Still Trying to Wrap My Head Around ‘The Prisoner’

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The Prisoner seemed like the perfect project for AMC. It’s high-brow, a bit pretentious, and lets us down easy now that Mad Men is over with. I’m not exactly sure why the decision was made to cram all six episodes within three days of each other, as I would have been more than happy to turn in for one a night at a time for a month and a half, but here we are, and the entire series has run its course by midweek.

Let me get this out of the way, I have never seen the original Prisoner, I have zero idea what it’s about other than “Big Brother” and for that reason this will be the ONLY review you read online of the show that isn’t constantly comparing it the original. The best quote I’ve read so far, “Sure The Prisoner is smart and stylish, but is it really The Prisoner?” What the ****?

Whatever, I’m going to let this remake stand on its own, and we’ll see how it does existing as its own entity. In my estimation? It did pretty damn well, as the entire thing had me gripped from start to finish, and thanking my stars I only had to wait three days to get answers. But still, a bad call on scheduling there boys, you could have had me for an entire season if you wanted.

How do I describe this show? It’s like The Matrix meets The Cell meets The Truman Show meets Lost. If that makes any sense to you, then you’re way the hell ahead of me.

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“Oh my God, this is the worst acid trip ever.”

A man known only as Six wakes up in the middle of a desert, he stumbles around until he meets another man, running away from bullets behind shot at him. Six rescues, but the man ultimately dies, and his final words are of escape.

Six trucks himself through the desert and stumbles up on a town that might as well be called Pleasantville, but it’s called the Village, and no matter who he asks and how far he runs, he finds out that where he is, there is ONLY the Village.

I honestly can’t get into all the twists and turns the plot takes from here on out, and as the show is already over, I’m going to do a spoiler-heavy post-mortem. Ye who wish it to be unspoiled turn back now and DVR the reruns, but those who want to discuss what happened, stay with me.

The entire time the show was running, I didn’t feel like I was going to be satisfied by the end, like there was no explanation that was going to make sense and satisfy what the last five hours had been building toward. I felt like I did going into this final season of Lost, that they can’t possibly explain all the mysteries they’ve created, it’s just not physically possible.

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It’s nice to see him in a non supervillain/wizard role. Errr actually sort of both in this.

But The Prisoner does, sort of. We learn that the Village is a different plane of consciousness, beneath the subconscious, somewhere we all have access to. We learn that two’s wife is what’s holding the entire place together, and without someone in a constant dream state, the plane of consciousness is unstable. We learn why she’s doing it, to keep her son who was born on that plane alive. And we learn why Symmacore is doing it, to “retrain” people into becoming better workers and citizens.

Two’s master plan unfolded nearly perfectly. The entire time it was clear he was playing with Six, goading him to do…something, but in the end when everything comes full circle, Two loses an imaginary son, but gets his real life wife back, something he’s more than happy to go back to as you can tell by how eagerly he puts that grenade in his mouth and pulls the pin. And last of all, he’s converted Six into believing in the power of the Village to heal, and puts him in charge with HIS girlfriend now the dreamer, while he goes on his merry way.

What I don’t understand is how all the other people get to the Village in the first place. Clearly Six is fading in and out of the real world and the Village as the show is happening, as are, it turns out, all the people he meets there, who all have real life counterparts. How is it they’re hooked up to the Village? How do they get there? It’s clearly not ALL dependent on the mind of the dreamer, as the place doesn’t cease to exist when that person wakes up, rather it’s a place that it seems anyone can go, but how does one get “brought” there?

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“You don’t exist” is way more of a bummer than “you’re adopted.”

Also, I don’t quite understand what exactly the “reform” aspects of the Village are. Is living a normal life, doing a menial job and raising an imaginary family in your subconscious enough to change your behavior in real life? And what’s the point of all the surveillance? That part of The Prisoner seemed to be a carryover from the old miniseries, but what’s the point of it here? Couldn’t they just abduct people and send them to the Village? What’s the point of all the spying, both in the real world and in the Village? I don’t understand the social commentary here if there is supposed to be some. It’s…bad to be watched by a higher power? Sure, I guess, but what the hell does that have to do with anything else in this show? Someone with an English Lit degree is going to have to explain this one to me.

So even though I didn’t quite grasp everything, I got enough of it to enjoy The Prisoner, and part of me wishes it was long than only six hours, though I doubt most people’s attention spans could handle the sort of mind-****ery found in this series.

I have much respect for Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen for “stooping so low” to do TV. But this is art, not a Lifetime original movie, and both men should be proud of what they made here, as should the rest of the cast whose names I don’t quite know. It’s a shame people are knocking this due to misguided comparisons to the original. Viewed by itself, it IS smart and stylish, and THIS Prisoner is worth watching, no matter what exactly it was that came before it.

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Dear Lord, can I EVER film something where I’m not attached to a piece of wood getting tortured?


  • guy in the grandma chair

    well said. very entertaining no doubt. i think it’s worth a second watch when i have the mental capacity to handle it…

  • Andy

    I liked it as well. However, I thought the first half was much better than the second half. But again, I agree with you that I think this could have been solved by making this an actual series. The second half just seemed too rushed as they tried to cram in all the twists and answers. If they were trying to drum up sales of the dvds for the original series then it worked. I am definitely interested to see that show to see why everyone is knocking this remake.

  • Christian

    The surveillance is to force everyone to not ask too many questions or really challenge their Village reality. 2 wants everyone to be happy and live a carefree life in the Village, but most anyone is going to start to get curious about their existence. Is this all there is? Where do those busses come from? Where do these holes go? What do these dreams mean? Etc.

    So he uses coercion to get people to just stop worrying about all that and to focus on just watching silly TV shows and having no cares in the world. The show postulates that existing on this level has a calming effect on our conscious mind, and thus the cab driver in real life states “it feels like my brain’s been cleaned” or something to that effect.

    Incidentally, the entire thing works in a Christ/Satan analogy that works pretty well. Satan, aka 2, has a plan for humanity but in order to participate in it, he’ll coerce everyone into choosing the right path. And the celebrity and glory goes to the venerated 2. 6 also has a plan for humanity, but he’s going to use a softer touch. “There’s got to be a better way, a right way to do this,” he states at the end. Rather than scare everyone into silence, he’s going to let them make their own decisions. The consequence of taking the wrong path is a return to their chaotic lives because they’ll fail/die in the village. The reward for following the right path is an idyllic Village existence and a healthy conscious existence. And of course, 6 will have none of the ‘glory.’ Ironic, then, that Jim Caviezel played 6, huh?