The Prisoner Episodes Paired as Films: Checkmate and Free for All. Part 1 - Theme

The introduction to this series of posts can be found here.

This post is about the joined together episodes Checkmate and Free for All, released as one video called Checkmate by Precision Video in October 1983. David Fakrikian (see web page and video linked at the bottom of the page), whose work inspired these posts, says that they are joined together by going straight from the scene in Checkmate where the butler places a pawn on the chessboard to the scene in Free for All where the phone rings in Number 6's cottage and he answers it with 'What do you want?' This post has proved surprisingly complex so I'm going to have to split it over two, or even three blog posts. This one is about the theme which links the two episodes.

Fakrikian feels the linking theme used to make the two episodes a single film with a unifying theme is that of telling the difference between the black and the white (Checkmate) and between prisoners and warders (Free for All). He identifies as other linking themes that in both 'halves' Number 6 has a brunette nagging him day and night: in Checkmate Number 8, and in Free for All, Number 58. Both women have access and control of the Green Dome as part of the main narrative.

I personally have some difficulty with this and while I think they do have an overarching theme, I don't think the differentiation and female deceiver are it. I have only just realised on this watching of the show that the chess game in Checkmate is heavily based on the one in Alice Through the Looking Glass (honestly I wonder about myself sometimes, how I could have missed that). As I was watching Checkmate I was actually thinking that the sheer emotional drama in the chess game managed to achieve a level of insane drama that not even my own family could manage, but of course that's because it's intended to be a mad place. I also don't think that the theme of discerning between the two sets of inhabitants of the Village is convincingly carried on through Free for All, beyond one mention that I've spotted. 

I have also noted a pattern in these paired episodes that the first tends to be about the core theme of Number 6, his resignation and the Village's attempts to get information out of him, and the second tends to be much more about the Village per se. For example a previous pairing had Schzoid Man as the second half, the action of which only serves to cement Number 6 in the Village and doesn't carry on the core work of getting the reason for his resignation out of him. I am therefore going to go out on a limb and suggest that what these paired episodes actually do is this:

First episode: The narrative centres of Number 6, his reasons for resignation and the key theme of him being held prisoner and questioned (what we might call series mythology).

Second episode: Reflects on some aspect of Number 6's life as a reflection of our society and is therefore actually likely to be the more meaningful one. I am going to be a bit controversial here and comment that if you watch these two episodes back to back it's apparent that a LOT of effort has been put into the detail of Free for All and I suggest this reflects an emphasis on that episode as having something to say about society rather than the Village.

In the case of Checkmate and Free for All I wouldn't dispute that the key theme is the differentiation of who is who in the Village (and therefore society) because it's all over the place. This theme is carried over as a mere mention in Free for All. Checkmate also introduces the key reference to Through the Looking Glass, and it is that reference which is carried through to Free for All, the purpose of which is to hold up a mirror (geddit?) to our society and particularly to comment on our election process and ideas of democracy. Of course the point is that our ideas of democracy are just shams.

I don't really have a strong opinion on the two women used, as it were, as 'Village traps' - basically Number 6 gets deceived by at least one person in every episode so they may not be that significant. The fact there are two, similar, characters could reflect that The Prisoner as actually produced is separate episodes but may include echoes of a mooted plan of TV films. The fact they both have control of the systems in the Green Dome is of course essential to them being a scam by the Village authorities. There is also a difference that Number 8 is also deceived by the authorities into thinking she is in love with Number 6 but Number 58 knows all along what is happening. In fact we should be able to guess that she is the boss by the way she only talks nonsense.

So to summarize I think that two themes are both present in both episodes, with more emphasis on comment on democracy in Free for All and more about differentiating the guard/prisoners in Checkmate. These themes takes place within an overarching theme which links the two episodes, which is the crazy looking glass world of the Village, referencing Through the Looking Glass, and at the same time reflecting and commenting on our own world and ideas of democracy.

Sources: I will be making extensive use of the page from David Stimpson's blog with its anonymous comment and the essay and video by David Farkrikian for these posts:

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