AMC’s The Prisoner: The Problem Is In Bill Gallagher’s Mind

If you are one of the very few people reading this who never saw the original TV series of The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan, you have been leading a deprived life. It’s a series that influenced countless writers and stands as one of the immortal high points of television drama.

I don’t know of any writers who haven’t contemplated what they’d do if they had the chance to update that series.

When AMC said it would be doing so, I did not have a warm feeling inside. I ignored all the pre-show material they put on their website.

I did, however, bite when they released the nine-minute trailer.

And I did an analysis of that here.

I’d watched it so many times before the show premiered that I could cite lines from it — and often did on Twitter.

I wanted to watch the series and judge it for myself, so I didn’t read any of the reviews that sprouted all over the Internet just hours before its premiere. So everything in the following post — for I still haven’t read any of those reviews — is all mine.

Beyond here are spoilers!

This is not to say I was looking forward to it. I had my suspicions about it as soon as I saw the sleeping woman.

But still.

We are in the 21st century and surely AMC — and especially ITV — wouldn’t approve an update that relied on something as cliched as that, would they?

They would — and did.

There is not yet invented a word to sum up the absolute overwhelming stupidity of AMC’s version of The Prisoner. That will be a task for future generations to grapple with.

Let me begin with this: people can argue over the inconsistencies and especially the final episode of the original Prisoner series.

But guess what? That series doesn’t matter in comparison to this one.

This new one should be able to stand on its own feet.

But it can’t.

It’s a totally crippled thing filled with inept directing, atrocious music, insanity-inducing editing, and, most of all, scripting that is totally devoid of any sign of intelligence behind it.

There are certain conventions that should be followed when introducing people to a new series:

1) Tell us where we are
2) Tell us who the players are
3) Tell us what the conflict is going to be

The first episode of AMC’s abomination failed in all three.

We are never given an overview of The Village. This is something that was dispatched within the opening minutes of the original’s first episode. McGoohan climbed to a high point and we were afforded an overview.

We don’t see anything approaching that in AMC’s version until the second episode.

We’re left with the impression that we’re looking at a collection of A-frames from a child’s summer camp plopped in the middle of nowhere.

They had to have spent several millions of dollars on this series, but we immediately think ultra low-budget (an impression that is never, ever dispelled given the incredibly incompetent directing).

When Michael (Six) meets Number Two, he never bothers to utter the basic question any human being on planet earth would have asked: “Who are you?” Thus we — and he — are never told, “I am Number Two.” This is a spectacular scripting failure. It is rank amateurism. And given there was a Script Editor on this thing, how did something that basic get by … well, everyone?

As for the conflict … what is it?! Back in New York City, Lucy wants to know why Michael resigned from his job at Summakor, but how does that connect to him winding up in The Village? Number Two never brings it up — nor does anyone else! How is anyone unfamiliar with the original series supposed to know this is any sort of significant point? What we have back in the New York City scenes looks like a former employee being hounded by someone from Human Resources in order to avoid any sort of future employment-related litigation!

And The Stupid just continues to roll on from there throughout the entire six hours!

The greatest crime of this televised curse is how it attempts to trade in on the icons of the original series.

In his apartment in New York City, with a glimpse of a “I Am A Free Man” banner.

We see “Way Out” used not once — but twice.

The disorienting buildings:

We get the taxi with “local” service only.

There’s the hand pounding the desk to make the cup shake.

We have an ersatz of the original Six’s (now Ninety-Three’s) domicile.

The damned Lava lamps.

The Pennyfarthing bicycle.

We get the map request.

We have the original episode titles recycled or riffed on.

And we even get a blink-fast glimpse of KAR 2000!

What we do not get is any bit of the original series that made basic sense: something as simple as people wearing numbers! Number Two doesn’t. Eleven-Twelve doesn’t. The badges worn in the original series were to remind people of where they were and how they were to relate to one another while there. This is Prison 101: You become an Inmate Number, a cipher in a system. Your humanity is stripped from you by the bureaucracy.

Even when the new Six wears his Village-issued pullover shirt, there’s no hint of the rebellion found in the original Number Six, who promptly ditched his umbrella, straw hat, collection of cards, and ID badge in the Taxi returning him to his domicile after a hospital stay.

In the AMC Village, Number Six never undergoes any likewise orientation — something any prisoner would go through, if only to be put in his place and to have the point struck home that This Ain’t Kansas, Baby!

That Village pullover Six wears has a small (too small!) “6” embroidered on it.

Any normal human being resentful of such captivity would have taken that damned shirt and worn it inside-out — or cut out the damn number! This new Six is supposed to be an analytical thinker …

Michael: Let me tell you something interesting. The numbers on a phone and how they work. They have a logic. A purpose.

Lucy: I get the feeling this is not merely information.

Michael: When you borrowed my phone, the number you dialed wasn’t a number.

Lucy: That’s pretty observant. What kind of a guy notices stuff like that?

Michael: Just someone suspicious. You didn’t make a call.

… yet he never even considers the shirt! Again: where was the Script Editor? They are employed to catch basic errors such as that!

Six is a guy who can spout stuff like this after hearing it only once:

Six: Seven-Six-Five is in love with Twenty-Three-Thirty. Twenty-Three Fifty-Six is pregnant to Forty-Six-Five. Now Nine-One-Three had an affair with Twenty-Three-Thirty so Seven-Six-Five is jealous of Twenty-Three-Thirty …

So he’s not supposed to be a moron. Yet too many times he is!

In the original series, McGoohan’s final script was a Dada-esque tour-de-force that left people — to put it mildly — puzzled. It was a work of high art that left the core of the series open to many interpretations but which still pointed back to the theme of an individual versus the collective and the subtext of The Village possibly being a state of mind.

In the new AMC Prisoner, there is no such investigation of the individual versus the collective. We’re given limp, adolescent platitudes in passing — the very kind of convictionless lack of character the series dumbly attempts to censure. And to make matters worse: The Village is a State of Mind — that of a woman who is dreaming all of it under the influence of drugs!

Which makes it The Stupid of All Stupids — for how do the real people wind up there?

At the beginning of the first episode, Michael rescues an old man who is implied to be the original Number Six.

“Tell them all that I got out,” he gasps to Michael. Given the final episode revealing it’s all a dream state, how could he have actually escaped? And to where, if he’s just died there? If you had just arrived in a prison and came across a dying inmate behind the shed in the exercise yard, would you consider his death to be the kind of escape you wanted to accomplish?

It’s all total nonsense!

The sub-Stupid is that The Village was created to heal broken people. Thus, it’s purported to be an idyllic creation akin to Paradise. Yet this Village features strippers…

… drug use …

… and apparent chavs on its outskirts playing with motorcycles and automatic weapons!

Say what?

And if real people aren’t winding up there, if only the broken parts of them are, what accounts for all the so-called — and I quote the dialogue — “decent, ordinary people” who populate the place? I guess those chavs at the outskirts and, you know, all those sex-addicted druggies in the Go Inside Bar are, what, hallucinations once-removed?

Another Script Editor FAIL occurs in the first episode when Six sees the TV on in his new domain. The clipboard guy accompanying him simply says, “It’s Wonkers.”


And that should have been Six’s reaction too, for the sake of us in the audience: “What? What was that you just said?”

And the clipboard guy should have replied to the effect of, “It’s Wonkers. The daily TV program. Everyone watches it. Life in The Village comes to a standstill every day at this time. In fact, I’m missing it myself because of, um, you.”

That would have set us up for its reappearance in the second episode — in which all life in The Village does seem to stop at airtime. But the soap opera is then handled in a thoroughly juvenile, cheap, and brainless manner.

But hey, it didn’t matter — because we never see the damned soap opera ever again!

So what was the point? There was — and is — no point. To any of this!

Things just come and go in this collection of bad typing masquerading as a script.

And remember this above all: this was more or less written by one guy. Unlike the original, which used different writers who could add different things to the pot. No, this stew is all from one guy: Bill Gallagher!

All the contradictions, all the stupidity, all the outright blithering imbecility — it’s all of it from him. The problem originates in his mind.

Touches of jaw-dropping stupidity like this. Shrink Seventy has never heard of a seagull or a beach.

Number Seventy: And what is “the beach”?

But he damn well knows that the object Number Two has tossed at him is dangerous!

Number Two: You don’t think I believe all of this therapy babble, do you? “My mother sat me sideways on the potty when I was a toddler so now I want to sleep with her?” Oh grow up, man!

Which brings up Number Two. He is an absolutely cruel bastard, worse than any cat who toys with a mouse — because a cat is only following its nature. Yet Number Two, as we’ll see, is supposed to be a paradigm of benevolence. He spouts pious crap like this:

Number Two: It’s only when you have family that you learn the meaning of love.

And schoolchildren in The Village describe the position of Number Two thusly:

One-Thousand One-Hundred: There is no Number One. There never has been and there never will be. The concept of the Number Two is an act of humility. The title reminds us all that we’re all public servants, even Number Two. No one is Number One.

Yet Number Two lives in a gated and guarded palace! It’s even called the Palais Two!

And the people on the tour bus stand up in respect — and fear — of him!

And he is cruel. After his own son, Eleven-Twelve, has had to murder his gay lover (Nine-Oh-Nine) to keep Number Two from finding out — even though it later turns out Number Two knew all along — this is his advice to his son:

Number Two: The man is dead! Forget him!

Yet Number Two, via his wife, has set up The Village to heal broken people. Here he is spouting off some more self-righteous self-justifying nonsense (in some of the most plodding lines of the entire series):

Number Two: The world is not a pretty thing … when you look at it too close. We fell in love with atrocity. We make pornography and call it news. The daily fix of horror. We think the coming disaster is going to be ecological, that the problem is political. But no, no. The great war is psychological. It’s in here. Boom!

Number Two: We have made ourselves into fat and fading wheezing animals. Educated in apathy. Amused by cruelty. So: this. We make a new world. Something human. And yet there is a whispering in my ear that tells me I was wrong and they were right.

Number Two: And the savages, savages, savages!, had it right all along. I wanted you to come. I wanted you to wipe out my guilt. You are right. You are the way — become hatred, become vengeance. Yes, I respect that. Kill me. I see the logic in that. And I’m not afraid at all, because we know — you and I — how it is to be human. We must submit to the beast in man.

Oh god puhleeze! As it’s used twice in the series itself: Grow up! What is this, an extended tract for Scien-bloody-tology?

People do not simply go mad, they do not grow up to be brittle and to break. There are causes — yet the immature typist of this series can only see the end result of a complex process and conclude it’s a cause in itself. He deserves a slap in the face for thinking us so stupid.

Oh, there is much more in this series I could go on about. But all of it really is summed up in words I used time and again while watching it: This makes no sense!!!

Am I the only one to notice all the wired telephones, yet the undercover 909 has a cellphone?

How absolutely idiotic it is for the mother to be asleep within her own dream?

The absolute absurdity of people needing to eat within a dream?

If it’s a dream, if it’s a start-from-scratch affair, liberate people from food and the need to shit — this is something Nancy Kress could see in her Beggars in Spain trilogy! What difference would it make to the inhabitants of The Village anyway? They have no memory of anything else!

Don’t even get me started on the cheap rip-off of Fight Club in the episode Schizoid. Right there is the hallmark of a so-called writer without any original ideas of his own!

And let’s not even go to the damned pigs! How absolutely inept as a statement about political misdirection.

And the wee Gallagher even throws in a Dennis Potter tribute scene about cigarettes …

Number Two: I used to smoke in order to think.

Village Shopkeeper: You did? And are you thinking now?

Number Two: I am. Sometimes I …

Village Shopkeeper: Yes?

Number Two: I think …

Village Shopkeeper: Yes? Go on.

Number Two: If I could choose as a place I wanted to spend the rest of my life, a warm place, with no memory.

Village Shopkeeper: Just be careful what you saw around here. People will report you as soon as look at you. Don’t be different.

Number Two: I wonder if we smoke to feed the guilt?

Village Shopkeeper: Speaking only for myself, I smoke for that fine oaky flavor with just a hint of lavender.

Number Two: These things kill you, you know. The main health risks in tobacco relate to diseases of the cardiovascular system, in particular, myocardial infarction. Diseases of the respiratory tract, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And asthma. Emphysema. And cancer. In particular, lung cancer. And cancers of the larynx and tongue.

Village Shopkeeper: So I’ve heard.

Number Two: Smoking is a kind of … suicide.

Village Shopkeeper: That’s a bit philosophical. For a Thursday.

… as if to say, See how clever I am with this allusion so very few people will catch?

No, child, you are not. Not at all.

But the biggest statement of ineptitude and utter imbecility has to be the ending, where it’s all revealed to have been a test of Number Six to replace Number Two as the new Number Two and to create a brand new Village.

Number Two: Listen to you. To your integrity. Your vision. We threw at you everything we had: love, loathing, death, and self, and still you resist.

Oh my god. Stop the hurting in my head!

But wait. I was wrong. The absolute biggest bit of brain-damage-inducing Script Editor FAIL is this:

Lucy, who Michael has fallen in love with, is blown up in his apartment. BOOM! Apparently somehow (don’t look for any sense, dammit!) murdered by Summakor while he’s out fetching a breakfast of oranges for her.

And then when he meets Number Two in real life — Curtis of Summakor —

— he never even brings it up, even though it happened within a few hours of their meeting!!!

Wouldn’t you be pissed off at the very least that your apartment and everything you owned and busted your ass for was blown up — never mind the woman you just shagged and thought you loved!? Would you manage to forget something like that a few hours after it happened?

It’s as if this entire series was made without any human intelligence ever touching it!

And there are even things missing from the series itself that were in the trailer.

Number Six (Six Times Two) with a knife in the Village Store:

Number One Forty-Seven pleading with Number Eleven-Twelve:

Number One Forty-Seven: Somebody has got to tell us where God is because we need Him!

And where the hell did the casket of oranges(!!!) go?

Oranges had some sort of meaning earlier, Michael was fetching them for Lucy to have for breakfast:

If you haven’t watched this botch, this itch, this plague, do not. It will grow a tumor in your brain that you will not be able to remove without operating on yourself with a purging post such as this.

There is so much that could have been done with a proper update of The Prisoner.

This one wasted all of that potential.

God damn them all.

God damn them all for every writer out there who would have done it properly and made it another bit of immortal television.

14 Responses to AMC’s The Prisoner: The Problem Is In Bill Gallagher’s Mind

  1. 6of1 says:

    9 minutes into this tripe I believe I uttered the quote, “there were no nightclubs with hipster wankers in the village!” … it went downhill from there. Within the 1st 2 hours me and my other half commented, “how much you wanna bet that this village isn’t ‘real’ that it’s all in someone’s head and those pills are some Matrix shit?” Even trying to approach this as “something different and just ‘inspired by'” or a “stand alone” doesn’t work for me. From the original propaganda (aka marketing) we saw at S.D. Comic Con over the summer I had a bad feeling about it.

    We didn’t bother watching the whole thing – we stopped at the 2 hour mark (admittedly after the 1st hour we got more enjoyment out of getting the laptop and checking in on the AMC comments area where others were already well aware what a piece of poo this thing was) then watched the last 20 min for some unknown reason.

    Oh and you forgot to mention that during every commercial break they basically dissed the audience with those patronizing “hey did you see THIS? We’ll explain that to you in 30 seconds!” F’ing LAME!!!

    At least this 6 hours of FAIL can’t touch the original with a rocket ship. It had absolutely NOTHING that the old show had that made that great.

    I’d still like to do a proper graphic novel that continues in the theme of the original series.

    • mikecane says:

      >>>Oh and you forgot to mention that during every commercial break they basically dissed the audience with those patronizing “hey did you see THIS? We’ll explain that to you in 30 seconds!” F’ing LAME!!!

      Ah, well. That was AMC, not Gallagher. What creeped me out were the Palm Pre commercials. Palm Pre: The Cellphone For The Village.

  2. barbara says:

    penguin is releasing Thomas M. Disch’s novel The Prisoner, which is what the original series used as inspiration. Read the book.

  3. Well, I wouldn’t have watched it anyway but it sounds ROTTEN.

  4. Moor Larkin says:

    I like that Jim has an Acting Coach…. :-)))))

    Someone elsewhere made a remark that really great shows are very rare because TV (as also is Film) is frequently a very collaborative medium. It struck me that what made the original so unique was that thematically, it was mostly all directed by the mind of one man. The collaboration was in the detail and the decoration, not in the theme and the moral thrust.

  5. Grant says:

    Oh, you missed the part that pissed me off more than anything else.

    The first two hours are centered pretty much entirely around 6’s desire to escape the village. He knows he’s in the middle of a big desert. He knows the only person he’s aware of who tried to cross it he personally just buried in it. He’s supposed to, at the very least, not be functionally retarded.

    So what’s his big escape plan? “I’m just going to take off into the uncrossable desert. With no food. And no water. And no supplies of any kind.”

    Then, when he ends up lying in the sand, exhausted, having to be retreived by 313 and hauled back to the village what does he do for an encore? Escape plan #2:

    “I’m just going to take off into the uncrossable desert this OTHER direction! With no food. And no water. And no supplies of any kind.”

    Because it worked so brilliantly the first time, right? But hey, this time he’s heading towards the towers! So that’s completely different! Because obviously he’s thinking… what??? That he’ll reach them then be instantly teleported to New York or something so supplies are unnecessary?

    Then, having ended up smacked into the dirt by the rover and having to be retrieved, once again, by a village resident what do we get to follow up these acts of sheer brilliance?

    Escape attempt #3, that’s what.

    “I’m just going to take off into the uncrossable desert in this THIRD direction! With no food. And no water. And no supplies of any kind. But this time it’ll work because I’m bringing two equally brain damaged idiots with me who are also bringing no supplies except one lady’s damn PURSE.. oh, and I think there might be an ocean over here”.

    Uh-huh… because if there is an ocean problem solved! Right? I mean crossing a desert with no supplies may be the height of stupidity, but crossing a desert AND an ocean is a peice of cake! Practically takes care of itself it does! Why we’ll be done before lunch!


    • mikecane says:

      Hahaha. Yes, exactly. If this was a deliberate attempt to codify Stupid into six hours, they should get an Emmy for that. There are other things I could have mentioned too — but I really do want this tumor out of my brain. My head still hurts.

  6. rusty magic says:

    You mention the casket of oranges missing from the series. I’m pretty sure I saw it though.

    • mikecane says:

      The casket of oranges appeared only in the montage at the end, which is where I got the screensnaps from. Trust me, I watched the first 3 episodes THREE TIMES, the other three TWICE. And I still can’t evict the damned thing from my head.

  7. Cliff Burns says:

    Re-making, re-inventing the wheel…because the creative types out there prefer to recycle more than your average hippy. An absolute dearth of talent and vision in mainstream TV, films or books. Think I’ll stay out on the fringes, where the air is clearer and “originality” isn’t a dirty word.

    Good stuff, as always, Mike…

  8. nr6de says:

    “You know whenever you can,
    get a wall with a spray can…

    Storm the Reality Asylum…”

    (c) Rip Rig & Panic, “Storm the Reality Asylum” 1982

    Maybe this is what 6 was doing. At least that’s what he did at Summakor, didn’t he? It’s a window, okay, don’t be narrow minded…

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