The Prisoner: episode 1 – Arrival – synopsis


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Thunder crashes over heavy clouds. A man with a set expression drives a Lotus 7 into an underground car park in London. He follows a corridor into a well-appointed office where, after angrily speaking, he slaps a sealed envelope onto a desk. Leaving, he is followed home across London by an undertaker’s hearse. A typewriter ‘X’s out his photograph, which is filed in a drawer marked ‘Resigned’. At his home, he prepares to pack a suitcase. He gathers his passport, selects photos of beaches, but is rendered unconscious by gas pumped into his room by a man from the hearse. His view of London tower-blocks disappears as he drags the blind down.
He awakens in the same room, seemingly untouched. Clearly puzzled at this, he raises the blind. And stops in shock as it reveals a strange, ornate, wooded Italianate village clustered around an open square with a stylised pond. The title Arrival is superimposed on the screen.
The Prisoner leaves his room to explore his surroundings. The door opens automatically, with a low, sibilant electronic hum. He surveys the area – a seemingly deserted coastal village surrounded by wooded hills, from a nearby tower. A bell rings, and he sees a waitress outside a café across the square.
The waitress evades his questions, but tells him there are no telephones and no police. She refers to their whereabouts as the Village. She directs him to a nearby telephone booth but the operator offers only local calls and when he cannot give his number, hangs up on him.
Next, he finds an information board. When he presses the button for Taxi, a brightly coloured, striped-canopy Mini-Moke draws up behind him, driven by a young Chinese woman, who speaks to him in English and French. She is equally evasive when questioned. The taxi is a local service only: the Prisoner is taken around the Village and back to where he started.
He enters a General Store, where talk in a foreign language ceases and the Shopkeeper addresses his customer and the Prisoner in English. When asked, he produces maps, but only of the Village: there is no demand for anything else.
Growing frustrated, the Prisoner leaves. He sees a young woman in a maid’s outfit leaning from the window of his room but, by the time he gets back, she has left. A card welcomes him to “Your home from home”. The phone rings and he is invited to breakfast by Number 2 – the Green Dome.
This building has a door opening onto a terrace above the Square. Inside is a silent butler, four foot tall, who leads him through a waiting room to double doors. These open into a vast-seeming, spherical room, in the centre of which, on a dais, a man awaits in a black womb-chair. He is  Number 2, a somewhat grave, almost avuncular man with an urbane tone.
Using his control board, Number 2 raises chairs and a table through the floor. The Butler brings a breakfast cart, with the Prisoner’s favourite breakfast already prepared.
Number 2 exudes sympathy, but explains that the Prisoner is a very valuable person. He has resigned from a very sensitive post, with highly secret information in his head. His reasons for resigning must be examined, and that information given up. That is why he has been seized and brought here. If he co-operates, life can not only be very comfortable, but he could be given a position of responsibility with them.
The Prisoner makes it plain that he will not collaborate, that he intends to leave, that he will not be held. “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed or numbered. My life is my own.”
Number 2 takes him for a helicopter tour of the Village, pointing out the Council Building, the Citizens Advice Bureau – and the Graveyard. His next stop is to be the Labour Exchange. The Prisoner, studying his surreal and now busy surroundings, lags behind. At the Square, Number Two uses a megaphone from a colonnade. He instructs the Villagers to stop. Everybody freezes, except for a jittery man, whose nerve breaks. He tries to run, not knowing where to go.
A giant, white, quivering balloon appears on the terrace, making a mechanical, roaring sound. It leaps down to the Square, closes in on the jittery man, and envelops him. There is a close-up of his screaming face, pressed into the plastic, before he dies. Then it bounces away, and the Villagers unfreeze.
The Prisoner rejoins Number 2 at the Labour Exchange. There are slogans in the waiting room: A Still Tongue makes for a Happy Life: Questions are a Burden for Others, Answers a Prison for oneself. He is given aptitude tests and a Questionnaire, but loses his temper and storms out.
At home, angry and restless, he finds the Maid and orders her out, brutally. A wall rises, revealing more extensive quarters, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, with a cabinet of (empty) tinned foot, all labelled with the Village symbol of a penny-farthing bicycle, adorned with a striped canopy.
A soothing lullaby fills the house from a speaker, getting increasingly louder. There are no controls, so the Prisoner smashes it. He hears an an immediate public announcement sending the Electrical Department to a fault at Number 6’s house.
He is being observed from the Control Room, another spherical room, with observers at screens and a double-armed, swivelling two camera unit. The Maid returns, pretending to forgotten something. She turns to leave, but crumples in tears, admits she’s been planted on him to gain his trust, obtain information, in exchange for her freedom. The Prisoner demolishes that notion coldly. He refuses to cooperate and sends her away, not to return.
A workman arrives with a new speaker. The Prisoner leaves for a ‘walk’. He makes for the woods and goes through a walkway of old statues and busts, unaware that these contain surveillance cameras which turn to watch him. However, he is driven back by another white, quivering ball.
He makes instead for the beach. The Controller sends out two guards in a jeep. The Prisoner manages to knock both out and drive off. The Controller raises an Orange Alert, and the jeep is intercepted by the white ball. The Prisoner is briefly suffocated like the jittery man, and then captured and sedated.
He wakes in pyjamas in the hospital. In another bed he recognises Cobb, a friend and fellow agent. Cobb is woozy and unfocussed, unable to remember how long he’s been held or whether he has talked or not. Their conversation is interrupted when the Prisoner is taken for tests. He can go home in the morning, and will be issued new clothes: his old set have been burned. An alarm goes and an assistant calls that the amnesia victim, Cobb, has jumped from the window and is dead.
In the morning the Prisoner is given his Village cards, his new clothes and a free ride to the Village. He immediately discards the boater and his badge. Al the Villagers wear a circular white badge showing the canopied Penny-farthing, and a red number on the big wheel. Outside the Green Dome, he bursts from the taxi and makes for Number 2’s office. A different man is in the Chair, younger, more affable but more assertive about what the Village want from TP and what they will do to get it. He is the New Number 2. The Prisoner demands to see Number 1, but Number 2 is the authority as far as he, Number 6, is concerned. The Prisoner replies “I am not a Number.”
Back home, Number 6 hears the Village band playing an inappropriately jaunty tune whilst escorting Cobb’s coffin to the Graveyard. A young woman follows the procession, about fifty yards behind. He trails her. She tries to escape, but admits to having been Cobb’s girlfriend. They had been working on an escape plan, using an Electropass. This will get past the white ball to the daily helicopter. Still suspicious, Number 6 trails her to the Green Dome.
Whilst waiting for his meeting with the woman, at the Stone Boat, Number 6 plays and loses at Chess with a former Admiral. He accuses the woman of betrayal, though she protests her innocence. Nevertheless, he takes the Electropass, which enables him to get to the helicopter and take off. She is invited to play by the Admiral. He comments “We’re all pawns, my dear.”
Number 6’s escape is watched from the Control Room by the new Number 2, with Cobb. Number 6 is allowed to get so far before the helicopter controls are taken over remotely. The helicopter lands. The Electropass no longer works. Number 6 is escorted back to his house by the white ball.
Cobb leaves to meet his “new masters”. He will give a good report on the Village’s operations. He warns Number 2 that his old colleague will be a tough nut to crack.
We see an overhead shot of the Village. McGoohan’s face rushes towards us, filling the screen, but two sets of jailbars slam shut in front of it. The closing credits run, superimposed upon a stylised representation of the walkway of statues. Piece by piece, the symbol of the canopied Penny-farthing builds up on screen, until it dissolves, leaving only the wheels: The white ball erupts from the ocean and scuds ashore. The episode ends.

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