The Prisoner: episode 2 – The Chimes of Big Ben – synopsis


Thunder crashes. A slightly edited version of the opening sequence from Arrival – without the scene at the car park barrier and less driving through London – follows, until the title card, The Chimes of Big Ben, appears over Number 6’s first view of the Village. There follows a series of questions between McGoohan and this week’s guest star Leo McKern as Number 2, over a variety of standard village shots. This sequence will appear on most of the remaining episodes.
It is morning in the Village. The ubiquitous loudspeaker awakens Number 6 with proclamations about the weather and an up-and-coming art show with a competition for all the Village to enter. It goes over to soothing music, played far too loudly for comfort.
The new Number 2, a boisterous, energetic, well-rounded man, views Number 6 getting up and making breakfast. He comments that the Prisoner can make even putting his dressing gown on into an act of defiance. His assistant suggests that Number 6 can be broken, but that is not what Number 2 wants: he wants the whole man, on his side. All it will take is one answer: why did you resign? He also checks that the helicopter is on its way.
Later that morning, whilst Number 6 is sitting outside, overlooking the beach, Number 2 falls in with him, suggesting that number 6 make more effort to settle in. They spar, verbally. Number 2 clearly relishes the challenge of his opponent. The helicopter lands and an attractive young woman, asleep on a stretcher, is unloaded.
Number 2 invites Number 6 back to his office, where he entertains him with surveillance of the woman waking up in her new home. She is Number 8, his new neighbour, replacing the previous Number 8, who has vanished. There is no body for a funeral
The new arrival awakes, thinking she is in her own home, until she sees outside her window. Like Number 6 before her, she is summoned to tea at the Green Dome. Emerging from her cottage, disoriented, she meets Number 6 who directs her to the Green Dome. He is expecting this to be a trap for him and, when she returns, quite late, he invites her in for a drink. Number 8 refuses her number and gives her name as Nadia, before becoming suspicious of him, accusing him of being Number 2’s assistant. But Number 6 now has suspicions.
These are confirmed the following day when Nadia, a former Olympics swimmer, starts to swim out to sea. Number 2 has again stopped to talk, but he is aware of Nadia’s increasing distance from shore and orders an Orange Alert: she is brought back by Rover and rushed off in an ambulance.
The next day, Number 2 asks Number 6 to the hospital, where Nadia is being continually questioned over her acts: what was she thinking of? Was she intending to kill herself? Number 6 is there ostensibly bevcause he knows her better than anyone else in the Village.
The strain is affecting Nadia. She is in a room with an electrified floor, a lethal current flashing on and off every four seconds. The door can be reached in three seconds, if she in confident in herself. Using handfuls of water from a bowl, Nadia times the electric flashes, but when she makes for the door, she breaks down screaming, waiting to be killed. Number 2 hurriedly countermands the current, before commenting that they will have to undertake further tests.
Angrily, Number 6 orders him to stop, then, as a sop, agrees to cooperate. But only in one respect: he will enter the art exhibition. Amused at his presumption, Number 2 agrees, and Nadia is released back to her cottage.
That night, Number 6 conducts a seeming romance: under the relaxing lullaby of the Village radio, he quizzes Nadia as to his suspicions that she is here because she knows the whereabouts of the Village. After time to think, Nadia confirms this: the Village is on the Lithuanian coast, thirty miles from the Polish border. There is a resistance group there with whom she has a contact.
Number 6 spends several weeks making his art exhibit. Number 2 drops by: Number 6 has made a primitive axe and chisel, has cut down a tree and is chipping out a shape from it. The ‘weapons’ are illegal, but Number 2 winks an indulgent eye, allowing Number 6 to continue.
Come the exhibition, Number 6’s piece stands out. It is a abstract tryptich of supposedly religious symbology, and is the eventual winner. It is also the only entry not to be about number 2. Indeed, Number 6 immediately uses his 2,000 credit prize to buy a tapestry of Number 2 woven by Number 38, an elderly woman.
That night, Number 6 and Nadia break curfew to smuggle his sculpture to the beach, where it fits together to make a two-person boat, with mast, and a sail consisting of the tapestry. By the morning, they are on the edge of the Village’s radar, and Rover is sent to retrieve them. Number 6 and Nadia abandon their boat and swim ashore, under a cover of protective fire from the Polish group, repelling Rover.
Arrangements are already in place to ship them to Number 6’s former bosses in London, via Gdansk and Copenhagen. Number 6 demands details of the route and, as his watch has stopped because of its immersion, he borrows a watch from the Polish fisherman to monitor their journey and ensure it takes the right amount of time.
Travelling in a wooden crate, they progress via lorry, ship and aeroplane. Nadia, who has been  calling him Big Ben since their plan was first formed, asks ingenuous questions about London, Number 6’s life there, and whether he is married.
They are delivered to a plush and familiar London Office, filled with the sound of traffic and the chimes of Big Ben. Number 6’s colleague Fotheringay greets him, and takes Nadia away, whilst his superior, Colonel J (this is the name given in the credits: in the episode he is only referred to as the Colonel), wants to speak to him.
The Colonel is openly sceptical of Number 6’s story of the Village. He points out that Number 6 abruptly resigned from a position of high security, refusing to give a reason and promptly disappeared until, several months later, a message is received from behind the Iron Curtain that he is on his way home. Has he been turned? Until Number 6 is fully debriefed, starting with the true reasons for his resignation, he will not be trusted, nor will Nadia be safeguarded.
Wearily accepting the inevitability of all this, Number 6 starts to say that, for a long time… But Big Ben has struck the hour, he has automatically checked his watch, and both say eight o’clock. But his watch was taken from a Polish fisherman: why did the fisherman have a watch set to London time when he’s one hour ahead?
The Colonel attempts to bluster but Number 6 has stopped listening. He explores the office until he finds a wire coming out of a cabinet. When he yanks this out, the London sounds stop abruptly. Inside the cabinet is a tape-recorder. When the plug is restored, so too are the London street sounds.
Number 2 gives the Colonel a look of contempt. He leaves the office, walks slowly down a corridor and opens a door. He finds himself standing at the side of the Village Town Hall. On the front steps, Number 2, Fotheringay and Nadia stand together. She sees him first, and they stop talking. As he walks past them, Number 6 brings thumb and forefinmger together into a circle over his eye and says “Be Seeing You.”
Back at his house, before the door opens with a low, sibilant hum, he flicks the sign again for the surveillance camera’s benefit. He goes inside and the door shuts behind him
Doors clang upon McGoohan’s image as it rushes to fill the screen. The closing credits start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.