Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: Dance of the Dead

An appropriate episode for this time of year, Dance of the Dead is set around the time of the Village's carnival, when the villagers dress up in costumes and celebrate with a big party at the Town Hall.

But there are sinister goings-on at this carnival, orchestrated by the chillingly ruthless, enigmatic Number 2, wonderfully played by Mary Morris. A dark counterpoint to Leo McKern's portrayal in his episodes, her Number 2 seems to enjoy the power of being "the boss," the parodying of democracy and the battle of wills against Number 6.

I am inclined to agree with the Anorak when he suggests that, although broadcast eighth, this should have been the second episode of the series. Number 6 still seems to be new to the Village and, aside from outright stating "I'm new here" to his maid, he still resists being addressed as "Number 6" (e.g. by the Village postman) and is unfamiliar with parts of the Village (e.g. the Town Hall) in ways not seen since Arrival.

If this had been episode 2, it would have been the first time we would have seen the opening dialogue between Number 6 and Number 2, and I think it is interesting to note the small, subtle difference between Mary Morris's lines and those of other Number 2s: she only says "information..." twice, not three times and, perhaps more significantly, gives a sinister chuckle before saying "You are Number 6." Of course it may not be significant at all...

Although in the chronological order of events this episode should clearly come earlier than it does, I think it makes a certain kind of sense when viewed in this order. In a number of the episodes I have already covered, including Chimes of Big Ben, Schizoid Man and Many Happy Returns, the viewer could be fooled into thinking Number 6 will escape the Village at the end. Having watched this episode, it is clear that it is never going to be that simple.

Although the stated goal of the Village is to get "information" from Number 6, here we see clearly for the first time something that will be crucial by the time we come to the series finale - that the Village wants Number 6 to come over to their side.

The opening scene of the episode sees one of Number 2's interrogators (a 'doctor') trying to get information from Number 6. But Number 2 stops him and says "I don't want him broken. He must be won over. It may seem a long process to your practical mind, but this man has a future with us."

Locked into his house for the night, Number 6 jumps down from the window and makes his way onto the beach. He is observed and Rover is summoned. It doesn't smother him this time, but it does threaten him and prevents him from getting any further.

"He'll eventually go back to his room. It's the only place he can ever go," Number 2 tells her cat.

Having spent the night sleeping on the beach, Number 6 wakes up to find a man's body washed ashore nearby him. In his pocket Number 6 finds a miniature radio set, which is still working.

Number 6 gets some evidence of the Village, along with a note he writes, places them on the dead body and sets it back into the sea, hoping for its discovery. After doing this he meets a man called Dutton and they recognise each other from before either of them were taken to the Village. Dutton has been in the Village for longer than Number 6 and he is convinced they will soon kill him while trying to get information from him - information he doesn't have.

"There will be music, dancing, happiness, all at the carnival... by order."

While most villagers have costumes that are elaborate and themed on historical or fictional characters (Caesar, Napoleon, Peter Pan, Little Bo Peep, etc.) Number 6's costume, provided by the Village, is his own tuxedo and thus mundane by comparison.

The carnival is, I find, one of the hardest scenes to watch in all of The Prisoner, and is by far the most effective demonstration of the absolute power of the Village and the magnitude of the opposing force that Number 6 is up against.
Most of this comes from the dialogue, for instance when Number 2 arrives at the carnival:
"What, no dancing? Tonight's for dancing... amongst other things."
Amazingly sinister.

"Why haven't I a costume?" Number 6 asks Number 2 (she is dressed as Peter Pan).
"Perhaps because you don't exist," she replies.

Number 6 takes the opportunity of being in the Town Hall to sneak away from the carnival crowd and have a look around, donning a labcoat and glasses as a disguise. He intercepts a "termination order" (in white letters on black paper, very melodramatic) for Dutton.

He wanders around empty rooms with only the automatic doors and lights for company. This quiet scene builds up the suspense for what happens next.

When he finds the body he last saw when he put it into the sea, Number 2 (and the cat) enter. She tells Number 6 that the body will be "amended" to resemble Number 6.
"So in the outside world..." "which you only dream about..." "I'll be dead."

Number 6 is put on trial, charged with possession of an unlawful radio set - the one he took from the body. In this open mockery of a court, Number 2 is defending him. She does not attempt to disprove the charge, only pleads for clemency from the judges (three judges, no jury, "like in the French Revolution").

Number 6 tries to call Dutton as a "character witness" but when Number 2 brings Dutton in he is dressed as a fool and appears to have had his mind destroyed. He can't say anything at all, never mind help defend Number 6. It is a chilling and brutal demonstration of what they are capable of.

Number 6 is found guilty by the judges. "The sentence is death." Number 6 runs away and the screaming mob of villagers pursue him to carry out the sentence. Number 6 evades them but, once again, is found by Number 2.

"Why are they trying to kill me?" he asks.
"They don't know you're already dead; locked up in the long box in that little room."
What she is saying is that the man Number 6 was outside the Village is dead. From now on he is only Number 6. The episode ends abruptly, to the sound of Number 2's mocking laughter.

Next: Checkmate

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