Jamie Campbell Bower
Written by -
Directed by -
OTHER SUPER SPY SHOWS
The New Avengers
In the sixties THE PRISONER was an examination of its times wrapped up in arcane symbolism and trippy storytelling. Over its run, it considered big ideas such as freedom, social responsibility, madness and betrayal before becoming just plain wierd.
It's 2010 and perhaps the themes of freedom and social responsibility are even more significant today than they were then as global terrorism leads to erosions of freedom and the surveillance culture runs amok. Time perhaps to revisit THE PRISONER.
This new version comes as a six part mini-series and certainly doesn't stick to the template of the original, going its own way. Sadly, its own way seems to be into murky direction and odd edits trying to make the shoe seem much more significant than it really is. The central performances from John Caviezel as Six and Sir Ian McKellen as Two are chopped to pieces, making it impossible for either to create a coherent character
Occasional dips into the imagery of the original show, such as the balloon-like Rovers, are such garbled-throwaway moments that of you aren't conversant with the original then they would be utterly meaningless.
The time is indeed ripe for a re-examination of the themes of THE PRISONER, but this remake is an opportunity not so much wasted as drowned in noise.
A man wakes up in some mountainous deserts with no memory of where he is or how he got there. He encounters someone who is being chased and who identifies himself as 93 before he dies. Shortly afterwards, the man walks into The Village, a community where everyone goes by numbers instead of names and believes that there is nothing else, but the Village. The leader of the community, Two, is less help than anyone else.
The original PRISONER was wilfully obscure at times, always surreal and determined to play games that would turn the simplest of stories into a challenge for its audience. It is the ultimate cult TV show and remains one of the most discussed science fiction series of all time. Possibly the only thing that was clear about it was the set up. We knew that Number Six was a spy who tried to retire and was brought to the Village to give up his secrets.
The new version of the show is much less clear about its set up. Six has memories of another place and time, as did 93, but nobody else seems to believe that there is anything outside The Village. There are children here also, who cannot be in on any conspiracy and so the nature of the Village is very much more obscure, at least for the present.
Six resigned, though from where we don't know, and seems more interested in his memories of a girl that he tried to date rather than finding out the nature of the place he has arrived in. The inclusion of 147 and his wife's home life also diffuse the focus away from Six a little bit, something that the original never did.
The acting is perfectly fine, but the characters are ill-defined. Six has amnesia, so that's explainable, but Two simply speaks in riddles and is not very threatening at all. The introduction of what appears to be a son and a sick wife to the Village's leader as a way of humanising him further dilutes the focus.
The flashbacks and the intrusion of sudden bursts of CCTV footage go further to muddy the waters, but not in a good way. This is the opening episode and so we have to allow some leeway, and there are interesting things going on that are promising, but the storytelling will have to improve in future episodes.
Six is rescued from the desert by his brother, or a man claiming to be his brother anyway. He takes up his job as a bus driver for the Village Tour and even earns a holiday at the Escape resort for his new 'family', but as he unravels, Six learns that family might not be everything.
There are so many good things hidden away in this episode that it's a shame to report what an utter mess it is. The use of family and Six's need to belong is a good start. Ian McKellen's Two is a bit sinister under all the campness, there is interesting symbolism in the anchor and the psychotherapy sessions are very much in the spirit of the original show.
Unfortunately, all of this is muddled and jumbled up by direction that seems more intent of creating confusion than anything else. Scenes jump from place to place and characters flit into and out of the story with no real point or purpose. The seaside appears and then disappears, as does Six's brother, not that the family care very much.The mishmash of styles and jagged cutting create disorientation and not in the good way that the original show managed.
Six's history is revealed in flashback. He was a worker for a company processing CCTV camera footage from all across the world, looking for patterns, to find out what's happening. He apparently found out more than some people were comfortable with. This is about the only comprehensible thing that the episode manages to say.
And then there's the Rover, the balloon-like guardian of the Village. It's appearance last week was so fleeting and mishandled that it looked more like a 'what happens next week' segment. It reappears again here and again a major moment is completely fluffed.
This show is looking like it is becoming a prisoner of its own style over substance approach.
Two pairs up Six with 909 in an undercover role to unearth the inhabitants of the Village who are dreaming of another life. His first suspect takes drastic action, but Six learns that 909 has been having an affair with Two's son and Two is keeping his own secrets.
The deliberately vague and unsatisfying storytelling isn't necessary to making the elements of this story come together and instead tears them apart and leaves the audience wondering what was real, what was a dream and is it worth the effort findign out? The events of last week have been completely forgotten and Six finds himself in a part of the Village that has bikers and strip clubs and generally undesirable elements. Where do the bikers get all the petrol for their bikes anyway?
The central story of Six being sucked into 909's paranoid world and the discovery of his link to Two's son is an intriguing one that wouldn't have been out of place in the original series, but it all gets lost in a welter of imagery that adds up to not a lot, undercutting the effect of what has gone before. In its desire to be as obscure as its predecessor and just being opaque, the show is proving how hard the effect of the original was to achieve.
Six is forced into being considered by the local dating agency. The woman that they choose for him is the same woman that he dreams about in his alternative life in New York, the one who was asking questions about why he retired. Intrigued, he strikes up a relationship with the woman, who in the village is blind. This makes him the target of two women.
Now this is much more like it. The central storyline is strong and the shading, doubts and obliqueness all come from the storytelling rather than deliberately confusing editing and florid camerawork. The relationship with the dating agency girl casts down on the reality of Six's dreams of New York and might just possibly be part of a bigger plan to get him to confide in his doctor friend, who now realises that she loves him.
The sidebar story about a mysterious hole that has opened up in 147's yard and swallows up his daughter doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but does add to the nightmarish quality of the whole thing.
This is easily the best episode yet by a long way.Top
Six discovers that there is a man in the Village who looks exactly like him and who is out to kill Two. Two goes undercover amongst the ordinary people whilst his son learns the truth about his mother's drug-induced coma.
The sloppy storytelling and deliberately opaque symbolism continues to annoy here as the truth about Six and the connection of his old surveillance company and the Village are revealed, sort of. The apparently important holes in the ground are completely forgotten, as is the woman that Six nearly married. Six himself even manages to play second fiddle to the story of Two's son having a chat with his mother about why she allows herself to be kept in a pill-induced coma.
There is then suddenly a trip to the towers in the desert, a trip that ought to have been blocked by the Rover, but which isn't. All the obliqueness in the world is fine if the internal logic of a piece is consistent. Sadly, this isn't.Top
Six is summoned to the clinic when he comes over all feverish. In sessions with Two, he comes to understand the purpose of the Village.
This final episode of the rebooted series is as all over the place as the others have been, using edit cuts and directorial tricks to obscure the story with the aim of appearing more mysterious. It has two tricks up its sleeves the others didn't have, though. The first is the meaning of the Village; what it is and what is it's purpose. The second is a twist to end the series that would have had great impact had the show been able to make the character of Six more rebellious and determined than just plain confused.
All of this plays out in a reasonably satisfying fashion, but because by this point the audience really doesn't care very much it ultimately fails in its aims.Top
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