Review: The Prisoner (AMC Version)

The Thinker by Rodin

Number Six is back, along with Number Two, and along with many other villagers who have numbers but not names. The Village, which used to be on a mysterious island somewhere, is now in the middle of the desert yet has all the conveniences of modern life. Patrick McGoohan (the original Number Six) unfortunately went to meet his maker earlier this year at the age of 80. In his place is Jim Caviezel, who has starred in a number of prominent movies and actually played Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. This Number Six (or just Six) doesn’t work for the British Secret Service, but for some murky company based in New York City called Summakor. The company spends a lot of time monitoring people. Also, it’s a really good idea not to resign from Summakor unless retiring to a sterile village in the middle of nowhere is your idea of fun.

In the original series, the character playing Number Two usually switched with every episode. In this abbreviated mini-series version of The Prisoner (just six episodes) we have a recurring Number Two played by Sir Ian McKellen. This Number Two does not seem quite as obsessed about Number Six as in the original series. Yet, somehow this Number Six often ends up spending his nights in a clinic where dubious things are done to him largely without his knowledge.

In short, this is not your father’s The Prisoner. Yet of course it is creepy, just in different ways. This village comes complete with families, schools, and even village tours. Rover, the big amorphous weather balloon straight from the id is still around to try to frighten those trying to escape, but for the most part these villagers are too torn up inside from dealing with the surreal life in The Village to do much in the way of escaping. For most of them, the plasticity of The Village is ripping their souls apart.

In many ways, this version of The Prisoner is creepier. Gene therapy was not even in Patrick McGoohan’s wildest nightmares back in 1967, although in both versions we have many really long needles puncturing open flesh. Whatever Summakor is up to, they are good at getting people to forget their past lives, but not so good at making them hide some internal often-inchoate angst.

In many ways, this version is more of a homage to the final episodes of the original The Prisoner, as it operates on a much more metaphorical level. In the original show, you knew The Village was an actual place. In this version, it soon becomes clear that The Village may exist wholly in our minds. Using many flashbacks, we can see that many of the people who populated Six’s life when he lived in New York are also in The Village, although it takes him a long time to understand this.

This Village comes complete with its own underground, in this case a place where you can go to let off some steam, have some illicit sex and engage in activities like congregating with your fellow homosexuals that are not allowed on land. One of the villagers with sexual preference issues is 11-12 (Jamie Campbell Bower), the son of Number Two. His largely comatose mother spends much of six episodes mysteriously in bed in Two’s palatial home.

In this version, Six does try to escape a few times but seems much more engaged in Village life, and even helps spy on his fellow villagers. Mysterious holes open up on the grounds of The Village, sometimes swallowing up villagers. There is love to be found in The Village, but it is hard to know if it is real or genetically induced.

For me the best parts of this miniseries are the flashbacks to New York, particularly with Lucy (Haylee Atwell), a fellow employee of Summakor who has a brief but intense relationship with Six. Over the course of six episodes, Six’s past starts to fill in. For those of you who have seen the original series, in some ways its ending parallels that version, but in some ways not. This village is more a metaphor of modern society, man’s place in it, and the relationship if any between reality and detached consciousness.

Whether you find it better or worse than the original will depend in part on whether you saw the original. In many ways this version, while shorter, is better. In other ways, it is not quite as engaging or as fun. It is a delight to spend six episodes with Sir Ian McKellen because he is such a fine actor, but he is not your classic, obsessive Number Two. Rather he is more like a village caretaker, but why? To find out, watch all six episodes. I have seen all six episodes, all of which may not have yet been broadcast here in the states. I have my ways.

I doubt anyone who sticks with this version will be disappointed. I was not that happy with Jim Caviezel as Number Six, but at least he was more human and emotionally expressive than Patrick McGoohan’s ultra stoic version of Six. Instead, enjoy the minor characters. Ruth Wilson as 313 and Jamie Campbell Bower as 11-12 are particularly excellent.

The only real drawback to this version is that the story felt too rushed. To fully explore this village and its many permutations and eccentricities, they needed a more leisurely seventeen episodes, like the original series. Perhaps there will be a sequel to this miniseries where we get to learn more. Without giving any plot points away, I can say that at the end you will find out there is a new Number Two in charge.