Thursday, January 15, 2009

Be Seeing You, Number Six

Patrick MacGoohan, known to his fans as "Number Six," passed away Tuesday. He was 80 years old. What terrific irony that he died one week to the day before the end of a presidency that brought his seminal TV creation The Prisoner to stark, awful realization.

MacGoohan's magnum opus appeared on BBC 42 years ago, yet seems fresh and frighteningly relevant. For those who never saw the show, it stars McGoohan as a British secret agent who resigns his job only to be kidnapped and renditioned to a remote facility. There, a series of overseers, each of whom wears the badge of Number Two, try every type of coercion and torture to learn his secrets. Other prisoners break, turning into pawns of the mysterious agency running The Village. There is nowhere to hide in The Village. Constant surveillance makes secrecy impossible, giving viewers the creepy and unforgettable Village greeting: "Be seeing you."

The only real escape is his own mind -- and his torturers pursue him even there.

The 17-episode series did not satisfy viewers expecting a James Bond-style breakout. Instead, they were treated to a show that became increasingly surreal and ended in jaw-dropping circularity. The series was not a light entertainment after all, but a sinister revelation about the origin of evil. Sooner or later, the series teaches us, we are all responsible.

If you haven't ever seen The Prisoner, now would be a good time to invest in the DVD boxed set. My own VHS episode collection is quite worn out by now, since this is the only television show I have never, ever gotten tired of watching.

For those of you who are unconvinced or who have a little time on your hands, here are some YouTube videos. The first is the introduction from Scott Apel on KTEH, the Public TV station in California that has played the series annually for almost two decades. Apel's commentary was the first I had ever heard of this show; he offers both illuminating insight and curious questions to the viewer. The last three are a TV interview with MacGoohan from the 1970s in which he talks about writing, producing, and directing the show.

Be seeing you!

1 comment:

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