EPISODE REVIEW: The Prisoner (Remake): “Living In Harmony” (Episode 2)

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One of the intriguing things about the new Prisoner series is that, judging by the titles, they seem to actually be remaking specific episodes of the original series. “Arrival” was obviously the pilot or first episode, this one, named “Living In Harmony” is named after the Virtual Reality Western episode, then we’ve got “Hammer in to Anvil”, “Do Not Forsake Me oh My Darling,” “The Schizoid Man,” and “Checkmate.” It’ll be curious to know if these really *are* remakes, or just homage to similar concepts, using the same titles. Curiously, some of the ones they’ve chosen to remake - at least in name - are crowd favorites (“Schizoid Man” is my favorite, probably), but others like “Checkmate” are kind of weak, and “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” is universally thought to be the weakest episode of the series.

Of course it wasn’t until Episode 2 that we could really tell if these were remakes or remakes in name only, since, obviously, Arrival was going to have to cover a lot of the same ground setting up the premise as the Original Arrival did 41 yeas back.

The original version of “Living In Harmony” is a western. We see #6 as a cowboy who resigns as a sheriff, is beaten senseless by some thugs, and wakes up in a wild west town called “Harmony,” where the Mayor wants him to put on the badge and be their lawman. He refuses, of course, so they lean on him to become the cop, and they want to know why he left his old job. Any of this sounding familiar? It’s the basic premise of the show, mysteriously translated back in time and space to the 1880s in North America. They try several means to break him, and he tries several means to fight back, when ultimately one of his tormenters succumbs to Six’s mind games, and snaps, killing all the other major characters in the town.

Number Six wakes up on the floor in the bar, surrounded by cardboard cutouts of the characters from the episode, looks out the door and realizes that “harmony” was just a set built on a hill overlooking the village, and this time out the powers that be were attempting to break him by a mixture of drugs and virtual reality (Or, I guess, technically, it’d be augmented reality).

So was this episode of the New Prisoner a remake of that?

PLAY BY PLAY

No, it is not. In fact, while the pre-release material referred to this episode as “Living in Harmony”, the on-screen titles merely called it “Harmony.” I’m not sure which is the ‘correct’ title, but I’m assuming it’s the one I actually saw on the tube.

Anyway, when Six was a lad, he and his brother went to the beach. He was eight. His brother drowned.

In the present day, Six is awakened in the desert by a fat man and a kid, claiming to be his brother and nephew, respectively. They take him back to town, where he has an audience with Number Two. Two and The Fat Man insist that he’s really Six’s brother, and pulls out family photos to prove it. The issue seemingly settled - and some of his memories do seem to overlap with what his fat faux brother is telling him - he’s signed up for psychotherapy and also sent to visit his brother’s A-Frame.

There he meets his sister-in-law and his niece. They all seem quite nice, they’re all obsessed with a soap opera called “Wonkers” which is apparently the only thing ever broadcast in The Village, and Six likes them. He tells his brother that he doesn’t really believe he’s his brother, though. The fat man seems genuinely upset by this and storms off.

Six’s session with the psychotherapist is a nice nod to the original series. It’s in a dark room, the hallways are all clearly reminiscent of the original series, and as they engage in psychological banter, it turns out - creepily enough - that there are *two* number seventies. Clones apparently. There’s the one who talks and the one who reflects on what’s said. This is creepy and funny, particularly six’s reaction to it. “I think we’re done now.”

The pretty doctor, meanwhile, follows Six around and he grills her on various history - Tolstoy, Copernicus, who invented the light bulb. (“Five Forty did”) She seems not to know the answers.

His brother, meanwhile, gets him his old job back. Evidently he’s a bus driver, taking people on tours of the village. At one point, while driving through the desert, Six spots an anchor and stops the buss to look at it. His brother takes him beyond the dunes to the ruins of a train station which simply says “The Village.” They called it “The edge of the world” as kids, which is what Six and his brother called the beach as kids. There’s a crazy lady on the bus who keeps making eye contact with six.

Two, meanwhile, rewards the brother with a vacation to the “Escape” resort. They invite “Uncle Six” to go, and he reluctantly agrees. Six visit’s the Edge of the World ruins with his doctor/girlfriend and finds a note he himself planted there when he was eight. He actually remembers planting it there, though in his memory it was on a beach.

The crazy lady tells six she heard the ocean once, so the two of them and the cabby go tear-assing through the desert, trying to find the beach. They find nothing, however, and suddenly six realizes his ‘family’ is missing their vacation because of him, so they run back to town. Of course they’ve missed the bus to the resort by then, but as they’re a family of bus drivers it’s no matter for them to simply borrow one from work. En rout to the resort, Six tries to drive to the semi-invisible towers again, but ends up at the anchor and has a bit of a meltdown, during which we see flashbacks of Two torturing him in the desert.

On the bus, the brother tells six he’s got to knock it off. Six apologizes, and says that he might actually be insane, that his brother has shown him nothing but compassion and love, and he’s repaid that with accusations. He says he trusts his brother. His brother then confesses that he isn’t his brother, and they go to the resort.

There he explains that they don’t really know what two is up to, he’s not even sure his family is really his, but he kind of remembers Six being his brother as a kid, and Six admits he kind of remembers that, too, sort of. They get together with the crazy lady and make their way through the desert until they find the beach. Brother jumps in the water and swims, and Six’s childhood memory plays out exactly the same, except that they’re adults, and this time his brother doesn’t just drown, he’s drowned by Rover.

Six tries to tell his ‘brother’s’ ‘family’ that he’s dead, but everyone’s laughing at a really funny bit on Wonkers. He takes the pretty doctor back to the site, but the ocean is gone, as though it never existed.

The End.

Intercut with all this, we see flashbacks of Six’s last night in New York, where he picks up a girl, him as a kid at the beach, and being tortured by Two.

OBSERVATIONS

This episode was much better than “Arrival,” but the direction was still rather flat, and the editing was tedious. The glimmers of backstory we see - we don’t need to be bludgeoned over the head with that - a touch of it now and again is enough.

There’s not much chemistry between Six and The Pretty Doctor, though evidently she feels strongly about him, and we’re supposed to believe he’s developing feelings for her. It’s fairly stiff.

Much better done, however, is the interaction with the family, and how quickly Six gets roped in to their routine and just accepting them. In the original show, Six’s weakness was damsels in distress. In this show, it might be the need for a family. The bit where Six begins to question his memories and sanity is almost moving, as is his “Brother’s” fear over betraying Two.

Two is malevolent, but we don’t find out too much more about him aside from that he doesn’t believe in psychoanalysis, that he likes hand grenades, that he’s somehow responsible for his wife’s condition, and that everyone in town is freaking terrified of him. His scene where he screws with the two Number Seventies is pretty hilarious and cruel. The scenes of him torturing six in the desert are simply cruel.

The flashbacks to New York tell us a lot about Six: he was an ‘observer’ for a big corporation that’s spying on everyone all the time. He didn’t know what the people on the floor above him did. He noticed something - unstated as to what it was - that was changing in the people he was spying on, and informed his superior. He was told to “Cease and Desist.” Thus we know most of what led to his resignation, but not the specific *thing* he saw. So much for mystery.

He has a dim view of humanity and love, and says that one night stands are all the species is capable of anymore. This upsets his one night stand who, predictably, turns out to be an employee of the company sent out to reign him in when he quit. Really, who among us didn’t see that coming?

We get a “Why did you resign?” as a nod to the original show, but it’s just a blow-off line.

The looped crowd chatter from the bus patrons was very cattle like, “What are they doing? Where are they going? What do we do? Are they just leaving us?” and so on. About what you’d expect, really.

Obviously, whomever runs The Village can play with memory. Six is given a fake family to help his integration, and it is actually beginning to work. His “brother” isn’t even sure if his family is real or not. Two himself is talking to his son (Eleven Twelve) about family, and it’s the kind of double-entendre that makes one wonder if it’s really his son, or just a son assigned to him by the Village. No one there knows who they are, nor do they remember the outside at all, except fleetingly in dreams. The best payoff for this is when Six can't remember his own name at the end, and clearly can't quite remember why it's important to him.

The diner has already been rebuilt.

There’s one fairly harsh profanity in tonight’s episode. They can do that on Cable. It was entirely called for, but tonally a bit distracting.

I really wish they were just running this miniseries one episode a night. Two hours of this was a bit much. The direction is…well, it’s oppressive. The Village itself fails to deliver much of a sense of oppression, mind you, it’s about as Orwellian as Vegas, but the actual direction of the episodes is heavy-handed and grueling, though they did do an interesting big where several scenes were done in longshot, with very thin sound, so as to suggest surveilance. I feel like this episode was overly densely written, and yet accomplished little. Six drives off in to the desert. Then he does it again. Then he does it again. Then a fourth time. Do we really need all those? Is this Don Quixote returning to La Manchia at the end of each of his ever-enlarging errant adventures, or is it simply padding the episode out to 45 minutes? I feel the latter. I also feel stringing out the story of his abduction is a bit pointless since it was obvious in episode one how he got here.

So there we go. I’m refraining from judgment until I’ve seen the whole series, as there may be a payoff for this, but I will say that I feel attempting to re-imagine a 1960s classic show into a “Lost” or “Flash Forward” format is really more distracting than is probably called for. The original show was minimalist: It was six’s story, and everyone around him was in the story only because of their interaction with him. It was one man’s defeat of the system. It was, quite frankly, the triumph of the one just man, after all. We never even find out all that much about him - he was a spy, he quit, apparently over a matter of conscience - his own past wasn’t even terribly important, merely his plight and its resolution. His childhood traumas and whatnot are trivial.

Here, by introducing standalone characters, by telling us more about The New Prisoner himself, we’re distracting ourselves from the central message of the village, which is plenty chilling all by itself. Unless they’ve got some damn good reason for doing this that’ll pay off in the next few episodes, I have to think this using new wineskins for old wine is just pointlessly distracting.

So: what did Six see? What's happening to the world? I find myself wondering if the world really is gone, and these people are the last survivors. Maybe their memories are wiped because it's the only way they can deal with a catastrophe on that level...

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