The 1967/68 series "The Prisoner" may not have run long enough to make lists with all the greatest shows in television history. However, these 17 episodes of mysterious drama were enough to inspire generations of shows in its wake.
If you were thrilled by multiple puzzle-like threads of "Lost" or the eerie subtext of living in a small interconnected community like "Twin Peaks," you owe it to yourself to find this brief run of a series which still resonates today.
In its time, color TV was the revolution of the ’60s. Suddenly thrust into technicolor, fashion followed along, willingly submitting to bright lemon yellows, deep crimson reds, and rich verdant greens.
"The Village" is the creation at the center of "The Prisoner," a mysterious paradise-like resort that is one part Carnaby Street, London and one part plummeting down a Lewis Carroll-ian rabbit hole. In one episode, the nemesis, No. 2, gives the protagonist/anti-hero, No. 6, a tour of "The Village" from a helicopter. From this omniscient Hitchcock-ian point of view, we are privileged to admire a fantasy camp with Romanesque fountains, Georgian architecture and an Italian piazza that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Within "The Village" there are no "self-driving cars" (one of a dozen prescient facets of the show), so you are picked up in a festive taxi driven by a multi-lingual Japanese model in a bold red-striped shirt. The men don sleek, casual wear that at the time separated No. 6 from being another James Bond. No. 6's outfit of a tight black coat with piping, dark turtleneck, khakis, and trendy sneakers is years ahead of the "casual Friday" look many have today. While this look may have been selected for its mod appeal, its modern appeal is evident in the current trend of formalities like ties suddenly becoming unnecessary.
"The Prisoner" is largely successful because these sumptuous visuals often lull you right out of the ongoing harsh truth: "The Village" is a prison. There are shadowy forces behind the scenes (their lair looks straight out of "Barbarella"), who do not mind mixing a little thought-control with their very generic dot-less Albertus labeling of destinations like the "General Store" with signage like "A still tongue makes a happy life." and "Questions: are a burden to others; Answers: a prison for oneself."
Beneath its stylish exterior, "The Prisoner" predicted the phenomena of surveillance. Cameras are everywhere. Elegant sculpture gardens adorned with classic busts have eyes that shift and move. And as much as they try to be timely with references to Russia and Red China, the satirical glimpse of consumerism still rings true today. Finally, there is the conclusion - still debated about to this day - a series of unanswered questions and clues that force you back through the series again. The conclusion of "The Prisoner" in 1968 marked the first time a TV show refused to tie up any loose ends and let the mystery be. Years later, series finales will leave their characters stranded, left behind or simply faded to black.
Now 50 years later, there is talk again of another reboot or a possible film version. "The Prisoner" was science fiction that did not look like science fiction. It predates dystopian series and openly casts its Orwellian die in each show. From its Baroque landscapes, Harlequin-ian dress, and mysterious Kafka-esque tone, "The Prisoner" clearly still has more of the future to predict for you. Be seeing you.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T- BONE's Records and Cafe and a GED instructor.