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Analysis: The Prisoner

The Individual and its Opponent

We understand he survived the ultimate test. Then he must no longer be referred to as "Number Six" or a number of any kind. He has gloriously vindicated the right of the individual to be individual. And this Assembly rises to you... Sir.

A lot of what makes the show interesting is the questions behind it. Not just "Who is Number One?" or "Why did Six resign?", but the stuff that is implicitly questioned, such as "What does a society stand for?" or "What is the place of the individual in the collective?". The answer according to the show is that the Individual (here represented by the Free Man, Number Six) is the basis of society itself. The problem is when the individual seeks power and starts losing his or her moral integrity in the name of said quest. There's an interesting scene at the end of the show, in "Fall Out", where we finally manage to see Number One's face. It's just a flash, but it's pretty clear that the man that has been torturing so many spies across the world is (or at least looks like) Number Six. This man just laughs and runs away. There's not much we know about him, but the fact that he looks like Six was intentional and obviously means something.

It's clear that the meaning of this is that Six and One represent different sides of the same coin. In this case, the coin is the Individual. Six represents a free individual, and not just in terms of his freedom, but in terms of his mental capacity and yearning for the same. He is incorruptible and his desire for free will never goes away. Not only that, but he wishes for his fellow men to wake up and rebel. To fight back their oppressors and to retake the very freedom that was taken away from them. One, however, represents the dark side of being a free man in a land of slaves. He's the man who's willing to enslave and control them for his own purposes while exercising his own free will. Even the number Twos, his enforcers, are often manipulated (sometimes willingly and through bribes, sometimes unwillingly and through blackmail) into carrying out his will.

If One and Six represent the Individual, Two represents the government. One wields the government in the form of Two in order to maintain the privilege he possesses over others. But the thing is, as each Two fails, they're replaced, much like how each leader is replaced in order to hopefully maintain and improve on the society that he rules over. Of course, this particular society is created with the clear purpose of taking free will away from the individual so he can help One's goals outside of the village.

Now, not all of this subtext is anti-society, anarchistic. This is all about what happens when society falls and is corrupted in order to follow the whims of an individual. Of a man who rises above his fellow men not to guide them to prosperity, but to guide himself into prosperity while leading his people to doom and fear in order to perpetuate the aforementioned prosperity. The Village disguises this with "happiness" while taking away the basic spiritual needs of men in order to break them and in that way obtain the information it so desires.

Society and its members

Numbers in a village that is a complete unit of our own society. A place to put people who can't be kept around. People who know too much or too little. A place with many means of breaking a man.

So, so far, Six represents the Individual and his quest for freedom, both for himself and others; One represents the Corrupt Individual, who looks for freedom and who wants it just for himself; while the different Twos represent the Government, wielded by the Corrupt Individual in order to maintain and obtain his goal of freedom and power for himself. With these metaphors in mind, it's easy to figure out what The Village stands for: Society.

In this case, though, this is what happens when a Society is made in order to benefit the governor and not its population. This is a society that does not protect or help its citizens and is willing to use every resource in order to maintain a status quo of "happiness" in order to benefit the man in command (or the face of the man in command, in this case, which is Two/Government).

In a lot of ways, the Village is a twisted mirror of what current society is. Whereas normally, people come to a society/population in hopes of attaining a desirable status of living there, in here, people are captured, drugged and transported against their will here in order to live under the thumb of society. In a world where most societies allow for political opposition, provided it's of the non-violent kind, this is a world where non-violent opposition is destroyed right away, and where violent opposition is enforced as long as it benefits one of the men on top of it all.

It's interesting to look at this all in the context of the Cold War, though. And this is probably the kicker for it all: And it's that the Village is clearly not a comment on both the west and the east. In a lot of ways, both sides were willing to sacrifice the welfare of their people (and they still do, to these days) in order to fight what amounted to a dick-waving contest. In this case, though, it was a one-man dick-waving contest, where he flaunted his freedom where people didn't see it, as well as accumulated information in order to (probably) broker it.

Of course, we don't know the specific motivation of the actions behind the Village. For all we know, Number Six was a terrorist planning to hijack every country's nuclear missiles and shoot everything just because. For all we know, every member in the Village was a terrorist, spy or a serial killer. But we don't know this and there's no reason to assume this. What we do know is that the Village's methods are inhuman, that their intention with said methods is sadistic at worst and pragmatic at best, and that this is a society that claims to care for every man and woman who lives under it. But it's not true. This is a society who only cares to break these men and women in order to further protect its government and leader.

Freedom and endings

We are honoured to have with us a revolutionary of a different calibre. He has revolted. Resisted. Fought. Held fast. Maintained. Destroyed resistance. Overcome coercion. The right to be a Person, Someone, or Individual. We applaud his private war and concede that despite materialistic efforts he has survived intact and secure. All that remains is recognition of a Man.

I think that in this very quote is the heart of The Prisoner's meaning. Above all the allegory, all of the metaphors, all the speculation about what the future has in store for the people who fight the Cold War, it's all about a man fighting for the right to be free and succeeding, and most importantly the conclusion that man is nothing if he's not free. But freedom here is not just defined as the ability to exercise his own free will. Freedom here is defined as the ability to even possess free will and hold onto it. This is a journey about a man fighting his oppressors in order to find out that the very men he has grown to loathe were once just like him and then free themselves from them.

Most importantly, this is the story of a man who understood that freedom is worth morally naught if it's not shared.

This is also a story about a man fighting gigantic white balls, so take all of this with a grain of salt.
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