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July 7, 2014 8:57 PM   Subscribe

A man wearing a dark blazer with white braiding steps out from behind what looks to be a giant white balloon. A penny-farthing sits in the foreground. Cheerily, he addresses the camera: "Hi, I'm Scott Apel, video critic for the San Jose Mercury News, and I'm here to welcome you again to The Prisoner, one of the most intriguing and most talked about television series ever made..." (YT)

The following is analysis from Scott Apel about the cult TV program, The Prisoner, broadcast circa mid-1980s on KTEH Channel 54 (PBS affiliate in San Jose, California). Analysis consists of two sections: the introductory remarks, and concluding commentary that followed each episode. All links YouTube.

Scott Apel's KTEH Prisoner Commentary
Dance of the Dead
The Chimes of Big Ben
The General
A. B. and C.
The Schizoid Man
It's Your Funeral
A Change of Mind
Hammer Into Anvil
Do Not Foresake Me Oh My Darling
Living in Harmony
The Girl Who Was Death
Once Upon A Time
Note: Scott Apel's commentary for "Free For All," "Many Happy Returns," and "Fall Out" do not seem to exist at this time on YouTube. You can view KTEH's (and other stations') airing order here.

The official KTEH Public Television Channel 54 videos
The Village (Portmeirion, North Wales)
Patrick McGoohan
Playlist format
Scott Apel Prisoner Intros from xinjeisan
The Prisoner - commentary and analysis from spocklogic

See also: FanFare
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (27 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

I grew up on that. Man, Scott loved that show.

(I'm kinda afraid to watch his commentary again, as it appeared educated and insightful to my teenaged self. Don't want to spoil it.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:03 PM on July 7

I'm following the FanFare re-watch right now, but watching The Prisoner for the first time. This is scratching a deep-seated itch for me, thanks.
posted by carsonb at 9:14 PM on July 7

The original airings came at a perfect time for me, as I was transitioning from tween to teen. Number Six was my Number One.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:47 PM on July 7

Love this show. I've spent the past year re-enacting it in Animal Crossing, more or less. (Mostly less.)
posted by rifflesby at 11:41 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]

I watched The Prisoner in high school in the 70s, NYC area PBS, with no commentary. I was completely baffled, but could not turn away. I would have loved to have someone at least acknowledge that something odd was going on.
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:44 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

You can view KTEH's (and other stations') airing order here.

That seems to be different than the order indicated here.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:14 AM on July 8

Ah, he starts explaining his reasoning in the third one.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:36 AM on July 8

The final episode of that show was one of the WTFiest television programs I have ever had the good fortune to witness.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:03 AM on July 8

OK I would like to ask a question again and I would really like the moderators to not censor it again. This is a serious question. I am very serious about The Prisoner.

Please explain why I would want to listen to this guy's interpretation of a surrealist experience that changed the way I view the world.

Now this is not a derail. This is a serious question. The impression The Prisoner made on me is very strong, and not something I can explain, not even to myself. In fact, that is what surrealism is about, giving you an experience that can not be explained rationally. I am interested in what this person has to say, but I suspect it might give a definitive rational interpretation that is counterproductive to the experience of the show.

So it's kind of like explaining the punchline of a joke, it kills the humor. If someone has seen these videos and critical analysis of The Prisoner, could they tell me if there is anything really special in it that would make me want to watch it, despite the risk of it ruining my experience of the show? And if you could explain it in a way that isn't a spoiler, I'd appreciate that too.

And in an analogous situation, having to explain that my censored question was serious and not intended as a snarky derail, and given in the spirit that someone might be able to answer the question seriously, kills the conversation. I thought serious conversation was what MeFi was about. I am certain that there is at least one person who could read my question that could answer it in a way that was of benefit to me, as well as other MeFites. Please allow that to happen.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:05 PM on July 8

Please explain why I would want to listen to this guy's interpretation of a surrealist experience that changed the way I view the world.

Nah bro just leave it. These videos are PBS local affiliate intros for The Prisoner. In other words, nothing definitive about them. For someone like myself, who is watching the show for the first time as an adult (specifically as an adult who, say, read A Gravity's Rainbow Companion concurrently with Gravity's Rainbow) they are fun little markers that help illustrate why people such as yourself feel so ardently about it.

I suspect it might give a definitive rational interpretation that is counterproductive to the experience of the show

You're wrong, Apel is a good-natured guide to the world of The Prisoner who respects the show's special and most endearing qualities, and he wouldn't ruin that 'experience' for his viewers. If anything, the intros and follow-ups are there to keep people interested in something that is worthy of their attention only not obviously or clearly so. Also, the opportunity is taken to explain the different broadcast order they chose. All in all I don't think watching these would ruin your deeply-felt impressions and interpretations, but I also don't think you're coming at them in a way that would allow you to positively broaden or expand your feelings towards the show. Again, just leave it.

And in an analogous situation, having to explain that my censored question was serious and not intended as a snarky derail, and given in the spirit that someone might be able to answer the question seriously, kills the conversation

Now that's a derail. Have a deep breath or two.
posted by carsonb at 7:18 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I have heard differing opinions on the order of episodes but that's about as far as I want to go in restructuring the experience, I have seen them in random enough order as reruns. But surely these commentaries are significant enough in some regard or they probably would not have inspired a FPP. I am open to broadening my interpretation, just not overturning it.

Perhaps I do take The Prisoner a little too seriously. I'll tell you a great story. Back in the 1980s, I went to a Halloween party dressed as Number 6, it was quite a faithful costume, right down to the lapel pin with the pennyfarthing and the 6 on it. I ran into my old pal Timothy Leary, he didn't recognize my costume, he asked me who I was supposed to be. I made a fist and roared, "I am not a number, I am a free man!" He did not get it.

So not everyone gets it. That goes for the moderators too. I won't derail further, other than to say that this has been an ongoing problem and they have been unreasonably heavyhanded on my comments lately. I would go MeTa but that is volunteering for a crucifixion.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:18 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

So not everyone gets it.

That is the essence of why these videos exist. You are right, absolutely, not everyone gets it. But very occasionally someone who does is in a position to attempt to help those who don't (hi, yeah, me) come around. So, charlie don't surf, you're like the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of target audience for these. You're actually sort of akin to Scott Apel, except he's fortunate enough to feel comfortable attempting to explain his impressions and interpretations on air and (probably not his intention) for posterity. That's certainly not a direct assault on your own inexplicable (by your admission, sir) impressions; it's not directed to you at all.

Having consumed plenty of oddball media in my own time and mostly without the support of others around me (lots of alone time with books and video), I absolutely love it when someone feels comfortable enough to attempt to explain how a particular work impressed upon them. Rarely does it threaten my own interpretations, though occasionally I find that my own thoughts were somehow misguided or mistaken. Man, this is why FanFare is such a delight, I finally get to see what impressions media I love has made on an audience I (mostly, usually) respect. And it's why I like seeing videos like these and watching directors' commentaries and reading recaps online.

It sucks that in this particular case you don't feel capable of explaining what The Prisoner means to you, Charlie. I think that if you got those thoughts and feelings sorted out into words it would probably be pretty incredible to read. Slapping a bit of rationality on what's otherwise wholly irrational and therefore inexplicable is the only way we can make sense of anything in this world.

posted by carsonb at 10:43 PM on July 8

I suspect it might give a definitive rational interpretation

Is such a thing even possible with The Prisoner? It's maybe unique in its steadfast refusal to explain itself rationally -- especially the ending, but I'm finding in the FanFare rewatch that it's fairly opaque right from the start.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:43 PM on July 8

Well, now I fear I might give a definitive structure that could overwhelm the narrative. It's late so I'll just take one quick stab at it. It's an abstraction of the spy game into its purest form: asymmetric information. We don't know why #6 resigned, but we can deduce from his completely rational behavior that it is obviously damn important to him. We don't know why #2 wants the information or why it would be important to him, and from #2 and the Villagers' completely irrational behavior, we cannot possibly deduce anything. It is a clash between a man who has nothing left but his principles, standing alone against a situation that is completely amoral and would destroy him.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:37 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Charlie don't surf, have you watched any of these? He says up front that he's not there to provide definitive answers, but to identify the questions. He does offer some possible solutions but often acknowledges contradictory interpretations, and/or cautions against reading too deeply into something. I recommend giving the Symbolism one a look, at least.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:55 AM on July 9

Well that was what I was asking, should I watch these? IMHO the dramatic tension is due to the unresolved conflicts. I would hate it if they got resolved.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:48 AM on July 9

If you're worried you're going to get "here's what was actually going on..." You won't, excepting some behind the scenes stuff (like why Rover looked the way it did.)

The reordering is kind of interesting, in that it strives to be internally consistent. I'm not sure that is the way to approach this show, but it's interesting in itself.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:11 AM on July 9

Please explain why I would want to listen to this guy's interpretation of a surrealist experience that changed the way I view the world.

Offhand I'd guess you don't.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:40 PM on July 9

Curiosity got the better of me, so I watched the first couple of minutes of the Symbolism video. I regret it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:26 PM on July 9

I watched the first couple of minutes of the Symbolism video. I regret it.

OK, then, it's not for you.

I'm curious though. Did you consider the butler in that role (Either of them?) And did that/those possibility/ies change the way you thought about the series?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:27 PM on July 9

Proposing that "The Butler did it" seems like it is just intended to mess with your mind. I had to stop watching after his first theory, so I didn't see any second role. The Butler has some rich symbolism, but I'd prefer him as a symbol of formality and propriety, exaggerated to show it is disproportionate to the context #6 is in.

I admit I don't like assigning too much meaning to specific things in the show. It is deliberately incomprehensible, with layers upon layers of misdirection and concealed motives. I think the show works better if you stop trying to interpret it. That's part of the asymmetric information I mentioned before. The show presents us a lot of information but we cannot know what it really means. We can guess about central ideas like why #6 resigned, but those assumptions we make to fill in the gaps, says more about us than about what motivates #6.

I once heard a screenwriter talking about a concept of a hero as a "perfect moral agent." He has a clear sense of moral purpose, so his reactions to a moral dilemma are obvious to us, and reaffirm our own sense of purpose. #6 is like that, obviously acting out of a clear moral purpose, but the reasons he acts this way is hidden from us. This evokes our empathetic reaction, we wonder less about his motivations, than about what could possibly motivate ourselves to be so determined, knowing it could only end a frustrating stalemate.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Another reading for the Butler was proposed before that one was. And the idea of 'the butler did it' did not escape Mr. Apel.

Myself, I've always been fond of the idea that there was an implied comma in "You are number six."
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:58 PM on July 9

That is the ultimate misdirection of the entire show, "who is #1?" What if there is no #1?
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:53 PM on July 10

To make the implicit comma explicit:

"I am Number Two."

"Who is Number One?"

"You are, Number Six."

What did he resign over in the first place?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:58 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Right, but I am trying avoid making explicit assertions about the meaning of the show, since that's what I was trying to avoid in the first place. But since you're making it more explicit anyway, I will assert there is no #1. That's the whole point of the show, everyone believes in #1, but there is no such thing. It's a gestalt, a mass hallucination. #6 is the only person who acts as if #1 has no power over him. Some might think he is #1 because only #1 could be free from coercion by #1. I think it is #6's refusal to accept the framing of a hierarchical structure is what makes him free.. and what imprisons him.

Remember the Village slogan: questions are a burden to others, answers are a prison for oneself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:25 PM on July 10

For someone trying to avoid making explicit assertions about the show, you seem to have a very set idea of what's going on.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:15 PM on July 10

I have definitive ideas about what cannot be known.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:00 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]

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