AMC, a popular American cable channel, has been pushing The Prisoner hard: teaser trailers, pop-up messages during other shows and sci-fi movie marathons to keep its target audience watching. Its extensive website includes a spin-off comic book series, episodes from the 60s series and a fake website for a sinister corporation that apparently runs the Village.
That’s right. In the cleverest twist of the new Prisoner, Six has quit his job with a megacorp called Summakor. His job is to monitor CCTV footage, looking for data and patterns in human behavior. The company wants to know what he saw that made him resign, so they put him in the Village and drive him nuts.
Harmony is a big improvement on the first episode, Arrival. It develops Six’s character and his mental breakdown is convincing, thanks to a committed performance by Jim Caviezel. When he says, “I’m not signing nothin’, pal,” it’s easy to relate to him.
The pacing of this tale is better and Ian McKellen has a chance to build up his role as Two, the apparent head of the Village. He has a palatial home, a sick, bedridden wife, and a son who takes an unhealthy interest in Six’s antics. Two gets the best lines like, “The louder a man shouts the more profoundly he is wrong.”
A friendship develops between Six and 313 (Ruth Wilson), and minor characters such a cabbie (Lennie James) and his wife are also given three dimensions. Suspicion is rife; anyone who offers a hand in camaraderie could be a spy for Two.
Harmony makes great use of its desert locale, with Six searching for the coast. It adds to the epic feel of the show and externalizes the hero’s sense of desolation. He’s accompanied on his quest by 16 (Jeffrey R. Smith), a tour guide who says he is his brother. Six thinks his brother died as a kid, but begins to question his memories.
The episode develops the theme of the teenage rebel that lurks inside us all. We have to do what our parents (the government) tell us, but we don’t have to like it.
When Six isn’t sleeping or falling unconscious, he’s rolling his eyes at Two like a petulant child. “When I was your age,” Two tells his son, “I questioned everything.” His discipline of the villagers is swift, firm and involves hand grenades.
After a half hour of careful character development, the story devolves into a string of dream sequences, false memories and imagined events and places. The editing is clever but not very helpful. If writer/executive producer Bill Gallagher (Clocking Off) is aiming to create some kind of TV tone poem, he’s succeeded. If he wants to make an entertaining drama series, he’s failed so far.
However, Harmony has a lot of potential. This is the norm with a TV series. The first episode is too busy establishing a situation to leave room for fancy writing; the second is its real first opportunity to shine, or at least show promise.
But The Prisoner is a six part miniseries. Why treat it like a regular show? Perhaps Gallagher hopes to expand the series. After all, if the concept can intrigue people for 42 years, it must have enough legs for a season or two.
Read our review of the pilot episode here.