The opening quote to this blogpost is from an interview with Patrick McGoohan in 1967, as his new show was about to premiere in the UK. The same interviewer also noted:
"The idea is his own. He is also the executive producer. He has taken over direction of many of the sequences (but without giving himself a screen credit for this). He has buried himself in the cutting-rooms during the editing of the episodes. And he has worked on every script, irrespective of who may have written it,."
As mentioned in my previous blog-post, huge debate in prisoner fans circles swirls around the presence of Colin Gordon. One dismissive theory says that his two Number Two's are completely different persons within the fiction. Part of the rationale for this view lies in the common ITC practice of having the same actor play entirely different roles in different episodes. However most ITC shows of that time had no story arc or continual narrative. Their heroes would be introduced fully-formed and have many adventures and then the series would just be finished, with the hero vanishing in exactly the same form as he had first appeared. A relevant case in point is the sequel series ITC created to McGoohan’s very own Danger Man. Man in a Suitcase comprised 30 episodes and whilst the series did explain where McGill came from, it never gave us a cue as to his conclusion.
However, in the case of The Prisoner this reductionist rationale seems inadequate because McGoohan only intended a short limited series and could not have expected his audience to entirely fail to notice that one week’s new Number Two was later an old Number Two!! It suited his plot to overtly recognise and explain the recurrence of Leo McKern but he chose not to do so in the case of Colin Gordon. However, that they were the same person seems indicated by their both drinking milk, plus the addition of a line in the script where Number Two in The General acknowledges Number Six as being "an old friend". It is oft-claimed in Prisoner cult writing that because Colin Gordon displays abject defeat at the conclusion of A,B&C, that he was somehow doomed. However McKern failed to succeed just as much in Chimes of Big Ben, and he clearly was allowed back, so why not Gordon? Of course, I am hardly the first to stick with the intended order; once upon a time so did the 'official' promoters.
The previous experience of the pair meeting in A,B&C also deals quite neatly with the puzzle in The General that stems from the apparent unwillingness of the new old Number Two to get too involved with Number Six and also why Number Six 'sticks his nose in'. To defeat again the old but new Number Two gives a very simple motivation to the actions of Number Six in this episode. Speedlearn seemed not to be aimed at him especially and yet he goes out of his way to destroy it. Once you watch The Prisoner in harmony with the vision of it’s creator, Patrick McGoohan, then the series really does make more and more sense the moor you look at it, rather than less. Unfortunately whole generations have now been deluded into watching this show in such wilfully incorrect orders that many of the nuances have been either lost or utterly confused. Seldom can a fan-base have so debased the object of it's affections.
I would be the first to say that adding further storyline complications to the already labyrinthine plots of The Prisoner might be superflous. However, it is only by fully considering these various connections that enables the viewer to see that McGoohan was taking care to ensure that (so far as he could) all his episodes linked together in a rational, as well as creatively free manner He produced an intriguing but consistent narrative arc. He had no interest in tediously filling in the back-story gaps for the viewer, but where a careful and perceptive viewer chooses to look closely, all the episode sequences can be demonstrated to have a logical form. This approach bears witness to his detailed role as Executive Producer. Because of commercial production logistics some of these character linkages were clearly not scripted (it is said that Colin Gordon for instance only stayed to make The General as a favour to McGoohan, because no other actor was available to fit the production schedule).
McGoohan once criticised himself for not ensuring he had firm scripts and storyboards before starting filming, but the advantage this gave him was that he was able to juggle all the plot links he spotted and weave them into a complex series that still entrances the viewer all these years later. However, like any creative work, it primarily works when viewed from the eye of the man who wrote, directed and produced it.
My final point is perhaps one of the more esoteric, but it works so well, I am convinced McGoohan did it on purpose. When first scripted Dance of the Dead may well have been one of the possibly-intended second episodes un-edited by George Markstein; however some image quality issues led that episode to fall out of the show (as explicated in a memoir by Ian Rakoff). Reinstated later all the aspects of that episode that signal it to be a second episode, such as Number Six stating he is new to the village, are brilliantly and cleverly accounted for by its being placed immediately following Many Happy Returns (one of the last episodes to be produced) when Numbers Six was indeed freshly returned to the village!! By this method, McGoohan ensured all these episode dialogues still made sense when this segment ultimately was placed at number eight. McGoohan seems even to have taken one more step to cleverly draw the viewer into making sense of these episodes sequencing one another. In Many Happy Returns, a black cat appears as a mysterious presence, at both the beginning and the end of the episode.
Be seeing you.
Shiver my whiskers.
Larkin's Blog - Supplemental
13th September 2011
Reading a post at http://david-stimpson.blogspot.com/ reminded me of another ordering continuity that McGoohan/Everyman seems to have cleverly taken into account as the episode order was finalised for broadcast. In the concluding scene of Schizoid Man, the Number Two is chatting to the apparent Number Twelve and becomes suspicious about whether Curtis/Number Twelve is the man whom he appears to be. Number Six is definitively caught out by his ignorance of the fact that Susan, Curtis’ wife, was dead. However, immediately preceding that, they have an exchange that seems to first raise a doubt in the Number Two’s mind and leads to him to lay the Susan trap.
2: …..have you thought any more about that proposition I put to you when I arrived?
6: Sorry, I’ve had no time
2: But you must have some views?
6: I’m afraid not
2: Look old chap, we’ve been through some scrapes before, but we’ve never fallen out over them. The General’s not going to behead you !
6: We won’t know until I’ve reported to the General, will we
2: Report to the General? That’s a new one!
In the very next episode we meet The General. He is a computer. No wonder Number Two thought it a strange thing for Curtis to say, strange - if not out of order in fact! Whether this congruence of plot arose by deliberate pre-planning or was merely noticed, or inserted post-hoc, matters little. The important thing is that Everyman’s ordering of the episodes gives it the truest meaning. The devilish cleverness is often in the detail.