The End of The Prisoner: Who Is No. 1?
In the old and new versions of The Prisoner, Six wants Two to answer the burning question: Who is No. 1?
In AMC's updated six-part version of the '60s cult classic, an answer comes from a schoolgirl in Monday's Episode 3. Her rote response sounds as if it's had been drummed into her head:
"There is no No. 1. There never has been and there never will be. The concept of the No. 2 is an act of humility. The title reminds us all that we are all public servants, even No. 2. No one is No. 1."
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(A rather obvious spoiler warning: if you haven't seen the endings of the original or new versions, you may not want to read on.)
In the original, viewers had to wait until the 17th and final episode to get some semblance of an answer to the No. 1 question. Even then, it was open to interpretation.
In that version, Patrick McGoohan's No. 6 discovers No. 1 has an an ape face, which is actually a mask. So he rips that off — only to reveal his own face. Is he hallucinating? Is he really seeing himself?
Does it mean No. 6 is No 1? Or that all of us are our own No. 1? That you can be a prisoner of yourself, or you can transcend the sum and limit of your experience?
Throughout the old and new versions of the series, Six believes Two is holding him against his will in the land where everyone has a number for a name. In the old series, McGoohan's character had quit a spy agency. In the new one, Jim Caviezel's Two has resigned from an information-gathering corporation.
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During the tumultuous 1960s, the show played to viewers trying to find their place in the world as the civil rights and women's rights movements fulminated amidst Cold War paranoia. The new version airs during a recession widely blamed on corporate avarice. Instead of targeting Cold War spy games, it seems to evoke Ned Beatty's soliloquy in Network, in which he plays a conglomerate CEO: "There are no nations. There are no peoples. ... It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet."
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Ian McKellen's Two — shaken by the suicide of his son — addresses The Village residents at the young man's funeral, telling them: "Six here has told you the truth a thousand times. You are ALL prisoners." He adds: "Ask him. Six is the one."
Soon, everyone is chanting: "We Want Six. Six is the one ..."
But this is after the girl's warning that there is no No. 1. Has Two doomed Six to impossibly high expectations? Or has Six proven himself the only one worthy of No. 1? It feels like a dark omen when his ladyfriend displays the same catatonic look worn by Two's wife.
What do you think of The Prisoner's conclusion? And if you saw the original, how does it compare?