Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Prisoner"- must see TV

Sometimes television really pays off. AMC recently presented its mini-series of “The Prisoner.” It was an updated version of the classic 1960’s television series, but in no way did it simply retell the same story. The new version is about am employee of a large, secretive company who resigns. The company was heavily involved in personal spying. The story cuts between the main character’s previous life and his new one as Number 6 in a mysterious desert-set place called the village. Jim Caviezal plays 6. The village is headed by Number 2, played by a wonderfully malevolent sir. Ian McKellan. Number 6 has no idea of how he got to the village and why he is there. Over time we find out that 2 is attempting to get information from 6 about his resignation , but even more, to break down his identity so that he becomes as docile, and fearful, as the other village residents. Number 6 and some other residents have memories of their past life, usually from fleeting dreams. All but 6 are hesitant to discuss it since everyone spies on everyone else. Even the children have classroom lessons on spying. The end is surprising and difficult to comprehend but worth the effort. I do not want to give away too much of the plot since it would definitely be a spoiler.

Caviezal is surprisingly good. He has not had a particularly distinguished career and I have tended not want to see him because of his close connection to Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ.” I thought it was creepy. Anyway he competently portrays 6’s efforts to remain an individual in the face of strong forces designed to break his will and to confuse him.

McKellan is amazing. He can be kindly, yet subtlely malevant, while confronting a little girl about spying on him. She is eating an ice cream cone. Through smiles and warmth, he extracts a confession from her. He asks if she knows what this means. She said yes, and he says “the clinic.” That’s the indoctrination and reeducation facility. She has a look of fear on her face, and Number 2 says that it’s ok; she could finish her ice cream first. The next scene has a black car speeding away and running over the ice cream cone, with the girl screaming in the background. Number 6 also gives his usually sleeping wife three pills. Their son watches this and becomes curious about the nature of the pills. This same son has a relationship with one of the male spies that watches 6, who catches the young man with his lover. Number 6 uses this to blackmail the son into providing information.

The theme of the show reminds me a bit of the hilarious comedy “Team America” that parodies US forays into other countries in the name of the war on terror. That is, in order to save a country we must destroy it. Number 2 must destroy Number 6’s identity in order to save him, at least according to 2’s definition of save. It also mirrors the notion that in order to treat sometimes differences, e.g., mental illness, it is necessary to break down their self in order to rebuild it correctly, much like the Soviet mental institutions used to house political dissidents.

The village in located in the sand dunes of some desert dessert, although in one scene, the editors forgot to remove one of

California hills appearing in the background. The village is made up of rows of exactly alike A-frame houses. All of the automobiles are strange, retro looking vehicles that are unidentifiable by maker or country of origin. Number 2 lives in the only mansion in the village and he is protected by a phalanx of body guards. There are two multi-story buildings that appear in the distance. They are glass towers that shimmer in the dessert light.

Mysterious holes appear in the ground, which in one particularly horrifying scene, swallow up a small child on a bicycle, while onlookers watch without much reaction. These holes seem to be related to the time when the wife is awake. A large latex-like ball, called Rover in the original series, keeps people from leaving the village by rolling over them and suffocating them or by vaporizing them. There is homage to the original series when Number 2 is in a shop and he looks up and sees an old-fashioned two wheel bike with the huge front- and small- rear wheels. This was the logo for the 60’s series.

The end is very surprising and involves the corporation that 6 had worked in. It is surprising and unanticipated. It was worth the 6 hours needed to watch this series. It was great TV.

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