more surprised that apartheid had (& has among the far-right) a theology. It may be found in some of the more bizarre Calvinist ideas of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Anyway, there is a relevance of all this to this episode. If you read about South Africa as it is now, it is a society deeply scarred by its past. I was shocked when I found out what the famous quote from Winnie Mandela - 'with our boxes of matches & our necklaces we shall liberate this country' - actually means. It is a particularly brutal form of murder with specific cultural connotations (if you are of a sensitive disposition do not look at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necklacing). I was surprised to find that my (white) friend in South Africa has met Winnie Mandela, & speaks of her with respect, affection, even awe. She told me that what Winnie went through - the imprisonments, banishings, disappearances, beatings - were enough to send anyone off their head.
The relevance to this episode of The Prisoner is that it is a wonder Number 6 didn't lose it completely (or perhaps he did, in a true 1960s psychedelic enlightenment, but that's yet another layer of possible meaning). The implication of 'degree absolute' (in a very Freudian slip I found I first wrote 'decree absolute'!) Is that there is nothing more The Village can do to him. This is the point beyond which there is nothing else, & in the true style of the totalitarian regime, it is all portrayed as Number 6's fault. He is the naughty schoolboy or criminal - & if he had done something socially unacceptable as a result of the trauma he suffered in the Village, it is sure that this would have been used as further evidence of his rebellious spirit.
The allegory here is a very painful one - to our society. There is no help in the institutions of education, law, church - they are all implicated in Degree Absolute. It is very plain also that it makes a painful point about the sickness of our society. You can't come back from Degree Absolute. There's no possibility of it being mended, healed, reconciled. The message of this episode is far from the usual unreality of the series - it's about as bleak as can be.
I would like to end this post by quoting from an interview with Minnie Mandela (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/how-nelson-mandela-betrayed-us-says-exwife-winnie-6734116.html), which I think from the point of view of this post may well be read bearung in mind that she is talking about the sort of regime this episode of The Prisoner refers to:
'She looked towards my chair. Her grey glasses focused on my face. "Yes, I was afraid in the beginning. But then there is only so much they can do to you. After that it is only death. They can only kill you, and as you see, I am still here."
'I knew that the apartheid enforcers had done everything in their power to break this woman. She had suffered every indignity a person could bear. They had picked her up in the night and placed her under house arrest in Brandfort, a border town in Orange Free State, 300 miles from Soweto. "It was exile," she said, "when everything else had failed."
'At this remote outpost, where she spent nine years, she had recruited young men for the party. "Right under their noses," she said to Vidia, laughing with the memory of it. "The only worry or pain I had was for my daughters. Never really knowing what was happening to them. I feel they have really suffered in all this. Not me or Mandela," she said.
'"Look at this Truth and Reconciliation charade. He [Mandela] should never have agreed to it." Again her anger was focused on Mandela. "What good does the truth do? How does it help anyone to know where and how their loved ones were killed or buried? That Bishop Tutu who turned it all into a religious circus came here," she said pointing to an empty chair in the distance.
'"He had the cheek to tell me to appear. I told him a few home truths. I told him that he and his other like-minded cretins were only sitting here because of our struggle and ME. Because of the things I and people like me had done to get freedom."'