My rating: **
Back in 1988 when I was working on the manuscript of my first book on Foucault, living in a bedsit in inner city Melbourne, I had the original cult 1967 series of The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan playing on an endless loop whenever I was having a break from writing. (The local video shop had various volumes of the series on VHS for $1 a week rental.) Some of the same elements that fascinated me about Foucault’s work also fascinated me in The Prisoner.
Just a quick plot summary for those who came late. The central character resigns from an unspecified job, returns to his London flat to pack, is gassed and wakes up in a replica of his flat in a kitsch resort only known as ‘the village’. He is only ever referred to as ‘number 6’ and in each episode a bureaucrat known only as number 2 tries ‘by hook and by crook’ to find out why number 6 resigned. Each episode sees the failure of number 2 and the appointment of a new person to fill that position in the next episode.
But this is not a review of the original 1967 series, it is the beginnings of a review of the 2009 ‘re-imagining’ of the original. I have watched 3 episodes so far and am determined to watch the rest. I was thoroughly expecting to be outraged by the new series but not to be simply bored. Beyond the fact that the characters in the series are given numbers rather than names and the central character, number 6, is ‘imprisoned’ in a place called ‘the village’ and that a bigger and better rover (a big white ball) makes its presence felt, this is where any resemblance between the two series ends. Whereas for all its weird surrealism, the first series made sense and one always had the sense of a strong agenda of social critique, the 2009 series is a confused mess. Any social critique it offers is so contrived as to ring utterly hollow. It is also fairly violent in a way that the original series never was. In the original series the relative lack of overt violence created the effect of a society so sophisticated in its techniques of social control that it rarely had to resort to the end game of blood letting.