The Prisoner: episode 17 – Fall Out – the final discursion


Who is Number One?

Fall Out was the seventeenth and final episode of The Prisoner to be produced and broadcast. It was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan, although the Red Judge’s speeches were written (uncredited) by Kenneth Griffith, at McGoohan’s request.
This is the episode that makes The Prisoner. Without this, with something that made any kind of rational sense, it sinks. It goes into the shadows and is forgotten, all its good work forgotten. Anything, anything at all that is realistic and it can go ignored, filed away into the back cupboard of memory and never allowed out again. Only by breaking all the rules, by destroying everything that resembles any kind of compact with its audience does The Prisoner survive.
It answers by not answering. It ends by not ending. It promises and withholds, it infuriates and angers, it raises feelings. Its writer/producer/director/star takes his wife and children to Ireland, three days later, and then to America. He never works in British television again.
I was twelve years old when I watched Fall Out, at the end of the initial run. We who were served by Granada were the last in the country to learn what answers Patrick McGoohan had chosen, but we still had no idea what we were going to see. I have always wished that I had been older, old enough to understand the impact of that moment when Number Six rips the mask off Number One and finds himself staring back.
It’s a cliché now: our enemy is always ourselves, but it was not so then, not merely for twelve year olds.
Fall Out is a thing in itself that is almost too strange, too weird and wonderful to be criticised, to be analysed. It was an enormous hostage to fortune, a thing too easily open to contempt, to be dismissed as nonsense (and by extension everything that went before and beside it), to be contemptuously derided as not an ending at all, as proof only that McGoohan didn’t know what he was doing, that he was making it up all along and when the time came to make it make sense, he had no ending.
Didn’t we hear all of that about Lost?
Because the truth is that there is not a thing in Fall Out that makes sense. That connects to any part of The Prisoner on the ground upon which the series has stood since its beginning. The questions that had built up are thrown away, discarded as irrelevancies. The organisation that has held the Prisoner in its keeping for weeks prostrates itself and gives in to him for no reason whatsoever. It vanishes, like a puff of nuclear smoke, like the rag ends of a dream. England and home is down the end of a long, dark tunnel. The only thing anyone ever had to do was to shoot their way out. It’s guns, and bullets and All You Need is Love.
An old and once dear friend, with whom I’ve long since lost touch, married an ex-Army Physical Training Instructor turned self-taught Master Builder named Ray. They were an unusual pairing, for he was very solid and rational, and not at all imaginative or creative. Yet it was he who gave me the only explanation of the ending to The Prisoner that made ‘sense’.
It goes back to Once Upon a Time, to that moment in the caged room when Number Six’s demeanour changes, when he says the word six, when he tastes it, and relishes it, slings his jacket over his shoulder and walks out of the room, leaving a baffled Number Two behind. From that moment onwards, he is in control. Everything falls before him. First Number Two, then the Village, it all crumples away.
Because Number Six broke, because when he accepted the term Six, he went mad, and everything that followed is an unhinged fantasy.
Think about it. Because it does make literal sense, where nothing else does. Fall Out is the final escape, out of reality, it is the ultimate victory, irreversible, beyond any further restriction. The Village’s authorities become faceless, indistinguishable figures, in robes and symbolic masks. It’s demand for conformity applies to others – others that the Prisoner will, god-like, release – yet his rebellion is deified for no reason other than that it is by him.
It’s a set-up that can be destroyed by the burst of a machine gun, a hiding place that magically turns out to be virtually on his own doorstep. His only gaoler is, in fact, himself, a self that he can lock up and send away. And home is just the beginning, restarting the cycle, to be played put endlessly, over and again.
In its curious way, Fall Out is not the allegorical victory that everyone assumes it is, but a tragic defeat. The Prisoner’s only escape is into himself, a theme repeated years later in Terry Gilliam’s monumentally brilliant film, Brazil. In that visually astonishing mix of 1984 and Heath Robinson, hero Jonathan Pryce is ultimately captured, his girl killed, his life destroyed, yet in the midst of torture, he is rescued, he escapes, she lives and they drive away to a place of freedom, far beyond the bureaucrats: until two of them appear above the horizon, to agree they’ve lost him. For they have: he has never left the torturer’s chair. Not physically.
There are many people who will baulk at this interpretation, and indeed one aspect of its genius is that it can be read in so many ways, and their opinions are every bit as valid as mine. It is an allegorical gambol, and you may take that for the pun it also is.
According to McGoohan, the episode was written in thirty six mostly unbroken hours. Though he never had the ending worked out in the beginning, he has said that it represented what his ideas were running towards, and that he would not change a moment of it. It is an episode done in incredible haste, using what was at hand and convenient.
Coming hard on the heels of The Girl Who Was Death, Fall Out re-used and reinterpreted its sets and props in every way it could (underneath the globes in Number One’s room is the circular table with its map of London that belonged to Professor Schnipps, and that is, of course, his rocket, and the same clips of Thunderbirds in the countdown sequence). Guest stars Kenneth Griffith and Alexis Kanner were asked to stay on, though not Justine Lord (save for one or two extras dismissed from the Control Room in Once Upon a Time, the whole two-part ending is free from any female presence).
Leo McKern was, fortunately, available to repeat his role as the former Number Two, though in the year that had passed since Once Upon a Time his appearance had drastically changed, shaving off his beard and cutting short his flowing hair. As the actor objected to wearing wigs and false beards, the scene was written in where his appearance is changed.
This on its own symbolises the serendipity that creates Fall Out. It was a circumstance forced by chance, yet it becomes the outward symbol of Number Two’s two-way passage through death – another element of madness, the death and resurrection of the prevailing enemy so that he may congratulate you on your success and then join your cause. Written on the spot, made up out of whatever happened to be there: this was not a planned ending and sometimes we should wonder in amazement that it had any coherence whatsoever.
And we should not forget to congratulate Lew Grade who, when faced with this extraordinary thing, completely unrecognisable as any kind of television programme he had seen before, allowed it to be screened. True, he had a schedule to maintain, and an audience that, if anything, would have been even more confused and angry had he refused to let Fall Out be broadcast than it would prove to be after he did. But he broadcast it where many would have taken one look…
But in everything, in every single conceivable respect, Fall Out was a moment of its time, a prism through which the series would forever be seen, a thing that could not have happened in any other way, at any other time.
As is shown in Kanner’s dress, as the dandy-teenager, the proto-hippy complete with cowbell, as is demonstrated in his dialogue, and that of the Red Judge in trying to speak to him in his own terms, as is even shown in ‘Dem Bones’. This was 1967, and someone’s ear was not tuned in with perfect clarity.
What can we say? That there had been nothing like it before is a mere truism. That there has been nothing like it since is, in some ways, the most savage indictment of forty five years that we can make. That there never will be anything like it again is a despair.
As always, I come back to that moment, inevitable in retrospect, that I was too young, too immature to understand when I saw it. We have seen the face of Number One and it is ourselves. We are always and inescapably our own gaolers. It is still so for me, even now.

The Prisoner: episode 15 – The Girl Who Was Death – synopsis


Thunder crashes. The normal credits sequence runs.
We open upon a painted scene of an Edwardian cricket match, spread across two pages of a book held open by a pair of hands.
A succession of scenes establish a contemporary village cricket match. Colonel Hawke-Englishe, an old-fashioned man in multi-coloured cap, with well-brushed grey moustache, is batting. He bats left-handed, and swipes the bowler for a boundary.
By the scoreboard, his assistant Potter changes the Colonel’s score to 93. He takes a pair of binoculars from a cricket bad, covering up a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights with a pair of pads. Potter scans the crowd, lingering on the legs of an attractive woman with short blonde hair, who is wearing a white mini-dress. Reprimanding himself, he turns the binoculars to the Colonel, who acknowledges his scrutiny with a wink. Potter misses the girl getting elegantly out of her deck-chair and walking away.
The Colonel smashes the next ball into the undergrowth for six, advancing his score to 99. As a fielder runs from the field to retrieve it, a feminine hand, extending from a white sleeve, replaces it with a seemingly identical ball.
The fielder throws the new ball in from the boundary. The bowler catches it, and marches back almost to the sightscreen, intent on delivering his fastest ball. He races in and delivers, grinning maniacally. The Colonel plays a defensive block: the ball explodes on contact with his bat. His death, one short of his century, is announced on a newspaper board.
Enter a fellow Agent, played by McGoohan, wearing the white cap and coat favoured by John Drake in later series of Danger Man. He walks down the High Street and pauses outside a ladies clothes shop whose windows are filled with mannequins wearing the latest fashions. A scruffy, unshaven, unhappy Potter is working as a shoe-shiner outside.
Whilst the Agent pretends to have his Hush Puppies (suede shoes) cleaned, Potter explains that the Colonel was pursuing the mad scientist, Dr Schnipps (a slip: he is Professor Schnipps throughout the rest of the episode) who has been building a rocket with which to destroy London. Unfortunately, the Colonel had not found out where the rocket is: the Agent is to go collect a message from the Chief at a nearby record shop. As he leaves, we see the girl has replaced one of the shop mannequins and has been listening in.
In the record shop, the Agent signals with his tie and is given a disc to take into a listening booth. The Chief’s message is for him to take over from the Colonel.
Back to the cricket match. The Agent, wearing the same cap plus Edwardian mutton chop whiskers and moustache, is batting (right handed) against the same bowler, and scoring freely. The white dressed blonde (who is actually Sonia Schnipps, daughter of the Professor, though her first name is never mentioned in the episode) is again watching.
As before, the Agent hits a four and a six to take his score to 99. The same feminine hand replaces the ball in the undergrowth. It is thrown in from the boundary, caught by the bowler, who marches a long way back before running in and delivering it with a maniacal grin. This time, the Agent catches the ball and hurls it back into the undergrowth, where it explodes harmlessly. Following it, he finds a lace hankie on which a lipsticked message says Sonia will meet him at his local.
Restored to cap and coat, the Agent attends his local and orders the usual. As he drains his drink, the word ‘You’ (in Village font) appears on the base of the glass. Only after he has drained his drink can he read the full message: ‘You have just been poisoned’.
Turning back to the bar, the Agent quickly orders, and downs, a succession of shorts, spirits and liqueurs, until the barmaid protests that he’ll make himself sick. As he heads for the Gents, Sonja emerges from it. Inside, a message on the roller towel sends him to a nearby Steam bath.
Next, we see the Agent in a steam cupboard, enjoying the treatment. He has re-donned his moustache and whiskers. Another steam cupboard opens, revealing a girl’s legs. She slides a broomstick through the handles of the Agent’s cupboard and places a large goldfish bowl over his head. As the trapped steam threatens to overcome him, the Agent struggles, finally breaking the broom and striding free. He is fully dressed, in Edwardian Sherlockian clothing. A message on the inside of Sonia’s steam cupboard directs him to a boxing booth at the nearby funfair.
In the booth, the Agent sits alone in the front row. Sonia is present, disguised as an elderly woman in a black shawl. The MC announces a three round fight between the ugly and vicious Killer Kominsky and the challenger – Mr X! He points at the agent and the crowd force him into the ring.
We cut to the picture book, still held open, but now showing a painting of an Edwardian boxing match. This appears before and after the commercials.
He spars with Kominsky, each showing their abilities. Kominsky tells him to go to the Tunnel of Love, and when the Agent presses him on who has given his that message, he angrily says he doesn’t know, and knocks the Agent out.
The Tunnel of Love is quiet and deserted. Unseen by the Agent. Sonia is there, among the scary exhibits. After he passes her, she begins to talk to him, caressingly, telling him that she is beginning to fall in love with him. She warns him not to turn round: when he does he finds a small radio broadcasting her words. When he throws it into the water, it explodes.
A hunt follows all across the funfair grounds. The Agent keeps seeing Sonia in her white dress, but losing her on various rides. He pursues a woman dressed in white to the top of the Big Dipper, only to discover that she is a different woman, model for a photographer (an uncredited Alexis Kanner) who berates him violently.
The chase continues. The Agent sees a white dressed woman posing before a roundabout, but as he approaches, the photographer gets off the roundabout and looks at him. The Agent tips his deerstalker and retreats, but this time the woman is Sonia, who kisses the photographer, then runs to her white E-type Jag and drives away. The Agent strips off his whiskers and follows in his Lotus.
The pair carry out a high speed chase, down dual-carriageways and country lanes. Sonia continues to talk to the Agent, via a mike in her car, to his car radio. She continues to discuss love with him: he is perfect for her, a born survivor where she is a born killer. She points behind her, at him, and then waves her finger from side to side, causing the road to appear to sway with her movements, even to loop the loop. A sudden turn down a side road, signposted Wychwood 1 mile, gains her a lead. The camera cuts to the book, this time showing an idyllic English Village scene, before and after the adverts
The Agent finds himself in an abandoned Village. Sonia’s e-type is parked but there is no sign of the woman. Suddenly, her voice addresses him out of the ether. She is going to give him a glorious death, but before that it is only fair that she gives him her name: her name is Death.
The Agent traces her voice to a loudspeaker whose wires lead inside the boarded up shop of the Butcher. Bursting in, he comes under fire from a Bren gun, set up on a tripod, whilst Sonia continues to address him lovingly. Wriggling under the line of fire, the Agent disarms the electric eye and takes the gun for his own use.
He follows the voice into the next abandoned shop, the Baker. Suddenly, a trapdoor opens under his feet and he falls into a pit filled with needle sharp electrified points. By swinging the gun across the opening, he is able to save himself, but the spikes start to rise. Desperately, he manages to drag a baker’s tray to the opening, and pull this down so he can stand on this as the spikes arise.
However, the floor is filled with small but powerful anti-personnel mines, which will go off in 90 seconds only. His only escape is to grasp the heating pipe running along the roof, and swing along this, despite the burning heat, to get into the third shop, the Candlestick Maker.
This shop is filled with candles of all sizes, in all manner of arrays. The Agent begins to cough. Sonia explains that the candles are wax mixed with a cyanide derivative, which is pouring poison into the air. Before the Agent can escape, she triggers steel shutters everywhere. Nor can he blow the candles out: if he does, they will explode, which he quickly demonstrates with a long-handled candle-snuffer.
Suddenly, the Agents begins gathering candles, piling them in front of the door. Sonia tells him that they used to toll the death knell in this Village when a great man was dying: when she starts up the bell, the Agent realises where she is. She thinks his antics are irrational, but when he has enough candles, he shelters behind a sturdy table and uses a bellows to blow them out all at once, blowing the shutters open.
Outside, in the street, Sonia starts firing at him from the Bell Tower. He takes refuge in the Blacksmiths, where he finds an abandoned but still working bulldozer. Using its scoop as a shield, he goes out into the street. Sonia, enjoying herself enormously, switches from machine guns to German stick grenades, hurling these with a ‘wheee!’. The third of these immobilises the bulldozer, giving her the chance to load and take up a bazooka, which destroys the bulldozer.
Descending to the street, she surveys the blazing wreckage with satisfaction, before turning away down a side street. The Agent climbs out of a manhole and follows her into the fields, where she makes for a helicopter. As it takes off, he jumps aboard, clinging to its skies.
The scene changes to the picture book, now showing an old-fashioned Wright Brothers era plane flying over the ocean, which is repeated after the adverts.
The helicopter flies on, eventually landing in a similar field. The Agent jumps off and conceals himself as the unheeding Sonia walks away. He follows her towards some rocks, where she disappears. A few steps further on is a cliff edge, overlooking a lighthouse. Returning to the rocks, the Agent finds a secret entrance.
A passage leads down into an armoury complex, underneath the lighthouse. A man wearing a Napoleonic era French uniform arrives, quietly singing ‘A Londonderry Air’: the Agent knocks him out, takes his top coat and, continuing the song, starts to work on the rifles and grenades.
Meanwhile, above, in the control room, Sonia, changing into a ball-gown from the period, has rejoined her father, Professor Schnipps. The Professor is dressed as Napoleon, complete with hand inside waistcoat. His henchmen, all dressed as French Marshals, also have their hands in their waistcoats: angrily, he drags them out.
Schnipps’ plan is nearing fruition: the rocket is about to be launched to destroy London. He renames several landmarks – Napoleon Square, Napoleon’s Column – after himself, whilst his ‘little girl’ can have Bond Street and his ‘merry lads’ Chelsea Barracks. This does not go down well.
The Irish Marshall, O’Rourke is missing (he too has gone downstairs and been knocked out by the Agent) so Schnipps sends the Marshals downstairs. They get into a fight with the Agent, during which he downs several of them, before escaping outside to the base of the lighthouse. The Marshals grab rifles and line up to shoot him, but the Agent has gimmicked these to fire backwards, killing all the Marshals. He starts up the stairs only to be halted by Sonia, carrying a gun that will not backfire.
The Agent is tied to a chair whilst Schnipps taunts him with the knowledge that the lighthouse IS the rocket, something the Agent has already worked out for himself, to Schnipps’s consternation. But he will be left in the control room when Schnipps and Sonia evacuate.
The countdown started, they rush down one level and start frantically packing files into various cases. The Agent struggles against his bonds before freeing himself by the simple expedient of lifting the chair-back off its support. He then wrecks the rocket by fiddling with all its controls, until it starts to overheat. Using the rope, he abseils down the side of the lighthouse and takes the Schnipps’s boat.
Aghast, the Schnipps’s grab stick grenades and hurl these at the Agent. But these too have been gimmicked: the explosive attaches to the stick: they and the lighthouse are blown to smithereens!
The pair of hands closes the book. It has the Penny Farthing on its cover and a title: The Village Storybook.
Three children in pyjamas, two boys and a girl, eagerly clamour for another story from Number Six, but he puts them to bed, promising to come back the next night.
In his office, Number two and his girl assistant watch the scene onscreen: they are Schnipps and his daughter. Number Two seethes: the idea of putting Number Six with the Village children in the hope he will let something slip has failed: he has told them a fairy story. His assistant sympathises.
On the screen, Number Six says ‘Goodnight Children’, before pausing, turning to the surveillance camera and concluding ‘Everywhere.”
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.

The Prisoner: episode 14 – Living in Harmony – discursion


The Kid

Living in Harmony was the fourteenth episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast and the fifteenth to go into production. It was written and directed by McGoohan’s Everyman Films partner, David Tomblin, and was based on a story by Tomblin and Ian L Rakoff, assistant film editor on the series.
With the exception of Fall Out, this is probably the most controversial episode of the series, in many respects.
First amongst these must be the subject of the episode itself. As we’ve seen from the synopsis, it’s essentially a re-interpretation of the Prisoner set-up in a Western, but instead of framing the idea within the format of the series, for fully three-quarters of the length of the episode, the programme is rejected in every aspect: no theme music, no opening credits, a completely inexplicable alternate scenario and not even the name of the programme on screen! (On first broadcast, a number of the ITV companies superimposed the words The Prisoner over the intro, to McGoohan’s fury).
Whilst the idea of taking a series outside its normal parameters is now accepted, if not common, it was completely unheard of in the Sixties, and completely against the accepted, and comfortable ethos of television and television viewing. And even a near half-century later, I cannot recall another series which took the idea to the extent in Living in Harmony.
The episode is also the most overtly violent of the series, between the lynching (seen from the victim’s viewpoint up to the moment of the noose being slipped over his head), McGoohan being beaten viciously twice and guest star Valerie French getting strangled twice, once in each of her two characters! The level of violence was unusual for British television as a whole, and whilst three ITV companies moved the episode to 10.00pm, after the ‘watershed’, several others reacted by editing down, and in once case out, the violence to make it acceptable to them (the second strangulation was cut out, making Number Six appear to race into the saloon and punch Number Eight for no apparent reason).
On the other hand, the violence is an integral part of the story, as the explanation behind the experiment explicitly makes clear.
There is also a dispute over the credit for the idea of a Western, and the writing credits officially registered. In the blog on Unused Outlines, I mentioned Ian Rakoff responding to the request for ideas with the notion of a Western (initially under the title Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling). Rakoff, a western comics enthusiast, claimed to have worked on the story for a long time, and to have written the full episode, except for the lynching (which he found distasteful) which was added by Tomblin. Instead, his role was reduced to the second of two collaborators on a plot, and he was cut out of all residual payments. Rakoff stated that he tried to complain to McGoohan, but the star refused to meet him, and he never saw him again thereafter.
But the biggest controversy that surrounded the episode was its treatment in America, where it was dropped for the first two broadcast runs.
Many theories about this have been advanced. One suggests the episode was dropped because of its depiction of hallucinogenic drugs, and is usually accompanied by a sneer at the inconsistency of American television, given that several previous episodes featured Number Six being drugged. It has been pointed out that there is a substantial qualitative difference: in previous episodes, the viewer is forewarned that the Prisoner is or is going to be drugged, and the scenes play out in that knowledge: there is no such warning in Living in Harmony, and the viewer doesn’t learn that they’ve been watching a drug-induced hallucination until very close to the end. It’s a fair distinction.
It’s also been claimed that the episode was too uncomfortable for American television in 1968: with the Vietnam war in full spate, with American facing the first inklings that they might not automatically win it, with protest about the War rising daily and young men refusing to be drafted into the Army. Into this political melee comes a foreign television programme using a classic American form to deliver an anti-violence, anti-War, anti-authority message: the case is obvious, surely.
Whilst I’m certain that there were more than a few figures who thought exactly that, the reason for the episode’s exclusion was apparently rather more prosaic, although still tied in with the political issues of the day.
In the early summer of 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated whilst running for President. The reaction including a rash of claims that television was inciting violence, and led to hasty regulations in relation to the depiction of violence. Shootings were still permitted, but the shooter and the victim had to be shot separately. In Living in Harmony, McGoohan and Alexis Kanner appear in the same shot for their shoot-out: the episode could not be broadcast until that regulation had been rescinded.
As usual, there’s a difference between the original script and the broadcast episode, though on this occasion the story is barely affected. To reflect the Western setting, the script was pared down, and in the case of the Kid, his dialogue was completely removed, making the character mute. A read of the Original Scripts shows that the Kid’s dialogue was nothing more than stereotypical tough guy talk, and the decision is brilliant: Kanner plays the part entirely in gesture and expression, conveying an frightening psychopathy from his introduction. It’s a superb, beautifully stylised performance that outshines everyone in the episode.
Kanner, a French-Canadian actor, was making his first of three appearances (one uncredited), in the last four episodes of the series, each time playing different characters. At the time of his appearance, he was probably best known in British television for his short-lived portrayal of DI Matt Stone in nine episodes of the first series of BBC’s Softly, Softly. This was a Police drama, a spin-off from Z-Cars featuring the latter’s Barlow and Watt. Kanner claimed to have left the series early because he did not want to become typecast, and that his performances (recorded live) were controversial to the point of questions being asked in Parliament. Others on the series claim that his antics during performance were unwelcome and he was sacked. The BBC wiped most of the series, and only one episode with Kanner remains, and that is non-committal either way.
For some, never explained reason, on each of his credited appearances, Kanner’s names is surrounded on screen by a white box, a distinction granted to no-one else in the series. It’s been speculated that McGoohan saw in Kanner a reflection of himself – the actor’s level of intensity here demonstrates the force he could bring to a part, and he is the only actor to challenge McGoohan in that respect – and wished to indicate a kind of mentorship.
The two remained firm friends and later co-starred in Kanner’s film Kings and Desperate Men, which he co-wrote and directed in Toronto.
Kanner’s fellow guest, Valerie French, a Fifties starlet here making her best known television appearance, is equally interesting in a different way. From the moment of her first appearance as Cathy, French is the most overtly sexy character in the whole series. She is wearing a shoulderless Western saloon girl’s costume, tightly fitted, pushing upwards and outwards and instantly displaying far more female flesh than every other woman in the series collectively.
And though this particular version soon disappears, her main costume demonstrates a considerable amount of cleavage. And, in keeping with her Fifties starlet origins, Ms French was a buxom lass. At the time of shooting, she was 39, and in her outfit would have been uncharitably called “mutton dressed up as lamb” (just as Ena Sharples stigmatised Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street).
But she’s still very good-looking and the suggestion of beginning lines in her face fit her to the part she’s (doubly) playing like a second skin: it’s interesting that she actually looks older as Number Twenty Two.
It’s interesting to see the change of direction that comes with these hasty, potentially second series episodes. In Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Number Six suddenly is possessed of a fiancée:  the next episode, he has won and lost love. Is this really the self-contained, anti-romantic Number Six and his possible earlier incarnation as John Drake?
Well, no, not really. Though the Village wants to involve him with a sexy woman, and Number Twenty Two really does fall for the notion (poor, weak-willed woman that she is), there’s no evidence in the episode of Number Six acting towards Cathy with anything other than his ordinarily chivalrous instincts. Still, it surprises to see the rigidly moralistic McGoohan allowing so (comparatively) risqué a show of flesh.
But the sexy lady theme is (over)played again in the next episode, as we shall see.
But in amongst all these disparate concerns, what about Living in Harmony in itself? Is it actually any good?
Several have lauded it as a brilliant subversion, both of the series and of television itself, by translating its central theme into a completely different genre, and it is. The justification for this radical departure is ingenious, and that’s without any overt reference to another brilliant conception: Number Six is aware of his importance to the Village from the outset, which provides him with a subconscious reassurance that he can take any risk, go to any length in defending himself, without ultimate consequence, because he’s too important to be harmed. Transferring him into a primitive re-enactment of his struggle, is a less-sophisticated, more violent setting removes that surety, and demonstrates Number Six’s ferocity even more when we see that, rather than succumb, he is willing to provoke his own death.
And, taken together with the third ‘filler’ episode, the farfetchedness of this notion is a demonstration of just how desperate the Village is getting, and in the context of the series as a whole, it supports the necessity for a once and for all, extremely dangerous plan in the forthcoming Once Upon a Time.
Living in Harmony can be, and is praised for many aspects, bit each time I look at it, no matter how much I enjoy it, I cannot help but think one thought. It’s a Western. The Prisoner is a contemporary espionage drama, concerned with deep philosophical and sociological issues affecting life, authority and identity in the 20th Century, and it’s a bloody Western. It’s a story composed out of Western clichés, neither subverted nor illuminated, from first to last, that was made because they couldn’t think of any better ideas and besides, they wanted to play a kids game of Westerns (McGoohan and Kanner practised incessantly to try to beat each other in the shoot-out).
I don’t remember what my Dad said about this when it was first broadcast, but I have inherited enough of his thinking to be incapable of watching this episode without thinking of it as a cheap gimmick by people indulging themselves in an extended game. I mean, it’s a fucking Western!
So I stick by what I said and, just as much as the succeeding The Girl Who Was Death, which was even more an eking out of the series by any means possible, and weaker yet that this, Living in Harmony is a Filler episode.

The Prisoner: episode 14 – Living in Harmony – synopsis


A lone horseman gallops across the landscape, spurring on his horse. An acoustic guitar starts a quiet theme, with horns entering to overlay it.
A man sits behind a desk. He has a Marshall’s badge on his shirt. Suddenly, a Sheriff’s badge is dropped on his desk. He looks up to see a grim, silent stranger, the man we know as Number Six. The Stranger unstraps his gunbelt and leaves it on the Marshall’s desk.
He walks along the trail, his saddle slung across his shoulder. At the top of a hill, he is confronted by a gunslinger, who forces a fight on him. The Stranger beats him, only to find five other gunmen surrounding him. He wades into them but is beaten unconscious.
The title card Living in Harmony, in the Prisoner font, appears on screen, followed by a screen detailing guest stars.
The Stranger is taken to an isolated Western town. The name Harmony is displayed over the wooden arch on the road into town. He comes to, looking around at his setting. An offscreen voice, coming from a Mexican figure, welcomes him to Harmony and suggests he try the saloon.
The Stranger enters the Silver Dollar saloon, a traditional western saloon with tinkling piano, noise, whiskey and bar-girls, such as Cathy, a buxom woman in her late thirties, in an off-the-shoulder dress. The saloon falls silent as he enters. Cathy welcomes him and the bartender slides a shot glass of whiskey down the bar: the first one is free for regulars.
As the Stranger moves to pick up his glass, an offstage voice invites him to sit with him, followed by a gunshot that shatters the glass. Unmoved, the Stranger orders another whiskey, though he hesitates a moment before picking up the glass.
He takes it over to the Judge’s table. The Judge, who has iron grey hair, is dressed in the frilly shirt an dark suit of a riverboat gambler. Stood behind him is his bodyguard, the Kid, and only a look is needed to realise that the Kid is dangerous. He is tall and thin, with a pointed face, and he is wearing high-waisted trousers with braces over a pink, unbuttoned undershirt. He also wears an immaculate, shiny top hat.
The Judge wants the Stranger to work for him as Sheriff in Harmony, but the Stranger has no intention of staying. He leaves the saloon, pausing only to punch the Kid in the mouth, knocking him down.
He tries to buy a horse at the stables, but the owner asks $5,000. As he walks away, the Stranger is surrounded by townsfolk, telling him what a good place Harmony is to live, and how the Judge looks after them all. The Stranger is unconcerned, but the Mexican starts shouting angrily that he has insulted their town. The townsfolk are quickly incited into a lynch mob, and the Stranger has to be rescued by the Judge’s gunmen, who put him in jail in ‘protective custody’.
The Judge is waiting in the Sheriff’s office and repeats his offer. When the Stranger declines it again, he is put in a cell. The townsfolk are still baying outside, so the Judge cynically offers them a sacrifice: another prisoner, Johnson, is dragged from his cell and handed over to the mob, who quickly string him up. Cathy runs from the saloon, crying, but is prevented from interfering: Johnson is her brother.
The Stranger relaxes in his cell, under the watchful eye of the Kid, who is toying with his gun and making elaborate play of lining up a shot. Cathy brings him a bottle of whiskey from the saloon. Though she is clearly older than him, the Kid is equally obviously fixated on her. He prowls around her then clumsily grabs her, trying to kiss her, but she wriggles free and returns to the saloon. However, whilst he has been pouring their drinks, she has slipped the jail keys off their hook and she appears at the cell window, leaving these for the Stranger.
Once the Kid has finished his whiskey and fallen asleep, the Stranger unlocks his cell, steals a horse and sets out on the trail. However, the Pass is guarded and he is ambushed and dragged back to Harmony, and in front of the Judge in the saloon.
The Judge calls for a hearing and the saloon is quickly converted into a ‘courtroom’ When the Stranger asks what charge, the Judge says he faces none: he was in ‘protective custody’. The charge is levelled against Cathy, for helping a prisoner escape. She is found guilty, and goes to jail, but the Judge advises the Stranger that she will go free if the Stranger agrees to become Sheriff.
He goes to the saloon for a whiskey. A gun is slid along the bartop to him but he ignores it. It comes from the Kid, who wants him to fight. When the Stranger refuses to react, the Kid shoots twice, one shot grazing the Stranger’s right cheek-bone, the other the back of his left hand. The Judge breaks things up, ordering the Kid back to the jail. The Stranger slides the gun back along the bartop, telling the Kid he’ll need both to deal with a woman.
With the unstable Kid in the jail alone with Cathy, the Stranger decides to accept the role of Sheriff, but whilst he will accept the badge, he will not accept the gunbelt and gun that goes with it. Cathy apologises to him that she has got him into this but he gallantly brushes this aside.
The following morning, the Stranger goes out with his badge. He is confronted by Zeke, who challenges him over not carrying a gun. The Stranger beats Zeke but is set upon by his two friends, one of whom beats him heavily. But the Stranger hauls himself back to his feet, knocks the third man out and dumps him in the horsetrough.
The Kid arrives in the saloon which is busy. He is looking for trouble. Will, a drunken cowboy, puts his arm round Cathy. The Kid reacts by viciously stubbing out his cigar on Will’s neck. Everybody clears out of the way, leaving the hapless Will facing the kid. Hurriedly, he scrambles out his gun but stands there, holding it foolishly. The Kid draws his gun and shoots Will down. The shot brings the Stranger running, but the crowd confirm that Will drew first. The Kid leaves. When the Stranger follows him, the crowd start shouting at him, that he is the Sheriff, that he should be able to do something about this.
Back at his office, one of the townsfolk approaches the Sheriff offering his help in cleaning up the town. It is not something any of them can do alone. However, the Judge is aware of the visit, and sets his men on the townsman. They beat him to death and leave him in the Sheriff’s office. The Stranger angrily gets out the gunbelt the Judge gave him, but rejects it again.
In the saloon, the Stranger quietly tells Cathy to get her things together and meet him at the edge of town that night as they are leaving. The Judge suggests that someone ought to tell the Kid that the Sheriff is talking to his girl. At dusk, he rides out towards the Pass, where he ambushes the ambushers, leaving them tied up.
Meanwhile, the saloon empties. Cathy gathers her things and prepares to leave the saloon, but the Kid blocks her. She calls him crazy, then tries to run from him in fear. He intercepts her, crushes her in his arms and kisses her, but she bites his lower lip viciously. He wipes the blood from his mouth, advances on her and puts his hands around her throat, squeezing it.
Disturbed at Cathy not being at the meeting place, the Stranger carefully re-enters Harmony. He sees the Kid leave the saloon and goes inside. He finds Cathy’s dead body on the stairs. At dawn, he completes digging her grave and returns to his office, where he tests the gun and ties it on. He leaves the Sheriff’s badge on the desk.
Outside in the street, he is confronted by the Kid. They draw and fire simultaneously. The Kid spins his gun, restores it to his holster, then collapses dead.
The Stranger goes into the saloon and orders a whiskey, which he downs in one. The Judge and his men follow, enthusing about what they have seen. The Judge doesn’t care about losing the Kid since the Sheriff is faster, but the Stranger says that he is leaving. The Judge reminds him that he has Cathy but the Stranger says he doesn’t: she’d dead. This shocks the Judge but he is still not prepared to let the Stranger leave. He can’t work for another outfit: the Judge will kill him first.
He gives the Stranger a count of five, whilst his gunmen spread themselves around the Saloon. At the count of four, the Stranger rips into action. He kills all three gunmen quickly, but finds himself directly in front of the Judge, who has drawn a derringer. He shoots the Stranger twice at point-blank range. The Stranger presses his hands to his head, and collapses.
Number Six awakes to find himself lying on the floor of the saloon, in his Village clothing. He has on a pair of headphones and two other wires. Getting to his feet, he rips these off and looks round wildly. He sees the Judge, with the derringer and lurches at him, only to find he is a black and white cut-out. So too is the Kid’s body, on the ground outside.
Harmony is empty but for Number Six, but suddenly he hears a fragment of music on the wind. He follows a lane outside the entrance to Harmony. It leads him to a position overlooking the Village square, where the Villagers are circling.
Number Six makes his way directly to Number Two’s office. On the threshold he halts: Number two is the Judge and his assistant, Number Eight, is the Kid. By the Penny Farthing a woman, Number Twenty-Two, stands: it is Cathy. Number Six takes all this in and turns and leaves.
Number Two and Number Eight argue over the responsibility for failure. It is apparently Number Eight’s scheme – to dose Number Six with hallucinatory drugs, talk to him through microphones, create a primitive scenario where he faces danger, gets and loses love, and breaks. Number Eight blames the failure on Number Two’s impatience, forcing the crisis too soon, and getting too involved in the scenario.
They are distracted by sobs from Number Twenty-Two. When she realises they are staring at her, she runs from the Office, leaving Number Two to comment that he was not the only one to get too involved. Number Eight looks after her with hungry eyes.
At twilight, Number Twenty-Two returns to the Harmony set. She enters the saloon and lies down on the stairs, where ‘Cathy’ was found dead. A silent Number Eight appears, staring at her through the open slats of the stairs. In a harsh voice she berates him about it being over, and goes to leave. He says her name, and she stops, giving him chance to grab her around the throat.
Number Six has also returned to Harmony. He hears the scream and races into the saloon. It is Number Eight who is screaming. Number Six knocks him down and turns to the fallen Number Twenty-Two, who is dying. Her last words are that she wished it had been real.
The final player, Number Two, arrives by Mini-Moke. His appearance in the saloon triggers the final breakdown of Number Eight. Gabbling about not letting the Judge beat him again, he scuttles up the stairs, leans out over the balcony and throws himself to his death.
Number Two looks aghast at what has happened. Number Six gives him a look of utter contempt before walking away.
The Prisoner’s face races towards the screen. A pair of iron-barred doors slide across in front of it, slamming shut.