EPISODE REVIEW: The Prisoner (Remake): “Anvil” (Episode 3)

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This episode started out much, much better than the previous two, with a tone that could almost - but not quite - be called ‘jaunty’, and for a while there, maybe twenty minutes, I thought “Say, this has some promise!” but then it all fell apart into a ponderous and portentous muddle, and kind of a disturbing one at that.

PLAY BY PLAY

Six awakens inexplicably laying in an alleyway in a ‘bad part of town’ (Really? The Village has bad sections? Why?) awakened by a tow truck driver. The driver takes him to meet two, who’s playing golf. Two immediately outs the driver as an ‘undercover’ operative - “One of our best” - and tells six that he wants him to work with the man as his partner, and have him spy on “Dreamers” like himself. Six refuses on the grounds that it’s obviously a trap, but Two admits - in what I suspect is probably going to prove to be the best scene in the entire series - that it’s a trap, however he thought Six would enjoy trying to foil it. Six plays along. The two of them are assigned to spy on a grade school history teacher, and Six is given an undercover job as the new “Surveilance” teacher.

Two, meanwhile, gives his spooky comatose wife a pill which wakes her up, and they smooch around for a bit, say “They don’t have much time,” she eats some wraps, and then drifts off on the couch again. She’s apparently been in her coma for years.

Two’s son, meanwhile, is hanging out in the local stripper bar (Really? The Village has a stripper bar?) which has a lot of bikers in it (Really? The Village has bikers?). Six shadows his new partner, and finds the undercover operative smooching around with Two’s son.

The cabbie finds a sinkhole in his back yard.

The pretty doctor breaks up with Six because he’s dangerous to be around. He’s having dreams of a box with pointy bits. Six, meanwhile, finds out a bit about world history (“Two the 14th was the Two who presided over the Reformation”), and sets his young spying students to work to find out who they’re all working for, and report back to him. Six and his undercover cop partner go to spy on the suspect teacher, who then slits his own throat. They rush him to the hospital and dump him off. Two, meanwhile, discovers that he’s being spied on.

Six threatens to out his partner and Two’s son if they don’t make a point of keeping the pretty doctor safe. Two, meanwhile, figures something is up, and so to cover his tracks, Two’s son kills his boyfriend, the 40-something undercover cop. The cop was ok with it. His last words are a muddle about how he was evidently just trying to find other dreamers like him, or something. It’s not clear.

The pretty doctor is taken for “Treatment,” so Six blackmails Two’s son into telling him how to get there. Running around in the tunnels beneath the Village, he rescues her, and brings her back to the surface through no adequately explained method. Two knows of his son’s crimes, but isn’t unduly disconcerted by it. Two discovers that one of Six’s students was spying on him, and so he sends her off to the tunnels for a treatment.

That’s more or less it. All of this is intercut with scenes of Six’s last One Night Stand in New York, with “Lucy,” the girl from work who’s pumping him for information.

The End.

OBSERVATION

Not that it matters, but Sir Ian McKellen is gay. The actor playing his son looks to be a teen, and of course from the very first moment he was onscreen in the first episode, he was just screamingly gay. But, you know, not everyone who seems gay is, and not everyone who seems straight is, and it just seemed wrong to me to accuse a kid of that kind of thing based entirely on appearances. Show a little respect, right? Thus in last night’s reviews I dutifully avoided any and all “Like father, like son” jokes, or anything of the like.

So of course tonight they go and make him not just gay, but homicidally closeted, and involved in a really creepy pedophiliac relationship with a 40-something man. It’s needlessly offputting, since the character is apparently supposed to be like sixteen or seventeen years old.

It’s not my job as an (unpaid) critic to tell these folks how to make their show, I get that. Even so: why did the producers feel the need to do that? Why make the kid gay? Why set Six up with a pedophile? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to set Six up with a woman as his partner? Well, no, actually, that doesn’t really make it any better, since the kid is still underaged. Nevermind. My point, however, is simply that the episode was actually humming along quite nicely despite the imponderables (Bikers, Nudie Bars, Bad Neighborhoods) and then they decided to go off the rails with the subplot that adds little to the story apart from a massive ook-factor. I question the judgment.

I suppose it establishes Two’s son as mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but is their larger purpose served by doing it in such a toe-curling way?

Logically speaking, by the way, if the two of them were trying to keep it under wraps, I have to say they were doing a pretty piss-poor job of it in a place where everyone is spying on everyone all the time. I mean, they weren’t even trying to keep it secret. They were canoodling in public for pete’s sake!

Which brings us to a weird aspect of this show that I can’t quite pin down, but which is bugging me: Two of the three episodes so far have felt as though they’ve had about thirty minutes of plot, padded out in to a hour of screen time, this one included. We have an act or two of nice paranoia, questions on the nature of privacy, some funny gags about the fake history of the village, and a grade school curriculum that includes lessons on how to spy on your parents. It’s all very funny, mildly-thought-provoking Orwell-lite. Then they don’t know where to go with it. When we hit the middle third of the story, rather than having the energy level increase, and having the complexity of the situation increase likewise, the story amps down: We get the gay jailbait storyline, the teacher’s suicide comes to nothing, and never ties back in with the main plot, the whole “treatment” and escape of the Pretty Doctor comes too late and too easy and with no consequences, and the various threads of the episode spiral completely out of control. The narrative breaks down, and ultimately disintegrates. And it takes so damn long to do so. Lots of cuts, flashbacks, pointless asides, tracking shots, none of which move the story along, and the editor doesn’t seem to realize that if you show the same thing multiple times, it slows the action down a lot. For instance, did we really need to see Six go to the trailer park five times?

It’s disappointing.

“There is not now, nor has there ever been a Number One. Number Two is a title of humility intended to show that our leader is, himself, a public servant.” That’s what they’re teaching kids in school these days. Obviously it’s a lie. It was a fairly clever lie, though. At least I hope it is. If there’s not a number one, just like the absence of an Imperious Leader in the new Galactica, I’m going to feel like a wheel came off this bookmobile before it ever left the driveway.

There's no explanation given for why Six wakes up on the ground in a bad part of town. It's just more of the typical random crap they're slinging around here, none of which seems to mean much.

There’s a trailer park in the village.

Ok, I realize I’m harping on the bad sections of the village, but here’s why: in the Original Show part of the creepy factor was how quaint and sanitized the Village was. There was no crime, everything was pretty and scenic, there were no malcontents - not for long anyway - and no “Unmutual” behavior was tolerated. It was creepy specifically because it was the kind of place most people wanted to live, a sort of Disneyworld suburb of idyllic, mostly inactive life, which quickly turns out to be oppressive in its whitewashed nature. The more real they try to make it, the faker it becomes. This village, on the other hand, is too damn real by half. Rather than being a creepily-sanitized world, it’s an exact copy of the world. There’s really no difference between being here and being in any real city in the real world. I can’t figure why Six wants to leave so badly, unless he fears he’s getting too much sun, and that might be bad for his skin in the end.

The title of this episode is based on “Hammer into Anvil,” one of my favorite episodes of the old show, in which there’s a sadistic new Number Two that crosses Six, and Six is able to drive the man insane simply by turning his own vicious qualities against him. It’s a goofily simplistic episode, but it plays out really well. Thematically, I don’t see any real connection between that and what we saw here tonight.

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