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Running Order

One interesting thing about The Prisoner is that although it’s essentially a serial, it doesn’t really matter what order the episodes are in, except that “Arrival” must come first and “Once Upon a Time” and “Fall Out” last. McGoohan stated that he could live without 10 of the 17 episodes, and debates abound regarding the proper running order of the series.

According to the Frequently Asked Questions list put out by Patrick LoPresti, (http://allanswers.org/movies/tv/the-prisoner/part1.htm) the most common running orders of the series go as follows:

  • KTEH: a San Jose, California, PBS affiliate for which writer D. Scott Apel developed this running order. According to LoPresti, the order was “reportedly approved by McGoohan himself.”
  • Six of One: This particular running order is the one endorsed by Six of One, the Official Prisoner Appreciation Society (http://www.ThePrisonerAppreciationSociety.com).
  • SciFi: This is the order used for the Sci-Fi Channel marathon. LoPresti says that Sci-Fi normally uses the Six of One order.
  • ITC: The “official” Independent Television Commission sequence.
  • Original: The sequence of episodes when they were first broadcast. It’s important to mention that “Living In Harmony” was not broadcast in the United States, for various stupid reasons.
  • McGoohan: Patrick McGoohan’s original seven “core” episodes.

Though the running order doesn’t matter that much to me, I buy into the KTEH order, more or less. However:

  • Despite the fact that Number Six tells Dutton that he arrived in The Village “quite recently,” perhaps “Dance of the Dead” should run a tiny bit later, maybe third or fourth, or even fifth. A female Number Two is kind of novel, especially in the late 1960s, so this fact alone might have more of an impact after a few male Number Twos come and go. Also—and this is a little thing—in the “Where am I?” “In The Village” part, Mary Morris leaves out an “information,” which to me signals that this Number Two is different, and not just because she’s a woman. I can’t explain it, but somehow that tiny omission tells me that this episode is important. Also, though Number Six does say “I’m new here,” we don’t know how new he is, nor should we necessarily assume that this is anything other than his way of saying that the rules don’t apply to him.
  • In “Free For All,” Number Six picks up his beeping phone to hear an operator ask, “Is your number six?” He replies, “That is the number of this place.” This is decent evidence of an early episode. That is, in later episodes, the operator would know that his number was six, though he’d still be about as likely to reply as before.
  • We learn—assuming Janet and Sir Charles Portman, et al., aren’t in on the whole thing—that a year passes between “Arrival” and “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.” So that episode should run within the last six or seven, but exactly where is not clear. I think it could reasonably run between “Living in Harmony” and “It’s Your Funeral.” In fact, that might make sense because “Hammer into Anvil” introduces a violent, sadistic Number Two, presumably because no other approach has worked with Number Six… and what better reason to try this approach than because Number Six has just foiled an attempt to make him believe that he had been lobotomized and managed to turn the tables? Why bring this guy in after an episode where Number Six really hasn’t done anything to harm The Village?
  • The last five episodes in the KTEH order should be in that order.
  • KTEH places “The Chimes of Big Ben” and “Many Happy Returns” too close together—two “escape by sea” episodes.
  • “Many Happy Returns,” “The Schizoid Man,” “The General,” and “A. B. and C.” bring up a fair amount of debate. In “Many Happy Returns,” Number Six arrives at his house the day before his birthday, after 25 days at sea. Thus, if he’s arrived on March 18, he must have left on or about February 20. However, “The Schizoid Man” appears to take place between February 10 and March 10. This is probably just something of a continuity glitch, though; the question could’ve been resolved if the target date in this episode were, say, January 10 instead.

Still, it does lead one to wonder how “real” this all is, or—staying within the bounds of willing suspension of disbelief—if “The Schizoid Man” might happen a year after “Many Happy Returns.” The question, more likely, is, “Why should we trust The Village at all?” That is, why wouldn’t we expect the various Number Twos to manipulate the calendar occasionally, as happens in “The Schizoid Man”?

There’s no question in my mind that “The General” should run after “The Schizoid Man,” if only because Number Two, at the end of “The Schizoid Man,” mentions The General and clearly finds Number Six’s response puzzling and, I daresay, out of context. In other words, Number Two knows that The General is a computer, not a person, but Number Six doesn’t. If this were not true, there’d be no reason for Number Two to be suspicious of Number Six’s remarks. Therefore, it strikes me as strange to place “The Schizoid Man” after “The General,” but both Six of One and the Sci-Fi Channel do, and I’m sure they have their reasons.

Finally, whither “A. B. and C.”? Only KTEH and Sci-Fi see fit to place it after “The General,” but that’s almost certainly where it should go, for a number of reasons. The one that’s most debatable, though, has to do with Number Two, in “The General,” stating that he and Number Six are “old friends.” You’d expect that to mean, “We tangled before—remember ‘A. B. and C.’?” But the interpretation I’ve settled on is, “We had a chance to spar verbally earlier in this episode.”

But it’s really Number Two’s demeanor that tells me what the proper order is. Throughout much of “The General,” he’s pretty pleased with himself. Toward the end, he betrays a lack of confidence in the computer, then obviously is deeply upset when the entire operation falls apart. Come “A. B. and C.,” the Number Two we see is no longer smug, though he tries to put on a brave face. More attention is called to the milk he drinks, probably to quiet a perturbed tummy; he’s sleeping poorly; and his boss is only giving him enough rope with which to hang himself. That is, “You’ve failed in one risky and dangerous venture. Don’t let it happen again.” He’s far more reckless and desperate in “A. B. and C.,” and when—curses!—he’s foiled again, you can almost see his heart skip a beat. He knows things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, if ever. It’s no accident that we never see him again.

So for what it’s worth, I’m going to try my hand at ordering the episodes:

  1. Arrival
  2. The Chimes of Big Ben
  3. Checkmate
  4. Dance of the Dead
  5. Free For All
  6. Many Happy Returns
  7. The Schizoid Man
  8. The General
  9. A. B. and C.
  10. Living in Harmony
  11. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
  12. It’s Your Funeral
  13. A Change of Mind
  14. Hammer into Anvil
  15. The Girl Who Was Death
  16. Once Upon a Time
  17. Fall Out

McGoohan, according to LoPresti’s list, places “The Chimes of Big Ben” fifth—just before the other McKern episodes, “Once Upon a Time” and “Fall Out.” This would be okay—except that in “Once Upon a Time,” when Number Two calls Number Six and says, “Why do you care?,” Number Six says, “I know your voice,” and Number Two replies, “I’ve been here before.” Well, of course he has—in the previous episode, according to McGoohan’s “core” list.

I don’t know that I actively like “The Chimes of Big Ben” second, but I’m used to it, and it’s kind of there by default, though it could easily switch places with “Checkmate.” And with “Checkmate,” one thing you’ve got to wonder is, is Number Six reticent because he doesn’t trust the Queen, or because he doesn’t trust The Village? KTEH places “Checkmate” early, at a point where you’d think Number Six wouldn’t quite understand yet that he shouldn’t trust anybody; but in the original broadcast order, the episode runs fairly late, at which point he should be pretty aware that no one in The Village wants to help him.

The reason I figure “Free For All” should come after “Dance of the Dead” is that while both scenarios are designed to break Number Six’s spirit and show him that things aren’t going to go his way, the end of “Dance of the Dead” has Number Two emphasizing that life will only get worse for Number Six if he doesn’t give The Village what it wants, while the end of “Free For All”—an episode in which Number Six’s health is seriously at risk—has him being told, “Will you never learn?”—meaning, “We really are this powerful and this annoying. You will not escape. You will not manipulate the system. We’ll manipulate you, you will give us what we want, and you can choose to do it the easy way, because as you’ve seen, the hard way is pretty awful.” I see this as reiterating Number Two’s message at the end of “Dance of the Dead.”

I like “Many Happy Returns” following on the heels of “Free For All,” though, because first Number Six gets this rather dire message from the new Number Two (previously the annoying foreign maid) and presumably has to chew on that, then wakes up one day to find himself apparently free to go. And go he does—putting tremendous effort and resourcefulness into the whole process, only to find out that The Village has an excruciatingly long reach.

And if that’s not psychologically intimidating enough, along comes a double, in “The Schizoid Man,” to say, “I’m you and you’re not. Deal with that.”

But deal with it he does, at which time The Village apparently stops, briefly, trying to screw with his head. (When The General is revealed as a computer, this is one of the few moments that truly date the series, but hey, they didn’t know any better. The fact that The General is a computer, I think, clinches the notion that this episode must come after “The Schizoid Man.” During their conversation at the end of that episode, Number Two mentions The General, and Number Six responds as though The General is a person. That’s why “reporting” to The General is such an odd notion. The jig is completely up once Number Six refers to The General as “him.” You can tell by the way Number Two reacts.) This time, in “The General,” the focus is to turn the citizens into “knowledgeable cabbages,” for whatever detestable reasons.

Or so it seems. The real purpose is to conduct an experiment in which Number Six (a) is forced to fight for others, and (b) made to deal with minds being tapped directly, as a prelude to having his own mind accessed directly. Well, he beats the “A. B. and C.” scenario, so the next step is to try and alter his reality, hence “Living in Harmony.”

But he’s too strong for that, too, and is able to “separate fact from fantasy so quickly.” So the next step is not to take his mind away, but his body. It doesn’t seem as though he and Seltzman could have the opportunity to conspire to switch the minds of the three men such that only the hired gun, The Colonel, suffers any particular consequences. Therefore I have to assume that this plan was entirely Seltzman’s idea, and that being the case, there’s not much Number Six actually did beyond finding Seltzman, which The Village wanted anyway.

So what’s next? Well, in “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling,” the focus has already shifted from Number Six—the fact that he even knows Seltzman is dumb luck and seemingly has little to do with his actual imprisonment—so The Village might as well continue to try to draw Number Six’s attention away from his own problems and drag him into a “greater good” struggle and also use him to achieve a goal that has little to do with Number Six himself. (“We’re all pawns, me dear.”)

But Number Six trips up The Village again in “It’s Your Funeral,” so it’s time for a return to the mind games. Here, in “A Change of Mind,” it’s about “information” again, and using desperate measures to get it. This fails, tables are turned, so Number Six must be punished. That’s why the next Number Two wants to “hammer” him. Here, though, the breakdown of The Village—which really started with “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” in that even the overall goals of the place have eluded the various Number Twos—is well under way, and the wrong man is brought in to restore order.

“Hammer into Anvil” echoes “Living in Harmony” inasmuch as the central message Number Six receives is, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.” And in each case, Number Six’s response is, “That’s right. You gotta go.” And he makes it happen. Just as he showed that he wasn’t afraid of “The Judge” or “The Kid,” he shows that this cruel, sadistic, insecure Number Two is no match for him, and this time it’s child’s play.

“The Girl Who Was Death,” though, would be entirely unnecessary—were it not for the revelation at the end that Number Six can now control the surveillance cameras. That’s when you realize that The Village has been grasping at straws for the previous 50 minutes, desperately trying to glean some nugget that will further its cause. They fail… so it’s time for Degree Absolute.

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