Television

The Prisoner

As soon as Six asks how to get out, at the start of AMC's The Prisoner, you know where he's headed.

The Prisoner

Airtime: 8pm Sun., Mon., Tues.
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Ian McKellen, Ruth Wilson, Lennie James, Hayley Atwell, Jamie Campbell Bower
Network: AMC
Producer: Trevor Hopkins
Air date: 2009-11-15
Website
Trailer
Amazon
Six thinks that everything is fake.

-- Two (Ian McKellen)

Everything you say is a trap.

-- Six (Jim Caviezel)

"How do I get out of here?" As soon as Six (Jim Caviezel) poses this essential question at the start of AMC's The Prisoner, you know where he's headed. You know whether or not you've seen Patrick McGoohan's beloved series of the same name. You know because the scene set here is now familiar rather than strange, the premise tedious rather than tricky. While the miniseries has been termed a "reinterpretation" rather than a remake, the key point is "re."

Yet another cog in a vast machine, Six works arduously to think his way out of his trap. No longer a Cold Warish spy beset by his conscience, this Six reveals that he's worked at a CCTV surveillance company, Summakor, and, well, he's resigned for undisclosed reasons. Or has he? Again and again in this miniseries -- six hours over three nights, starting 15 November -- Six is dragged back into what seems his past via flashbacks, a chance encounter on a New York sidewalk with vivacious Lucy (Hayley Atwell) that is of course not even close to chance. In the Village, he's interested in another girl, a trembly-lipped doctor called 313 (Ruth Wilson). In New York he worries about monitoring others; in the Village he worries about being monitored. In both places, he's got some rethinking to do.

He has many instructors to help him with what is already an obvious lesson. Chief among these, of course, is Two (played only by Ian McKellan). "The problem is in your mind," Two instructs Six. The younger man resists, as he must, being inclined to moral behavior and faux-independent thinking: "I want out of here." With a sigh, Two restates, "You've tried that. There is no out, there's only in." For all the superficial plotting in The Prisoner, the chasing and the running, the dreaming and the escaping, its most interesting moments concern Two's mouthing of such seeming philosophical circumlocutions. It's not that what he's saying is so new and brilliant (see also: Plato's Cave, Melville, Kafka, The Matrix, Life on Mars, etc.), but McKellan's performance -- whether he's speaking, wondering or just breathing -- is consistently superb.

In contrast, Six is left looking both retarded and recalcitrant, an earnest heroic type who never quite rises to his task. His "friends" are limited to a cabdriver, 147 (Lennie James), whose own nuclear familial bliss is not only too good to be true, but also easily transmutated into abject misery. Much like 147 (the earnest working class fellow and only black man), Six rejects the stories Two hands him, except when they comport with his self image as morally righteous. Seeking a reputed underground of dreamers, people who apparently have flashbacks like he does, Six alarms 147, who thinks he wants to stick with the status quo ("I do local destinations"). Inside, the dreamers are cast as "terrorists." As 313 says following an explosion, "Sometimes, not very often, something like this happens. Everything goes back to normal, everything settles down. Please don't make things worse."

While this caution alludes to recent and current events, the series is actually less contemporary and more residual than McGoohan's original. That is, Six's investigation leads to old-fashioned romance, the tribulations of unhappy and mutually resentful couples, the frustrations brought on by disease (no health care issues per se), and miserable men with frankly tedious control fantasies. If Summakor is the most obvious translation of such fantasies, Six and Two's mutual manipulations are the micro-versions.

Two's first effort is the usual one, sending Six to take the "talking cure." The trick here is not a bad one: the shrink, called 70 (James Cuningham) appears in ooky shadow as he questions his patient, while another self sits in even darker shadow right behind him. When Six -- who has been subjected to a flurry of flashbacks connecting him and the very nice 16 (Jeffrey R. Smith) who may or my not be his brother -- wonders about this arrangement ("Who is us?"), 70 assures him it's copacetic. "He is me, we are me. I find it conducive to work this way." Such limericky logic suggests an interest identity and reflection, the ways individuals lose themselves in community in order to feel re-covered. In fact, when Two reveals that 70 and the cure he talks are just elements in Two's own perpetual rearrangements of game pieces, well, his own talking sounds increasingly unclever, more and more ordinary.

A slightly more interesting internal tension is introduced in Two's invitation to Six to participate in the Village surveillance activities. The obvious questions are voiced (and embodied) by Six's seeming trainer, 909 (Vincent Regan), one of Two's best undercovers. "Everyone is suspicious if looked at properly," he asserts, "Everyone has secrets. No one is without guilt. We just have to work out what it is they're guilty of." Ah yes, and as he and Six skulk around at night and monitor neighbors and each other, 909's own identity and betrayal emerge, as ways for Six to manipulate him and reasons for Two to punish him. Six goes undercover as a teacher who instructs schoolchildren in surveillance; when he tells the kiddies to "find out who we're working for," he's only fulfilling what's expected of him, continuing along the circular path on which his first question -- "Who do I get out of here?" has set him (and you too). As the story repeats, those monitoring are also monitored, trust is fiction and also for sale, in the prepackaged forms of romance, religion, and soap operas. "The truth is right inside you," Two tells Six. But you knew that already.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.