The Prisoner remake: a load of number 2

Title for The Prisoner remake
When the title screen tells you to give up, you know you’re in trouble.

The short version: don’t waste your time watching last year’s remake of The Prisoner. Stick with the original.

Considered on its own merits, the remake isn’t terrible, but it never rises above mediocre either. There’s an over-reliance on camera trickery to create confusion on the part of the viewer, with lots of disjointed cuts between scenes that, at it worst, makes some episodes (particular the fifth one) simply difficult to follow. It can be hard to tell whether something is happening concurrently with another scene, or is a flashback, or a dream, or or an hallucination, or something else. Given that each of those happen with quite a bit of regularity, trying to disentangle the editing while making sense of the plot is a nontrivial task.

6 carries 93, wearing a dark shirt 6 seconds later, 6 is wearing a light shirt
Hey, no one noticed when John McClane’s shirt changed color, right?

It would have been nice if the editors had remembered to check for continuity between successive shots, though. Let’s get the basics before we start getting all fancy with the cuts, OK?

The remake does do a couple interesting things with the premise, and it certainly takes things in a very different direction than the original, but it does neither well enough to really stand on its own. And as a fan of the original, it’s impossible for me to evaluate the remake without constantly comparing it against the 1960s version. And there, it comes up far, far short of the mark.

Obviously, a remake is going to change some things. I understand that. Heck, the last time I wrote about a remake of something here, my major complaint was that it changed so little for most of the running time, except for the effects budget. But the The Prisoner remake makes the mistake of changing absolutely fundamental aspects of the original without providing a satisfying payoff for those changes.

The most grating is the issue of 6′s identity. In the original, Number 6 refuses to ever refer to himself as Number 6, the identity imposed upon him in The Village. He never calls himself by any number. He never wears the numbered identity badge that everyone else wears. There’s even an episode where Number 2 struggles to get him to even say the number six in any context.

Contrast the remake, where at the end of the second episode we see 6 screaming at 2 “I am 6, you bastard!” In the following episodes 6 shows no resistance to being identified as 6. The real Number 6 would die sooner than accepting that.

The Village
The remake’s Village is no Portmeirion.

The remake’s version of The Village and the people living there defies suspension of disbelief. The Village is surrounded by desert, and allegedly there is nowhere else. That’s right, the majority of people there accept The Village as being the entirety of human civilization, despite it obviously not having the industrial base needed to manufacture the cars and buses and everything else within it. This is taken to the extreme in the last episode, where we see people arriving by bus to The Village; not only can the new arrivals not explain where they arrived from, but no one besides 6 considers people arriving from allegedly nowhere as something worth questioning.

OK, maybe this isn’t entirely inexplicable, since it’s pretty obvious that the people in The Village live in abject fear of 2, and it would make sense that they would be terrified of voicing any opposition to what he tells them. Even though 2′s weapon of choice is sadistic psychological manipulation, he isn’t above orchestrating acts of terrorism to keep people in line, such as having a diner full of people blown up in the first episode in order to silence 554, where “silence” in this context means “put into a coma.” Although, given 2′s fondness of hand grenades, he may have simply done it himself.

2 holding a grenade
2′s the kind of guy who will throw a grenade at you and ask if you’ve had sex with your mother. I am not making this up.

In the original, most of the Number 2s didn’t sink to that level of obvious evil, and there was some ambiguity as to whether at least some of them were prisoners themselves who capitulated to The Village’s unseen masters. No, the remake’s 2 is pretty clearly evil. Nor is there any question in the remake as to 2 being in charge. This time around, when 6 asks “Who is number one?” — a recurring question in the original — the answer simply comes back that 2 is called 2 instead of 1 as a show of humility. Period.

I’m reluctant to call the remake The Prisoner In Name Only, but then there’s the issue of the episode titles. Each title is a one-word version of an episode of the original, but in only two of the six episodes is the plot even remotely related to the plot in the original. What’s the point, other than trying to slip in a shout-out?

It’s fitting how in the opening of the first episode we see 6 bury 93 in a shallow grave in the desert. 93 is wearing the same distinctive outfit that the original’s Number 6 wore. According to the commentary, the creators of the remake had even tried to get Patrick McGoohan to play the role of 93. I think that pretty much sums up symbolically what the remake does to the original.

Spoiler warning: If you don’t want me to spoil the endings of both the original and the remake, you better stop reading here.

The ending is downright depressing for fans of the original. Why?

2 wins.

Only in the last episode do we finally learn what 2′s goal even is, other than tormenting 6 and, to a lesser but still crucial extent, 313. 2 wants to escape, and to have 6 replace him. All of 2′s machinations throughout the series lead to 6 and 313′s decision to take over the roles of 2 and his wife, M2.

Curtis (2) and Helen (M2)
2 Curtis knows the secret to a happy and healthy Village is keeping your wife on a steady diet of potent drugs.

Unlike the original, which keeps the purpose of The Village and the goals of its unseen leadership vague, the remake ultimately explains everything. The Village is a shared subconscious construct that its inhabitants live in while still going about their lives in the real world. (Those “flashbacks” 6 has about what happened after he resigned? Those are actually happening concurrently.) Keeping The Village in existence somehow requires a “dreamer” to spend their time completely zoned out on sedatives and hallucinogens; that’s the role M2, the discoverer of The Village, plays. If she becomes lucid, The Village starts to literally fall apart.

According to 2, The Village’s purpose is therapeutic, allowing the people within it to go about their daily lives in the real world; the surveillance 6 had been doing in his job in the real world was being used to identify new troubled people to bring into The Village without their consent. In the real world, 2 shows 6 that 313, 6′s love interest, is hopelessly insane, and The Village is the only way for her to have a normal life. (Why 6 believes 2 at this point, especially regarding psychological treatment techniques, is beyond me. But then, 6 wasn’t there when 2 lobbed a grenade at The Village’s therapist.) 6 offers to go on the drugs to keep The Village from falling apart and dooming everyone there, and then 313 takes them instead to save 6 from spending the rest of his existence completely zoned out. 2 offs himself with a hand grenade, and 6 takes over; our last shot of him is sitting in the desert next to a zoned-out but crying 313 as he vows to do The Village right.

Meanwhile, 2 and M2 are just fine in the real world. It turns out dying in The Village has no ill effects on the real world, so 2 and M2 (who had been murdered by her “son” 11-12, who was himself purely a construct within The Village) suffer no ill effects. In fact, now that M2 is no longer taking the drugs that let her maintain The Village, she’s completely back to normal.

313 and 6-the-new-2
“It took me all this time to see how beautiful [The Village] is. [...] It has to be possible to do this the right way.”

That’s right. 2 escapes from the village, and 6 stays there voluntarily in order to improve it, instead of freeing everyone and destroying it once and for all. He as no qualms about keeping everyone in it there against their will, or even making any changes at the company managing the entire project.

Contrast that with the original’s ending, where Number 6 unmasks Number 1 and escapes The Village with Number 2 (who was himself a prisoner in The Village who failed to resist as long as Number 6 had done) in tow. Or at least, he escaped The Village as much as it’s possible to escape something that represents society, but he does preserve his independence and freedom. He is not a number, he is a free man. He most certainly does not pledge his love for The Village and work to continue it.

Patrick McGoohan must be rolling in his grave.

6 Responses

  1. Wow, that’s even more horrible than me getting rickrolled yet again by your overzealous anti-hotlink thing.

  2. Overzealous how? Are you doing any kind of Referer spoofing?

  3. I was Rick Rolled as well while using Google Reader. And then I was Rick Rolled when I went to your site. I presumed it was a result of your confusion with Memorial Day and April Fool’s Day.

  4. Google Reader, huh? That would make sense, since the Referer would be from that instead of Then your browser probably cached the images so the Rickroll still showed up when you visited the site directly. If you clear your cache and go to directly, it should work.

    I guess I’ll need to whitelist Google Reader. Sigh.

  5. I *think* I fixed the Google Reader problem, but I’d appreciate confirmation of that, since I don’t use Google Reader myself. Please remember to clear your browser’s cache before trying.

  6. The Google Reader problem is no longer a problem. I did not get Rick Rolled. Also, they drove off an island.

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