I recently had cause to re-watch The Prisoner because a friend of mine hadn’t seen it in nearly eight years and wanted to revisit the series. On the DVD cover was the slogan “no man is just a number” and she remarked on how that saying actually betrayed the intent of the series — a revelation that left me taken aback. To me, Number Six was never just a number, as he so adamantly asserted. He was a free man. But then I was reminded that in the final episode (spoiler alert!), it was revealed that the long-elusive Number One turned out to be none other than Number Six himself. He was a number after all.
I had never realized that despite his claims to the contrary, Number Six had been just another number the whole time.
Pushing through the initial heartbreak over this revelation, I was able to re-watch The Prisoner with new eyes and discovered a layer of meaning I had been completely oblivious to. Funny how good drama does that. I forgot you could do this with TV.
Only now (I’m somewhat ashamed to admit) do I see that Number Six is an allegory for the individual, and The Village — in all its garish, inexplicable randomness — a simulacrum of society. The prison is the world you are born into, and the choices you make determine your place within it. Do you sell out, give up, are you a pawn sacrificed without a second thought, are you a prisoner, a jailer, are you an individualist who tilts at windmills?
What bothered me so deeply was that Number Six seemed certain of who he was: the only one in The Village strong-willed enough to refute the rules of his prison, with aspirations not just of escape but to destroy the prison itself. He was uncooperative, invariable, isolated, suspicious, unsympathetic, but it was because he held so strongly to his views he would not be wavered in his goal, and would not compromise his beliefs [even in the face of Armageddon?]. His determination and will I felt were his strengths. But to come to the ending of the show and realize that any individual who values themselves would feel that way and believe themselves to be a special and unique snowflake, and would think that out of everybody, we truly are #1 — but isn’t that just another number?
And having been told I’m the both the “worst practitioner of dogma” and that I am hindered by a “lacuna of knowledge” I’m starting to wonder if the prisoner — so sure of who he is — wasn’t, well… wrong.