The Prisoner in the Asylum: Conclusion
And so we've reached the end of this series of posts about The Prisoner being interpreted as being about mental health or The Village being a very special clinic, and I have some conclusions.
My one regret or problem with this series of posts is that I think they are actually a book, and I'm in no fit state to put up with the reasonable expectations of publishers and the reading public these days so if anyone ever writes it, it won't be me. The area of psychiatry and psychological health in the middle of the twentieth century is a HUGE area which can be seen as referenced by this series in many ways in each episode.
I chose to hang one or a few subjects about mental health on each episode as they related to it. I think this mainly worked, although I think a book length account would require a general overview of what was going on in psychiatry followed by an exhaustive account of each episode, interpreting each event as it relates to psychiatry at the time. Even though I have used the word asylum to describe these posts and treated the Village as a hospital, in reality the psychiatry it has made me think of is much more psychiatry as seen and experienced by the chattering classes of the time - an appointment with RD Laing for LSD therapy, rather than knowing the nurses are coming to jab you in the bum with your morning medication, if you like. There are prominent aspects of contemporary psychiatry which aren't immediately suggested at all by the show - ironically there is no suggestion of community care (although you could of course take the whole show as a plea for mental health care to be out of the hospital).
I also think it was helpful to suggest a couple of possible diagnoses (although I heavily inclined towards personality disorder and really have only used psychosis as a get out of jail free card to explain anything as unreal when it didn't fit my agenda) because they provided a useful interpretive lens for what is happening in the show. I realize that this means I have interpreted the show more from a mental health professional's perspective than from the perspective of the person experiencing the events of the show. Again, without doing a book length interpretation it is difficult to see how this could have been different although doing this has provided me with several different perspectives on what is going on between Number 6 and the Village.
Certainly to my mind the most interesting effect of assuming the Village is a hospital is it turns the moral sense of the show on its head. Suddenly even with the unethical things which go on there the Village ceases to be the sinister totalitarian punishment camp it usually seems. In fact if the Village is a hospital and Number 6 a patient they are neither of them the baddie, and any psychodrama about villains becomes part of Number 6's illness narrative.
My conclusion would be essentially where I started out, that The Prisoner can be understood through a psychiatric interpretation, as either commenting on various aspects of contemporary psychiatry as reflecting on the society which sets up the system, or with the Village representing a psychiatric hospital. The show could certainly be interpreted as commenting on some of the abuses that happen/happened in psychiatry, and I think would make you think about the nature of mental health and psychiatry. However I think the real subject of the show is society, control, pressure, and so on, so it's not specifically geared to this interpretation and there are times where I've really had to squeeze the show hard to fit it into the subject.
I have noticed that doing these posts has really made me notice things that are wrong with the show (in plot, continuity, etc) or even just odd things. This didn't happen on my previous themed runs through the show (on apartheid, on allegory, and identifying Number 6 as John Drake) and wonder whether it may just be the result of years of thinking about the show. Anyway the next time I go through it, I might just ask all the questions about the show I have, with very few answers, and see what happens. After all the whole point of this blog was to make me think more about the TV I watch and it certainly seems to work.
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