Sunday, October 07, 2012

Some thoughts on The Prisoner episode "The Chimes of Big Ben"

“The Chimes of Big Ben”

“The Chimes of Big Ben” will always be the second episode to me. It was played second during the 1990 run on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW (when it replaced Doctor Who for a stretch). This episode was the buy-in for me. The Bad Guys win--quite ingeniously too. And it is only the supreme will and focus of the Good Guy that allows him to at least not completely fail. The “twist” sold me on the series overall, especially blending into my third episode of “A., B., and C.” If I had watched “Free For All” second, I don’t know if I would have bought in.

And if you ask me, Leo McKern’s #2 simply must come early in the series, as early as possible after a couple of #2s. This facilitates his coming back in the penultimate and final episodes and for some of the things said in this episode.

“I want him with a whole heart, body, and soul.”

“One tiny piece at a time? I don’t want a man of fragments!”

“You’ll be cured.” The best line to allude to Orwell’s 1984, where 2 + 2 = 5.

And #2 talks about #6’s resignation to a subordinate--there’s our exposition that should have been in “Arrival.” He doesn’t have to say it directly to #6.

As #6 plays chess with the General, a lot is packed into that scene. The General tells him to “settle down,” that there’s “no point in being uncooperative.” #6 is looking at himself in the decades ahead if he doesn’t do something. The General didn’t take a position of authority but didn’t crack, and he’s stuck here. I like to think the General is #6 that gave up, settled down, but still tells them nothing, sort of like the deal that #6 makes with #2 over letting Nadia go. #6 builds a boat; the General really does settle down.

When #6 first meets Nadia, he talks as if he is already part of the Village just like everyone else. I love it. You’d think he would be pleasant instead of cryptic, mean instead of condescending to her--just like everyone else was to him on the first day.

“Who is #2?” Nadia asks and #6 replies, “Who is #1?” This is huge to the overall story. It’s made a question instead of in “Free For All” where #6 comes out and says that “Number One’s the boss.”

The best scene of the entire series is the chat between #2 and #6 on the beach, watching Nadia begin to swim out to sea.

#6: Did it ever occur to you that you’re just as much a prisoner as I am?

#2: My dear chap, of course--I know too much. We’re both lifers. I am definitely an optimist. That’s why it doesn’t matter who #1 is. It doesn’t matter which side runs the Village.

#6: It’s run by one side or the other.

#2: Oh, certainly. But both sides are becoming identical. What, in fact, has been created? An international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize they’re looking into a mirror, they will see that this is the pattern for the future.

#6: The whole earth, as the Village is.

#2: That is my hope. What’s yours?

#6: I’d like to be the first man on the moon.

This dialogue means everything to the series. Compare to 1984. This is what these guys see the world as--in order to save it from itself, it needs to take over and crush down free thinking. If the people can’t think, we would have no trouble! That is the difference between #6 and these guys. And Leo McKern’s character buys it now, like all these people in charge of us. They think they know better than regular Joe Shmoes, and the sad part is that most of the time they are right. I’m a teacher and have fallen into this trap of the mind when I know what is best for these students. I see it as being important, I have had all the training and education to be able to decide what is most important for them. So when I have gotten debate, it takes a moment to go back to their new perspectives on life. It is sort of like when as parents we say, and mean it perfectly logically, “Because I said so, that’s why.” I also see this, for anybody that knows comic books, as how Sinestro took care of his world in the pages of Green Lantern. He was a dictator that took away free thought to keep them safe. Sure, he had order, but not happiness. But he was being assessed on the order he kept, not the happiness of the people he was supposed to be helping. As a teacher, if I don’t send anybody to the office, I don’t get in trouble--it really doesn’t matter if they are happy in my classroom or not. As long as students don’t fail my class, I never get talked to about them reaching any kind of standards--but if I have dozens of F’s and standards that are too high for slackers, then I am the one that is called onto the carpet; it doesn’t matter if the good students really pushed the envelope and succeeded beyond all expectations, what they all look at is the low range of grades. (FYI--I do not believe in these scenarios as a teacher, but I see them as possibilities.)

I love the exhibition being all likenesses of #2. Notice when #6 puts his head in the hole of his sculpture you can also see #2’s visage on a drawing on the back wall.

Rover being bulletproof is important--I have had students question why it can’t just be popped.

I always wondered about Fotheringay and the Colonel in the office that #6 knows “very well in London.” Does this prove that it’s run by the British side? But later, we see complete dopplegangers, even of #6 himself. So this proves nothing. He gets yelled at by the Colonel in a perfect argument--exactly what the guy should say had this escape been real.

After all the episodes, I think #6 comes the closest to failing right here.

“It was a matter of conscience!” This is the best answer we ever get.

“I resigned because for a very long time…”

Leo McKern comes the closest of all #2s but even he realizes that should never have worked. “I told you.” It’s almost like he was a player betting on the other team.

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