A nameless man wakes up, his face dirty from being in the sand. He looks up to see a man in archaic clothing stumbling down a hill, clearly being chased by vague, dark figures.
And so the new version of AMC’s THE PRISONER begins.
I have waxed enthusiastic about the New Prisoner mini-series on A&E before in this journal, mostly because I was excited to see what changes would be wrought on the excellent, creepy premise of the original BBC show from the 1960s, featuring the signature performance of Mr. Patrick McGoohan. The older series established the roadmap for the newer one, and I expected it to be loaded with allegory, surrealism, science fiction and a touch of the parent show’s dry wit. The newer show boasts some excellent leads– James Caviezel as “Number 6″ and Ian McKellen taking on the role of the oily “Number 2″ for the entire run of the mini-series (different from the original, which had a new Number 2 each week).
I finally had opportunity to view “Arrival” last night and came away vaguely dissatisfied. The two shows are quite dissimilar in many respects. The Cold War backdrop of the original show has been largely discarded. The new show’s underlying themes appear to be perceptions of privacy, the mutable nature of reality, and the role of the individual in a capitalistic society. That’s at first blush. I give credit where it is due– Nick Hurran’s version of the Village is more voyeuristic, more secretive and monolithic than the older series appears to be (from what I recall). The Village (or more correctly, those that are in authority in the Village) appear to be unassailable in their power. Side by side with this is the notion that what the main character is seeing may or may not be real at any given moment. Mutable reality is displayed on several occasions– where Number 6 has flashbacks that might not be real, where a shared experience one day is not present the next, etc. Either the Village is so supremely powerful it can change reality as we know it, or Number 6’s perception of reality is ‘off’.
Running throughout the narrative is the personality of Number 6, a paranoid and defiant individual whose personality traits have not improved by finding himself in the Village. Immediately, he finds himself at odds with Number Two, played with blithe confidence by Sir Ian McKellan. The first episode runs its course, and we are subjected to flashback, flash forward, flashback, flash forward.. ad infinitum. Clearly Nick Hurran has attended a few classes at the LOST school of warped reality filming. This is where I started to grow dissatisfied with the show.. again and again we are pounded by a sequence of images. Again, and again and again… as if the director is trying to shout at us: “Hey look! It’s an anchor in the desert! That can’t be real! it HAS to mean something important, YES????”
I am only one episode in to this series, but I am already missing the whimsy, wit and style of the older incarnation, plus the supremely poised performance of Patrick McGoohan. I liked Jim Caviezel in the Passion, but find him strangely less than compelling here. There is nothing “there” to root for, to associate with, in this Number 6. He is a cypher, a blank, an empty vessel. I suspect his character would have been greatly improved by adding more and different flashback sequences that explain him more effectively, rather than one key element of his past playing again and again and again.
In short, I’m still going to watch but I’m holding out for improvement. The older series holds a place in my psyche that this series will not supplant– and even that is based upon the rosy lenses of nostalgia. When AMC offered up the old series for free on streaming vid, I took a look at it. For the most part, it’s still quite good, but shorter than I recall (only 17 episodes total!), naive in parts and downright BAD in others. So maybe I’m holding a phantom up to the mirror here. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will improve.