Home » Reading » The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

(No, not this one.)

Although I ordered The Prisoner on Blu-Ray late last year, I was finally able to re-watch the first episode (“Arrival”) only last night. That the last time I saw it was a little more than two decades ago compounds the strangeness of an already-strange television program.

Even stranger is how, after having spent so much time lately reading Heidegger, my mind kept picking up on various bits and pieces here and there: Number Six has been thrown in the Village! The Village imposes Schuld from outside, so Number Six must remain resolute! All this is admittedly half-baked, though I’m willing to think it through sometime.

Another idea that kept clamoring for my attention as I watched the episode was the postmodern serial poem that Joseph Conte differentiates from the more “traditional” epic form:

The serial form in contemporary poetry, however, represents a radical alternative to the epic model. The series describes the complicated and often desultory manner in which one thing follows another. Its modular form–in which individual elements are both discontinuous and capable of recombination–distinguishes it from the thematic development or narrative progression that characterize other types of the long poem. The series resists a systematic or determinate ordering of its materials, preferring constant change and even accident, a protean shape and an aleatory method. The epic is capable of creating a world through the gravitational attraction that melds diverse materials into a unified whole. But the series describes an expanding and heterodox universe whose centrifugal force encourages dispersal. The epic goal has always been encompassment, summation; but the series is an ongoing process of accumulation. In contrast to the epic demand for completion, the series remains essentially and deliberately incomplete.

Obviously, The Prisoner can’t really accommodate all the features cited above (it’s closer to Conte’s “finite serial form” than the seemingly more infinite form described in the preceding quote), but given what one fan has called “The Ordering Controversy,” it’s all too easy for me to see connections with Conte (though this idea requires more polish).

Some constraints:

  1. Always start with “Arrival” and end with “Once Upon A Time” and “Fall Out.”
  2. Show “The General” before “A, B, and C.”
  3. Ensure that “Free For All,” “Dance Of The Dead,” “Checkmate,” and “Chimes of Big Ben” are the next four episodes after “Arrival,” with or without the McGoohan-recommended order of those episodes.


Even with the above in place, can one really do a non-sequential free-for-all with all the other episodes the way a serial poem can? Too much to focus on for the moment, so I’m concentrating on the viewing issues for now.

I really like this review of the Blu-Ray set, but I’m a little confused about why it refers to it being a “ten-disc set” with what has been referred to as “the fan order” or “the fan sequence.” I’m absolutely certain I only have five discs with all 17 episodes arranged in what seems to me a different order.

For some time, I’ve been looking at this “viewing order for beginners” from the Gigacorp site. It’s different from the fan sequence, which nevertheless merits approval, as long as the order of “The General” and “A, B, and C” are reversed. (Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog also makes this recommendation for his list.) If I’m only following the fan sequence with that recommended switch, I have two choices so far: either the Tim Lucas list or the Gigacorp list.

But then again, there’s the work of a Prisoner fan named Theresa Donia. The Donia List, however, is so well-argued, because it’s derived from three (!) preliminary lists she came up with before she made her conclusion. You can see those three side-by-side at the bottom of this page, but it’s well worth reading every part of her essay to see how she came up with the logical sequence, the chronological sequence, and the psychological sequence BEFORE she decided on the final sequence. It’s a tour-de-force of fan geekery that literally takes my breath away.

It gives me four more choices, however, and that’s quite confusing (even without counting the Wikipedia listing and the many Facebook discussions), unless I consider my own inclinations and preferences when it comes to serial storytelling, as well as those of my wife…which means I might opt for the rather strange “two-serial” approach here.

(Since it’s Valentine’s Day, my wife and I are going to celebrate in that manner made popular by married couples with children everywhere: stay home and watch TV. But this isn’t just TV, after all, it’s The effin’ Prisoner!)

So, what to do? There’s more at stake for my wife. I’m simply looking for an interesting approach to a show that already interests me. My wife needs to be interested in the show herself, beyond her curiosity about my interest in it. Her entry into the show must also be interesting to her, and I have a feeling the approach we choose will play a big part in that.

One thought on “The Prisoner’s Dilemma

  1. Pingback: From Bishop To Deane « Editions of You

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s