The Prisoner, AMC’s heavily hyped, six-part, three-night remake of the 1967-68 British TV series, is about a guy who wakes up in an unrecognizable place he learns is called the Village. There, everyone is assigned a number, not a name. He is thenceforth called Six, and played by Jim Caviezel; the leader of the Village is Two, played by Ian McKellen. Who’s number One? Ha! You must sit through six hours of The Prisoner for that info, just as I did, my friends.
Six is a combination hero/victim/symbol, and therefore right up the alley of the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. Caviezel staggers around the Village with a permanent expression of irritation mixed with bewilderment. (Six may be on AMC, but he’s no Don Draper.) We see during the opening credits that he resigned in anger from his job in a mysterious corporation. We know he was angry because he wrote RESIGN in red letters on a glass office wall — not the sort of thing that gets you a recommendation from the HR department. Every second of The Prisoner‘s six hours is crammed with mysteries, non sequiturs, and ponderous pronouncements (”Everything is suspicious if you look at it properly”).
Two is as central as Six, and thank goodness McKellen brings his usual impishness to a role written with assiduous humorlessness by Bill Gallagher. McKellen lends Two a welcome twinkle occasionally, and the character needs it: He has a semicomatose wife, and a gay son (Jamie Campbell Bower) who suffers for his sexuality. Two doesn’t have it quite as bad as Six, though, who is regularly chased (as was his character in the ’60s original) by a gigantic white bouncing balloon that smothers if it catches you.
This Prisoner is a co-production with Britain’s ITV, but it lacks the wit and zip of the original Prisoner. That one, co-created by its star, Patrick McGoohan, is one of the rare pieces of cult television that really holds up. (See for yourself in the extras-filled Blu-ray/DVD collection of all 17 episodes.) McGoohan wandered through a Village that was really North Wales, and put anguish in his voice when he yelled the series’ catchphrase: ”I am not a number, I am a free man!” It was both trippy and violent, and dovetailed with then-current countercultural notions of rebellious individuality. It’s no wonder the Beatles let McGoohan use ”All You Need Is Love” for its machine-gunblasting, mind-blowing finale.
No such mind-blowing occurs on the new Prisoner. Gallagher has said that the original’s theme is old hat, and he wanted to deal with our current ?obsession with self.? Ick. That’s exactly what’s wrong with the new Prisoner: It’s self-absorbed to the point of incoherence. C