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Headscratchers / The Prisoner (1967)

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  • The fact that, up until now, there's been no 'Headscratchers' page for The Prisoner is a headscratcher. Seriously, people have created pages for animated credits to a quiz show, is everyone going 'The Prisoner. Yeah, all makes perfect sense to me'?
    • Perhaps people wouldn't know where to begin? As soon as you start to type about the finale, your mind seizes up and becomes a David Lynch film until you click back.
      • Whose side are you on?
      • That would be telling.
  • I'll risk it and ask the question that has to be asked. What the blue FUCK happened in the final episode?
    • Patrick McGoohan invented the Gainax Ending.
      • It's metaphor for a person being trapped in Society and forced to conform to other people's desires instead of his own individuality. At the ending, Number Six realizes that he is trapped in an Epiphanic Prison even more so than a Literal One. It all makes perfect sense in a metaphoric standpoint, but from a literal one, well...don't even bother. At the very least, the Core Theme is about Individuality VS Collectivity, or a Man Against a Village.
      • If you count the comic book sequel, Shattered Visage (which got enthusiastic approval from Leo McKern and which McGoohan refused to condemn), "Fall Out" actually does have a literal explanation. It is revealed to have been a ruse on the part of McKern's Number Two that partially involved sets & actors and partially involved exposing Number Six to mind-altering drugs. It was an attempt to assault Number Six's very psyche and what finally broke Number Six's will.
      • Alternatively, you could check out the WMG page for more theories on what the heck happened in Fall Out.
  • What the flying fuck is the deal with the rocket in Fall Out anyway?
    • One of the interpretations of the Village is that it was a prison just for Number Six, with the other incidental prisoners being present as tools to break him. The nuke was a last ditch means to prevent him from escaping.
  • Assuming it's mostly a metaphor, did the identity of Number One symbolize? And what about that ape mask?
    • That we are, in many ways, ultimately prisoners of ourselves — our own personalities and hang-ups, our own prejudices and preconceptions, our own experiences and education, our own darker sides and baser instincts (hence the ape mask — a less-evolved relative of humanity).
  • It just bugs me that no one else mentions how hot Patrick McGoohan is in this show. Yes, shallow.
    • We suppose.
    • Just because we don't always talk about it doesn't mean we don't think it. The man was beautiful.
      • I love you, Unknown Troper, and I wish we could be BFF's for life. Or something. That man *was* beautiful.
  • Why did the Butler pull a Heel–Face Turn?
    • He works for whomever he perceives to be in charge. In "Once Upon A Time", Number Two says "He thinks you're the boss now," which pretty much sums it up. I think a more interesting question is why did Number Two pull a Heel–Face Turn after Number Six freakin' killed him?
      • I think Number Two ultimately blamed Number One for the whole mess anyway. It was obvious as of "Once Upon A Time" that he was growing to resent those he answered to, and at the end of his monologue in "Fall Out" he rages at Number One — even to the point of spitting in One's camera "eye".
      • Number Two is himself a prisoner; he just happens to be one of higher status. Nevertheless, he's come to resent being a prisoner.
      • Number Two was not only himself a prisoner, he also lamented his own breaking. Even in the spin-off comic, where he celebrates Six's fall, he deeply regrets it at the same time. Six is not a character easily explained; why should Two be?
  • This one's a niggle; for keeping track of work-credit transactions, they use little cards that vendors punch holes into; doesn't seem very efficient. Didn't they already have magnetic stripe cards in the 1960's?
    • The organisation behind the Village could be bureaucratic and slow to change things like that. Equally, it could be part of the whole 'retro' vibe of the Village.
    • While the technology for magnetic stripe cards existed at the time, it was far from widespread, and the audience probably wouldn't have known what it was. Also, it's not as inefficient as you might think. It's a cashless economy of not too many people, and presumably the cards arrive in the mail once per week. It's certainly less complicated and more efficient than distributing cash, and while centrally generating credits would be better it would also be extremely difficult in the 60's.
      • Given the general caliber of computer technology available, magnetic stripe cards would be essentially the same amount of work anyway. Records of earnings would almost certainly have to be kept in paper ledgers, and then the cards individually coded with the right amount. Compared to marking the right number of boxes on cards, it's about the same amount of effort either way.
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    • This is from the Roleplaying Game, but it's cogent. The Village doesn't actually have an economy; the work-credit cards are more like a child's allowance for good behavior than an actual paycheck, and the government runs all the stores. What matters is that money is spent, not that it is collected. So punching out holes on a card is actually a fairly efficient means of limiting individual expenditures without requiring complicated ledgers.
      • And, of course, the pointlessness of the effort is another way to wear people down.
  • Related to the above, every now and again Number 6 is seen buying stuff from the Village's stores. Where does he get the units? He doesn't really do any work there apart from trying to escape and being caught up in whatever Number 2 is planning that week, and the "good behavior allowance" theory doesn't apply to him either, because, well, duh, 6 is anything but well-behaved in the Village's standards.
    • There could be some kind of universal basic income operating in the Village; everyone gets the same base-line of credits to ensure they have access to the basics while they're there, with "good behaviour" increasing how many credits you have and how much you can buy. So Number 6 can still afford the basics.
    • It's implied there's a rough hierarchy of prisoners in the Village. Excepting perhaps the Numbers Two, we know of no one higher than Six, and the Twos don't use the work credits that we see. In contrast, for someone as dedicated as Six, having no job and all expenses met just agitates him. He has no distractions.
  • Why did number 6 resign?
    • Conscience burnout. Years of working in the morally-grey world of international espionage - "too many people had too many secrets," he says once - took its toll, and he wanted out. Of course, no one ever gets to really quit being a spy.
    • Once Upon a Time brings up an unidentified "State Secret" (as opposed to a Top Secret) and implies that he disagreed with the State, and his bosses, about how it was handled. Thus, he resigned as a matter of conscience. Completely consistent with the above, too.
    • Notably, at least one Two believes that Six is telling the truth in this regard, but feels like breaking him to be certain.
    • We'll never truly know. This is partly the point of the series; his reasons are his own. No one else — not his superiors, not his co-workers, not the Prime Minister or Parliament, not Number Two, not Number One, not even the viewer — is entitled to know them if he doesn't want them to.
  • In "The Chimes of Big Ben" Number Two says that bladed implements of all kinds are forbidden in The Village. If that is the case, how did the General carve his wooden chess pieces?
    • The show's contradictions on such fronts are probably intentional. Lots of little details that seem arbitrarily off suggest that anything in the Village isn't to be relied upon.
  • Why didn't Get Smart (which parodied a lot of spy movies and TV shows) spoof The Prisoner?
    • Well, this one kind of depends on the producers and writers of Get Smart, and if they haven't said and we have no access to their thoughts then there's no real way we can actually answer this. But given that The Prisoner only premiered in the United States in 1968 (two years before Get Smart ended), only ran for one season and was generally more of an obscure cult favourite than a popular mainstream success like most of the things Get Smart parodied (James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., etc.), it's likely that the producers either simply weren't aware of it's existence or, if they were, thought that most of the audience wouldn't be familiar enough with it to get the joke. It's also possible that, assuming they knew of it, they just couldn't find a way to include a parody of it in a way that they thought worked with the show or was funny.
  • Living in Harmony: In a false world depicted through the use of mind-altering drugs, paper cut outs, a fake town, and wireless headphones and microphone, how on earth does a mute antagonist make sense? If anything, you'd need him to talk MORE to build the image in the subject's mind, and to give resonance to the call-back at the end.

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