Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: It's Your Funeral

"I won't go for it! Whatever it is. So you may as well stop trying."

"We never stop, Number 6."

In his red dressing gown and glasses, looking more than a little like a Gerry Anderson puppet, this is a fabulous entrance for Derren Nesbitt as Number 2. Or should I say Acting Number 2?

I find this episode combines a slow and padded first half with a complex and interesting second half. And when I say "padded" I really mean it - this is the second (and thankfully last) appearance of 'Kosho' in the series.

The plot begins with Number 6 learning about the 'Jammers' - a group of villagers who have made so much of a nuisance of themselves by wasting the Village guardians' time with false reports or escape attempts that they are no longer believed or even closely monitored.

While Number 6 plays Kosho, Acting Number 2's agent sabotages his watch so Number 6 will visit the Village clockmaker's shop and so get drawn in to Acting Number 2's plan. Number 6 sees the clockmaker is constructing a bomb, and joins his daughter (the clockmaker's, not Number 6's) in trying to dissuade the clockmaker from using it to assassinate Number 2.

When the old man remains adamant Number 6 goes straight to Acting Number 2, who claims not to believe Number 6 because the clockmaker is a known Jammer - though really he is filming the entire scene for use later in his plan.

Number 6, oblivious to the part he is playing so well in Acting Number 2's plan, gathers more evidence - finding out that the bomb will be hidden in Number 2's 'seal of office' - and then returns to Number 2's house, where he finds a new Number 2 (the first time this has happened mid-episode since Arrival).

Andre van Gyseghem plays the other Number 2 in this story, an older man who contrasts nicely with Derren Nesbitt's younger version impatiently waiting in the wings for the old man to make way for him.

It turns out that this old Number 2 has not taken over from Acting Number 2 in the way Number 2's have changed before - in a way not seen before and not seen again in the series, he is Number 2 and Acting Number 2 was only temporarily occupying the position while the old Number 2 was away from the Village.

It is not made clear to the viewer (perhaps deliberately so) if this arrangement is a common occurrence in the Village or what this means for other Number 2's we have seen in other episodes - perhaps they were all Acting Number 2s just filling in for this Number 2?

Whatever the arrangement, Number 6 seems to accept it at face value. The old Number 2 has seen all of the films prepared by Acting Number 2 of Number 6 warning Acting Number 2 (and two other Acting Number 2s whom we have not seen before edited together with film of Number 6).

Number 6 has been set up to look like a Jammer. Difficult as it is to believe that the Village would ever discount one of Number 6's escape attempts as a hoax, he has been successfully framed as a man who cries 'wolf' by warning each Number 2 about fictitious assassination attempts.

But this Number 2 is still suspicious enough to gather his own information and, by the time Number 6 next visits him, has come to terms with the truth:
"Tomorrow, after I've handed over office, I'm to be assassinated."
"For 'assassinated' substitute 'executed'."
"Since it's arranged by my own people you mean?"
"You don't mind?"
"Well of course I mind. It's just that... well, I never thought it would happen to me."

With this self-pity and seeming sympathy for the innocent people who will be blamed for the murder and punished in reprisals, this Number 2 comes across as sympathetic - the first time a Number 2 has been anything other than Number 6's scheming opponent. Contrast the old Number 2 with the slimy and devious Acting Number 2, who fills this role in It's Your Funeral.

At the ceremony both Number 2s are visibly nervous. The old Number 2 understandably so, as he knows he has a bomb on a chain around his neck. Acting Number 2 is also nervous for his future depends on the success of his plan, as confirmed by his superior (Number 1?) in a 'phone call. As always we hear only Number 2's side of the conversation.

Having taken a long time to really get going, the plot is then resolved very quickly - Number 6 finds the clockmaker and obtains the detonator from him. Acting Number 2's henchman tries to get it from Number 6 but he is too late because old Number 2 has passed the seal of office to his successor. 'Acting' Number 2 no longer, now he is nervous for a whole new set of reasons.

Number 6 passes the detonator to the now-retired Number 2 as his 'passport' and blathers at the new Number 2 - preventing him from taking the seal from around his neck - long enough for the old Number 2 to make his escape by helicopter.

"Be seeing you... won't I?" are Number 6's final words to the new Number 2.

While this may have made a good adventure story in its own right, there's something unsatisfying to me about the way this episode doesn't fit well in the series as a whole.

Andre van Gyseghem's old Number 2 is played as sympathetic and almost benevolent, as far from Mary Morris's Number 2 in Dance of the Dead as I can imagine. Once he appears and Number 6 sees it is him that is due to be assassinated - and not Acting Number 2 - his claims that he is only saving Number 2's life to protect the innocent villagers don't ring true to me.

It seems to me that either the old Number 2 must have done just as much spying, kidnapping, brainwashing, etc. as any other Number 2, or else he was never really Number 2 at all - just part of the real Number 2's plan - but neither of these are supported by any evidence on screen. Certainly Number 6 accepts him as Number 2 - had he seen him before, off-screen, before the Acting Number 2 replaced him?

Then there are the Jammers. Unless we are to believe they don't really exist except as part of Number 2's plan for this story, they don't fit in well with the way the Village seems to work in just about every other episode - surveillance is near-total, any dissension is ruthlessly suppressed, and any hint of an escape attempt is instantly crushed. Why would the Jammers be allowed to exist?

It seems as though the answer to this is that they have been infiltrated by Village agents and are occasionally made use of in plans such as this one - which would be a nice idea if it worked, but again we come back to the question of why then do they feature in this episode and not any others?

While ambiguity is often a strength in The Prisoner, here I think it just serves to make this episode less enjoyable. It is also very unevenly paced, as I have already mentioned, which doesn't help it. Overall: unsatisfying, one of the weaker episodes of The Prisoner.

Derren Nesbitt's great in it, but frankly I'd rather watch him and McGoohan in the Danger Man episode Sting in the Tail.

Next: A Change of Mind

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