A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 214

The Rover, more vigilant than even the Stasi, in “The Prisoner.”

Friday, May 21

The Prisoner, the vintage British television show now showing in reruns on streaming service Kanopy, is like a portrait of a retirement community as viewed by Franz Kafka.  

In the 1967 ITV production, the main character played by Patrick McGoohan is a onetime British intelligence agent who has resigned from the service in a fit of pique…caused by an undisclosed grievance. But before he can do any real damage, he is drugged and whisked away to an unknown, distant location, where he will be subtly pressured to reveal just why the bloody hell he is so brassed-off.

Once he awakens from his drug-induced torpor, he finds himself in an all-too-perfect seaside community, The Village. His every need, he learns, will be taken care of: The head man gives him a tour of the amenities—restaurant, shops, hospital, beautiful beaches, abundant and well-manicured gardens, congenial citizenry. There are daily parades, little band concerts reminiscent of the hokey Edward Elgar-esque music often heard in English parks, inescapable easy-listening radio, perfect weather, colorful and cosy clothing, even attractive girlfriends should he want them.

But no, he protests in episode after episode. He will escape, he vows. “I am not a number,” he adamantly rails—everyone, it seems, is assigned a number—“I am a free man!”

Wait just a goddam second—who wouldn’t want to live in such a paradise? It’s like Scandi social democracy on steroids. And it’s more than a little like those gated Florida retirement communities where folks zip around from card games to cocktail parties via golf carts.

You can’t leave The Village, of course. Our Prisoner makes attempt after escape attempt, always being thwarted by the heavy-breathing, menacing weather-balloon-like Rover, which envelops would be fugitives and forcibly takes them back to The Village.

And the powers that be want information. It seems the McGoohan character knows too much, we overhear his handlers confiding to each other.

So what the??? If you’re really so alienated from the System, screw it—just give them what they want and be done with it.

Absolutely not, says this rugged individual, Ayn Randian paragon. 

Well, all right. I suppose freedom means…freedom. Do your thing. I gotta be me.

Exactly what would McGoohan do if free? Play golf? Collect stamps? Vacation in beautiful and exotic places—all a little like The Village?

Maybe he would join Doctors Without Borders, become a Greenpeace activist, or enlist in some other impossibly virtuous cause. No? I thought not. That’s hardly the retired-secret-agent style.

Dinner: pasta with asparagus pesto and a green salad.

Entertainment: Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, streamed by the French Institute Alliance Française.