Synopsis: Enter the mysterious world of The Prisoner. Nobody resigns from Summakor. Once he had a name, a job with the mysterious spy-ops outfit Summakor and a life in New York. Now he has a number. He’s called 6, and everything has changed since he quit the many-tentacled agency. Suddenly he lives in The Village, a too-perfect paradise wretched with conformity. A society where all names are numbers. Where secret eyes watch over hollow bliss. Where dissent is rare and whispered. Where 6 knows he has one option: escape. Jim Caviezel portrays disoriented, determined 6 and Ian McKellen plays the serenely cunning Village overseer called 2 in a brilliantly re-imagined, six-episode sci-fi riff on the Patrick McGoohan series of the 1960s. Are 6’s experiences real? Happenings of a parallel universe? Imaginings of his own walled-in mind? Enter The Village…
eyelights: the mystery surrounding The Village. the cryptic analogies to a post-9/11 society.
eyesores: Jim Caviezel’s “manly” shouts. Ruth Wilson’s peculiar eyebrows and baby lips. the incoherence of the writing.
“Why am I here? It has nothing to do with me, any of this.”
A remake of cult classic ‘The Prisoner’ had long been rumoured.
I remember hearing about a potential feature-film vehicle for Mel Gibson as far back as the late ’90s (along with a remake of ‘Fahrenheit 451‘, to which he apparently owns the rights). As a fan of the concept of the original ‘The Prisoner’, I was intrigued, if slightly sceptical that it would be done properly.
So when I discovered that a TV mini-series rendition of the Brit classic had been produced (honestly, I don’t know how, but I only found out after the fact), I immediately read up on it. A series as confused as ‘The Prisoner’ could be redeemed if conceived by the right people, if penned smartly; it has so much potential.
I want to like ‘The Prisoner’.
The idea that a secret service agent resigns but is then captured and interned in a mysterious village somewhere until he reveals his secrets is veritably creepy to anyone who believes in freedom. Refusing to comply on principle alone (Principles? What are those?), he tries to escape but is constantly dragged back to The Village in some fashion.
He is also constantly being manipulated and lied to, as these unknown forces try to pry his secrets from him. Paranoia and a sense of hopelessness pervade the show, but it’s all tapered by this one man’s righteousness, by his desire to remain a free man, despite all the forces bearing down on him. He’s a jerk, but he’s a heroic jerk.
The problem is that the show doesn’t deliver on its conceit. Its episodes fail to cement into a solid series, being inconsistent on the whole. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and that’s a huge problem when you’re watching a man struggle to regain his freedom – you want to see some progression, and you want to see method in the madness.
Because ‘The Prisoner’ is mad. So very very mad. It often doesn’t make any sense, really.
I desperately wanted to like the 2009 version of the ‘The Prisoner’.
I wanted to see a show deliver on its promises and show us an intelligent, willful man gradually make his way through the storm, through powerful winds pushing him back, knocking him down. I wanted to see him refuse to give up and eventually either get out or lift the veil on the mystery that is The Village.
Unfortunately, ‘The Prisoner (2009)’ is a frank mess.
It simply doesn’t make any sense. One could say that this is fitting, but I believe that it could have been complex without being entirely confusing. This mini-series is so obtuse in its delivery that I have to wonder who it’s geared toward – most certainly not the lowest common-denominator, I’d have to wager.
So whom, then?
This version of the story takes us into similar abstract areas such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Inception’ (word is that Christopher Nolan was once interested in this property… surprise, surprise) do. The key difference is that whereas ‘The Matrix’ delivers a twist and ‘Inception‘ is twisty, ‘The Prisoner (2009)’ is twisted in a bunch.
It tries so hard to offer a challenge that it gets lost in its own labyrinth and never properly leads the viewer through it. Instead, it puts a blindfold on, describing the journey in bits along the way, leaving us incapable of picturing it in our minds as we go along. Then it lifts the veil at the end to deliver us to the exit.
We don’t really know how we got there, we just know that we are there. And, looking back, we’re pretty sure that the description of our journey isn’t really complete and/or coherent. We’ve been deceived, and none of it makes any sense – at least, not collectively. Given the key to The Village, we don’t even know what to make of it.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
This version of ‘The Prisoner’ throws new concepts into the mix that weren’t present in the original. The Village is more of an abstraction, some other plane in which people can exist, separate from their “real” selves. But none of it explained (or at least, it was too confounded to be understandable).
-How does this other plane-thing work?
-Why are people in this other plane?
-How do people exists on two planes at once?
-How does one person’s consciousness meet another on this alternate plane, given that one’s subconscious is a personal thing – and especially since it’s suggested that there are multiple levels of consciousness?
-How do consciousnesses have offspring together?
-How do some consciousnesses disappear from this particular plane, and what happens to them?
-What about the black holes… what ARE they? And WHY are they?…and on and on and on.Seriously, it’s fine to put new concepts out there in play, to challenge your audience. I welcome that. But we all have to agree that there has to be some form of explanation for it, right? Or, at the very least, there has to be clear enough clues that help the audience figure it out by themselves – a blueprint, so to speak.
Not in ‘The Prisoner (2009)’.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The story is broken into 6 parts (as opposed to the original show, which had 17 episodes) and each one is named after an original episode (either directly or inspired by). The difference here is that they are similar in name only, with the exception of the opening and closing segments, which have some minor parallels:
1. Arrival: This is when 6 arrives in The Village. It’s all plot set-up and it starts off okay. The basic concept is laid down and we also get glimpses of an alternate reality that 6 exists/existed in. What this means is unclear as of yet. Is it a dream? A previous life? Interestingly, Patrick McGoohan was approached to play the old man at the beginning, who is saying he had escaped. That would have been a cool cameo, but it didn’t happen – McGoohan wanted to play Number 2. Weird note: 6 goes to his home in The Village, but it’s not clear how he figured out where to find it – it’s as though he stumbled into it. Little did we know at the time that this incoherence would be standard far for the series.
2. Harmony: For whatever reason, Number 2 decides to try to coax Number 6 into believing that he has a family, confusing him into going along with them and hanging about. By this point, we have to figure out why Number 6 is there, who he is, and what Number 2 wants from him; all we know is that 2 is bent on toying around with him. Why 6 doesn’t just storm off and try to escape The Village instead of milling about with his “relatives” is beyond me. It seems out of character.
3. Anvil: Again, for reasons I don’t understand, Number 2 decides to get Number 6 to work for him as a surveillance expert, shadowing his most trusted man. Again, for reasons I don’t understand, Number 6 goes along instead of trying to break out. The one thing that’s great about this episode is that it shows how deep the surveillance goes, that even children are trained to watch others. Holy paranoia! The bad thing is that one of those children plants a bug in Number 2’s home. How she got access, how she pulled it off, is a mystery – and is virtually impossible, to top it all off.
4. Darling: Number 6 is chemically coerced into falling in love by Number 2. This is just a ridiculous episode that defies all explanation. Apparently 2 wants to break 6’s heart and thus break his will, but it seems like such a convoluted way to go about things. Just brainwash the bugger, why don’t you? There are ages-old techniques for breaking people that would work, so why do this? I started to wonder about the show’s lack of focus by this point: where was it going, what with two episode left?
5. Schizoid: For reasons that are unexplained (recurring theme, much?), an alternate Number 6 starts popping up and stirring the pot with everyone 6 knows. Then Number 2 goes off and hides out, pretending to be an alternate 2 – again, inexplicably. Most of the episode revolves around 2 and his casual wanderings about The Village. It’s pointless, baffling, and is merely a poorly conceived spin on the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within”.
6. Checkmate: In this final episode, we discover that this version of the show is merely a rehash of concepts explored in ‘Inception’ – but done poorly. The good thing is that it ends. The bad thing is that it doesn’t really answer many of the questions leftover from the previous episodes. They easily could have skipped episode 2-5 and cut to the chase – it wouldn’t have been less coherent, really. Heck, I don’t think it can be.
There are a number of key elements that are different in this iteration of the story, and that really change the flavour of the piece. For instance, there is the lack of consistently recurring elements, such as:
- the opening credits leading right into the episode.
- the original emblem (the penny-farthing bike) is missing.
- the weird roaring Rover balls which were omnipresent and ominous.
- the notion that Number 2 is disposable, always changing to suit the needs of whoever runs the place.
- the overall vibe (going from ‘1984’ to pseudo-existential ‘Matrix’ BS).
Then there are also the extremely different developments, such as:
- The bizarre focus on Number 2 and his personal life, which are inconsequential in the original series. Here, there is only one Number 2, and no Number 1. In some episodes, Numbers 2 is more important than Number 6, becoming the focus of the show.
- Number 6 has a love interest – but he doesn’t know about it. She just falls in love with him, pining away on the sidelines and we don’t know why. This is only important because she’s a recurring figure and her behaviour grows more erratic as she is torn between her loyalties to The Village and her inexplicable desire for 6.
- The Prisoner’ makes several allusions to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath, but it remains too sketchy for us to connect the pieces together with the overarching plot. Why is Number 6 told to follow the twin towers? What does the 9/11 themes have to do with anything, in the end?
To make matters worse, we are saddled with an unpleasant protagonist. While Patrick McGoohan came off as a total dick, shouting, being rude, forceful, …etc., Jim Caviezel comes off like a cross between Pierce Brosnan and Christian Bale, but with none of the charisma/presence.
In fact, Caviezel was downright unpleasant to watch; he simply didn’t feel real and was unconvincing in pretty much all scenarios. And whenever I had to listen to him bellow anything I couldn’t help but laugh and desperately wanted to smack him senseless – his delivery was no better than Stallone’s.
…which left me with nothing to cling to.
Not only is our protagonist unwatchable, but the whole mini-series falls apart at the end with some BS explanation as to what The Village is. It doesn’t explain how it exists and why, or how anything in the shows really ties into that concept. Instead it gives us a sketchy notion instead of clear answers.
As I watched the show, I remained interested for about half the way, figuring that the “clues” were eventually going to lead us to some coherent conclusion, to some splendid unveiling of the truth. Alas, that is not so, and as we dragged closer to the end, and I realized that it was all rubbish, I couldn’t help but get frustrated with the unfulfilled promises and squandered potential.
Hence the rating, even though it has some intriguing qualities.
All this to say that, if I can help it, I will never be trapped in the same room with ‘The Prisoner (2009)’ ever again.
Date of viewing: March 10 + 13, 2013