“Who is Number One?”
I’m just sitting here re-watching the 1967 series, The Prisoner. It’s as fascinating now as it was the last five or six times I’ve done this. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about, because it’s amazing. If not, forget this and go make that happen. Anyway, although the show itself is brilliant, the ending is a bit of a flub. I thought I’d offer you an alternative narrative for what’s happening overall in the series and how it ends.
I know what you’re thinking. Number One is actually the dark side of Number Six’s personality, the dark side of us all. We’re all prisoners; and freedom is an illusion. When Number Six pulls off One’s mask, it’s himself. Let’s set all that aside for a moment and see what else could be happening, all right?
There is no Number One at all. It’s a boogeyman used to break promising former spies with the intelligence and skillset to be effective at breaking other spies. Number Two’s function is to either reveal Village citizen secrets or determine if they will reveal them. The people we see as Number Two were themselves entirely broken and driven mad enough to serve a short sentence in the role, threatened by the menacing phantom Number One.
If you successfully break your potential successor, in this case Number Six, you’re promised freedom when they take over from you. If you fail, you’re handed over to the terrible Number One. That’s why they keep disappearing, because they snapped. There are terrible mind-altering drugs and techniques at play in this awful place, uniquely and efficiently suited for shattering minds. It happens. We need this system because we want the most effective Number Two possible to optimize the Village’s purpose – to reveal secrets.
“But the phones rang! Number One spoke to those guys.” Actually, no phones actually rang. Hallucinations and conversations with empty air. Every Number Two we meet is schizophrenic. Designed to be so, in fact. That’s kind of the point.
Only a single Number Two, the one played by Leo McKern, was able to emerge from his psychosis long enough to take the office again. Maybe he asked for another chance in a moment of clarity. He lost his battle in the end though, in a devastating confrontation with the unbreakable Number Six.
Number Six realized all this. He knew by the end there was no Number One. Either a single government or a cabal of the Illuminati from multiple governments was running this place, with no single head. It was a factory for secrets, sold or distributed. And he needed to shatter it. But he maintained the charade to lead them on to their climactic attempt to drive him insane and have him take over as the most effective Number Two yet. Fallout.
Fallout was a madhouse of nonsense, engineered as a frothing schizophrenic nightmare and typical of the final blow designed to break the new Number Two. Number Six knew all this and played along, to at least get off the Village and back into London. Even there, back in his apartment, he knew there were more games to be played with these people.
He would be an entirely different type of Number Two. He would run a much larger village, playing along and forging new rules. He would plant secrets, alter them, seed them to muck up the system. All the while, no one would suspect he’s destroying them from the inside.
He’ll reveal them all. It will just take a little patience.
Be seeing you.