The Prisoner (remake)

Finished watching The Prisoner‘s 2009 remake last night. A total of six episodes, starring Ian McKellen (as 2) and Jim Caviezel (as 6). Spoilers below.

The cinematography and pacing was good throughout the six episodes. It starts with 6 finding himself in the desert and getting back to this seemingly idealistic “Village”. The people there have accepted that there’s nothing beyond the village, that there’s no other world beyond it. During the six episodes, No 2 is trying to break No 6, to make him believe that there’s nothing beyond the Village. However, unlike most of the others who only have dreams relating to other places, No 6 has clear as day memories of his New York life that happens in parallel to his Village life. Naturally, he tries to break free of it, but he can’t. No 2 is the authority in the Village, and he’s got a son and a comatose wife. The Village is not a nice place in reality: everyone’s spying on everyone else, people are getting abducted or getting killed if they are reported. The idealistic nature of the Village is only skin deep.

At the end, is revealed that the Village is not a real place, but a subconscious (or other state of consciousness) level, ran by the brain of No2’s real-life wife in New York, who’s a scientist and creator of psychotropic drugs. The other inhabitants of the village are random NY people, most of them employees of Summakor, the corporation that real-life No2 leads (and that No6 recently resigned from). Summakor runs this project supposedly to help these people, who are all chosen to occupy the village since they lead a troubled real life. So basically, the Village acts as a restrain of the subconscious mind in order to control unwanted behavior of the real life person.

Some people were not happy with this resolution, that the Village is not a real place, but I like it just fine. I think it’s sci-fi enough, and pretty interesting too. Others were unhappy because the series was not like the original ’60s series. Personally, I don’t care about this at all, I review this series on its own merits, as an individual work of art. My problem with the series is elsewhere.

My problem is with the ending. No2 is blowing himself into pieces in order to free himself from the Village’s plane of existence, just as 313 (6’s romantic interest in the series) takes a special pill that makes her real life NY counterpart the new “brain server”, rather than No2’s wife. Now, No2’s wife is not comatose anymore (she was comatose in both lives, because her brain was needed at 100% operation in order to run the Village), and 313/Sarah is. At the very end, 6 is trying to make the Village a better place (in the Village life), and he’s accepted back a higher ranking job at Summakor (in his NY life). The last thing we see in the series is 313 crying, and we don’t know if it’s because of happiness because 6 will indeed try to make the Village a better place, or because 6 has turned, without realizing it, into the new 2: a tyrant.

See, this is a very unsatisfactory ending. We spent 5.5 episodes seeing 6 fighting the status quo and rebel against the tyranny. Even just 20 minutes before the ending the NY counterpart of 6 was questioning the ethics of running such a project. Are we to believe that just like that 6 accepted the Village for what it is and decided to stay in it? Why? Just because of a woman? And was No2’s plan all along to get 6 to accept the Village and be part of it, even if 6 had full knowledge of the other world? In other words, was the whole thing a trap, to find a new boss for the Village? A new boss who while he knew of the truth he would choose to stay?

I just find it stupid knowing the truth and not killing yourself to get out of it. Regardless if there’s a woman involved or not. Made no sense to me. Or is this an allegory for “yeah, you’re young, you’re rebellious, and then you get married, and your life is over“. Because honestly, that’s the only “deeper message” I got out of the series. Or are we, the viewers, to believe that such an experiment with people’s minds “is a good thing” and that’s why 6 accepted it? I personally don’t see anything good with it, it’s evil. Especially since none of these people volunteered for it!

What should have been done instead was the NY 6 destroying all computers and maybe even No2’s wife in order to end the Village. That’s what any sane person would have done. Instead, (a pretty confused throughout the series) No 6 becomes a conformist himself, in both lives. Or was 6 brought into the Village in order to tame/conform him, a subconscious development that subsequently controlled his NY counterpart to accept the job as the new high ranking exec of Summacor? Is this how that corporation hires people, by manipulating their employees’ morality in their subconscious level first? Most people do conform later in their lives, so I guess the ending does mirror real life.

Regardless, the ending just felt unsatisfactory as it left a negative, hopeless mental let-down to the viewer. And the writing was particularly confusing at the end. This is a series that could have been done a bit better if the story and subplots were spelled out a bit clearer with less over-done “artsy” cuts like the ones at the end of each episode. Less surrealism please in the last 5 minutes. Thank you.


Ron C. wrote on November 18th, 2009 at 10:10 AM PST:

I was not able to watch the entire series, but saw enough to believe that you are correct. There is a bit of a parallel in comparing the remake to the original series as to the ending. Both left the viewer saying “Huh?” as neither ending was satisfying. In the original, we were left with the feeling that the Prisoner never escaped and the whole process started again. However, no. 6 in that series never gave in, but in the remake, it appears that he did. I also agree that the overuse of arty ‘flashbacks’ or whatever they were, was excessive. Too bad- it could have been a decent offering, but I would give it only 2 stars out of 5. Thank you for your review. Good job.

Ron C.

Jennifer wrote on November 18th, 2009 at 10:28 AM PST:

Mmmm…I can see where you’re coming from and I’m not entirely sure I’m satisfied with the ending.

But I can also see it as a matter of Michael/6 realizing that so many of these people in the real world DID need help–as is hinted in the scene where he faces the real Sarah. And maybe, even though it’s not a perfect solution, it’s the best we can do. At least, unlike in the original, it’s not literal, real imprisonment, and there might be a way he can make it better. So he figures he can try to reform from within. It’s not an easy question, there might not be an easy answer,

Jennifer wrote on November 18th, 2009 at 10:29 AM PST:

…oops, hit “post” too soon…

…there might not be an easy answer, but maybe an imperfect solution is best in an imperfect world.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on November 18th, 2009 at 4:31 PM PST:

I have the feeling that the whole series is simply a “recruiting process”. All we see, from the first episode to the last, is the effort of the corporation to “conform” 6/Michael, to accept the higher ranking job — and be ok with the morality/ethics of it, despite knowing the truth. This is why he is the only one with his NY memories in tact. Because he needs to know the truth, and be ok with it too in his subconscious level, and in turn control his NY counterpart (“people changed” as it was said), in order to take over the corporation.

So this series was never about his resignation (like in the original series), but about recruiting. A demoralizing recruiting at that.

Makes sense, but it’s a bit of a let down, it gives no hope to the viewer. It was a very pessimistic result. I am a very pessimistic person myself, by nature, but this felt heavy even for me.

Iosif wrote on November 19th, 2009 at 1:50 AM PST:

There is the other case were you just see a film, a TV series etc just to pass your time.

It’s like when you try to explain or look deep into a joke, you loose the meaning of the joke. In this case for instance did you like the photography, the acting, did you enjoy yourself watching it or did you say wow! Boring!

If you’ve enjoyed watching the series then it was a success.

JOShUA kANE wrote on November 20th, 2009 at 3:01 PM PST:

I am a great fan of the 60’s Prisoner TV show and remember it well. It was a creative and thought provoking force that broke the rules and each episode was a pleasure to watch. Sadly TV these days lacks the imagination of people like Patrick McGoohan, because he had to really fight to make the show he wanted to make.

I am also a fan of Twin Peaks and find it sad that someone as imaginative as David Lynch is not able to bring to the small screen his wonderful ideas for television programmes. There are very few risk takers in this 21st century who seem willing to make artistic, ‘weird’, alternative television that would challenge our thought processes.

The companies that make programmes now, seem more interested in advertising revenue and viewing figures, rather than creating entertainment. The viewing masses have become brainwashed by all this BAd Television and the minority are left to rot. Now after watching the new re-working of ‘The Prisoner’, I am saddened even more.

While visually this remake is lovely to look at, it lacked the spark of the 60’s show, it held no surprises and certainly does not have any of the sense of the original show. Which had a feeling of anger and fury that was portrayed about a modern society and to how we are meant to live in that society.

I found the reworked version of the Prisoner to be somewhat shallow, pretentious and poorly written. What could have been a brilliant reworking just became another typical american TV show.

I shall just enjoy dEXTER and the final season of LOST and hope to whatever god i believe in that there will never be a reworking of the Avengers, The Saint, The MAN from UNCLE or dangerman. Because if the wrong people get to work on those, then all the good things that were forged from the ideas of the creative people of the past will be turned into just another piece of consumer trash.

I know that some people think that the original show is dated. Well let me remind you all, that when the Prisoner was first shown on Uk TV, it was considered to be bizarre and weird. The show even in todays ‘modern’ world is still al ot better than a lot of the shows that are currently being made, especially when you consider the technology they had back then in the 60’s. Nowadays a TV show seems to have plenty of special effects but little in substance.

So i suggest you watch the 60’s show again, look at it with open eyes and think about the messages that was in the 60’s show and look around you… we are not really living in ‘free’ society are we? ALSO the music in the original Prisoner is a lot better than the bloody awful music they played on the reworked Prisoner. (the beach boys, now that really is boring)

Susan Harroff wrote on November 20th, 2009 at 4:13 PM PST:

Thank you Eugenia! You really gave me some insight and clarity.

Amazing how thought provoking the show was for so many here and elsewhere online.

I didn’t like the last episode.

Once Michael realized the truth, he probably thought he had nothing to lose since he apparently was alone, possibly an alcoholic and resigned. He took one look at the real 313 and said “screw it, real life isn’t working for me anymore anyway.”

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