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And Another Thing

Wed, Dec 4, 2013

Adam Clarke illustration by Mark Bennett, reproduced from The Scope’s 2009 Comics Issue.

It’s taken all of my strength not to title this last On Screen column “Goodbye. Farewell. Amen”. Unlike that final M*A*S*H episode, I promise I won’t be too long or too self-indulgent. I will, however, be posing just outside The Scope offices with “On Screen” spelled out in the snow this Christmas. How else can I commemorate the five years I’ve been writing for this paper?

Five years? Yikes.

I always thought this paper would outlive me and of course when your second review earns you a death threat it’s easy to think your days are numbered. Being told to be careful lest I be subjected to a real-life re-enactment of Funny Games back in 2008 wasn’t the only time I got harassed while writing this column. Other highlights include an e-mail in poison pen from one of the producers of When Animals Attack, a disgruntled artist asking for my home address on his Facebook page, and legal threats showing up in my inbox following a piece I wrote mocking the notoriously litigious Harlan Ellison.

I won’t rehash the details of those or other incidents here. You’ll have to wait until I finish my autobiography, Straight To Video: The Adam Clarke Story. Yes, angering dumb people is indeed a joy for any critic and I take these occurrences as badges of honour, yet, if trolling were the only thing in this for me I wouldn’t have contributed to The Scope for so long.

Earlier this year, when Shadi Mitchell’s The Disappeared was released in cinemas, I got a message from a friend of mine urging me to look at the film’s Facebook page. My review was shared on the page, and what the administrator wrote caught my attention: they said I gave The Disappeared a glowing review (which I did), but more important was the qualifier that an endorsement from me is hard-earned.

I liked being considered hard to win over. All I was doing was writing about a subject I was passionate about.

When a movie’s come out, the filmmaker’s statement is done. If we’re to talk about entertainment or, heaven help us, art in any way, it’s the critic’s job to keep the conversation going.

If you’re going to write, you need to be passionate about your subject. I wrote reviews not because I had a strict formula about what worked in film or TV. I did it because I liked thinking, talking, and writing about film and TV all the damn time. I loved engaging people to talk about movies and TV, whether it be my fondness for Fellini’s Armarcord or simply stating the finer points of movies with the words “Godzilla vs.” in the title.

Whether you’re miserly or generous with your praise, what’s rewarding about this kind of work is to start a conversation about all those obsessions running around in your head like gremlins. If you can point your readers to an unjustly overlooked film or get someone to mull over a different point of view, then you’re doing your job well. I hope more critics show up in St. John’s.

The Scope allowed me to write about the things I love, in print and online, just about every week, and like a horde of plague rats I got to spread my obsessions to Scope readers over the last five years.

That odd e-mail or comment from a fellow pop culture lunatic who decided to watch a bunch of Donald Pleasence movies or The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood or Exorcist III or The Prisoner because of something I wrote? Best feeling in the world. That’s why I write about my obsessions. That’s why I’ll miss writing for The Scope.

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The Essential Prisoner: Fall Out

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

Adam Clarke gives The Prisoner finale a stare.

Where am I?
When we last left Number Six (Patrick McGoohan), he’d been locked in the Embryo Room with an old Number Two (Leo McKern) he met in “The Chimes of Big Ben”. What followed was a battle of wills in experimental psychology, but Six quickly turned the tables on Two and seemingly killed him. When a Village supervisor (Prisoner regular Peter Swanwick) entered the Embryo Room, he congratulated Six. The man called Number Six has been drugged, hypnotized, drugged, had his dreams analyzed, forced to run for mayor of Jefferton, put in a VR simulation that made him think he was a cowboy, drugged, beaten, hypnotized again and drugged again. Having now beaten the Village, the supervisor takes him and Number Two’s Butler (Angelo Muscat) to meet Number One.

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): This episode? Six words? Nope.

Fall Out

Written & Directed by Patrick McGoohan

Whose Side Are You On? I’m not going to bother recapping this episode since it’s much more about style than plot. Just a few basic questions to be answered…

Did Leo McKern’s delightful Number Two really die last week? Yeah, but he got better. It looked like he had a heart attack, but Two suspects Six poisoned him. The Village hooked Two up to a machine that revived him (seemingly made out of leftover parts of “The General”).

Do we meet Number One? Yes and no.

Does Six escape the Village? See above.

Where does the Supervisor take Six and the Butler? To an underground lair where we meet the entire board that runs the Village. They’re all in robes and masks, but each masked figure lords over different aspects of society with titles like Pacifists, Activists, Identification, Security, Education, Welfare, etc. There, Six meets the President of the Village (Kenneth Griffith, who played Number Two in “The Girl Who Was Death”), who proclaims that Six shall become their new leader. He was the One they were looking for, so to speak. The President gives Six two options: he can lead the Village or he can be given his old life back and leave the Village like nothing happened.

Six sits on his throne, but doesn’t decide, opting to watch the President preside over a few rebels in the Village, namely Leo McKern’s old Number Two and the new Number Forty-eight (Alexis Kanner, in a very different role from his villainous turn in “Living in Harmony”). Number Two has failed and even his old Butler won’t take orders from him, opting to serve Six instead. Number Forty-eight is a hippy type who tunes out the Village by singing. Both Numbers are given a chance to state their case before the jury of cloaked/masked Village authorities, but are sentenced to be placed in a state of suspended animation until Number Six decides the verdict.

Meanwhile, a rocket with a peering green eye represents Number One, watching the events with great interest…

I mentioned in my “Living in Harmony” review that McGoohan and co. returned to the series with a bit of creative exhaustion. No one was really sure how to progress or end The Prisoner, so the four episodes produced to wrap up the show (“Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling”, “Harmony”, “The Girl Who Was Death” and “Fall Out”) were created under tremendous pressure. While the first half of the finale, “Once Upon A Time”, had been shot a year before “Fall Out” aired, there was no ending plan. McGoohan had written himself into a corner with that episode’s cliffhanger and allegedly wrote “Fall Out” in 48 hours.

And it shows…

No, I’m not one of those fans who bashes the finale for getting a bit too weird, even by Prisoner standards. In fact, “Fall Out” is one of the most outrageously original and unpredictable stories ever filmed. Not just of The Prisoner, but of anything. I also think that the script Patrick McGoohan wrote to end his series could only come out of that manic high you get when you’ve got a lot of ideas, but no time or any real structure. As such, the finale of the most surreal television show to air is even stranger than everything that preceded it by a country mile.

A few things do feel off, certainly. Take the characterization of Number Six, for instance. Throughout the series, Six is depicted as witty and talkative. The man who wouldn’t spill his secrets is chatty on just about any subject save the matter of his resignation. For Six to just sit on the thrown, uttering cryptic dialogue is atypical. It’s only when he asks McKern’s newly-revived Number Two about meeting Number One that Six starts to sound like himself. It’s weird that The Prisoner‘s final episode features an almost mute Six, but it suits the deranged atmosphere of “Fall Out”. The Village, too, is a lot goofier and less menacing than in the early episodes, but–as I stated in my “Free For All” review–McGoohan didn’t care much about making them a formidable foe. They exist solely to represent societal ills and nothing more.

“Once Upon A Time” and “Fall Out” feel more like experimental theatre than television. While “Once Upon A Time” was very much rooted in The Prisoner‘s world, “Fall Out” could’ve leapt from a different series entirely. Its looseness and the free-flowing structure could’ve only been the result of the very tight deadline under which it was scripted. You can wish for a more conventional finale all you want, but you can’t deny the power of an ambitious, surreal piece of television like “Fall Out”. It blew my poor widdle mind when I first saw it and it continues to do so even now.

So, how does the finale gel with the earlier episodes of the series despite its somewhat different style? The episode, like the majority of the series, is beautifully directed and utilizes music for exceptional dramatic effect. As in previous episodes, “Fall Out” creates an atmosphere with a series of memorable music cues from its score and its use of The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” during the episode’s beginning and climax.

“Fall Out” also builds upon the previous episode with Angelo Muscat’s Butler becoming Six’s unlikely ally. Having seen Six overpower Two in “Once”, the Butler begins to serve Six and ultimately helps him destroy the Village once and for all. It’s the Butler who signals the Prisoner to attack the Village’s guards and steal their machine guns, leading to their escape.

That’s one of the great ironies of the series and, I think, a crucial message in “Fall Out”. This finale is full of references to the 60′s youth movement, which McGoohan had once described as a revolution that only needed a leader. Just as the hippies didn’t completely alter society, our Prisoner falls short of his goals. Clearly sympathizing with the Butler, the hippy-ish Number Forty-eight and even Leo McKern’s old Number Two, Number Six bands together with them to escape the Village through the only means he can now think of: violence. The man the Village could not break ultimately betrays himself in pursuit of escape as he guns down the Village board members and guards without remorse. But what good was it? When we see him return to London at the end of the episode, his front door opens automatically like it did for his Village residence. By embracing the amorality of the Village and gunning down those who posed him no threat (the President said he was free to go), our Prisoner takes the Village with him; permanently tarnished by his actions. Violence was a short-term solution that created a brand new prison from which Number Six can never escape.

Bleak stuff, innit? Good thing this episode is a musical. While the subject matter of “Fall Out” could’ve rivaled “Dance of the Dead” for being The Prisoner‘s darkest hour, the presentation deliberately clashes with all the violence and intrigue. So, we have the old Number Two laughing as he chastises himself for agreeing to serve the Village, a few renditions of “Dem Bones” care of Number Forty-eight (which all Villagers, even the President, dance to) and our escapees partying as they make their way back to London.

When Number Six unmasks the man in the Number One cloak and sees himself, we’re confronted with an idea addressed in “The Chimes of Big Ben”: it doesn’t matter who Number One is. Though McGoohan claimed he had no idea how the series would end until he wrote it, there’s enough hints that Number One is not a real person but someone Six is being groomed into becoming that it fits perfectly with the series (this resolution was hinted at in McGoohan’s “Free For All”). So, who’s been calling the various Number Twos over the past 16 episodes? Why, the board, of course. Since the Village preaches about community and conformity, I’d always assumed that the board members weren’t just high-ranking authorities that we’ve seen before (like Peter Swanwick’s supervisor), but most of our former Twos as well. The Village’s rotating authority system is designed to make its citizens serve the Village in unison, so it makes sense that everyone gets a chance at being Two for a week. Until a true individual is found, all the authorities and all the Number Twos add up to a single leader. That’s how Two became One…until they offered the keys to the palace to Number Six.

Of the cast, McGoohan is great despite being given very little to do onscreen. Alexis Kanner just oozes charisma as the flamboyant 48 and Ken Griffith delivers an impish, Andy Jones-like performance as the President. The real star of “Fall Out” is Leo McKern. McKern becomes Six’s unlikely cohort in escape and it wouldn’t have worked with any of the previous Number Twos. It’s hard to imagine Mary Morris, Guy Doleman, Georgina Cookson or any of the others being given the sympathetic treatment McKern’s given here. His Number Two appeared quite fond of Six and he shared a fairly cynical view of the world, joining the Village because its creation seemed like an inevitability (“Chimes”). Now we see him rue that he gave up rebelling as he rose to power and finally takes action with Six and the others.

The Prisoner ends in a confounding, exhilarating hour in a television series that is one of the masterpieces of the medium. In a sense, it’s also the end of Patrick McGoohan. Despite the aptitude McGoohan displayed for writing in the two-part finale and “Free For All”, as well as his stylish direction of those episodes, “A Change of Mind” and “Many Happy Returns”, The Prisoner is his last gasp of mainstream popularity after becoming a superstar thanks to high profile roles in Brand, The Quare Fellow and Danger Man. After The Prisoner, McGoohan would direct a single film, direct five episodes of Columbo, appear on one episode of The Simpsons and sporadically act until 2002.

Though his career had stalled after The Prisoner–despite a few notable roles in popular films like Braveheart, Silver Streak & ScannersThe Prisoner and its controversial finale would be his legacy. Between Six’s pacifist failure, the redeeming of McKern’s Two and a glut of stylish set pieces, that’s not small potatoes. “Fall Out” is an ironic tragedy where principals are betrayed, many are gunned down and our heroes never truly escape, but done as a musical, after all. When Patrick McGoohan escaped from this world in 2009, he did so as a complete original.

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Powered By Nostalgia: Doomsday (2008)

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

Following his review of Pacific Rim, Adam Clarke decided to revisit another film soaked in nostalgia.

Doomsday, like Pacific Rim, is a tribute movies to better movies and offers little more than nods to its source material. I loved Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers and, while I was less keen on The Descent, it certainly wasn’t a bad film by any means. Doomsday shows that, given the money, Marshall would rather film a Snake Plissken/Escape From New York fanfic he wrote in grade eight than work on an original screenplay. This is a slavish tribute to the Plissken films right down to using the font John Carpenter uses in all his films for the opening credits.

Whereas John Carpenter’s Plissken films were fresh and even inventive, Doomsday is content to pilfer other movies at bottom-dollar prices.From beginning to end, Carpenter’s movies loom over Doomsday like two far more successful siblings in a family group portrait. Escape From New York and Escape From L.A. can boast about their careers or happy families while Doomsday sits in the corner, proud that it didn’t wet the bed today.

In fairness, Escape From New York also took its cues from earlier films like The Warriors, Romero’s zombie movies, Westerns and Mad Max. Hell, even the scene where Plissken is presented with gadgets over Bob Hauk’s exposition is like something out of Bond movie. Carpenter mixed his influences with a moody and humorous script, a great cast, his distinct visual style and a memorable score. Marshall’s film makes its main character, a one-eyed soldier played by Rona Mitra, more vulnerable by having her screw up fairly often, but that’s it. And that choice is more to the film’s detriment, really. Beyond that, all we get is an Escape From New York ripoff that starts ripping off other things when Marshall loses focus.

Despite all these flaws, I got a kick out of Doomsday watching it the second time around. It comes across like the end result of giving a significant film budget and complete creative control to an adolescent geek. For every good idea, there’s at least a dozen bad or derivative ones. There’s also no sense of character or even the passing of time, as it’s rather like the filmmakers made an Das Boot-length epic that got whittled to an incomprehensible two hours.

Yet, I hold no hate in my heart for this film. I didn’t resent that our hero never actually does anything remotely heroic or worthwhile until the inevitable Plisskenesque double-cross. I didn’t resent how one character randomly became a love interest between scenes. I didn’t resent the lengthy and profoundly stupid Medieval section of the film, nor did I turn my nose up at the equally stupid everything else. From the seemingly limitless arsenal of hair supplies, make-up kits, gas and working electricity in post-apocalyptic Europe to the working Bentley found in an underground lair that results in the film turning into a car commercial for half an hour.

Like Planet Terror and Sky Captain before it or Pacific Rim after, Doomsday is an endearingly stupid tribute to better movies. I’ve yet to see Centurion, but I’m confident that Neil Marshall has a few really good movies in him. I hope he gets around to making those soon.

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Kick-Ass (2010)

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

Adam Clarke has seen Death Wish sequels funnier than Kick-Ass.

Based on Mark Millar’s popular comic, Kick-Ass tells the story of the wanna-be superhero of the same name. He’s the alter ego of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an awkward teen with a borderline invisible social presence and an unending crush on girl-next door Katie Deuxma (Lyndsy Fonseca). Lizewski picks up a cheap scuba outfit and begins to fight crime as Kick-Ass. Though unimpressive, his actions soon give way to a group of fellow costumed crimefighters, notably the father-daughter duo of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and 11 year-old killing machine, Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz).

Do you find it absolutely hilarious when children swear like sailors? Sound familiar? Of course it does. This old gag is a variation on the equally familiar cliche of kindly, elderly people talking about needing a good screw, hitting on the young or flipping the bird to a main character. The shock is that… THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY THOSE THINGS (oh, komedy). You’ve seen it in countless formulaic comedies, typically starring Hollywood favourites like Mushmouth (Adam Sandler) or Derpy Hooves (Julia Roberts).

Anyhoo, ya find that funny? Do you find it, like, SUPER funny? Well, good news! That’s one of the only jokes in Kick-Ass. If you like that, you have a lot in common with the millions of moviegoers who made Kick-Ass a huge hit upon its release.

I can’t speak to the writing of Mark Millar or the original comic as both are unfamiliar to me. I can confirm that Kick-Ass is both glossy and colourful. It’s very pretty, but is quite thorough in its tedium on a writing level. This is a movie that looks great, has a likable cast and is almost never funny or interesting.

Maybe there’s more depth to the comic. Maybe Mark Millar writes his women as something other than The Girl (Fonseca’s Deauxma) or The Girl Who So Isn’t Like A Girl, You Guys (Moretz’s Hit Girl). Maybe there’s a point-of-view in that comic book, but, if so, it’s largely absent from this pretty-but-empty mess.

One aspect of the film that does entertain is Nicolas Cage. Say what you will about Cage (I’ve said plenty), but he’s always entertaining. While his cartoonish performances don’t always suit the films he appears in, Cage is amazing in Kick-Ass. His take on Big Daddy isn’t just funny, but well thought out. Mixing the inherent goofiness of the concept with the blatant insanity of a real person deciding to fight crime, Cage’s Big Daddy is Adam West mixed with Frank Miller psychosis. He’s so perfect that you can’t help but hope that Hollywood will try to recapture the tone of the West Batman series for the next Dark Knight film and cast Cage as the title character. Come on, it won’t be anywhere as misguided as Christian Bale’s “A Man Called Hoarse” performance as Bats.

It’s hard not to be a full believer in the power of Cage after Kick-Ass. Just as his Big Daddy tics and whispers amuse, he’s just as funny when Daddy’s unmasked. As mild-mannered Damon Macready, Cage isn’t doing Bruce Wayne. Instead, he offers a twitchy/cheerful performance that suggests Clark Kent (in the Christopher Reeve mold) by way of Ned Flanders. It’s exactly the kind of mannered, glorious ridiculousness that Johnny Depp can’t seem to pull off anymore.

Kick-Ass 2 received a lot of attention because of co-star Jim Carrey’s decision to publicly distance himself from the film. If its predecessor is anything to go by, I think I understand the former vaccine conspirator/pet detective’s point of view. The first film is desperate to be seen as a satire without, y’know, actually satirizing anything.

Kick-Ass dares you to laugh at its ridiculousness without ever really probing into its subject matter. It’s desperate to show that you’d need to be damaged physically or mentally to be a costumed hero, but it also wants you to cheer on Hit Girl as she disembowels thugs. It’s not clever satire by way of Chris Morris or even charming grue in the style of Tales From The Crypt. It just leaves you bored to death and–I’m shocked to write something so prudish–a little ashamed for having watched it.

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The Essential Prisoner: Once Upon A Time

Mon, Nov 4, 2013

Adam Clarke flunked his word association test. Pop. Pop-pop.

Where am I?
Since “Arrival”, our Prisoner has been subjected to every possible scrutiny by the Village. The Village had won some battles (“Arrival”, “Dance of the Dead”, “Many Happy Returns”) and lost others (the Colin Gordon episodes), but Number Six never once told them why he resigned. With several Village casualties, alongside several Number Twos broken down by Number Six, the Village brings back one of its big guns: Leo McKern. This will be Six’s last test. Either Two succeeds in breaking him or Six will finally be given what he desires…

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): Six has pop-pop in the attic.

Once Upon A Time

Written and Directed by Patrick McGoohan.

Leo McKern’s Number Two, last seen in “The Chimes of Big Ben”, is brought back to the Village to deal with Number Six. He suggests that there’s only one possible option, Degree Absolute, which will likely end with the death of either him or Six. Two, considered to be a top Village agent, reassures the voice on the other end of the big red phone that Six will be a far better man to lead the Village. Six is the future, McKern’s Two is expendable.

Placing both Six and Two in a hypnotized state, they are locked in the Village’s Embryo Room along with Two’s Butler (series regular Angelo Muscat). Six awakens, having regressed to a child while Two acts as father, teacher, trainer and employer to Six in a series of recreated incidents from Six’s past. As Six slowly goes through adulthood once more, Two will be switching roles to keep up the ruse although he’s just as vulnerable as Six in the Embryo Room. By bringing Six through most of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man, Two believes Six will come to trust him, but the threat looming in extreme therapy is that the doctor is just as vulnerable as the patient. What follows is a battle of wills that will leave one man dead and the other heading off for a direct meeting with Number One.

Whose Side Are You On? True confession: Leo McKern’s singing voice always gives me the giggles (“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of WAAAAAHHH-TAAAAHHHH”).

“Once Upon A Time” is among my top 3 episodes of the series alongside “Dance of the Dead” and “Fall Out”. “Once”, like so much of The Prisoner, is unique. It’s not often you see a thriller whose conflict is intensified by word association. McGoohan, now wearing a number of hats as producer/creator/star/writer/director, delivers. Six and Two’s hour of sinister playtime makes for incredible television.

So, this is where we learn the most about Six as he’s regressed through childhood and is lead up to his resignation. This being The Prisoner, that’s done in the most enigmatic fashion possible. Nonetheless, we know the man called Number Six was a rebellious, but morally grounded sort who ended up working a “top secret, state secret” job and was likely an RAF pilot in the second World War. Doing this certain kind of work for the British government, work that was “above the law”, is ultimately what drove Six to resign.

In the word association game played between Two and Six, the word “pop” is uttered numerous times, which Two believes is code for “protect other people”. Though this is often written about in Prisoner reviews, it should be noted that Six neither confirms or denies the meaning and could be toying with Two. “Pop”, of course, has been referenced in the show with McGoohan’s insistence on using “Pop Goes the Weasel” as a musical motif in a number of episodes. The word was also prominently featured in the original end credits for “The Chimes of Big Ben”. Regardless of its significance, this episode makes it clear that Six got involved in secret work to protect others and resigned the moment he felt his work compromised his values.

The Prisoner‘s most enigmatic figure gets a prominent role here as Angelo Muscat’s Butler begins showing signs of rebellion. In the first scenes with McKern, Muscat nearly refuses to provide his superior with coffee and just watches as the Rover balloon sits in Two’s chair (a threat from his superiors). Locked in with Two and Six, the Butler does nothing to help the gradually deteriorating Two. What does it mean? What was the character’s purpose? I have no idea. Muscat’s role will grow in importance during “Fall Out”, so we’ll talk about him more next week. Regardless of his story importance, I’m enamored with this episode’s brief sequence of Muscat—in full Butler regalia and wearing those weird slit glasses—standing in a crib and shaking a rattle in front of a mesmerized Six.

This is Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern’s show throughout and I can’t sing their praises enough. If you’re happy to watch two extremely talented actors just chew the scenery until one of them literally collapses, “Once Upon A Time” is your jam. Oh, and I do mean literally, as Leo McKern did have some sort of episode during filming. While some reports indicate he had a heart attack, others suggest that the chronically depressed McKern had a severe depressive episode under the strain of working with the uncompromising McGoohan. Whatever happened, McKern does look ill during some sequences, like the scene where he goads Six into stabbing him with a fencing sword. Like most of The Prisoner, that behind-the-scenes info will remain secret since McKern, Muscat and McGoohan are no longer with us.

Leo McKern’s mental/physical wellness seems like a heavy price to pay—and McKern, though complimentary of McGoohan’s talent, did describe The Prisoner‘s creator-star as a bully—but when the acting is this frenetic and inspired, it seems like the strain was worth it. McKern and McGoohan have unbeatable chemistry and McKern mustn’t have had held a grudge considering he returned, months later in terms of production time, to reprise his part for “Fall Out”.

Next time: Leo McKern fights back from the grave!

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The Essential Prisoner: Living in Harmony

Thu, Oct 31, 2013

Just in time for ‘ween, Adam Clarke revisits The Prisoner’s costume party.

Where am I?
Only going over the 11 most essential episodes of The Prisoner, I’ve jumped further ahead for these last three reviews. So, to bring us up to speed, my ordering of the entire run of The Prisoner is as follows with links to the original trailers for each episode.

1. Arrival
2. Dance of the Dead
3. Free for All
4. Checkmate
5. The Schizoid Man
6. The Chimes of Big Ben
7. The General
8. A. B. and C.
9. Many Happy Returns
10. Hammer Into Anvil
11. It’s Your Funeral
12. A Change of Mind
13. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
14. The Girl Who Was Death
15. Living In Harmony
16. Once Upon A Time
17. Fall Out

After the first nine episodes, I switch back to the order the episodes were originally aired in with one exception. I switched “Living in Harmony” and “The Girl…” because “Harmony” has more in common with the two-part finale than the latter episode. As such “Harmony” works better preceding “Once Upon A Time”, but airing directly after “Do Not Forsake…” and “The Girl…” Other than that, the second half of my order is identical to the way these episodes were first broadcast.

Since I’m not reviewing all of the episodes and only the most iconic ones, what of the episodes not addressed here? I skipped everything between episodes eight and fifteen, the latter being the focus of this review. So, what did we miss? Well, Number Six escaped and was recaptured in episode 9, escaped and recaptured in episode 13 (which also told us Six had a fiance back home and has been in the Village for an entire year), caused another Number Two to have a full-scale breakdown in episode 10 and didn’t do much of importance in episodes 11, 12 and 14.

Of these skipped episodes, “Do Not Forsake…” is atrocious television, but it’s the only one episode of the series that’s poor. “Hammer Into Anvil” is a fine story let down by an appalling performance from guest Two, Patrick Cargill. “A Change of Mind” makes little sense after a terrific first half and “It’s Your Funeral” feels more like a Marvel comic based on The Prisoner (sadly, Jack Kirby’s The Prisoner was never finished) than a real episode of the show. “The Girl Who Was Death” is a fun spy romp, but is hardly essential.

What’s wrong with these episodes? “A Change of Mind” and “Do Not Forsake…” are the only poor scripts, although the former has a few great scenes in the Village’s mental rehabilitation centre (“Believe me. Believe me. Believe me…”) and a nice turn from John Sharp as Number Two. Other than that, they’re not bad. “The Girl Who Was Death” is loads of fun and cleverly plays with the “Is Number Six really Danger Man‘s John Drake?” confusion by suggesting McGoohan’s popular Drake character was a fairy tale Number Six made up to entertain children in the Village. “It’s Your Funeral” has a great Number Two thanks to Derren Nesbitt’s playful performance, but doesn’t have much in common with the rest of the series. “Many Happy Returns” is beautifully shot, but offers little new to viewers who’d seen the superior “Chimes of Big Ben”.

So, while I enjoy episodes 9, 11 and 15 more than “Checkmate”, they’re not crucial episodes. Admittedly, it’s debatable as to whether or not I should’ve included “A Change of Mind” or “It’s Your Funeral” in my series on the show. No, not for their unusual depictions of Village life (“Funeral” for its Village rebels and “Mind” for the Village’s citizens community) or the great performances of Sharp and Nesbitt. No, I probably should’ve written about them just so I could discuss Kosho.

Kosho, easily the most dated aspect of the series, was a game Patrick McGoohan devised between nervous breakdowns. The game, equal parts American Gladiators and Super Mario Bros, has two players with boxing gloves jumping from trampoline to trampoline as they attempt to wrestle each other into a pool of water in the centre of a gymnasium. This was meant to be one of the many aspects of The Prisoner to suggest that the Village was international and incorporated elements of all cultures. Instead, it’s a really goofy concept that, in a hopeless attempt to seem foreign, has stereotypical Eastern “pling-plong, pling-plong-plong” music underscoring every Kosho match. It’s stupid, but I kind of love Kosho…albeit in the same way I love the ending to “The General”.

Anyway, that Kosho sure is silly, isn’t it? You know what isn’t silly? OLDE TIMEY WESTERN THEMED EPISODES.

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): No gun, can’t travel.

Living in Harmony

Written and Directed by David Tomlin.
Story by Ian Rakoff.

There are no opening credits to this episode, nor is there a “Who is Number One?” secondary title sequence. We open not in the Village and the 60′s, but in an unspecified time in the American West. A sheriff (Patrick McGoohan) throws his badge away and leaves town. Or, at least, he tries to leave town, but is intercepted by a group of thugs who beat him and take him to a new town called Harmony. In Harmony, McGoohan’s stranger is brought to a saloon to meet the Judge (David Bauer) and his sadistic lackey, the Kid (Alexis Kanner). The Judge wants this man with no name to become Harmony’s new sheriff, but the stranger refuses to do anything that’ll lead to him carrying a gun. The stranger just wants to get out of Harmony and stay away from violence, but the townspeople won’t let him go. Since the Judge is running the show, he locks the stranger in the town jail.

Plus ca change. We may be in Western territory, but this man with no name is still a Prisoner

Kathy (Valerie French), a barmaid, has no love for Harmony after the Judge had her brother lynched. She goes to the county jail and finds the stranger guarded by the Kid. The Kid is a quick shot, but not quick witted and is hopelessly in love with Kathy. Taking advantage of the smitten Kid, Kathy gets him stone drunk and engineers the stranger’s escape. The escape is short-lived, however, and the stranger is brought back to the Judge. Harmony, like the Village, isn’t an easy place to leave.

Once again, the Judge offers the nameless cowboy the position of sheriff. The stranger’s firm refusal is compromised when Kathy is arrested for aiding the stranger’s escape and is sentenced to hanging. In exchange for a pardon of Kathy’s crime, the stranger accepts the position of sheriff on one condition. He won’t carry a gun. The Judge accepts the stranger’s terms, but is keen to see his new sheriff with a six-shooter. The Judge gets a bunch of cronies to beat the living hell out of the stranger, but the Judge mistakes our hero’s pacifism for weakness. The stranger is badly beaten, but still overpowers the gang of thugs set loose upon him. Afterwards, the stranger reluctantly agrees to carry a gun.

In the meantime, Kathy and our stranger have fallen in love and are plotting to escape together. The Kid, as stable as one-legged piano in the best of times, has a psychotic episode and murders Kathy. Distraught, Harmony’s new sheriff buries his love and returns to town. Now holding the gun he’d avoided for so long, he faces off with the Kid in a duel and wins. With no reason to stay in Harmony, the stranger resigns once again. The Judge won’t let him leave and tells the stranger that he’s working for Harmony now. The stranger walks away and is eventually shot in the back.

Back in the 1960′s, Number Six wakes up in the saloon with headphones on, but he’s out of his cowboy gear and back in his usual Village clothes. He removes the headphones and wanders around Harmony, spotting cardboard cut-outs of Kathy, the Kid, the Judge and even his horse. It seems that the new Number Two (Bauer) and his sidekicks, Number Twenty-two (French) and the new Number Eight (Kanner), have immersed themselves in a virtual reality experiment designed to break Six. By giving him a love interest and killing her, the scenario devised might make Six lose his sense of purpose and go on living in service of his new Village masters.

Six may have fallen for Kathy/Twenty-two in the Western dream world, but the VR experiment has taken its toll on the Village authorities as well. Their Western counterparts all behaved as they would have if they were really in that situation, so Twenty-two sits in Two’s office crying for her lost love. While Two is worried about getting a call on his big red phone, Number Eight watches Number Twenty-two with a crazed look in his eyes.

Whose Side Are You On? When asked about why there was a Western episode of The Prisoner, the (possibly apocryphal) response from McGoohan was that he’d never done a Western before and that was the only reason this episode was devised. He would later appear in the Western comedy, A Genius, Two Partners & A Dupe in 1975 where, even away from The Prisoner, his lines were inexplicably dubbed over by the default Number Two voice in The Prisoner‘s “Where am I?” secondary title sequence, Robert Rietty*.

“Living in Harmony” may have been conceived as a frivolous Western-themed episode as Community, Supernatural, Red Dwarf and various Star Treks would do later on. When production resumed on The Prisoner after the initial 13 episodes were filmed (which, by my ordering of the episodes, would consist of episodes 1-12 and 16), McGoohan had claimed he’d fought off three nervous breakdowns. With such pleasant, but lackluster episodes as “A Change of Mind” and “It’s Your Funeral”, the series risked growing long in the tooth if it went on much longer. A change of scenery was needed and the Western episode was McGoohan’s approved solution.

“Harmony” injects the series with some much needed style and vigor after aforementioned c-grade episodes like “Mind” and “Funeral”. The final four episodes produced gave writers a series of challenges. One, there would be no new sequences filmed in Portmeirion (all Village scenes in the last four are sets or previously shot footage). In addition, at least two episodes had to be done with little to no scenes with Number Six while McGoohan was off filming John Sturges’ entertaining Ice Station Zebra. McGoohan would barely appear in “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” and “The Girl Who Was Death”, but would take centre stage for “Harmony” and “Fall Out”. The penultimate episode, “Once Upon A Time”, was completed during the initial production block of 13 episodes.

As per my “Arrival” review, accounts of The Prisoner‘s production differ wildly. We know for certain that McGoohan originally devised of it as a seven episode miniseries and was talked into making more episodes. We also know that McGoohan returned to the production desperate to end the series with a magnificent flourish and was taking story pitches from everybody working under him including an editor (Ian Rakoff, who came up with the initial story for “Harmony”). We also know that script editor George Markstein and McGoohan had a major falling out, with the former quitting the series and accusing his boss of hogging the limelight. Given McGoohan’s detestation of public appearances and fame, as well as his supportive comments about his production team for interviews conducted during the show’s production, that assertion rings false.

I’m still not sure how we got 17 episodes of The Prisoner. Some have alleged that the four episodes filmed in 1968 were part of a second season that was quickly aborted after McGoohan felt the series had already run its course. Many have also said that this first season was to have ended with “Many Happy Returns” as a fake series finale, fooling viewers into thinking our prisoner had escaped until its ending. However, this doesn’t make sense given that “Once Upon A Time” (aired sixteenth, but produced shortly after “The Chimes of Big Ben”) sets up Number Six’s long-awaited meeting with Number One. Other sources cite The Prisoner‘s 17 episodes as the compromise made between Patrick McGoohan and ITV owner, Lord Grade, and that it was always intended as a one-off series. So, the break in production was just an ordinary one and not a full break between seasons. As with all things Prisoner, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to what was intended with the series.

Frivolity aside, “Harmony” is a terrific episode and essential Prisoner viewing. David Tomblin and Ian Rakoff deserve a lot of credit in shaping a vacation away from The Prisoner into a strong story that fits the series a great deal better than most of the more “traditional” episodes from the mid-to-late point in its run. “Harmony” isn’t a just fun sidestep, but an excellent Western yarn about a man who continuously suffers for trying to take the high ground. It explores Number Six’s distaste for violence (a crucial characteristic in the upcoming “Once Upon A Time”) and shows us exactly what he wants to avoid. Sheriff Six is closer to the townsfolk in Harmony than the Judge who wants his loyalty. Six’s sympathies aren’t with authorities. He’d gladly defend someone who needs help, but murder is inexcusable. Even when he kills the Kid in the Village’s Olde Timey Horsey Fantasy Land, he’s loath to do it and resigns as soon as he’s fired his weapon.

Unlike the “Do Not Forsake…” and “It’s Your Funeral”, there’s nothing here that contradicts the core aspects of the series. “Forsake” presented Number Six as having a humdrum life back home as a man who had a fiance (despite all signs that he’s single in “The Chimes of Big Ben” and “Many Happy Returns”). “Funeral” suggested that all Number Twos are executed eventually and that the Village had active rebel forces, neither of which jibe particularly well with other episodes. Number Two’s fear of superiors in “A. B. and C.” aside, there’s no reason to think that, say, Mary Morris or Peter Wyngarde’s Twos were facing death. Also, early episodes show us that the Village doesn’t take kindly to rebellion and are only tolerant of Six because they see him as having a future working with them.

For a fantasy episode intended to break up the routine of the series, we learn an awful lot about Six. “Harmony” gives us a sense of the clash of wills he regularly would have had with superiors while working for the British government. In exploring Six’s character, “Harmony” slips into the series with ease. It’s also one of the most cinematic episodes of the series, with the gorgeous shot of Sheriff Six burying Kathy and the shaky POV of her brother being lynched are but two highlights. French, McGoohan and Kanner are all terrific. The actors, combined with strong direction, excellent production values and a smart script, really sell “Harmony” as a gripping hour of television.

Next time: Pop goes Number Two.

*Rietty did voice-over on most episodes of The Prisoner for a variety of dubbed or offscreen characters. He was the standard voice of Number Two during the secondary titles when that week’s Number Two didn’t record their half of the exchange.

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Want to make a horror movie this weekend?

Wed, Oct 30, 2013

Want to make a horror movie but just don’t have the time? Nonsense! The folks at the Nickel Film Festival are throwing their second annual 48-Hour Horror Challenge from November 2nd-3rd and they’re asking you to create a five-minute horror short in just two days. All you have to do is make sure you include a special prop and character given to you by the Nickel folks. Piece of cake, right? Totally a piece of cake. Totally a spooky piece of cake.

We at The Scope love it when people place arbitrary temporal limitations on creative endeavours, and this is no exception. We recommend renting a cabin in the woods with a few friends, bringing a few beers, bringing a few ancient artifacts stolen from a haunted burial ground… what’s the worst that could happen?

Check out the Facebook page for more info.

This winning video from last year’s challenge was screened as part of the 2013 Nickel Festival:

Respect Your Eldritch from Pizza Slobs on Vimeo.

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The Ward (2010)

Thu, Oct 24, 2013

‘Cause in Hollywood / mental illness is creepy. / Ghoul interrupted.

While browsing through Canadian Netflix on a weeknight looking for something to stymie the craving for a spooky movie (a common occurrence in October for most people but a necessity at any time in the year for the 24H2M crew), we came, once again, upon this movie. We passed over it before because the Netflix write-up for it was so friggin’ bland and run-of-the-mill, but this time we decided to take a closer look and realized it was directed by none other than John Carpenter (writer and director of Halloween, for those of you that live under a rock), so we decided to give it a go.

Without giving away too much of the plot, all we can really say is that it’s about a girl with a strange past that goes to an asylum and a bunch of stuff happens. That’s seriously all we can say.

Moral of this story? Even if it sounds boring on Netflix, it might be a totally cool John Carpenter movie that you don’t want spoiled by a plot summary on thescope.ca. This is definitely a good flick to help you prepare for …HALLOWEEN.

(It would be great if you could all hear the Michael Myers music as soon as you read that, but you’ll have to click this link to make it happen.)

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The Sound & The Furry

Tue, Oct 22, 2013

The Animal Project (Women’s Film Festival) A thirty something acting teacher pushes a group of eager young performers out of their comfort zones while he struggles with his own ability to live an authentic and fulfilling life. (CAN) Saturday Oct 26 at 12pm. $10/$12, LSPU Hall.

Many moons ago, when actor-raconteur Christopher Walken hosted Saturday Night Live in the mid-2000s, he was asked by the young writers what kind of sketches interested him. In the version I heard, Walken was silent for nearly a minute before giving his considered response:

“Bear suits are funny and bears are as well.”

And it’s true in a weird way. Animal suits do have a certain power to them. They’ve been used to great effect in films like Donnie Darko, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and even in local director Stephen Dunn’s acclaimed short, The Hall.

When writer-director Ingrid Veninger began working on her latest film, The Animal Project, it wasn’t just for the animal suits.

It was an atypical approach, but Veninger opted to cast the film first and then write the screenplay. Once the film was cast was when the animal costumes came in — she realized she wanted to make a film based on her dream of people in animal costumes walking in a field.

After writing the original treatment, Veninger discussed that and other core ideas with the cast, asking them what they thought the movie was about. It was the beginning of a three-month production which was shot with no rehearsals. The Animal Project was constantly being revised by Veninger, taking shape between editing sessions and the three days of filming allotted each week.

The finished film is more about performance than panda suits.

“Actors are always balancing a desire to escape themselves with a desire to express themselves through other characters,” Veninger says. “They’re professional liars, but they’re always looking to be truthful in the moment. It’s all about that search for authenticity. The film is about how connections lead to creativity.”

The Animal Project centres on a group of six actors, their director and his teenage son. The director is searching for a project that will get his actors to open up emotionally. As the director drifts further away from his son, he recreates a film he shot with his son where his then-prepubescent boy dressed as a bunny offering free hugs on the streets of Toronto. Asking his group of actors to put on different animal suits and offer free hugs to the public, he urges them to become vulnerable while struggling to reconnect with his son.

Though all the actors are reluctant to put on their suits and go street-hugging, the freedom they get is a lasting one, and each of the actors becomes less guarded as their Animal Project progresses. The experiences remind them to be vulnerable. Veninger says that kind of vulnerability is important to filmmaking as well.

“I’m more on the cautious, guarded side of life but the process of film cracks me open,” she says.

The Animal Project is about vulnerability, which was the perfect theme considering its unorthodox creation.

Just as the actors are unsure by the vaguely defined performance Leo (Aaron Poole) is asking them to commit to for his “Animal Project” within the film, Veninger was asking actors to go out on a limb for her Animal Project. The finished film captures that vulnerability, marrying Veninger’s aim to her dreams of costumed actors and even her first film.

The “Bunny Project” film-within-a-film is actually a film Veninger created for a 24-hour film competition.

“Uncertainty is really important,” Veninger says. “Because we were editing as we were going, the film changed as we were going along, creating a constant sense of vulnerability.” Of course, the writer-director shared that raw uncertainty, as she needed to deliver a script from scratch.

In the end. The Animal Project’s characters do end up making connections despite their lumbering, cartoonish animal costumes or maybe because of them. Maybe Christopher Walken was on to something.

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The Scope’s Women’s Film Fest Hot Tickets

Tue, Oct 22, 2013

The 24th edition of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival takes place from October 22-26. The Scope’s crack team of film critics picked a few of their favourites from the lineup.

Christine Horne in We Wanted More

We Wanted More

Friday, October 25, 7 pm, LSPU Hall
Newfoundland, 2013, 15 minutes

Directed by St. John’s native Stephen Dunn, co-written by Dunn and Margaret Rose Lester, and produced by Jennifer Shin, We Wanted More is a taut psychological thriller with more than a little science fiction and horror thrown in. On the opening night of her world tour and on the verge of real success, a singer (Christine Horne) locks herself away in a hotel room where her long-buried mental anguish comes to bear—through Cronenbergian horror tropes and a tone reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby.

After vomiting and pulling a long, hairy umbilical cord out of her throat, the singer tosses the entire mess into the bathtub and realizes she has lost her voice. The thing in the tub emerges as a little girl (Skyler Wexler of Orphan Black) who speaks with the singer’s stolen voice as the singer’s agent (Angela Asher) relentlessly harangues from the other side of the door.

Did the singer choose her career over this strange form of motherhood? Is she struggling with demonic laryngitis or supernatural stage-fright? The metaphor is delightfully murky, and the film’s breathless pace will keep you guessing until the end. Mark Jerrett

Mika Collins in Pamplemousse

Pamplemousse

Thursday, October 24, 7 pm, LSPU Hall
Ontario, 2012, 8 minutes

Is there any crueler joke than dreaming of seeing Paris, France when you were born in Paris, Ontario? That’s certainly the fate for the beautiful illustrator, Lillian (Mika Collins), though I imagine London, Ontario residents must share her pain. Lillian creates wonderful little sketches of her surroundings with all sorts of little cartoony touches to add a bit of life to her drab surroundings. She’s not living the way she wants, but her sketching brings her pleasure.

Sitting on a bench across from her is Jacques (Emmanuel Bilodeau), a man whose life is weighed down by something worse than Lillian’s malaise. She is in a rut, but Jacques is at the end of his rope.

Pamplemousse is a thoroughly warm and sweet story, well-told in less than eight minutes. Co-star Collins and director Jonathan Watton have created a perfect mix of humour and sentimentality in their script, adapted from Morris Panych’s play 7 Stories. Aided by some striking hand-drawn animation effects and gorgeous cinematography by Pawel Porgozelski, Pamplemousse is a gem of a sleeper playing at this year’s fest. Adam Clarke

Emily Dawe and Tegan MacDonald star in Talus and Scree

Talus and Scree

Friday, October 25, 7 pm, LSPU Hall
Newfoundland, 2013, 10 minutes

As a child, you grow up struggling to make sense of the world. It’s all complicated and unknowable until reality is illuminated with time and maturity. Before that happens, children attach reasons to the things that happen to them.

When the world delivers senseless pain and suffering, children have to make sense of that too.

For writer-director Ruth Lawrence, a violent childhood trauma involving her sister became one of the formative events of her life. It’s not a disgraceful family secret, but a quiet burden that Lawrence carried with her into adulthood.

In Lawrence’s film, the young actors (Emily Dawe, Tegan MacDonald) deliver strong performances. There’s a moment in the film when the camera catches a look of heartache on Dawe’s face and it really lands like punch to the gut.

As director of photography, Montreal cinematographer Stéphanie Weber Biron develops some incredible visuals. The rocks and stones and water of Paradise and Petty Harbour are all represented, but also the refined images of a Newfoundland household in 1975.

Lawrence’s short film plays like a prologue to a longer story. Two key events of her childhood are tied together, and they inform the woman she has become. Through it, we get an understanding of what it means hold on, and to let go. Lauren Power

Douglas Sullivan & Avery Ash in Hold Fast

Hold Fast

Saturday, October 26, 8PM, Arts & Culture Centre
Newfoundland, 2013, 93 minutes

In this adaptation of Kevin Major’s junior high school classic, Avery Ash stars as Michael, a 14 year old boy who moves from his home in Major’s Harbour to Mount Pearl when his parents are killed in a car accident. He’s a bit of a hard ticket, so when he begins his new life in suburbia, things don’t go exactly as planned.

Life with his Aunt Ellen and Uncle Ted (Molly Parker and Aiden Flynn) is much different than his life in back home. His cousin Curtis (Douglas Sullivan) is quiet and distant, and he’s picked on at school.

After he takes down his tormentor and isn’t allowed to go to a school dance with his girlfriend Brenda, he decides he’s had enough of the place and decides to run away. Curtis, also fed up with his father’s rules, joins him and the two take off.

Michael’s father was supposed to take him to Green Gardens in Gros Morne that year and he wants to go on a quest and pay his respects. Together the two boys hitchhike, steal cars, skin rabbits and quickly learn to appreciate each other.

Des Walsh, Andy Jones, the magical Pamela Morgan and the two young stars are fantastic, plus it’s especially fun to try to guess where all the filming took place (and wonder why it took the youngsters two whole days to get to St. John’s International Airport.) Director Justin Simms has created another beautifully shot and engaging film, worth watching for the scenery alone, and, as usual with Simm’s work, this is bound to please audiences at this year’s festival. Jen Squires

Still from Shyra de Souza's film Distraction of a Stationary Nature

Distraction of a Stationary Nature

Thursday, October 24, 7pm, LSPU Hall
Canada, 2012, 9 minutes

Written, performed, edited, produced, and directed by Shyra de Souza, this is a 10 minute, stop motion film that explores the idea that anything can be interesting enough to distract you when you’re supposed to be working—even office supplies. If you’ve ever tried to pull a Pepsi and Hawkin’s Cheezies-fueled all-nighter you’ll appreciate this short.

De Souza is a multimedia artist whose goal is bring mundane objects to life.

At first you’ll wonder about the lack of a soundtrack, but as the forest scene starts to take shape, the rustling Post-Its begin to sound like leaves and waves, and then build to a cacophony, and leading her to put all of the office supplies in the trash until the room is silent.

Spoiler: Whiteout tape turns into a snail. Natalie Ivany

By Adam Clarke, Natalie Ivany, Mark Jerrett, Jen Squires and Lauren Power.

For details and ticket info, check www.womensfilmfestival.com

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The Essential Prisoner: A. B. and C.

Mon, Oct 21, 2013

Adam Clarke‘s surprised Number Six didn’t see the First Slayer in his dreams.

Where am I?
Though it aired before “The General”, it’s obvious “A. B. and C.” follows that story. Colin Gordon has altered his performance so that his smug Number Two has become jittery and insecure following the destruction of the General. Another clue is presented after the title sequence, which amends the usual “The new Number Two” response to “I am Number Two” during the standard “Where am I?” opening. Leo McKern (“Chimes of Big Ben”) would state the same thing when he reprised his role as Number Two for “Once Upon A Time”.

Many fans place this episode after “Many Happy Returns”, which sees the return of Georgina Cookson after her small role in this episode. By placing “Returns” 9th, I have no problem with Six’s odd reaction to Cookson’s character in “Returns” after he sees her in his dream in “A.B. and C.” That character was just a person Number Two inserts into Six’s subconscious, so he must have used a Village agent Six wouldn’t recognize. Given that she’s the new Number Two in “Returns”, her presence here could be taken as foreshadowing. Certainly Six’s intense distrust and odd behaviour around Cookson in “Returns” could be seen as a call-back to dreaming of her in this episode.

Since I place “Returns” just before “A. B. and C.”, the events of “The Schizoid Man”, “Chimes of Big Ben”, the two Colin Gordon episodes and “Many Happy Returns” occur between February 10 and March 19. Is that cutting it a bit close? Perhaps, but no ordering of Prisoner episodes is perfect as McGoohan always remained mum on the issue.

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): Colin Gordon, dream weaver.

A. B. and C.

Written by Anthoney Skene
Directed by Pat Jackson.

Colin Gordon returns as Number Two. Fresh from seeing the Village’s most important experiment go up in smoke in “The General”, this Number Two makes a last-ditch effort to find out why Number Six resigned. An unconscious Number Six is wheeled in to Number Two’s headquarters, his head covered in electrodes. With the aid of an experimental drug devised by Number 14 (Sheila Allen), 2 is able to manipulate Number 6′s dreams and watch the results on his viewscreen. Almost awake, Six briefly sees Fourteen setting up the experiment before she sends him back to sleep.

2′s theory is that 6 was going to sell top secret information before the Village got to him. Using all the data the Village has acquired on 6, 2 believes there would only be three possible buyers: A (a defected English spy), B (the most bewitching spy 6 has ever met) and C (a person who the Village has very little information). These hypothetical buyers and 6 have one thing in common: they all regularly attended the famous parties thrown by wealthy socialite Madame Engadine (Katherine Kath).

Number 6 behaves as he would at such a party, but is quickly intercepted by A (Peter Bowles). Though friends once, 6 is disgusted by the sight of A. The more A tries to get 6 to sell him information, the more 6 resists. Outside the dream world, Number 2 speeds things up and arranges it so that 6 is kidnapped by A and some thugs. 6 quickly turns the tables by beating them to a pulp, straightening his bow tie and returning to Engadine’s party.

That’s one of Two’s suspects down, but the other potential buyers will have to wait. There needs to be 24 hours between doses of the dream drug, so 6 is returned home while 2 awaits an angry phone call from his unseen supervisor. When 6 awakens in the morning, he spots Number 14 buying flowers near his house. He half-remembers seeing Number 14 before, but isn’t sure where. As trace memories of last night pop in his head, he checks his wrist and sees a mark from where he was injected with the dream drug.

On the second night, 6 is drugged again and dreams of encountering B (Annette Carrell) at Engadine’s party. The two are old friends, maybe more. Before we learn the details of their relationship, 2 pushes his agenda when–what else?–hired goons show up in the dream. When B is held at gunpoint, she tells 6 that they’ll spare her life if he reveals why he resigned. 6 becomes suspicious and interrogates B, asking her about her son. 2 panics because there’s nothing in B’s file about having a son. With no information for 14 and 2 to feed into the dream B, 6 leaves her to the armed thugs.

The next morning, 6 wakes up and covertly follows 14 around the Village. He tags behind her as she enters a secret passage located in a cave on the outskirts of the Village. The cave entry brings 6 to the exact room where he’s been drugged and studied over the past two nights. Reading the files on A, B and C, 6 gets wise to their scheme and locates the solution used to drug him. Finding the wonder drug, 6 empties the bulk of it into a napkin and then fills the syringe with just enough water so that the drug doesn’t appear too diluted.

Later that night, 2 and 14 repeat the procedure on 6 and begin to watch the dream. This time, everything’s askew and 6 acts as though he knows he’s in a dream. With too much at stake, 2 has C enter the dream even though he knows nothing about that person other than they’re a spy and they studied French. He encounters a partygoer (Cookson) placed by the Village that leads Number Six to the enigmatic C…

At the dreamy party, Madame Engadine reveals herself to be the spy 6 is looking for. 2 is flabbergasted. He might not have 6′s secrets, but he’s now identified one of the most elusive spies in the world. As 6 and Engadine head for a meeting with the man she claims is in charge, Engadine stops at a church that only 6 can enter. Number Six enters the church, but there’s no interior. The doorway leads to a deserted city in the dead of night, while Engadine waits behind him in the daylight. In the ghost city, Six is confronted by a masked man in a tuxedo and cape. 6 says he’ll sell out, but only if he knows who he’s selling out to. The masked man asks why it would matter, but 6 insists that it’s important to “the people who are watching”. After a minor scuffle, the man in charge is unmasked by 6 and presented to 2 and 14 as being…Number 2.

Two, almost gone mad with stress, watches helplessly as 6 wanders away from Engadine’s party and the masked man’s lair. On the viewscreen, 6 changes out of his tuxedo and into his Village clothes. He then wanders down the paths of the Village and into the cave that leads to 2 and 14′s present location. 6 then opens the door to the experiment room. The viewscreen shows 2 and 14 watching the viewscreen in the experiment room, but surely the real 6 hasn’t walked out of his dreams and into their lair. The real 2 looks back in horror to see if the doors really have opened, but the real 6 is still unconscious on the gurney in front of him. On the viewscreen, the dream 6 gives the dream 2 a series of travel brochures. “I wasn’t selling out. That wasn’t the reason I resigned,” the dream 6 says as he gets on the gurney and begins sleeping as soundly as his real world self.

Having failed in his attempt to get 6′s secrets, 2′s red phone begins ringing wildly…

Whose Side Are You On? Like “The General” before it, “A. B. and C.” is exceptionally silly. The dream sequences are closer to television spy fare that was so popular in the 60′s, but with the added twist of Six controlling his dreams for a memorably surreal conclusion. One particularly clever moment occurs when Six is taken to meet his masked new boss. Six mentions his need to unmask the shadowy figure so as not to disappoint everybody watching, which is a cheeky bit of metahumour for viewers dying to see Number One.

“A. B. and C.” is equal parts Prisoner and Danger Man, McGoohan’s hit spy series that aired between 1960 and 1967. “A. B. and C.” pulls off a spy story while remaining grounded in The Prisoner with greater success than the underrated later episode “The Girl Who Was Death”. Those two episodes do share a similar problem when compared to the earlier Prisoner stories: the Village is starting to lose its edge. The methods Six uses to sabotage Number Two betray the all-powerful control centre depicted in the early episodes. Nonetheless, Six’s contrived infiltration of Two & Fourteen’s experiment room (none of the Village’s many cameras saw him sneak into that cave) is an acceptable price to pay for this episode’s dream sequences and their imaginative conclusion.

I’m also quite fond of Colin Gordon’s sub-plot, undergoing a nervous breakdown after the events of “The General” and his failure to steal Six’s secrets here. Gordon is quite good as he grows more unhinged with the tantalizing info Six threatens to spill in the dream world. It’s a fun performance from an actor so middling he can’t even read the “In the Village” lines from the secondary title sequence with anything resembling authority. I wouldn’t completely slag off Gordon, but his sub-Vincent Price delivery in the secondary titles is borderline parody and he can’t even pull off a good villainous laugh. When the Number Twos (or series voice-over artist Robert Rietty) do the evil laugh at the end of this sequence, it’s always been appropriately menacing. With Gordon, his forced guffaw is exactly what the “I’m using the internet” Quaker would sound like. It’s just embarrassing.

So, why is this silly episode essential? In addition to being one of the series’ most entertaining, accessible stories, we also learn a bit about Six in the process. He was a spy, not unlike John Drake of Danger Man, and he wasn’t selling out or defecting. He was just trying to go on vacation, as depicted in the opening credits. It seems his main objection to his job was a moral one, hence his need to get away from England to think. Six’s aversion to violence is an issue that will be explored in later episodes, but “A. B. and C.” is a worthwhile lighter episode of this enigmatic series.

Next Time: Number Six wakes up a new man.

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The Essential Prisoner: The General

Thu, Oct 17, 2013

Adam Clarke‘s current ringtone is the trippy “Speedlearn” music used for this episode.

Where am I? Since arriving in the Village, the man called Number Six has had his identity shaken by the sudden appearance of an identical twin claiming to be the real Six. He’s been drugged, beaten and betrayed by fellow prisoners and double-agents alike. He’s tried to escape many times to no avail. Rescue isn’t an option since the Village has arranged it so the rest of the world thinks him dead. All the rotating Number Twos want to know is why he resigned. Six just won’t budge.

My ordering of the first seven episodes of The Prisoner is as follows…

1. Arrival
2. Dance of the Dead
3. Free For All
4. Checkmate
5. The Schizoid Man
6. The Chimes of Big Ben
7. The General

“Chimes” was the second episode to air, but was clearly set later than the episodes aired after it when compared with “Checkmate” and “Dance” (both aired much later). “The Schizoid Man” had a teaser for “The General”, which aired directly after “Schizoid” on ITV. However, having “Chimes” occur before “Schizoid” makes no sense. Six would never come close to another person after the far-reaching betrayal from Nadia and his employers at the end of “Chimes”. So, “Chimes” is a brief respite from a loose trilogy of episodes (more on that later)…

Enough about the sixth episode, let’s briefly recap the fifth before reviewing the seventh. In “The Schizoid Man”, Anton Rodgers’ Number Two made mention of “the General”, which was hinted as having great power in the Village and not being altogether human. Tonight, we meet “the General”…

The Plot (In Six Words Or Less): Top hats plus supercomputers equals learning.

The General

Written by Lewis Greifer (credited as Joshua Adam).
Directed by Peter Graham Scott.

Having lost trust in Nadia/Number 8 and Alison/Number 24, Number Six is alone in the cafe watching helicopters soar over the Village. Over the sound system is an announcement from “the General’s department” urging people to return to their homes and watch the broadcast of someone called the Professor. Most of the cafe’s customers scarper home, but Six stays for another coffee. Looking about, he sees various posters showing an old man’s face, advising Villagers that they can learn six months worth of studying in a matter of minutes. He also spots a young man (John Castle aka the villain from Robocop 3) staring at him…

The man, the new Number Twelve (it’s safe to say this isn’t Curtis from “The Schizoid Man”), introduces himself as “a cog in the machine”. Number Six asks him who the Village helicopters are after. Twelve states that the man the Village is hunting for is their much vaunted Professor, then leaves Six before Village eyes take notice.

Six, unsure of Twelve, makes his way towards the beach where he spots the old man from the cafe posters (Peter Howell) running for his life. He is the Professor. With nowhere to run, the Professor collapses and is quickly captured by a Village search party. As he’s dragged back to the General’s office, Six spots a tape recorder on the beach. On the recording, the Professor warns anyone listening about the dangers of the Village’s new method of learning. Six buries the tape recorder in the sand before any Village goons take notice.

At Six’s residence, the television is already on as an announcer (Al Mancini) introduces viewers to the Professor’s wife (Betty McDowall) while Six sits and watches, eager to find out more about the Professor and the General. When the announcer is informed that the Professor is in a more agreeable state of mind, the screen jumps to an image of the Professor in his study. There, he makes an announcement about Speedlearn, a subliminal transmission that imprints a six month study of any subject in three minutes. The process seems impossible, the Professor admits, but the General has made it a reality. Speedlearn will end teaching as we know it.

Soon the live feed of the Professor is replaced by a photo of the Professor’s face. The image slowly turns into a close-up of the Professor’s eye intercut with flashing lights. Six stares, hypnotized by the Speedlearn montage. After the broadcast, in walks the new Number Two (Colin Gordon). He’s looking for the Professor’s tape recorder and suspects Six has it. While a search of Six’s residence proves useless, Number Two is eager to prove the effectiveness of Speedlearn and asks a few questions about the treaty of Adrianople and the like. Six answers them, offhandedly at first, but is then unable to stop. As Six robotically repeats textbook answers to European history questions, Two joins in and repeats Six’s spiel word-for-word. “Ten out of ten,” Two quips.

Before departing, Two offers a bargain. If he returns the Professor’s recorder, Six can leave the Village. Unnerved by the effects of Speedlearn, Six telephones another Villager and asks him the same questions Two asked moments before. The man on the other end of the line repeats the same answers Six gave without variation. Hanging up the phone, Six ignores the announcement of the Village’s curfew time and heads back to the beach.

Returning to the spot he’d buried the recorder, Six spots Twelve again. Twelve hands him the recorder, but Six doesn’t trust him. For Twelve, this doesn’t matter. Though he’s serving the Village’s board of education, Twelve is trying to subvert the Village’s intentions by working with them as a cover for helping Six. As Twelve heads back to Village HQ, Six listens to the tape recorder. This is the speech the Professor wanted to make, urging Villagers to destroy the General.

The next morning, the Professor’s wife meets with a group of Villagers near her home. She’s an artist and is encouraging them to make any kind of art they feel like. Amongst them is Number Six, sketching on a notepad. Six expresses incredulity towards this art class, noting that one Villager is standing on their head and another is ripping up a book. The Professor’s wife says the former is gaining a new perspective and the latter is making a fresh concept; creating something new by destroying something old. Six hands his portrait to the Professor’s wife, which is a caricature of her decked out in militaristic regalia. Disgusted, she tears it up. “Creation out of destruction?” Six asks.

Oh, Number Six, you’re such a dick.

Tailing her back to her house, Six grills the Professor’s wife about her husband and the General, ripping sheets off various sculptures in her home. Among them are busts of Leo McKern’s Number Two (previously seen in “Chimes”), Colin Gordon’s Number Two and Number Six. Gordon’s Number Two then strolls in with a doctor who informs Six that the Professor’s resting. Behind them, the Professor’s head is visibly peaking out of his bed. Six wanders over with a cane and whacks the sleeping Professor in the face with it. The Professor’s face smashes into several jagged pieces, as that was just a hollow sculpture. With the real Professor elsewhere, Two tells Six that his offer of escape in exchange for the Professor’s recorder is cancelled.

Six returns home to find his power’s gone out. This is the work of Number Twelve, who uses this brief blackout to give Number Six some electronic passes he’ll need to circumvent Village security and sabotage the General’s upcoming broadcast. The next day, Six shows up dressed as a Village board member. Using the passes Twelve gave him, Six nearly disturbs the Speedlearn transmission only to be knocked out by a guard before he can cause any damage.

Eager to find out who gave passes to Number Six, Number Two drags Six and Twelve to the only one who could uncover the Six’s co-conspirator with 100% accuracy: the General. At the General’s office, the Professor is preparing more information for a Speedlearn broadcast. Two beams with pride as he reveals that the General is a supercomputer devised by the Professor. With the initial Speedlearn broadcasts a success, the Village can soon move on to its true aims. They don’t want to educate people, but to change the way they think. With Speedlearn, any information people want will be theirs without having to crack open a book. If the Village controls the information, they can distort reality to suit any purpose with the masses none the wiser.

As Two prepares a request for the General to deduce which Village board member is the saboteur, Six interrupts with a promise that he can stump the supercomputer. Number Two calls Six’s bluff and lets him ask a question so insoluble, even a sophisticated supercomputer with a reel-to-reel might not know the answer. This being a TV show filmed in 1967, guess what happens next…

Who is Number One? One fan theory was that the mute butler, featured in most episodes and played by Angelo Muscat, was Number One. Many have cited that the butler isn’t in the scenes where Number Two takes a phone call from some supervisor (presumably Number One) and, other than that, it would’ve been a SHOCKING TWIST. That theory is disproved by this episode where we see Muscat in the room while Gordon’s Number Two is on the phone with some unheard boss.

I haven’t written about Muscat or the butler in these pages, but I will when we get to the two-part finale, which sees his importance increase dramatically.

Whose Side Are You On? After the end of “Chimes”, we see Six’s goals have changed as the series has progressed. After various attempts to escape in the first six episodes, Number Six’s now focused on beating the Village. At no point does escape take precedence over the mystery of the General and Six’s need to disrupt the Village’s plans.

There’s a handful of episodes of The Prisoner that crap out in the last act. While “Checkmate” had a fine ending that hurts the episode only in re-watch value, “The General” goes for broke with a very silly climax involving a supercomputer that you know will be outwitted by Six before the episode’s end. I’m surprised they didn’t have two supercomputers, so McGoohan could turn to one and say “I love you” before turning to the second, identical supercomputer and say “but I hate YOU”.

That line’s straight out of “I, Mudd”, an episode from Star Trek‘s second season which aired the exact same day as “The General”. November 3, 1967 was an exceptionally good day to watch TV heroes outwit machines. Especially if you didn’t realize Trek had aired an episode with the exact same stock ending (“The Changeling”) five weeks prior. Though outwitting the supercomputer is not as enjoyable a trope as the doppelganger, I still love “The General” and its stupid, stupid ending.

So, why is this an essential episode when more respected episodes like “Hammer Into Anvil”, “Many Happy Returns” and “A Change of Mind” don’t make the cut? For starters, “A Change of Mind” has an even dumber ending than this episode, losing steam completely after the first twenty minutes. I’m also trying to avoid repetition. “Returns” is a slick, Twilight Zone-esque episode, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the escape scenes in “Chimes of Big Ben”. In the episodes “A. B. and C.” and “Once Upon A Time”, we’ll see more imaginative and interesting takes on the “Number Six causes Number Two to break down” plot than “Anvil” offers.

Also, unlike “Anvil”, the script isn’t spoiled by a rotten Number Two. Number Two is such a perfect part; a menacing blank slate for character actors to do whatever they want. While the demonic Mary Morris and avuncular Leo McKern are a great deal better than the other Twos, most of the actors put enjoyable and often memorable spins in their turns as Prisoner villain of the week. Colin Gordon may be a poor man’s Vincent Price, but he’s leagues ahead of the awful Patrick Cargill in “Anvil”. Gordon is not a great actor, but like Eric Portman in “Free For All“, he’s got great chemistry with creator-producer-star Patrick McGoohan. Like the best episodes of The Prisoner, “The General” is full of clever, snappy dialogue, which McGoohan and the current Two savor.

“The General” forms a loose trilogy with “The Schizoid Man” and “A. B. and C”. Not an immediate trilogy, as “Chimes” still makes the most sense when sandwiched between this episode and “Schizoid”. This series of episodes offer more than interconnected plot points or straight cliffhangers. “Schizoid”, “General” and “A. B. and C.” (more on that next week) tackle the ways we think through notions of identity, education and the subconscious. The Village can copy you, condition you and even invade your dreams. You’re constantly fighting the outside influences that pollute your mind and weaken your thinking. Your mind is always on the risk of being broken by the evil forces around you. It’s a terrifying, paranoid worldview even though the last two Colin Gordon-starring episodes of this trilogy bring the Village closer to Stan Lee than the terror of “Dance of the Dead”.

Education is the perfect theme for this show to explore and showing the dangers of Number Two’s “No Village child left behind” policy, even if the execution is silly. Silliness is no great detriment to this show. I wouldn’t have as much interest in The Prisoner if I didn’t like dark surrealism as much as I love silly spy-fi shows of the late 60′s. This episode boasts a great atmosphere with elaborate sets, the quirky boardroom costumes and excellent incidental music (the dreamy Speedlearn theme being the highlight). What’s not to love?

As per “Chimes” showing us that the Village’s reach extends to London and maybe beyond, “The General” shows us what the Village does when they’re not just out to break Patrick McGoohan. For the first time, we see the Village attempting to change society instead of one man. Also of note is Number Twelve in “The General”. With 12, we have a Village double-agent who’s actually trying to help Six (and pays a heavy price for it), syncing up perfectly with Six’s altered intentions (now engaged in war with the Village instead of looking to escape) and offering a refreshing to change to viewer expectations.

In another twist to audience expectation, we have the General itself. Yes, the supercomputer cliche was already a cliche when this aired, but this episode is almost daring you to invest some greater mythology in the machine. It’s a nice fake-out for the many viewers who doubtlessly thought that either the General was Number One or that One would turn out to be a supercomputer. The General is said to be an unbelievably important Village experiment and implied to be the first Village plan of such complexity. By blowing up the big computer at the end of this episode, the series seems to be blowing up the idea that Number One will turn out to be a robot or Nomad from The Changeling.

Of course, the actual conclusion to the series would be far crazier than a mere supercomputer running the Village. More on that at the end of this series. Instead we say goodbye to “The General” as a mostly successful, if dated, part of an immensely entertaining trilogy of episodes. Be seeing you.

Next time: This trilogy gets weirder still.

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The Essential Prisoner: The Chimes Of Big Ben

Wed, Oct 9, 2013

Adam Clarke thinks a jacket isn’t a jacket without stylish white piping.

Where am I?
Edited directly after “Arrival”, “Chimes of Big Ben” also exists in an alternate, early version. Among the changes in the alternate “Arrival” were the absence of Ron Grainer’s theme music, the alternate Rover sequence and a few other dialogue trims and variations like Patrick McGoohan’s low-key reaction to the Village (seen in the top photo) replaced by a more over-the-top reaction shot…

The most significant change in the alternate “Arrival” is after the end credits. Instead of closing with the standard shot of Rover rising from the depths, it ended with a rather creepy shot of the Village big wheel bicycle transforming into a shot of the Earth hovering in space.

The early cut of “The Chimes of Big Ben” had a few minor alterations from its broadcast version as well. Most notably, a longer version of that post-credits animation showing the big wheel transitioning into outer space. In this version, the Earth exploded with a big, red POP…

Now, this is somewhat significant given the show’s frequent use of “Pop Goes The Weasel” as a musical motif and the importance of the word “pop” in a later episode (more on that episode when we get to it), but the POP animation was wisely cut from the show as aired. As much as I like the enigmatic post-credits animation in the unaired “Arrival”, the big, red POP would’ve been a bit too 60′s to watch without snickering.

The other variations in the alternate “Chimes” are mostly minor. The take of Wilfred Josephs unused opening theme is slightly different from the one used in the unaired “Arrival”. McGoohan’s OTT reaction shots in the alternate “Arrival” intro are replaced by the more low-key ones used in the opening credits proper. McGoohan’s delivery of his lines during the secondary “Where am I?” is much more subdued. Christopher Benjamin, as per his appearance in a similar role in “Arrival”, is not dubbed over by Prisoner voiceover regular, Robert Rietty. There are doorbell sounds used instead of the familiar “duh-dah, duh-dah” horns preceding Prunella Fielding’s Village announcements. There’s also a brief scene where Number Six tries to determine the Village’s location by mapping the stars with the aid of something called a “Triquetrum”, but it’s an insignificant scene that’s never referenced again. As with “Arrival”, I’ll be reviewing the version of the episode that aired as opposed to its unaired counterpart…

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): Six escapes through his art.

The Chimes Of Big Ben

Written by Vincent Tilsey.
Directed by Don Chaffey.

Watching Number Six on his viewscreen, the new Number Two (Leo McKern) marvels at the prisoner’s unyielding rebellion. “He can make even the act of putting on his dressing gown appear as a gesture of defiance,” Two remarks to his assistant (Christopher Benjamin, inexplicably dubbed by Robert Rietty). Two invites Six to his headquarters for a cup of tea and to watch the arrival of the new Number Eight, Nadia Rakowski (Nadia Gray). Six, who’s now been at the Village a number of months, watches tersely as Nadia wakes up in an exact replica of her own home just as Six did at the beginning of “Arrival”. His sympathies only go so far, as he’s not sure if Nadia is a prisoner or the latest agent for Number Two.

Running into Nadia on her way over to Number Two’s headquarters in the Green Dome, Six keeps mum. Having been betrayed by supposed allies in previous episodes, Six isn’t about to show his hand to the newest arrival. The following morning, Six sees Nadia is serious about escape as she swims out past the Village beach. She may be an Olympic swimmer, but Nadia’s efforts are thwarted by Rover. The growling doom balloon pops out of the water and carries her back to shore.

At the Village hospital, Number Two allows Six to watch Nadia’s rehabilitation. A sinister voice pipes into her room asks her repeatedly if she was trying to commit suicide. Six then strikes a deal with Two. Although he will not reveal why he resigned, he will start taking part in the Village community starting with an upcoming art competition. He’ll do so only if Two releases Nadia from the hospital immediately. Two accepts, delighted.

Nadia and Six start meeting to discuss escape. Nadia, a recently resigned spy, knows about the Village. Working for the government (which government she will not say), she came across a file containing all sorts of information about the Village, which is situated in Lithuania. There’s a coast near the Village where Nadia has a contact who can help her and Six get to London. Though her knowledge of the Village is believed to be the reason she was sent there, Six can to escape with Nadia now that he knows its location. As they plot to depart the Village, Six starts working on his art…

Some time later, judges are confused by a series of large wood carvings Number Six entered in the Village art competition. His is the only piece entered that is not a tribute to Number Two, whose face we see in a variety of portraits, sculptures and a large woven tapestry made by the Villagers. In a surprise victory for the Village’s most hot-headed resident, Number Six wins the competition. He has no interest in keeping the money (or rather “work units”, the Village’s currency) and uses the units to buy the tapestry made by the elderly Number Thirty-eight (Hilda Barry).

Hours later, Six takes his wood carvings to the beach and assembles them into a boat. Using the tapestry as a sail, he and Nadia head towards the island where Nadia meets her contact, Karel (David Arlen). Arrangements are made so that Nadia and Six will be shipped to Six’s bosses in London in a large wooden crate. Before they go, Six realizes his watch has been damaged by seawater and takes Karel’s watch. He’ll need to keep track of time to ensure that they’ll arrive in London on schedule and aren’t intercepted by the Village.

Six’s old bosses (Kevin Stoney and Richard Wattis) are shocked to see their former employee emerge from the giant crate with Nadia. When Nadia is taken out of the room, Six is told that his bosses are going to need proof that he isn’t a defector. Since the reasons of his resignation are a mystery even to his former employers, he’s asked to provide the exact reason he resigned. After a moment’s consideration, Six nearly reveals the one thing the Village has been dying to know, but gets distracted by the chimes of Big Ben. Looking down at the watch Karel gave him, he sees that it’s 8 o’clock. Big Ben also chimed 8 times, but that watch should be showing Polish time. Scanning the office for any trace of Village trickery, Number Six unplugs a cassette player hidden in a closet. Once unplugged, the chimes of Big Ben and the noisy streets of London vanish. As Six rushes out of the building, he opens a door revealing the Village town square outside.

Leaving the replica of his London office, Six stares at Nadia and Two with venom. It might sound like par for the course for the perpetually aggravated Number Six, but he’s especially unhinged now. To paraphrase one of the great philosophers of our time, Number Six looks mad and he’s always kinda mad. Six offers them the Village motto “be seeing you” and in doing so, as Number Two observed, turns an everyday act into a gesture of defiance. At Village HQ, Nadia gets ready to head back home. Nadia assures Two that she’ll be sure to mention his good work in her report to their higher authorities.

Whose Side Are You On? “Chimes” is a first class episode of the series. Acting, directing, story — all are top-notch. In my viewing order, “Chimes” marks the departure of Don Chaffey, who McGoohan had recruited from Danger Man to direct some of the early episodes. Chaffey’s visual style helped defined The Prisoner back in “Arrival” and he does terrific work here. In the hands of a lesser director, the switching from Portmeirion location work to studio mockups would be quite jarring. The only moments that jar are the dubbed portions with Benjamin and McKern’s one line that was also noticeably ADRed by Robert Rietty (“Meet me at the hospital right away, Number Six”, which is present in both versions of this episode).

Also worthy of praise is Vincent Tilsey’s sharp, witty script. Tilsey would return to write the series’ worst episode (“Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling”), but it’s easy to see why they brought him back after this episode. “Chimes” is a very busy script that handles a number of plot elements in a slick, snappy way. Where the equally busy “Dance of the Dead” might seem a little muddled, “Chimes” brings in these plot elements with great focus. Tilsey also deserves praise for the many clever exchanges between Two, Six and the rest of the Villagers, my favourite being Two and Six’s beachside chat…

2: We’re both lifers. That’s why it doesn’t matter who Number One is. It doesn’t matter which side runs the village.

6: It’s run by one side or the other.

2: Certainly, but both sides are becoming identical. What, in fact, is being created is an international community…When the sides facing each other suddenly realize they’re looking into a mirror, they will see this is the path for the future.

6: The whole earth as the Village?

2: That is my hope. What’s yours?

6: I’d like to be the first man on the moon.

I’ve read a number of the original scripts for The Prisoner to note any significant changes between the early drafts and the transmitted episodes. Aside from Nadia’s number originally being 7, the Triquetrum scene and a brief jab at the church missing from Six’s description of his Art Exhibition entry, Tilsey’s script and “Chimes” as transmitted are almost identical. Even Leo McKern’s jolly take on Number Two is in the script, which emphasizes his good humour and genuine admiration of Six.

Ahh, McKern. Tied with Mary Morris, he’s my favourite of the Number Twos, delivering a fully fleshed out take on the man who accepts and serves the Village. He’s brilliant in The Prisoner. The way McKern reacts to McGoohan during their first scene is like an acting masterclass, switching from giddiness to disappointment to rage in a perfect storm. His interaction with Six and Nadia going off into the woods is inspired and very funny. As an actor, Leo McKern was so charismatic that it’s impossible not to focus on him. He was one of the few actors strong enough to not just hold ground with, but steal scenes from Patrick McGoohan. He possessed such a rich voice that Leo McKern’s belly laugh–used to great effect in his appearances in The Prisoner–wasn’t just pleasing to the ear, but could probably do impossible things like comfort the dying or heal the rainforest.

“Chimes” is a first-rate episode of one of the all-time great television programs. While it’s original air order is confusing in its placement (Six has been here a while, we meet the Colonel mentioned in “Dance of the Dead” and there’s a reference to the recent Village election in “Free For All”), it’s easy to see why it was broadcast as the second episode. With such a strong script and an amazing guest spot by Leo McKern, the production team would’ve wanted to ingratiate itself to audiences by showing them their best work as early as possible.

Next Time: No Village child left behind.

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The Essential Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

Wed, Oct 2, 2013

Adam Clarke is seeing double: four Krustys!

Tonight’s Plot (In Six Words Or Less): A second 6 is 12.

For the first time in this look back on the most iconic, important and essential episodes of this classic British series, we have an episode where my ordering of episodes syncs up with the original broadcast order on ITV. “The Schizoid Man” aired fifth and should be placed fifth. Following “Arrival”, I’ve placed previous episodes based on Number Six’s behaviour, his knowledge of the Village and the references to past and future episodes. It makes no sense to have “Dance of the Dead” any later than second in episode order when Six has “never seen a night” in the Village, he knows nothing of observers or Dutton, and the outside world might be looking for him. “Free For All” and “Checkmate” naturally fit after “Dance”, with the episode where Six promises to separate the prisoners from warders is followed immediately by the one where he does just that.

When we last left Six, his escape attempt backfired when he realized that no Villager could be certain if he was one of their warders. Though the larger effort failed, Six is now aware of the Villagers he can trust and even befriend. Tonight’s episode opens with a meeting between Six and one such prisoner…

The Schizoid Man

Written by Terence Feely
Directed by Pat Jackson.

At residence #6, Six and Number Twenty-four aka Alison (Jane Merrow) are re-enacting Bill Murray’s first scene from Ghostbusters. Six and Alison are testing out a psychic link they seem to have as Alison is ESP-sensitive. Six holds up a card away from her gaze and Alison can see the image on the card as clearly as if it were in front of her. It’s a rare pleasant evening in the Village for Six, barring a brief moment where Alison knocks over a bottle that bruises one of his fingers.

The following morning, Six wakes up in a foreign bedroom (no, not Alison’s). Catching a glimpse of himself in a mirror, he doesn’t recognize his face. His basic facial structure is the same, but he now has darker hair and a thick moustache. He goes to the closet and sees his black jacket with white piping is still there. The jacket now has one of the numbered buttons he refuses to wear, but its number isn’t 6. It’s 12.

Victor Newman?

Six rips the button off as usual and then receives a phone call from the new Number Two (Anton Rodgers). Addressing him as “Number 12”, Two tells Six that he hopes his flight went well and invites Six over for breakfast. On his way to the Green Dome, everyone in the Village greets Number Six as Number Twelve.

At Number Two’s HQ, it’s clear this younger Two is a friend of Number Twelve (who we learn is a secret agent named Curtis). Two reminisces about Six/Twelve’s wife/girlfriend, Susan, who hated kissing Curtis without the moustache (“good for Susan,” says Six). Two explains why Six/Twelve’s been flown in to the Village: by using a man who looks exactly like Number Six, they intend to shatter Six’s sense of identity to ensure his cooperation with the Village.

Tossing him the dossier on Number Six, Two chides Six/Twelve for catching it with his left hand, as Number Six is right handed. Otherwise, he finds the resemblance between Curtis and the real Six to be astounding. Six/Twelve insists to Number Two that he is, in fact, “your Number Six” and Two is delighted to see Six/Twelve getting into the part. After a brief moment to have his hair lightened and his moustache shaved, Six/Twelve is placed in the house he used to live in, residence 6. When the door opens, Six isn’t prepared to see a man who looks identical to him in nearly all respects.

Of course, viewers can easily spot the major differences. The real Six sports his usual black jacket with white piping, while the impostor wears a white jacket with black piping (I assume Frank Gorshin was the costume designer). Also of note, Curtis (the man in the white jacket) has no problem wearing his assigned number 6 button.

Curtis says he’s already aware of the Village’s plot and chides Number Six for getting it all wrong. Number Six likes the wrong kind of cigarettes and Six’s nowhere near the fencer or marksman the real Number Six is known to be. The real Number Six is confused because Curtis is right. Just as Six has switched from right to left handed overnight, his tastes and talents are similarly changed. To the outside world, Curtis is the real Six and Six is the impostor.

To sort out which man is the real Number Six, Alison is brought to Number Two’s residence. While Two watches nervously, Six and Curtis test Alison’s psychic link. Using the card test from before, the real Six fails to prove their link while Alison guesses each of Curtis’ cards correctly. Curtis walks away with Alison, while Two chides Six for spoiling his scheme. Later that night, Curtis and Two watch Six via hidden camera. Six is trembling in his bed, seemingly broken.

Later that night, Six spots the bruise underneath his fingernail from his psychic test with Alison at the start of the episode. This seems to undo a bit of the Village’s conditioning, as Six begins to remember what Number Two’s lackeys did to ensure he would think he’s Curtis. They used pain reinforcement to change him from right to left-handed, hypnotized him into liking different foods, and made a few cosmetic changes to his appearance.

Now aware of what he’s been through, Six sneaks into his old residence and finds Curtis resting there. Six mocks a confessional, conceding victory to Curtis. When Curtis asks why Six resigned, Six attacks him and soon a familiar roar is heard outside Six’s home. Six and Curtis race out of the house to be greeted by Rover, the bouncy ball of doom. In the confusion over which Six is which, Rover kills Curtis and Six reports to Number Two in his place.

At Number Two’s insistence, Number Six visits Alison and asks if her psychic powers had given her any special insight into the supposedly deceased Six. Alison insists that true ESPies don’t read or share minds, but receive psychic flashes in spasms. She says psychically-linked persons finish each other thoughts. When she takes out a cigarette, Six lights it without even seeing she’d brought one to her lips. Alison instantly figures out what happened, but Number Six insists it’s a coincidence.

Six continues to masquerade as Curtis in the hopes he’ll be flown out of the Village. Two is still shocked that Six is dead, but the real Six shows no sympathy…

6: It was your idea.

2: That’s a strange thing to say. You know it wasn’t.

6: You certainly didn’t resist.

2: Bearing in mind its origin, no I didn’t.

Two sees him out as “Curtis” is to be returned home. Two is growing wise to Six’s ruse and later asks him about a proposal he’d given Curtis regarding further work in the Village. Six is reluctant to say anything, but Two assures him that “the General” is nothing to fear. When Six says he’ll have to wait until he reports to the General, Two finds it odd that he refers to the General as human (“Report to the General? That’s a new one.”)

Near the helicopter, Alison has a few parting words for Number Six, telling “Curtis” that she regrets what she did and wishes it were possible to have a second chance. Six tells her there are no second chances and gets in the helicopter. Before take-off, Two hands Six a blindfold as part of the usual Village procedure and asks that Six give Susan his regards. Six promises to do so and puts on the blindfold.

Six is flown up, hopeful that he’s finally made his way out of the Village. When the helicopter descends, he removes his blindfold only to be greeted by the smiling face of Number Two. Two explains: “Susan died a year ago, Number Six”.

Whose side are you on? Returning to form with “The Schizoid Man” after the slightly disappointing “Checkmate”, The Prisoner pulls off one of its most compelling hours by using the oldest trope in the book: the doppelganger.

I confess, of all the archetypal plots in the history of TV, I have the greatest fondness for an Evil Twin episode. Some cliches have a strong batting average and there’s no better one than Evil Twins. Just as Freaky Friday episodes are always horrid (the only terrible episode of The Prisoner is the switched bodies outing, “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling”), Evil Twin episodes seem to have a direct path to the pleasure centre of my brain. Even if the script wasn’t as good as it is, “The Schizoid Man” would have won me over with the sight of Curtis and his bizarro version of Six’s jacket.

“Schizoid” explores the horror of the doppelganger while still using variations on the stock plot’s archetypal scenes. The scene where Rover does not know whether to attack Six or Curtis is a variation on the old standby of a character not knowing which twin to shoot. Still, this was the perfect story to explore one of The Prisoner‘s key themes: identity.

Number Six keeps himself at a distance from the Village because his life is his own and he will not be contaminated by a society he wants no part of. Six’s individuality is his main defense against everything the Village puts up against him, so this doppelganger plot could actually get him to crack. It almost works, too, thanks to the cooperation of Alison and the other Villagers.

The way Number Six confirms his identity is a nice, subtle touch. He never reveals his real name to us (and it will never be heard, seen or spoken during the series), so keeps a sense of himself by refusing to acknowledge his number. When Two accidentally calls Six “12”, Six corrects him. However, he tells Two that he isn’t Number Six, but “your Number 6”. Later, Six drops the pretense and refers to himself as Number Six when speaking to Two and Curtis. Curtis’ perfect imitation shakes him to his core, causing Six to briefly accept his number. That is a huge victory for the Village.

Upon the arrival of Curtis, Six must acknowledge himself as Number Six and not the free man he claims to be. Six needs society, even if he hates it, because that opposition is one of his defining traits. As much as he’s an island unto himself, Six does need other people to establish his identity. The minute that changes, he begins to unravel. Six is not so headstrong when he has a bit of evidence to doubt his own sanity. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for TV’s most passionate and ill-tempered main character.

Speaking of vulnerability, I don’t think Six would trust anyone as much as Alison after “Chimes of Big Ben” or before “Checkmate”, hence the episode placement. It’s rare to see Six or McGoohan befriending a woman. McGoohan was reportedly quite sour around female co-stars, but he’d been successfully paired with Jane Merrow several times before on Danger Man. The two had chemistry on those shows and there’s a sweetness to the friendship between Alison and Six that we don’t often see in this series. Merrow underplays the role, which makes her an interesting match for a walking powder keg like McGoohan.

Merrow’s a nice addition to The Prisoner‘s list of guest actors, as is Anton Rodgers as this week’s youthful Number Two. Yet, this episode belongs to its star like no other. Spending most of the episode playing a more vulnerable Number Six, as well as the sinister Curtis, McGoohan effortlessly creates distinct personas for the lead character and his double. Even at his best, Curtis is not quite Number Six. McGoohan plays him with a mannered swagger and cockiness that rings false for those who know the real Six. While The Prisoner‘s Number Six may be one of McGoohan’s finest hours, he deserves a lot of praise for making Curtis such a distinct, memorable villain.

Going back to the topic of episode placement, some cite this episode as occurring just before a patch of episodes that don’t feature Rover. Though Rover is largely absent in the middle of the series before re-appearing in the final two episodes, I don’t think Anton Rodgers’ order to deactivate Rover was any more than a brief measure implemented to ensure it wasn’t malfunctioning or disobeying orders. Besides, it’s not as though Rover was consciously put out of commission for the middle of the series (it was set to appear in “A Change of Mind”, but the scene was cut before transmission). In my order, Rover’s back again in the following episode, “The Chimes of Big Ben”. That episode is the fitting end to this early run of episodes where Six is more trusting and less abrasive.

“Schizoid” is an important episode for everyone’s favourite homicidal balloon. For one, it’s the only episode where it’s referred to by name. As for whether or not Rover’s a sophisticated weapon or a living thing, “Schizoid” seems to suggest the former. Of course, nothing is certain in The Prisoner. This ambiguity surrounding the evil ball goes all the way back to the early drafts of “Arrival”, as per this extended take of Rover’s introduction scene:

6: What was that?

2: Rover.

6: Rover what?

2: Just Rover.

6: Who drives it?

2 (with a puzzled look): Drives it?

6: Yes. Who?

2 (laughing): That would be telling.

I began my reviews by choosing to focus on the most iconic episodes of the series. Many fans have debated which seven episodes would consist of the original seven stories McGoohan had in mind when he created the series, those lists are always based on faulty thinking. McGoohan and co. had to create a potentially ongoing series and shut it down when they could not sustain the quality of the writing. So, despite all rumors, there is no McGoohan-approved seven episodes. By pairing down this series of reviews to The Prisoner‘s most essential stories, I’ve picked what I believe to be the eleven most iconic hours of the series.

Though seldom regarded as a highlight, “The Schizoid Man” is a gripping, thoughtful hour of television with just enough spy/action elements to keep it exciting. The doppelganger plot fits perfectly with the themes of the series. With its tightly paced script and a powerhouse dual performance from Patrick McGoohan, “The Schizoid Man” demands to be re-evaluated as one of The Prisoner‘s top episodes.

Next time: Six takes a holiday.

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Breakdowns, the Pleasences & the Apocalypse

Mon, Sep 23, 2013

Adam Clarke‘s reviews are being received from the year 1-9-9-9.

Aside from the terrific Midnight In Paris and Match Point, Woody Allen’s output from the late 90′s onward can be described as pleasant but not absolutely necessary. The other exception being Celebrity, which was about as pleasant as a spork in the eye. Unlike his later successes, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine feels like something he’s never done before. Cate Blanchett is brilliant as Jasmine, an adopted girl who was whisked away from college by a handsome billionaire con man (Alec Baldwin), only to have her riches taken away when the feds are tipped off about his misdeeds. The film jumps backwards and forwards in time as we see how the always unstable and naive Jasmine becomes more and more disturbed. With each lie she tells herself and others, Jasmine digs her own grave deeper, leading to the bleakest ending in any Allen film. Blue Jasmine is a superb movie, and to say much more would spoil it. Blanchett gives what is arguably her best performance and is surrounded by an amazing supporting cast, especially Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay(!) and Boardwalk Empire‘s Bobby Cannavale. Blue Jasmine is a rare late-period Woody Allen movie that bests many of his more famous films.

Blue Jasmine is showing daily at Empire Theatres in the Avalon Mall. Check local listings for showtimes.

 

I’d recently had the pleasure of watching Symptoms — as-yet-unreleased on DVD. Jose Ramon Larraz’s film courted a great deal of controversy when it debuted at Cannes in the 70′s, but it’s been stuck in obscurity ever since. And quite unfairly so, because the film is a nice, slow-burn thriller where the disturbed Helen (Angela Pleasence) invites a childhood friend (Lorna Heilbron) to stay with her in her old country house. Helen senses that something terrible is about to happen in her rural home, fearing the shifty odd-job man, Brady (Peter Vaughan). It seems one of Helen’s friends has disappeared, but Helen’s deteriorating mental health is causing her to drift into fantasy.

Angela Pleasence is a tremendously underrated actor. Her perfect elocution and considerable dramatic range has mostly lead to playing neurotics, mystics and even the Ghost of Christmas Past. Yet, Symptoms shows her to be every bit the actor as her hugely talented father. Admittedly, one hindrance to her career may have been a physical one as far as casting agents were concerned. Her talent, striking red hair and beautiful body jars badly with the fact that she has Donald Pleasence’s face.

Daddy-daughter fun day is terrifying in the Pleasence household (as seen in "From Beyond The Grave")

After the notorious reception at Cannes, Symptoms was unjustly forgotten. A rare star vehicle for Angela Pleasence, Symptoms thrives on Pleasence’s ease with shifting from doe eyed romantic to full-on nervous breakdown as the film progresses. Larraz’s smart, eerie film is dominated by Pleasence’s haunting but sympathetic performance. Though still unavailable on DVD, Symptoms is well worth seeking out. Also of note is a piece by Jeff Stafford on Movie Morlocks, which elaborates on its tempestuous Cannes debut.

 

Moving from Angela Pleasence to her father, we have Prince Of Darkness, which purports that the son of Satan is alive and he’s living in Los Angeles. No, it’s not a desperate Hollywood satire, but one of the creepiest horror films of the 1980s. A successful mash-up of Nigel Kneale’s sci-fi horror, demonic possession, zombie apocalypse and an episode of Ancient Aliens, Darkness is easily the weirdest of Carpenter’s films by a country mile. It’s also a fantastic horror movie.

Prince Of Darkness is the second part of John Carpenter’s apocalypse trilogy, right in the middle of The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness. Though Darkness is sometimes overshadowed by the other entries in the trilogy, but is well worth a look. Doubly so if you’re getting the newly-released DVD edition from Shout Factory, which features a brand new and bitchin’ painted cover (as posted above), new interviews and a commentary from everyone’s favourite chain-smoking director.

Yes, I’ve got a message for you…and you’re not going to like it: buy Prince of Darkness on DVD.

Next week: Patrick McGoohan returns twice over in “The Schizoid Man”.

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