Friday, January 16, 2009

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan

"Number Six has finally escaped the Village," said grigorss in his email... Patrick McGoohan, creator and star of The Prisoner, has died. This show was on TV when I was four and five and thanks to an indulgent babysitter who vastly preferred The Secret Storm, it had a huge influence on me (and on a generation of film, television, musical, and visual artists, as well as a lot of other people who wonder where the line between the individual and society really falls). The entire 1967-68 series can be viewed for free here.

Though I'm an English professor, I'm not the type who believes that Madonna and
The Simpsons (on which McGoohan guest-starred) have supplanted Milton and the Symbolists... but still, if you've never watched The Prisoner I'd go out on a limb and say you have a large gap of cultural knowledge waiting to be deliciously filled. Unlike many philosophical or "message" shows, even very good ones, The Prisoner resolutely resists neat categories and easy answers, uttering that "No! In thunder" that Melville (and Leslie Fiedler) so admired.

Visually, intellectually, and on the visceral levels of fright, (com)passion, and dark humor,
The Prisoner has rarely been equaled... it was so formative for me that I felt, at one point in my life, the need to escape it myself-- to cease to be the cornered rebel, the raging, lost isolato ... which I did through the grace of my dear Kali, lot of Al-Anon meetings and journaling, and probably just plain growing up. The mystical path, as I pontificated to grigorss, is a lot like Number Six's journey in the show: you struggle and you search and you finally figure out who Number One, your jailer, is... and you walk free, aware of your eternal bondage, whether in Westminster or East Berlin.

I know that last sentence made utterly no sense, but that's another thing McGoohan wasn't afraid to do in
The Prisoner: confront and make art out of the paradox coiled at the center of every instant, of all life and all our experience. The freer we are, the more intimately we perceive what the sage called "the myth of freedom." A devout Christian, Patrick McGoohan surely lived easily with his eventual death, and I like to think that it was his faith that helped him to do crazy stuff like turning down the roles of (get ready) James Bond, Gandalf, and Dumbeldore-- not that he had anything against Fleming, Tolkien, or Rowling--his drum just wasn't beating that way.


  1. "I know that last sentence made utterly no sense..."

    Oh, it does; it makes plenty of sense -- especially to anyone who's watched the show. I mean really watched it... -- understanding (or at least making the effort to) what they see before their own eyes.

  2. thanks, dude, for havin' my back! :)

    as the Velvet Underground would sing several months after McGoohan filmed the last episode, "I'm set free / to find another illusion" ...