I recently forced my family to watch “The Prisoner” series. As even casual fans know, there’s not really an official episode order. The broadcast order, the production order, and the order they were written in are all different. Worse still, four separate writers were working on four separate scripts that *they* were told were going to be the second episode. It’s confusing, and people have been nattering about it for fifty years.
I had my own opinion going in, based on the last time I mainlined the series about a decade ago. Upon completing it, though, I realized that while I was wasn’t any more wrong than anyone else, and probably less wrong than most, there was a more pleasing order they could go in.
Here, then, is my opinion of the best episode order, and my explanations as to why.
1) “Arrival.” – This is the premier episode, in which our protagonist is kidnapped and shows up in The Village. It’s sort of got to come first, right? Duh.
2) “Dance of the Dead” – This is one of the weakest episodes, generally relegated later to the run of the short series as a result. It’s also one of the four “Episode Number Twos” that were being written concurrently. Despite its dramatic problems, this is definitely the number two-iest of all the possible number twos. Our hero is still very angry, and he’s introduced to several locations for the first time, all of which he’ll take for granted in subsequent episodes. Here they get special notice, however. Likewise, the rambling and somewhat pointless plot seems to be more about impressing Six with how inscrutable the place was than any other purpose. “We’ll weird the truth out of you yet, six!”
3) “Chimes of Big Ben” – This is one of the four “Second episodes,” and the one that most people consider to be the second episode. They’re wrong, of course, but that’s the consensus. This is one of the best episodes of the series, and Leo McKern is the absolute best Number Two. So good, in fact, that they brought him back twice more. Interestingly, this is also the closest the Village ever came to breaking Six. He actually starts to spill his guts. It’s also the episode in which they identify his one consistent weakness, which they’ll use against him for the rest of the run.
4) “Free for All” – This is the one where Six discovers he can run for the office of Number Two. I’ll be honest, this one could also be in the 5 or 6 positions. It has to be fairly early on in his stay, as he sort of half-believes he can genuinely get power. It wouldn’t be that easy to dupe him later on.
5 ) “Checkmate” – There’s no solid explanation for this one going here, but logically it must take place pretty early in Six’s stay. He realizes that prisoners and guards can be told apart by their attitudes. He attempts to organize a mass escape using this to figure out who he can trust, but his own imperious attitude runs it aground. I place it early because it’s simply not the kind of observation it would have taken Six long to make, and it’s not the kind of mistake Six would make later on.
6) “A Change of Mind” – To be honest, this could just as easily go in the #4 position. Flip a coin. It’s a sort of meh story, so I just placed the better one first. Definitely it has to take place in the first half of the series, though.
7) “The Schizoid Man” – one of my favorite episodes, despite it really not making much sense. Evil Twin stuff. In the end, Six manages to assume the identity of one of his clones, and as he’s being driven to the heliport, Number Two mentions “The General,” rather conspicuously. Six has no idea what Two is talking about, so he plays along and says he’ll “Report in to the General,” when he gets back home. Two finds this a really odd for him to have said, since one doesn’t “Report in” to the General. “Well, you know what I mean,” Six says. Two realizes it’s actually Six, not one of his duplicates. Given that, the next episode must logically be…
8) “The General” – It turns out that “The General” is a supercomputer. There are seventeen “Number Twos” in the course of the series, but not all are created equal. “Arrival” starts with one in charge, and ends with another. “It’s Your Funeral” has four. Likewise, as I said, Leo McKern turns up three times. Then there’s this guy: Colin Gordon. He’s got two episodes. This is the first. He’s very self-confident.
Interestingly, the plot of this episode doesn’t really have anything to do with Six directly. They’re not trying to break him. The masters of The Village are simply trying out some new technology (IE, the General), and Six decides to ruin it.
9) “A, B, C” – Colin Gordon turns up as Number Two again in this one. How do I know this one is second? Because Two was confident and self-assured in the previous one, and in this one he’s a disheveled wreck with a peptic ulcer. The episode makes it very clear that he’s in a lot of trouble from The General debacle, and if he doesn’t break Six this time, he’s done. He doesn’t break six.
10) “Many Happy Returns” – Six wakes up to find The Village deserted. He builds a raft and sails back to England, where he contacts his old bosses. They don’t trust him because he quit and then disappeared without a word “For month,” but eventually stuff happens and he’s back in the Village again. “Gee, Gilligan, you think we’ll get off the island this week?”
Why did I place it here? Internal references make it clear he’s been gone for a long time. The overall feel of the episode puts it towards the middle of the run, and the plots to break him are getting more elaborate but less effective. Which is all doubletalk for “It just feels like it fits” to me.
11) “It’s Your Funeral” – Six has realized he’s stuck in The Village for the long haul, and he begins to take an interest in the other people who live there. The plot does not revolve around them breaking him. He discovers a plot to assassinate Number Two (Well, *A* Number Two. There’s four in this episode), and stops it in order to prevent reprisals against the other Prisoners.
12) “Living In Harmony” – a format-breaking episode that seems to take place in the Old West. Six is a sheriff who turned in his badge for unstated reasons, and left town. He gets knocked out and wakes up in a cowboy town called “Harmony,” where he immediately runs afoul of The Judge who runs the place. In the end it turns out to be Virtual Reality, and The Judge is Number Two.
Why did I place it here? As I said, the efforts to break Six are getting more elaborate and less effective. This is arguably the most elaborate.
13) “The Girl Who Was Death” – A terrible episode, and a terrible idea: Number Two hits on the idea that Six might let down his guard around children. It doesn’t work, predictably, as he spins a ludicrous Avengers-styled goofball story with Number Two as a supervillain. Why do I place this here? Because clearly the Village is out of ideas.
14) “Hammer into Anvil” – This week’s Number Two is a sadist who cajoles one of the other prisoners into suicide. Six swears revenge, and over the course of the episode he drives Two insane. This is one of the episodes in which no one is even remotely trying to break Six. I’ve placed it here because Six has grown stronger with each of their attempts. He’s now at the point where they know they can’t break him, but he can easily break them.
15) “Once Upon A Time” – Flag on the play. None of the attempts to break Six have gotten anywhere, so Number 1 stops trying. He recalls Leo McKern to The Village and forces them to undergo Degree Absolute, a psychological test of will that will break one and kill the other. It goes about how you’d expect. Nobody questions that this is the penultimate episode of the series, since it leads directly into
16) “Fallout” – the finale.
“Wait, wait,” you say, “There’s seventeen episodes, not sixteen.” That’s true. I’ve omitted “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.” It was shot during a scheduling conflict when the star was filming a movie and couldn’t get away. His appearances are confined to some sloppy voiceovers, a thirty second cameo at the end, and a whole lot of stock footage. The rest of the story involves his brain being transferred into the body of another, and being sent out into the world to capture a missing scientist. Along the way he visits his fiance.
You see why I left it out? Everyone hates it, it’s just stupid and poorly acted and poorly written. Everyone onscreen seems bored. The entire thing plays out like someone’s fanfic. I’m not the only person to just drop it from the canon.
However: If you’ve gotta stick it in somewhere, I’d put it in between “It’s Your Funeral” And “Living in Harmony,” since it fits the whole theme of doing more elaborate stuff and getting less payoff.
Some of my order is pretty solid: The first two, the last two, the Schizoid/General/ABC troika, but some of it is pretty subjective, two. Episodes from the first half of the series have a different feel than the ones from the second half, so it’s pretty easy to group them accordingly, but *within* that grouping, my own order is based on what seems to me to flow best.
So there you go.
What do you think?