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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

7 Comments

  1. Cleofis
    July 24, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    Ah, The Prisoner, yet another Great Thing I've been meaning to watch for years and haven't yet. I really should get on that.

    "(not to mention a show that was a massive source of inspiration for at least one future creative figure)"

    If we're talking Trek creative figures, Brannon Braga I'd wager, and rarely for the better alas.

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  2. Aaron
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    Which seven are the intended ones? I always start watching this show and then get bored with the random filler episodes and never get to the end. However, maybe I should just watch the important ones in order to keep up my interest? Or since I've seen most of the first eight episodes plus the one where he escapes to England, I should just jump to the Western episode and the two final episodes.

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  3. Mitja Lovše
    July 24, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    The Prisoner is one of those series I kept hearing so much about and I was afraid to watch it, because I read all these good things about it. I thought I am gonna be overhyped and then hugely disappointed. Surprisingly, that was not the case. The series was better than the hype. This rarely happens and I think this speaks about its quality.
    I think the difference between The Prisoner and Star Trek is also that the theme is carefully interwoven into the fabric of the show. I think you mentioned that in your analysis, but it must be repeated. I believe Trek always wants to sound intelligent (even in J.J. Abrams' version), but sometimes it just comes off as clumsy, whereas The Prisoner never stumbles (but please – do not mention the remake).

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:22 am

    According to Patrick McGoohan, the only episodes he had intended and planned for the series, or at least the only ones essential to the main story arc, were:

    "Arrival"
    "Free for All"
    "Dance of the Dead"
    "Checkmate"
    "The Chimes of Big Ben"
    "Once Upon A Time"
    "Fall Out"

    All the rest were quite literally filler, written only to satisfy the seventeen episode count the network requested (which was already a compromise, as McGoohan wanted a seven part miniseries and the network wanted a returning, long-form serial).

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    July 24, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    "I believe Trek always wants to sound intelligent (even in J.J. Abrams' version), but sometimes it just comes off as clumsy, whereas The Prisoner never stumbles…"

    That's a pretty succinct way of putting it I feel.

    "(but please – do not mention the remake)"

    No worries! We will return to The Prisoner one day, but that's not how we're going to do it.

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  6. paranoidOne
    July 26, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    I've been following this blog since nearly the beginning, and as a lifelong Trekkie I've been enjoying it immensely. You've been a bit harder on some episodes than I would have been, and a bit kinder to others, but that's what makes it…fascinating (I didn't do that on purpose. I swear). Because of all that I'm a little sad that my first comment is a slightly nitpicky point about The Prisoner.

    You call the issue of why Number 6 resigned "Number Two's anal fixation on irreverent and inconsequential details," which is honestly an interpretation that never occurred to me. You're clearly more interested in the genre critique and the psychedelia than the actual spy fiction, which is valid. Especially given McGoohan's history. But within the spy story, the question of why he resigned is not inconsequential. It gets to Cold War issues of possible double agents and defectors. It is never made explicit which side the Number Two and the Village is on, and in some ways that's the point. But the idea that the West, in trying to determine if Number Six has defected would go to these bizzare lengths I've always felt is as important component as anything.

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    July 26, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

    Well first of all, welcome to the site and thanks for reading!

    IRT The Prisoner while I think the diegetic spy fiction explanation for the to-do over Number Six's resignation is certainly appropriate on that level, I can't help feeling The Village is styled after a British holiday camp for a reason. It seems very clear to me this is McGoohan criticizing a certain kind of homegrown power structure, and by association the spy fiction genre.

    I could see the Cold War-era West growing concerned over a resignation because they fear a defector, but not a double agent (a double agent wouldn't seem to be of much use if they're no longer employed by one of the two necessary parties). But regardless, I still think even if such a detail is important to those in the spy story, it isn't, or at least shouldn't be, to us, the audience: Clearly the part of The Prisoner that ought to be the most interesting to viewers is what the heck The Village is and why it works the way it does, not to mention why the show seems in active revolt against its own structure and narrative coherence.

    (The answer, it would seem obvious to me, is of course that the show is, in point of fact, in revolt against its own structure and narrative coherence and the hand-wringing over potential enemy agents is just one layer of a recursive metaphor 🙂 )

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