The Prisoner in the Asylum: Fall Out
The introduction and master post to this series of posts about The Prisoner can be found here.
Welcome to the most lively discharge meeting in world history!
The recap of Once Upon a Time which begins this episode allows us to refresh our memories of what I have interpreted as therapy sessions which have led up to this point. I am however painfully reminded that Number 2 talks about degree absolute (decree absolute?) which sounds like a divorce using the language of marriage (for better or worse, till death us do part), and contains the same mixture of affectionate talk and violence that we saw in The Girl Who Was Death. I am therefore hearing the same mixture of violence, lack of boundaries, incest and just plain abuse that I have read here before.
A possible simple interpretation of this episode in psychiatric terms would be that it depicts a very unwell person's inner world and also an absconsion from hospital of several patients. You could interpret it that way if you want the series to end without a firm and clear ending. I have, however, literally only realized while doing this series of posts that because this episode is called fall out it can be taken to refer to what happens after a series of events, their fall out. I am going to take it to refer to the fall out of all the work and events of Smith/Number 6's admission to The Village, which means instead of an absconsion it refers to the events around discharge and after discharge.
I am going to be very frank again here and say that I really don't like this episode as an ending to the show - I see that it would have spoiled the effect to have a straightforward ending but Fall Out feels ultimately dissatisfying and I often wonder whether McGoohan really didn't have a clear idea how to end it. The episode however, is one of the ones which actually fits best into the psychiatry/hospital reading if you take the events at face value. Number 6 is explicitly told that they want him to be himself - and that has rather been the entire point of this approach to the show. The Village wants him to be well and get on with his life.
He loses his number - which symbolises the loss his hospital identity. Of course they don't tell him his name, because he knows it.
I would suggest that the fact that Number 1 is actually Smith himself reinforces the point that the whole point of the show and of the Village can be taken to be returning Smith to himself, a changed, improved, Smith, and he can go off into the sunset a better man.
'But,' I hear you say, 'the whole episode is absolutely wild and makes no sense and Smith hasn't really changed at all!' And of course you would be right. And of course I have one of my convenient get out of jail free cards up my sleeve for just that objection. The fact that this episode is twice round the hatstand and it's very apparent to us that Smith still isn't going along with it and nothing is resolved, suggests of ocurse that once again we are seeing this thorugh Smith's eyes, he really isn't at all well and this may not be the most successful discharge ever. In fact I think we can truthfully say that if the Village really were a psychiatric hospital discharging Smith at this point, he would be virtually certain to return and they would be terribly negligent.
But then if the Village were a psychiatric hospital, at no point has it shown itself to be a very good one. To use a comparison there is a very good private healthcare company in the UK which runs a number of hospitals which are very good at taking on people the mainstream psychiatric services can't manage and also doing some very good work with them. I won't name the firm obviously, but if you have worked in mental health in the UK you'll have an idea who I mean (I have never worked for them but have never heard anything bad). That is not what the Village is. I think the Village has people with very difficult needs to manage but can't do it. I wouldn't be surprised if they're letting out Number 6 and crossing their fingers hoping it will be OK. Or not even hoping it will be OK, because judging by the way the staff carry on as this episode progresses, they are in utter disarray.
It is convenient for the mental health reading of this show that it does end this way. In my humble opinion it isn't very successful, but there are two natural conclusions to the show as it has been set up, and neither of them fits a psychiatric interpretation very well. The first is that Number 6 somehow gets out the Village and finds someone who will believe his tale. That would lead into an interminable narrative of whistle blowing and retaliation, probably ironically leading to him being sectioned or imprisoned. Honestly I think this ending would completely fit the narrative of the show. The other natural ending would be the utterly chilling, but to my mind better, ending, where the Village authorities can't manage to break him and ultimately have to kill him to stop him creating trouble. That would be a far more effective and horrifying message about the individual.
I think the ending that has been chosen rather neuters the power of the series, however it does to my mind fit well with a psychiatric reading of the show. Now just try telling me that the show isn't about a psychiatric hospital after the way Alexis Kanner runs around on the road!
Of course now that Smith has been discharged the hospital will send a discharge letter to his GP and so in my next post I will have some conclusions from this reading of the show.
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