Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: Hammer Into Anvil

Patrick Cargill, who had already been in The Prisoner as Thorpe in Many Happy Returns (playing the same man maybe?) is Number 2, and this is his episode as much as it is McGoohan's, as this is the one where Number 6 destroys Number 2 by using his own weaknesses against him.

It begins with the new Number 2 interrogating Number 73, a woman in hospital after attempting suicide. Number 6 hears her screams from outside the hospital and goes to help. When he enters the room she jumps out of the window to her death - a shocking start to the episode.

Number 6 is brought - kicking and screaming, by three burly henchmen - to Number 2's house where Number 2 threatens to break him. But, once permitted to depart, Number 6 begins a series of actions that will, ultimately, break Number 2.
  • In the shop he listens to all the copies of a particular record that they have in stock while checking his watch. Naturally the shopkeeper, a witness to this odd behaviour, reports what he has seen to Number 2 and gives him his first clue that Number 6 is up to something.
  • Number 2 and his henchman Number 14 track him down to the stone boat where Number 6 hides a package. Retrieving it, Number 2 finds it is full of blank sheets of paper. Nothing the Village scientists can do will find anything on the sheets.
  • He places a message in Spanish ( a quote from Don Quixote) in the personal column of the Tally Ho to further confuse Number 2 as to his purpose.
  • He telephones the director of psychiatry at the hospital and asks for his report on Number 2. Number 2 has been listening in on the call and brings the doctor in to ask him what it was about. The poor doctor denies preparing a report on Number 2 - well, he would - and this only makes Number 2 even more suspicious.
  • He makes a request of the Village open-air band but doesn't stay to listen to it. We don't see that he's being observed in this by Number 2's agents but by this point it's clear his every action is being watched even more than is usual for the Village. We only see the poor, innocent band leader being aggressively questioned by Number 2 for the 'real' reason Number 6 spoke to him. From this point Number 2 lets his paranoia get the better of him, playing into Number 6's hands.
  • The Village radio broadcasts a personal message from Number 113 to Number 6 wishing him a happy birthday. But it's not Number 6's birthday. And there is no Number 113. Number 2 hears the message and it causes him to remove the Supervisor from his position for allowing the message to go out. Number 2 is now convinced there is a conspiracy against him, but who else is in it?
  • Number 6 turns up at Number 2's house saying Number 2 sent for him. He didn't. This paralyses Number 2 trying to understand what this means.
Number 14 is still on Number 2's side, and he takes Number 6 on at 'Kosho,' the ridiculous game involving trampolines and a small pool of water. This is a pointless scene that only serves to break up the flow of the episode as Number 2 is overcome by his paranoia and systematically alienates himself from those around him.
  • Number 6 buys a cuckoo clock and turns its case into a trap for a pigeon (meanwhile the Village bomb squad is kept busy disposing of the unnecessary clock part. Upon discovering it is only a clock the expert subtly indicates it is the panicking Number 2 that is 'cuckoo'). The pigeon is used to carry a coded message, which the Village intercepts after shooting down* the pigeon. The computer decodes the message for Number 2.
  • Number 6 goes to the beach and signals the horizon with a mirror reflecting sunlight in morse code. With no receiver being detected by all the technology at the Village's disposal, and the computer unable to decode "Pat-a-cake pat-a-cake baker's man," Number 2 cannot trust that those around him aren't in on the conspiracy against him.
  • The last loyal follower of Number 2 is Number 14, until Number 6 whispers to him at the cafe, making sure the meeting is observed by other villagers so Number 14 reports himself to Number 2 rather than have someone else inform on him. But Number 2 is by now so paranoid that he doesn't believe Number 14's story, and he accuses Number 14 of working with Number 6 and being a traitor.
Number 2 suspects everyone, even the silent butler who he demands get out of his house. But I think the butler knows he'll be here long after this Number 2 is gone from the Green Dome.

Number 14 goes to Number 6's house and fights with him as relaxing music plays in the background (it's not incidental music; Number 6 was listening to it when Number 14 arrived - a nice little touch that gives this scene a touch of surrealism), until Number 14 is defenestrated.

With Number 14 out of the way, Number 6 goes to see Number 2, who is all alone in his house (the butler having packed his bags and left). Number 2 confronts Number 6 with the 'fact' that he is a plant sent by their masters to spy on Number 2.

To this Number 6 suggests that, if true, then Number 2 is either a traitor or a blunderer for interfering with someone sent by their masters. Number 2 is broken completely and he begs Number 6 not to report him. Number 6 says "I don't intend to. You are going to report yourself."

Number 2 calls his superior (Number 1?) on the big red telephone...

I think this is a superb episode, with one of the strongest stories of the series showing Number 6 defeating Number 2, despite all the advantages he possesses as head of the Village, by using intelligence and trickery and not by violence or force (what fight scenes there are in this episode are incidental to the story).

Scenes showing Number 6 undertaking some seemingly random and pointless activity are revealed to have their effects on Number 2, piling up and systematically causing him to suspect and then alienate those around him because he thinks they must be covering up what Number 6 is really doing. He just cannot see what the audience has been in on throughout - that the only purpose of Number 6's actions are to have exactly that effect on him.

Aside from the unnecessary Kosho scene, this is overall a pretty tightly-paced episode. It's very well executed from the initial scenes showing us, the audience, that this Number 2 is a nasty piece of work and Number 6 is justified in breaking him, through all the stages of Number 6's campaign against him to the final scene of Number 2 reporting his own failure to his superiors.

Crucial to the success of this episode is Patrick Cargill's performance as Number 2. He begins as an aggressive, confident new Number 2 who thinks he can succeed where previous Number 2's have failed. But he also has his underlying insecurity that Number 6 is quick to spot and exploit, changing the confidence into paranoia and the aggression is turned against his own side.

Patrick Cargill's performance shows all of this, and each scene we see his breakdown progressing further. His emotional, over-the-top acting contrasts with McGoohan's complete cool throughout, and this combined with Number 2's central importance to the story, makes his Number 2 one of the most memorable to me.

Next: It's Your Funeral

* Don't worry, pigeon-lovers: the pigeon survived. They only used minimum strength on the laser gun so as not to destroy the message.

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