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THE PRISONER (AMC)
(Sunday, November 15-Tuesday, November 17 at 8:00/7:00c & 9:00/8:00c)
The network's description: "AMC will premiere its six-part mini-series "The Prisoner" on Sunday, November 15 from 8 - 10pm ET/PT, featuring the series' first two episodes back-to-back. A reinterpretation of the 1960s cult classic, "The Prisoner" will air over three consecutive nights, with two episodes each evening, from 8-10pm ET/PT. Leading in to the highly-anticipated mini-series debut will be The Matrix Revolutions (2003), beginning at 5pm ET/PT, part of an all-day airing of The Matrix Trilogy of films starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Fans can watch all 17 episodes of the original 1960s "The Prisoner" in full screen on www.amctv.com. Each episode of AMC's mini-series will also be available On Demand the day following the linear premiere with select cable operators. "The Prisoner" tells the story of a man, Six (Caviezel), who wakes up to find himself inexplicably trapped in a mysterious and surreal place, The Village, with no memory of how he arrived. As he frantically explores his new environment, he discovers that Village residents are identified by number, have no memory of any prior existence, and are under constant surveillance. The Village is controlled by one man - the sinister and charismatic Two (McKellen). Throughout the series, Six and Two are locked in a battle of wits, as Six challenges the oppressive nature of The Village and struggles to learn the truth behind it."
What did they leave out? The project has been in the works for nearly three years, as it was first announced back in December of 2006. Plus in a fun twist, the usual method of watermarking screeners with a number is played up here: all the press materials are customized to say: you are (insert number). Cute.
The plot in a nutshell: A man (Jim Caviezel) wakes up in the desert with no memory of how he got there. And as if he wasn't confused enough: he stumbles across an injured old man (John Whiteley) being chased by another group of men. "Tell them all I got out," he says with his dying breath. "Go to 554. Tell her." Our hero buries him and wanders into the nearest town. There he meets a chatty cab driver (Lennie James) who doesn't seem to understand the simple questions he's asking. Confused and frightened, he's eventually caught by his pursuers and taken to someone who finally gives him some answers: Two (Ian McKellen). Two explains that he's in "The Village," the only town in the seemingly endless desert that surrounds them. There everyone lives in relative harmony, doing what they are told via loudspeakers populated throughout the area. Two then is their de facto leader as his designation, his number, is the highest. Our hero is Six.
"I want to get back to New York!" Six shouts. "That's not possible," Two responds. "There is no New York. There is only The village." Furthermore all of this talk about another place besides The Village won't be tolerated. Six must conform or his fate will match 93, the old man Six met in the desert. Intermixed throughout the above are brief flashbacks to Six's life in New York before arriving at The Village. There we learn that Six has just quit his job at Summakor, a corporation involved with observing human behavior and tracking its trends. Shortly thereafter he meets a beautiful woman named Lucy (Hayley Atwell) whom he develops an instant connection. She however seems more interested in finding out why Six quit his job. Back at The Village, Six begins prodding 554 (Jessica Haines), a waitress at the diner, for information about 93. It seems that he too spoke of places like Six and a way out of The Village - a pair of almost invisible towers briefly glimpsed on the horizon.
Six, with the help of the aforementioned cabbie - 147, tries to test the boundaries of The Village, only to either be stopped by a giant white ball that knocks him unconscious (yes, you read that correctly) or find inexplicable remnants of his former life (an anchor, a train track). As a result of said behavior, Six routinely winds up in The Clinic, where 313 (Ruth Wilson), a doctor, tries to understand his behavior and save him from Two's wrath. Each of the successive episodes then presents Six with a different trial of sorts: "Harmony" sees Six learning he has a family, including a brother named 16 (Jeffrey R. Smith); "Anvil" sees Six paired with 909 (Vincent Regan), one of Two's "undercovers" whose job is to spy on The Village's inhabitants; "Darling" sees Six told he's been "matched" to a blind girl who he's told will be his true love; "Schizoid" sees another Six, dubbed 2 X 6 (spoken as Two Times Six), arrives in The Village looking exactly like our Six but behaving with unrestrained emotion; and the concluding chapter, "Checkmate," sees Two informing Six he will become ill and die by day's end if he doesn't stop his non-conformist efforts.
Along the way we meet a few other inhabitants of The Village, including 37927 (David Butler), a shopkeeper who constantly pushes his maps of The Village; 11-12 (Jamie Campbell-Bower), Two's son who's increasingly curious about Six's comments about another place; and Two's catatonic wife (Rachael Blake), whom he gives exactly three pills each day. All of the above help paint a picture of how life in The Village works and its underlying appeals and pitfalls, not to mention what's really going on. Obviously to say any more would spoil the experience but also probably wouldn't make a lot of sense.
What works: "The Prisoner" looks and sounds absolutely beautiful - a haunting score of stringed instruments and picturesque shots of the desert help create an auditory and visual canvass rarely seen on television. Bill Gallagher's script, while frustrating, is filled with fun, albeit incomplete, ideas about what society is, how we relate to it and the human condition in general. I'm also happy to say that in an era of unresolved cliffhangers and unfinished storylines, "The Prisoner" tells a complete and theoretically cohesive story. Don't be afraid of the investment: you will learn exactly what The Village is by the end of the six hours. Whether those answers are satisfying enough however will probably vary from viewer to viewer.
On the acting front, McKellen infuses Two with a mix of menace and carefree that's a hoot while James, Atwell, Wilson and the rest of the supporting cast do as well as can be asked with their, at times, challenging roles. I'm less enthused about Caviezel as his performance never quite lets us into Six's head making the show less about our empathy for Six's situation and more about the curiosity about what's going on.
What doesn't: It's definitely a frustrating show as events are routinely skipped over and never explained. And while you'll eventually learn there are reasons for this (if you don't already due to being familiar with the original show), it doesn't make the experience any less irritating. Scenes simply stop in the middle of their momentum only to be replaced by another, often with the same characters, that doesn't directly relate to the previous one. Furthermore while "The Prisoner" may look and sound fantastic, at the same time there isn't a scene in which Six yells in slow motion or stares hauntingly into the distance director Nick Hurran didn't love.
And when juxtaposed with how brief the important moments are (the flashbacks for instance rarely last longer than a minute), "The Prisoner" proves to be self-indulgent to the point you probably could have told the same story in four hours instead of six. It also probably doesn't help that I'm not a fan of surrealism for surrealism's sake. This makes things like the fact all the food comes in wrap form, pigs are used to ward off ambient anomalies (don't ask), everyone's addicted to a TV show that offers meta commentary on Six's situation and a giant white ball smothers potential escapees feel like showing off rather than story contingent. And when you factor in that Six falls into the trap of never asking questions normal people would ask in the same situation multiplied by the fact everyone answers in a half-truth double-speak, again, it can be a frustrating show.
On the flip side though the core of "The Prisoner" is quite a meal. Had I stumbled across it at a young age, I could definitely see the appeal of losing myself in finding the meaning behind every scene and image. And since the show doesn't really give a blow-by-blow answer on how A connects to B, B connects to C, etc., making the connections yourself is half the fun.
The bottom line: If you're up for a challenging meal, strap on a feed bag.