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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Prisoner: "Fall Out"

Illustration for article titled The Prisoner: "Fall Out"
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"It means what it is."
-Number 6

Next year is Lost's finale season. I have high hopes; for all its ups and downs, the show has never completely lost me, and given what happened at the end of last season, I'm really looking forward to how it all plays out in the end. I want answers, I want resolution, I want a satisfying emotional and intellectual experience that will resonate with the series' most effective episodes and prop up the weak spots. But no matter how good it is, that last episode is never going to quite hit all the notes. The show's mythology is too expansive, too riddled with absurdities, to be tied together in one neat package. And I'm okay with that. I understand the fury over the clunkiness of some parts of the end of Battlestar Galactica, but I don't share the anger, because what I want from a conclusion, and what I need, are two different things. I want perfection; I need closure. And despite the bumps in the road, BSG gave me that closure. I have faith that Lost will do the same.

But I gotta tell you, if there isn't a scene with Hurley singing "Dem Bones" to an audience of black-and-white masked judges and a pulsing electronic eye, I'm going to be disappointed.

I adore "Fall Out." I wasn't sure I would, watching again, as this is only the second time I've seen it. I dug it the first time, but it was the sort of astonished, "I have no idea what any of this means but it's awesome" love that doesn't always age well. I know the episode is divisive for fans, and that it's controversial, and there are definitely elements of The Prisoner that didn't hold up to memory. Thankfully, this is not one of them.  It's a challenging, abrasive, often ridiculous, occasionally sublime ep, that is entirely what it is intended to be. I can't find a moment of compromise in the entire fifty minutes, and even if the whole thing had fallen apart on re-viewing, I'd have to give it points for that alone.

We've been staying away from re-caps in these write-ups, if only because it seems a little redundant to recap a show over four decades old, but "Fall Out" is ambiguous enough that I feel like I should pin down what I think happened, before I get into any of the whys. So: Number 6, having defeated Number 2 (Leo McKern) in psychological combat, thereby defeating the Village through sheer endurance and stubbornness, has won the Prize. He's given back his old identity—well, that's not right, because one of the reasons he won was that he never lost who he was. But let's say he's given back the public acknowledgment of himself. He is no longer labeled a number. He is a "free" man. (I'm going to keep on calling him 6, though, because it's less confusing for all of us. Especially me.)

6 is led into the main headquarters of whatever force runs the Village, a Bond-villain style lair complete with computer equipment, the afore mentioned glowering electronic peeper, and an assemblage of masked representatives, led by a judge played by Kenneth Griffin. 6 is offered a throne to sit in while the "tedious ceremony" of the "transfer of ultimate power" commences. 6 watches as two different kinds of rebellion are introduced: the youthful variety, in the all-singing, all-lingo-spouting Number 48 (Alexis Kanner, who, like Griffin, has been on the series before, although not in this role), and as the mature adult who refuses to play nice, the resurrected ex-Number 2, Leo McKern. After these two are temporarily put aside, 6 is given money and a passport to wherever he chooses to go, as well as an offer to take over as leader of the Village and the organization. He tries to give a speech to the assembly, only to have his words drowned up by their boisterous agreement.

6 then gets his deepest wish—to meet Number 1. Who is a man in a robe wearing a black-and-white mask, and an ape mask underneath, but when he's ultimately revealed, turns out to be: Patrick McGoohan. Number 1, giggling like a loon, escapes, 6 (with the help of The Butler, Angelo Muscat) sets 48 and McKern free, then destroys the headquarters, the Village, and Rover, as previously promised. All four men return to England (which is apparently only a quick trip up the road), and the episode ends with 48 hitch-hiking, McKern going back to work for the government, and 6 in his car, still labeled "Prisoner," making the same drive that started the series.

We've talked before about how the nature of the struggle between 6 and the Village changes over the course of the show. "Once Upon A Time" is supposedly the Village's last, most desperate attempt to break him, and when it fails, the struggle is over. 6 is the victor, and the Village accepts defeat. But they don't, not really. The way the Village, and the conformist society it represents, stays in power is by embracing when it cannot destroy. It changes the entire conflict, and threatens to nullify 6's supposed victory. Like the hip language the judge adopts to converse with 48, or the brutal tactics with which it can't entirely stop McKern from laughing ("Fall Out" makes tremendous use of McKern's belly laugh), the group can assimilate and it can browbeat, but it never learns. It is old, and it is clever, but it is not wise. When 6 tries to give his speech, no one listens because it is easier to cheer. Before, 6 could resist them because they wanted something from him that he could hold back, but now that they've surrendered, they've made his resistance a moot point.

Then there's whole "Number 1 = I" reveal (it's not a bad pun, really), which I'm sure infuriated some fans, but really comes off as inevitably as a doppelganger in an ape mask can. You can read this a few different ways (the guy who introduced me to the show actually preferred to pretend the ape mask wasn't really a mask, because he thought the series was funnier if Number 1 was just a monkey), but I think it's just final proof of what the earlier sequences had already laid out: the McGoohan 1 is just the last true individual to defeat the Village, and thus get installed as its leader. 6's stays true to his defiance to the end, because it is his nature, and we cannot change our natures, but that defiance is, in its way, as much a part of the system as the numbers and Rover were. The whole thing is a loop, which is why "Fall Out" ends like it does. The struggle of the individual against society has no true ending. 6 will no doubt be fighting again soon, and either they'll bring him over to their side and find a new victim, or he'll keep on beating back the tide until he dies.

This may sound grim, but I think it's rather hopeful. For all its baffling, apparent randomness, there is a such a strong thread of joy running through the entirety of "Fall Out" that I spent most of the time watching it wearing a goofy grin on my face. 48's big scene, with his little bell and the utterly ridiculous slang, is a thumb-nose directed our way, a gleeful whoopee cushion in the midst of the despair. The final action sequence, with guns blazing and mobs fleeing to an underscoring of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," is as infectious as McKern's guffaws. And the bit with McKern, Kanner, and 6 dancing in the trailer on their way home! McGoohan's final verdict isn't one of despair, whatever his rage against the world. It is just the freeing delight of being free, of holding on to that last piece of yourself. There will be pain, and there will be loss, and there will be misery, but goddamn if it ain't good to laugh.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the leg bone, leg bone connected to the knee bone…now hear the words of the Lord…

Stray Observations:

  • What do you make of the conclusion?
  • There is a lot more to discuss here, but I leave it to you. These reviews have been by turns exhausting, humiliating, and surprising, and I hope you got something out of them. And even if you didn't, I hope it gave you an excuse to watch the show, if you needed one. I'll be looking at the AMC remake when it airs, so be seeing you!

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