EPISODE REVIEW: The Prisoner (Remake): “Checkmate” (Episode 6)

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And it’s done. Finally, mercifully, it’s over. I’ve refrained from really judging this to see if they had some grand concept that would make it all pay off in the end. Did it work? Was it worth it? Find out in the observations below.

In the meantime, I found this on Wikipedia: “In May 2007 it was reported that Sky One had pulled out of the re-make due to a disagreement with their AMC. In August 2007, Richard Woolfe, head of Sky One, stated: The Prisoner is not happening. It's a very quintessentially British drama and there were too many creative differences trying to share it with an American partner. I didn't want to be responsible for taking something that is quintessentially British and adapting it in a way that I didn't feel was reflective of the way people would remember it and the way people would want it to be. So we called time on that.”

So the odds of them pulling it out in the end aren’t good, but there’s always a chance, right?

PLAY BY PLAY

“Michael” (AKA 2x6) attempts to sneak back in to Summakorp, but fails, so he goes to the “access guy,” who turns out to be the shopkeeper from The Village. The two of them sneak in to the forbidden floor and find a whole bunch of terminals monitoring people that Michael himself was monitoring. The Crazy Lady from the bus in Episode 2 turns up and tells him his car is waiting to take him to see the boss. At the car, he’s shocked to find that his chauffer is the cabbie from the village.

Two, meanwhile, is expanding the village, and Six suddenly gets sick. Turns out death certificates in the village are postdated, and he’s got a day or three to live. He starts wheezing and stuff. The Cabbie takes him to see a shaman or whatever, but Six gets mad and stomps off. Two’s son, meanwhile, decides to kill his mama to end the illusion. Two gets home from work in time to find his wife dead, and his son dead in the beloved nudie bar that he loved so much. He’s hung himself.

“Michael” discovers that the chauffer still has a daughter, and a violent criminal history, but for the last year or so, he’s getting better and better, life is good, and the judge says they might even let him see his little girl soon.

The Pretty Doctor asks the bereaved Two to let six live, and he agrees, but says it’ll cost her. She says she’s willing to pay the price. Two talks to the cabbie, and gives him instructions on what to do when the time is right. They prepare for Two’s son’s funeral. There’s holes opening up everywhere.

“Michael” meets the boss of Summakorp, and “Helen,” his twitchy, oblivious, schizophrenic wife. He explains that Helen is a biochemist who specializes on the brain. She reasoned that if there’s two levels of consciousness - conscious and subconscious - then why not more? So she engaged upon forbidden experiments to create one a’la the vastly superior (And rather disturbing) Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. Helen was the first person in the vilalge (“Number One” ) and of course he was Number Two. They decided to have a kid there because they couldn’t in the real one, though obviously that’s gone horribly wrong. He explains that they’re benevolent, actually, that they’re fixing people: “Michael” has spotted broken people, and Summakorp sticks them in the village, where their idyllic (?) life allows them to somehow get better in the real world. For instance, the Cabbie, and the Crazy Lady and the Access Guy/Shopkeep and - as we see - The Pretty Doctor, who, in the real world is a gibbering schizophrenic babbling to herself in a church. “For a while she prospered, but lately she’s come to doubt the village and has had a relapse.”

They need Six/Michael, he explains, since he’s virtuous and has resisted every temptation they’ve thrown at him. He’s in love with his own humanity. He asks him to come back to Summakorp.

Back in the village, Two admits at the funeral that his son killed himself because the village is a prison. He starts chanting that “Six is the One! Six is the One!” and the cabbie joins in, as previously coached. Everyone chants it, and the pretty doctor comes up and offers to take some of Helen’s pills and be the new dreamer. Six realizes that if the place is destroyed, people in the real world will suffer, so he agrees to it, as does The Pretty Doctor. She takes the pills and passes out and then Two blows himself up with a hand grenade. Really.

In reality, Two goes home to his wife, who’s now fine. “Michael” sits down in the monitor room we’ve seen before, now in charge of the whole operation. In The Village, Six sits on a dune in a white suit, with The Pretty Doctor slumped against him, mumbling to himself about how he can make the village better.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

My, that was quite an Info-Dump for the final episode, wasn’t it? To my surprise, there was an actual fairly clever idea in there, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to parcel out the answers over the previous five hours, at least a little bit, so that the ending didn’t feel so terribly “Architect” from The Matrix?

The idea that the Village is actually helping people is clever, and goes a long way towards redeeming this whole shameful exercise, but it doesn’t quite make it. I’m sorry, but it’s too little too late. A lot of it still doesn’t make any sense. For instance, why is Summakorp financing this obviously-expensive benevolent experiment that they tell no one about? Why don’t they just go public with it? If they’re such good people just looking for an heir to hand it all over to, then why in the hell did they try to blow up Michael at his apartment? Why are they “Selling tickets to your murder and calling it a promotion?” None of that really makes a lick of sense. I actually came out of this feeling like the writers and producers should apologize for deliberately wasting our time.

In the end, it feels highly derivative of The Matrix (Particularly the pills) and Jacob’s Ladder, in that the bad guys turn out to be good guys, but reality is illusory, and, well, we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Hell, if we take it a bit further it’s practically a Holodeck episode of TNG.

Basically, what they made here was a six-hour movie with more-or-less random act breaks, rather than a series or even a ’miniseries’. This is annoying structurally, and such attempts to be ’episodic’ as there were feel grafted on and false and make the whole thing worse, particularly since most of the tension is either the result of miscommunication, or is retconned in to a lack of communication by the info-dump finale. Thus most of the conflict of the show is entirely artificial, and once you know the secret/answer it becomes horribly tedious and deliberately misleading in retrospect. I mean, is there any reason they couldn’t have just gone to Michael in the first place, explained the situation, and said “We’d like you to run it?” Why screw around with trying to kill him and brainwash him and torture him and so on? I find it hard to believe that either version of Two is a benefactor of humanity after the way he tortured six in the desert that one time.

What makes this worse is that there’s nothing in this remake - and I reiterate that the final concept is kind of clever - that they couldn’t have done in two hours in a cinematic movie, probably for about the same amount of money. The whole thing smacks of padding, the good idea(s) are watered down to the point of insensibility, and in the end, when short and punchy would have saved the day, they went for hopelessly bloated and distended and sprawling. I feel like AMC should apologize as well.

And not only does most of it not really matter, most of it is incoherent on top of it. The tunnels under the village? What the hell was that all about? Rover being Six’s own creation? Who cares? The Pig Masks on Six’s fake-brother’s family when they get the news that he died? Was there any point to that, or did someone just stay up late watching “The Wall” again, and then decide to throw it in to the script?

Given how random and sloppy and grueling - yes, that’s the right word - grueling the direction on this show has been, I’ve suspected since around episode three that probably there’s a hell of a lot more footage out there, that they probably shot vastly, vastly more than they could ever hope to use. In fact, there’s probably a Producers’ Cut of this thing that’s like eight or nine hours long. (The television equivalent, I guess, of a dog laying a two foot long steaming turd on your carpet, as opposed to an eighteen-inch one). My suspicions were borne out in the final montage that showed a ton of scenes that were *not* in this series whatsoever, but were obviously intended as flashbacks to earlier episodes.

There’s no explanation as to what Michael “Saw” specifically, and in fact his comments earlier in the series to Lucy make no real sense once the whole thing is explained. There’s also no explanation as to how they turn people in to Villagers. Does it involve abduction? Scanning? Nanites? The Blue Pill? The Cathode Ray Mission? Voodoo Chants? What? The writers and producers don’t care, so we don’t know.

I’m not sure if I’ll do a retrospective on my overall thoughts of the series. I was tempted to do that at first, but I don’t see a lot of point since this whole thing was just an exercise in random weirdness, a poorly-fleshed out, pointless, and sprawling story with no real moral, and a twist in search of a plot to be tied to. Really, my one solid impression coming out of this is that I never want to see this series again. Granted, I’m a hard sell, but I’ve tried to be positive and open minded about this. Granted, I love the original show, but even if I’d never heard of it, I think I would have been overcome by ennui after watching this, just as I am now. Think on this: The Original Series is 41 years old, and it’s still eminently watchable and interesting and iconic. The New Series is (As of this writing) one hour and six minutes old, and I Never Want To See It Again.

This from a guy who deliberately reviews bad movies every Saturday, and enjoys doing it.

I’d intended to wrap this review up with a comparison to the two episodes this episode was obviously intended to evoke, the Original Series Finale, “Fallout,” and “Checkmate,” one of the more paranoid episodes of the original show, but as of right now I don’t see any point in doing that because really, between the original show and this televised abomination - there is no legitimate comparison.

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