swear allegiance to the flag, whatever flag they offer

MSNBC confirms the death of Patrick McGoohan yesterday.

I first discovered him as most people did, through the bizarre 60s sci-fi / espionage / magical realism British TV show, The Prisoner. McGoohan plays an unnamed secret agent – an apparent reference to a prior role, John Drake in “Danger Man,” but not the same character – who resigns from the British secret service. He refuses to announce why he resigns. Unfortunately, the sensitive nature of his work means he has a head full of valuable intelligence.

McGoohan is captured – it’s never clear by whom – and taken to a cloistered seaside resort town called only “The Village.” Surveillance cameras hang in every home and street corner. Everybody in the village wears a number instead of going by name. Number Two, whose identity changes every episode, supervises the Village. He/she uses enforcers, hypnosis, drugs, misdirection and a weirdly animate bubble named Rover to keep order. He/she has one recurring goal: to find out why McGoohan, a/k/a Number Six, resigned.

The entire brief series is a variation on that one theme: what does the social order do with a man who simply will not cooperate? If the hierarchy or the aggregate want something out of you – a pledge of allegiance, an answer to a question, a willingness to get out of your bed and work eight hours a day – that you’re not willing to give, will they leave you alone? Even if you’re no threat to them? If not, what means will they use to get it?

The episodes vary in quality and transparency, with the series finale, “Fall Out,” being legendarily bizarre. But you can watch every episode of ‘The Prisoner’ online and judge for yourself. The first dozen are all straightforward, and gems besides. “Free For All,” “Hammer into Anvil” and “A Change of Mind” are among my favorites.

AMC’s hosting these original episodes online because they just wrapped shooting a remake, starring James Cavielzel and Sir Ian McKellen (check out McKellen’s blog; it’s a great look into the production process and a joy to read). I’ve got high hopes for it. I’ve got high hopes for any work of art that promotes individualism for its own sake – sometimes stubborn, sometimes self-destructive, but private and certain and unshakable.

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