The Prisoner in the Asylum: Many Happy Returns
The introduction and master post to this series of posts about The Prisoner can be found here.
Applying a mental health/illness explanation to The Prisoner is in a sense dead easy, because you have the ultimate get out of jail card: if something doesn't fit your narrative you can just say it isn't real and is part of Number 6's own mental state. I was tempted to suggest one of the more traumatised diagnoses such as hysterical conversion for him, but decided that that would make it too complicated (for me, that is - conversion disorder is an utter nightmare to get your head round although I expect you, my readers, could) so a personality disorder with possibly a side helping of psychosis it was. I think these are best adapted to the show's discussion of society, responsibilty, etc.
Anyway, that is all a preamble to me saying that the events of Many Happy Returns are very obviously not real. While I don't doubt the ability of the Village authorities to drug Number 6 to ensure he stays asleep while they ship out the rest of the inhabitants and have them hide round the next bay just to troll him, I don't think they would give him the opportunity to get away. That's a problem with the plot here which I think is better explained by the events of this episode being part of Smith/Number 6's inner world - interpret them as a dream or just his own fantasy and musings as you like. Apart from the unreal nature of the opening, I think this interpretation is buttressed by the reappearance of things and people which appear again elsewhere in connection with the Village. The boat is the same one that was the SS Polotska in Checkmate. Mrs Butterworth's maid is Number 36 in the the Village in It's Your Funeral. Of course Mrs Butterworth appears multiple times. And if going home and finding someone else living there who immediately offers you a bath isn't an internal narrative thing, I don't know what is. Freud would have written a whole book about that one. Apart from anything else, thinking that a location experiencing the weather of the Welsh coast is in north Africa would suggest reality is left far behind.
This is of course the episode where Smith gives his real name. In fact I think from a psychiatric reading of the series this episode actually gives quite a lot of what drives him and the actual information that the Village authorities want from him. Like where the body is, that kind of thing.
I think Smith makes a personal breakthrough in this episode, which is to realize the true nature of the world - he is in the horrifying position of realising that the Village is run by the state, and there isn't an ultimate appeal. This is, of course, the reality, and that's what makes it a breakthrough. That's the implication of the return - you can't get away from the Village because the psychiatric establishment is built into society and is legally condoned.
At this time the legal framework for detention for mental health reasons in the UK was the Mental Health Act of 1959 - if you want to you can read the Act here. Anglophiles may be amused by its alternative title of 7 & 8 Eliz. 2 Ch. 72 - funny to think that Elizabeth was ruling so long ago.
Far from the usual assumption that the residents of the Village are held there without any legal framework I think Smith/Number 6 is detained in the Village using the Mental Health Act and that's why he always has to go back. This isn't sinister in any way, it's a normal part of psychiatry and the picture which illustrates this post is again from Arizona State Hospital's 1963 Annual Report showing their published statistics for voluntary admissions and the US equivalent of formal admissions under Sections, committals. I appreciate that this is not explicit in the show, but the full nature of the Village and what is happening to Smith is never made completely clear, which is precisely what allows the show to be interpreted in different ways, including this mental health interpretation of the show.
In my theory about Smith's personality disorder and possibility that the has murdered someone, I don't think he has been detained under the normal sections 25 and 26 of the Mental Health Act 1959 for observation or treatment. I think he has been through the court system and been detained under a court order:
60. - (1) Where a person is convicted before a court of assize or quarter sessions of an offence other than an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law, or is convicted by a magistrates' court of an offence punishable on summary conviction with imprisonment, and the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say -
(a) the court is satisfied, on the written or oral evidence of two medical practitioners [...],
(i) that the offender is suffering from mental illness, psychopathic disorder, subnormality or severe subnormality; and
(ii) that the mental disorder is of a nature or degree which warrants the detention of the patient in a hospital for medical treatment [...] and
(b) the court is of the opinion, having regard to all the circumstances including the nature of the offence and the character and antecedents of the offender, and to the other available methods of dealing with him, that the most suitable method of disposing of the case is by means of an order under this section, the court may by order authorise his admission to and detention in such hospital as may be specified in the order [...]. Source
I suspect the character and antecedents of the offender may have had a significant impact here, and I suspect he may have been hounding Seltzman for some time, and have a significant record of violence, been unmanageable in local services and so on. He may even have been of sufficient concern that the court has put him on a Section 65 (Special Restrictions). These are the equivalent of Section 41 of the current Mental Health Act and let me tell you, you can't change your socks without getting permission from the Home Office. The specific restrictions under the 1959 Act (and remember they are not time limited, this can actually be for life) are given as there is no right to a tribunal, he only got leave from hospital or could be moved to another hospital with the consent of the Secretary of State (seriously), on leave the Secretary of State could recall him at any time, and only the Secretary of State could remove him from the restrictions. That is why he feels the sinister control of the state, because the state is controlling him using its powers under the Mental Health Act.
He can only go back to The Village, and it's not the sinister plot he thinks it is.
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