...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 3229 (again): THE PRISONER 42nd ANNIVERSARY: The Schizoid Man


Time in the Village is meaningless; time in Daddy's reviews doubly so, so I shall time-warp you back a week. And speaking of doubles…


No more psychology, no more "don't damage him", now the Village really starts messing with heads, in this classic "double agent" ploy with a cunning double-bluff twist. Is salvation all in the mind?

The Prisoner wakes up to find that he is now left-handed, moustachioed and Number 2's new best friend, Number 12, brought in on a special assignment to break a particularly recalcitrant prisoner to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance: Number 6.

This new Number 6 – in the end he turns out to be an agent calling himself "Curtis", so I shall refer to him as that throughout to try and cut down the confusion – immediately suggests that this is all a plot to break down his identity so that in the end he will tell all. Which, in a way, it is.

Curtis then proceeds to best the Prisoner at all his favourite pastimes: shooting, fencing, fisticuffs. Not surprising, really, when the Village's crude electric aversion therapy has him thinking he has to use his weaker left hand. Number 2 tries torturing Curtis with the Mind Rubbers while the Prisoner looks on. But then the Prisoner thinks of a better idea: he's been working with another Villager, Alison, on a mind-reading act, and he's sure that she will be able to tell who's who, as only the real Number 6 is "simpatico" with her. Naturally he flunks the test and Number 2 tells him it was a very silly idea and that he's only reinforced Number 6's sense of identity.

Alison, of course, is betraying him, but inadvertently she also provides his way out: another of her hobbies, photography, provides the evidence that too much time has passed, and with the illusion slightly cracked, he starts to regain his memories. One zap from a faulty standard lamp and he's regained his proper handedness too, and can cheerfully beat the truth out of Curtis. Then, when Rover helpfully eliminates his double, it's time to turn the tables on Number 2, as the Prisoner pretends to be Curtis and hopes to get the next chopper out of there.

There's just one snag: while Alison could tell the real Prisoner by instinct, Number 2 could tell the real Curtis too, and the Prisoner ends up going nowhere.

what's your number, please

Things have clearly advanced in the Village, and they are now willing to start using rather more invasive techniques to break the Prisoner, here physically conditioning him; he, however, presented with an opportunity, is still trying to escape, something he will try only once more before "Fall Out". For these reason we see this as the start of the four-story "second phase" of the Prisoner's battle with the Village, and hence after any of the "first phase" stories that we've watched so far.

The other stories from this part of the series are "The General", "A, B & C" and "Many Happy Returns"; why do we make this one first?

Well, "Many Happy Returns" is another "game changing" story, like "Free For All" and, as we'll see, after that the Prisoner has good reason to redirect his efforts from escaping to destroying the Village. Therefore we shall make that the last one of this sub-sequence.

"The General" and "A, B & C" are clearly linked as they both feature Colin Gordon as Number 2 and – uniquely – the opening exchanges of "A, B & C" are amended to "I am Number 2" instead of the more usual "I am the new Number 2". This, more than anything else, suggests that those episodes, even though they were originally shown weeks apart and in the "wrong" order, are not just connected but consecutive.

"The Schizoid Man" mainly stands alone. Things get more complicated if you take into account the dates… but only if you are going to take any calendar in the Village at face value (as if you can take anything at "face value" in "The Schizoid Man"). If you did, then this story starts on 10th February, after which the Prisoner spends several weeks being brainwashed and re-educated to be left-handed before waking up on… 10th February again. The fact that he's not surprised by this suggests that every day in the Village is 10th February, or at the very least he's used to dates being arbitrary. The fact that these dates flatly contradict the dates in "Many Happy Returns", the only other episode with dates, just adds to the impression that the calendar is pretty useless for "dating" the episode.

However, at the conclusion the Prisoner – trying to bluff his way out as "Number 12" – has a striking exchange with Number 2.

Number 2: "the General isn't going to have you shot"

The Prisoner: "we'll see when I make my report to him"

Number 2 [puzzled]: "that's a rather odd thing to say"

The implication being that the General isn't a person, but also that the Prisoner hasn't considered this possibility. Now, as it happens – spoiler alert – that's not the sort of mistake the Prisoner would be expected to make after the events of "The General". So we can arrive at an order for these stories that goes: "The Schizoid Man" (which is before) "The General" (followed by the same Number 2 in) "A, B & C" and (concluding with the last great escape story) "Many Happy Returns".

the new number two

An astonishingly young Anton Rogers here plays Number 2 as an ambitious young turk, clearly on the up and clearly out to make a name for himself by breaking the unbreakable. He's very gung ho, and "into" his role in the scheme here – and interestingly it isn't his scheme (compare with Leo McKern's Number 2 failing in "The Chimes of Big Ben" and being told "it was a good idea").

This Number 2 is a more than competent actor – but then spies have to be, don't they – putting on a matey, clubbable persona for his interactions with the-Prisoner-as-Number-12, seemingly capable of improvising quickly within character around "Number 12's" attempted proof with the Alison, first looking nervous about the suggestion, then berating "Number 12's" stupidity when it "goes wrong".

In character, he's contemptuous of pen-pushers and their pensions, and occasionally witty – his suggestion that once he's finished "he won’t know whether he's Number 6 or the cube root of infinity". But he clearly likes things to be ordered and predictable, and gets angry when they don't go to plan: when the Prisoner disappears in the night, and again when it seems his extremely valuable prisoner has been accidentally Rovered to death. Defeated, though, he seems relatively phlegmatic.

Having said that, the "going wrong" is clearly scripted, and he's much less good at covering up his growing suspicions when the Prisoner missteps in his bluff as Curtis.

There are a few moments, his reflective "old man" interactions with the Prisoner when he believes him to be Curtis, that seem written for an older actor, one who could have spent a few years knocking around a bit and be a contemporary of someone of McGoohan's age; interestingly he starts to be more matey – more "in character" again – once he starts to doubt that this is Curtis, and he starts to throw in test questions.

Ultimately, he's just not very interesting, a high-flyer fast tracked from middle-management perhaps, but not a power in the way earlier Number 2's have been. To be fair though, having two Patrick McGoohans on the screen is enough to force any number of people into the background.

follow the signs

To start with the crushingly banal: 12 is 6's Double.

What is more interesting is that under all this, Number 2 makes a significant victory as for most of the episode the Prisoner actively asserts that he is Number 6.

"I am Number Six," he says, "it is you who are doing the claiming!"

What he should say, of course, is that the other man may claim what he likes, but he is a free man.

And we have Alison, Number 24, who is 12 doubled too, though unusually for the Village she gets called by name. She is also the first pretty woman we've seen whom the Prisoner hasn't rejected or chased away. In fact his relationship with her is surprising in several ways: friendly, almost paternal, he doesn't just seem relaxed in her company but used to it, as though they've been friends now for some time. This might suggest a longer than usual gap between the last episode (in our case "Free For All") and this one during which he seems to have not just settled down but actually started to engage in an almost normal social life in the Village.

I'd suggest that this is a consequence of his total failure in "Free For All": he's realised that his "run like the blazes, first chance I get" approach is getting him nowhere and costing him a lot, so he's paused for a reassessment.

But trust from him is unusual, especially of a woman. It would certainly be in keeping with the Village's tactics over the last several episodes (as we watched them) to have deliberately introduced a young woman to him as either part of this specific scheme or their longer term plan to exploit his chivalry but, for the same reason, it seems to be highly out of character for him to have taken to trusting her.

What seems most likely is that he comes to trust her because he believes he's found an empirical test of his instinct to trust her: their uncanny trick with the Zener Cards.

Remembering that it's the Sixties and mind-over-matter is "in", for the purposes of this episode, the possibility of a mental "rapport" or "link" between two people is treated as, if not an out-and-out fact, certainly a reasonable possibility. It's not a straight acceptance of telepathy; the Prisoner himself says it's more complicated than that, and it's more implied that they are – subconsciously – tipping each other off with non-verbal clues and body language, as in the moment where he turns with his lighter ready for the cigarette she has prepared behind his back.

This then is his test, a much more complicated version of what he tried in "Checkmate": he believes certain things about Alison, and some of those are supported by the way she seems to respond to him, so he therefore believes other things about her too.

It's never actually clear whether they've corrupted her, probably while zapping the Prisoner with electric sticks, or if it was a set it up from the very beginning. She could have been selected (with or without her knowing it) on the basis of a particularly empathic personality or suitability to form a bond with the Prisoner or her entire mind reading act could be, well, an act.

But the implication of the cigarette moment, and later her telling "Curtis" that she wouldn't do it again clearly knowing that this is the Prisoner pretending to be Curtis, is that the link is in some way genuine and that it was the scene in the Green Dome, where she miscalls four out of five of the Prisoner's cards and then aces Curtis's run (easily done with a doctored deck and a memorised sequence, or prearranged signals between Curtis and the stooge or even a cunningly placed mirror or two), that was faked.

Which makes this another "win" for the Village in their longer term game: they've taken something genuine and used it to create more distrust in him generating further alienation.

One of the classic "Prisoner puzzlers" is why Rover kills Curtis. Both men, superficially identical, give the correct password but the village Guardian murders one of them, fortunately the "right" one. Why?

Alex half in jest suggests that it's because Rover is really pissed off: he's just been set off in pursuit of an empty Mini Moke, the guard dog literally chasing cars, the first time he's actually seen to make a mistake, and wants to take it out on someone.

My suspicion is one of logic: if both "Number 6's" have the password then Rover can infer that Curtis has broken and betrayed the Village. Punishment is swift, as the Judoon might put it. Or maybe Rover thinks it's the Riddle of the Osirians: one of these mummies always tells the truth and one is lying; since the Prisoner always tells the truth he gives the right password, but since Curtis is always lying… Of course, the Prisoner then convinces Number 2 that Rover has just assassinated their top prize and Number 2 orders the Guardian recalled immediately. You can, if you like, imagine Rover bouncing up and down in impotent fury confined to his lava-lamp for the rest of the story.

As for picking the right one to squish, well that's not hard: the Prisoner and Curtis may look identical to us, but who is to say how Rover perceives them? It might "sniff" DNA, or "taste" the electrical activity in their brains. As a semi-mystical blob of "the Unknown", it might as well see "souls" for all we know.

If there is a problem, it's the way that Curtis collapsed like a wet paper bag five minutes earlier: he goes from smug control to punch up to quivering wreck in the space of a single scene. Dramatically, after his confident self-assurance in the role of "Number 6", this makes no sense at all. Of course, metaphorically the Prisoner has, like Austin Powers, recovered his "mojo" and Curtis folds before it; in the episode's own language, and as flagged up earlier by Number 2's Haitian controller, the Prisoner has reclaimed his "soul" along with his right hook – ironically his soul is restored rather than stolen by a photograph.

who is number one?

Once again, Patrick MGoohan shows why this series really is all about him. Here he gets to play ego and super-ego to himself.

(Which means Rover as the id – a great big blobby death-wish, a formless beast driven by emotions, anger, lust, fear – is surely just as obvious, not least when "the id" finally – not to mention literally – does what it always wanted to and overwhelms "the super-ego".)

Oh, come on, all that "subconscious connection" stuff and you're not thinking Freud?

McGoohan as Curtis is both exaggerating and commenting on the Prisoner's usual mores and morals: when he's in control he is more arrogant, more obnoxious, more in control; when he loses it, he is more pathetic. Meanwhile McGoohan as the Prisoner struggles to realise his proper self until he confronts and overcomes his remembered trauma. Only by integrating the two – "becoming" his other self – can he escape from his imposed reality. And of course he hasn't integrated himself, which is why he doesn't get away.

"The Schizoid Man" would be a very clever twist on an almost clich├ęd spy drama trope: the doppelganger. But McGoohan's almost self-satirising performance lifts it to be a superb episode of "The Prisoner" as well. A series that screams "Who are you" from its opening titles really has to analyse its lead character.

Or perhaps it's just an excuse for McGoohan to be both characters in the punch-up for the trailer.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.



Moor Larkin said...

I always felt Rover killed Curtis because he showed fear and tried to run away. Didn't Six keep telling him to stay still? I think Rover was just like any other guard-dog. If you show fear they're more likely to bite you. There need be no reason other than that. Six took the opportunity to try a doppelbloof, but tripped over the fact that *his* wife was dead...... oops.

Millennium Dome said...

It's a nice theory, but I'm afraid not: Rover just bounds up and roars at the pair of them and they both say "Schizoid Man" one after the other. It may just be as mundane as the Prisoner saying it first.

In fact, he's saved this week by a couple of rather whopping coincidences: first there is the combo of a bruised finger and Alison's handy Polaroid that proves how much time has passed, triggering his memory recovery; and second, luckily he runs into a couple of Village toughs for a scrap – rather than Rover – and so knows that Gemini is not the real password.

Moor Larkin said...

I watched it again and still think physical fear is what seems to lay behind Rover's choice. The little fisticuffs before the two sixes leave his house has the superciliously arrogant Number 12 reduced to spilling his guts after Six gives him a bit of a beating. 12 tells Six both the password and his name and is clearly a beaten and spent force.

Once outside Six says the password and stands his ground, but 12 says it, backing away, repeats it in increasing fear as he continues to back away, and then as Rover moves, he panics completely and runs away - quickly caught by the guard-dog.

Definitely fear that lies behind it albeit the details are not as I initially recalled. I daresay we might be intended to infer something about *strength of character* from this.

Bob The Fish said...

"In fact, he's saved this week by a couple of rather whopping coincidences: first there is the combo of a bruised finger and Alison's handy Polaroid that proves how much time has passed, triggering his memory recovery; and second, luckily he runs into a couple of Village toughs for a scrap – rather than Rover – and so knows that Gemini is not the real password."

In fact, he didn't actually need the first one at all. Once he knows that "Gemini" isn't the real password, he could have gone to see number 2 and asked him why, if he's really number 12, has he got a bogus password? Finding the photo wasn't necessary, even though it happened first.