Culture & Conversation

Re-hashing Same Old Dystopia

AMC is developing quite the little track record. I may not be up to date with Mad Men (although, I enjoyed the first season considerably), but I am convinced that Breaking Bad is easily the best show on television. And so, I was eagerly anticipating The Prisoner, a solid network’s reimagining of Patrick McGoohan’s landmark series, with a great new cast to boot. Unfortunately, AMC’s latest effort leaves much to be desired.

The plot follows Number Six (Jim Caviezal), a New Yorker who awakens in a small, isolated town called The Village, with no idea how he arrived there. The town’s Mayor, Number Two (Ian McKellen), tries to convince Six that he’s simply suffering from a case of psychosis: “There is no New York; there is only The Village.” Six, not buying any of this, refuses to hand over his identity, and, like the original, becomes insistent on escaping. The miniseries is broken down into six episodes, five of which revolve around a particular theme: family, conspiracy, love, identity, and death.

The problems with the series are many…

Firstly, director Nick Hurran seems to want the show’s only raison d’etre to be to move you along, as quickly as possible, from one plot point to the next, with a complete disregard for character and basic logic. I understand that there’s a lot of ground to cover in only six episodes, but it’s just all too disorientating. A character will die off one episode, and not even be alluded to on the next. There’s simply no breathing space.

It would be bad enough if these problems were restricted to narrative, but they even trickle their way down into the show’s aesthetics. Overall, the editing work is disastrous: riddled with far too many ellipses, and unnecessary crosscutting for its own good. The confusion that arises from all of this does nothing to complement the show’s conceit; it’s just plain sloppy.

And then there’s the teleplay, which provides nothing in the way of inventiveness, simply rehashing a whole lot of the same-old. Case in point: The Village. The Village is essentially a cross between Pleasantville and Tatooine. If the whole point of The Village is to get the prisoners to want to assimilate, then why construct such a mundane wasteland? Exploring the dark undercurrents of happy-go-lucky suburbia is overdone.

From what I gather, the original ’67 series was a meditation on the loss of the individual. And although this may have been groundbreaking subject matter for a television show at the time, it’s a theme that has been replicated over and over since. Here was the chance to do something new. But no, The Prisoner resorts to the same tired and rather dated clichés.

The leads all do the best they can with the little they have. Caviezal manages to provide a certain charm to Six, although we never really get the chance know the guy or become invested in his endeavour. Ian McKellen does his best Ian McKellen. While his Two should have been the most complex character of the show, the script offers very little behind a villainous grin. Ruth Wilson, who plays Six’s love interest 313, gives what’s probably the most rounded performance of the series. 313 is a tragic figure, and Wilson’s portrayal of her anxiety and desperation is quite heartbreaking. Wilson’s character is the only one that we really manage to empathize with.

At worst this latest dystopian effort is an aesthetic and narrative mess; at best it’s an uninspired, and ultimately forgettable miniseries. It says nothing about the human condition that hasn’t already been said ad-nauseam. The Prisoner haphazardly goes through all the motions to set you up for its “big reveal” (which I kind of saw coming anyway), and while whisking you along to its climactic finale, it never really considers why it’s a trip worth taking in the first place.

The Prisoner airs Mondays on AMC.

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