Fall Out (The Prisoner)

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"Fall Out"
The Prisoner episode
Theprisonerfinale.jpg
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 17
Directed by Patrick McGoohan
Written by Patrick McGoohan
Production code vcil
Original air date 1 February 1968
Guest actors

Leo McKern as Number Two
Alexis Kanner as Number Forty-Eight
Kenneth Griffith as President
Peter Swanwick as Supervisor
Michael Miller as Delegate
Angelo Muscat as The Butler

Episode chronology
← Previous
"Once Upon A Time"
Next →

"Fall Out" is the 17th and final episode of the allegorical British science fiction series The Prisoner, which starred Patrick McGoohan as the incarcerated Number Six. The episode originally aired in the UK on ITV on 1 February 1968, and was first broadcast in the United States on CBS on 21 September 1968.

"Fall Out" generated controversy when it was originally aired owing to the obscurity and ambiguity of the installment's last 20 minutes. This reaction forced McGoohan, who wrote and directed the episode, to go into hiding for a period of time because he was hounded at his own home by baffled viewers demanding explanations. The episode omits the usual long opening sequence in favor of a recap of the penultimate episode, "Once Upon a Time". It is the only episode in the series in which the show's main outdoors location, Portmeirion, is given a specific credit in the opening titles. This resulted from an agreement with Portmeirion's architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, that the location would not be revealed until the series finale.

Plot summary[edit]

After breaking Number 2's will in the previous episode, Number 6 asks The Supervisor to take him to Number 1. He is led to a cavernous chamber apparently serving as an assembly hall, presided over by an MC referred to as The President, in British juridical wig and robes. The assembled "delegates" are all wearing black-and-white (comedy and tragedy) masks and long, white-hooded robes. Each sits behind a name plate representing a social institution or activity such as "Education", "Recreation", "Identification", "Defectors", "Activists", "Pacifists", "Anarchists", "Nationalists", "Welfare", etc. Number 6 is directed to his seat, an ornate throne upon a dais. Nearby, a large metallic cylinder with a green mechanical eye labeled with a big red "1" watches the proceedings.

The President announces that Number 6 has passed the "ultimate test," and had won the "right to be an individual," and as such, he is no longer a number, but is referred to from this point onward as simply "sir," or "The Man." The President then explains there are many matters of ceremony involved in the "transfer of ultimate power" at his imminent "inauguration".

The caged kitchen from the previous episode is lowered into the chamber and the body of Number 2 is removed by medical personnel and placed in a makeshift lab. He is resuscitated and given a make-over, including a shave (this due to Leo McKern having changed his appearance within the almost year-long period which separated the filming of the 2 episodes). Both he and Number 48 - a young modishly-dressed man - are in turn interrogated by the President as examples of two types of "revolt." Number 48 refuses to cooperate and creates a general ruckus by causing the delegates to break into a rendition of "Dem Bones" before he is restrained. Number 2 asks why he was revived and defies the authority of the mechanical eye. Both men are then taken away - secured until The Man's "inauguration."

The President explains how these two forms of revolt - one of "unco-ordinated youth; rebelling against nothing it can define," and the second - "an established member - turning upon & biting the hand that feeds him," are attitudes which are "dangerous. They contribute nothing to our culture, and are to be stamped out."

The third form of revolt - that of Number Six, begins with The President being "honoured to have with us a revolutionary of a different calibre ... He has revolted - resisted, fought - held fast, maintained, destroyed resistance, overcome coercion ... The right to be person - someone or individual - we applaud his private war and concede that despite materialistic efforts, he has survived intact & secure." At which point he shows The Man his home is being prepared for his return, and gives him traveller's cheques, a passport, and the keys to his London home and car. "All that remains", The President proclaims, "is recognition of a man - a man of steel - a man magnificently equipped to lead us."

The President then offers The Man a choice: "lead us or go." The Man asks "why" he's being given a choice, to which The President responds, "You have been such an example to us." The Man asks "why" after each subsequent explanation:

  • "You have convinced us of our mistakes."
  • "You're pure, you know the way - show us."
  • "Your revolt is good and honest. You are the only individual - we need you."

"I see," The Man finally says, to which The President responds: "you see all."

He then invites The Man to address the assembly, but, after mounting the rostrum The Man can only repeatedly utter "I feel..." before the assembly drowns him out by shouting the word "I" repeatedly - whilst clapping and pounding on their desks - more and more menacingly.

The Man is then led to "meet Number 1" and passes Number 48 and Number 2 being held in transparent tubes labeled "Orbit 48" and "Orbit 2" next to an empty tube labeled "Orbit" with no number. The Man then sees the hooded figure of Number 1, watching surveillance videos of Number 6, and tries to unmask the figure, first revealing a gorilla mask, then a man with his own features, before the figure flees - laughing in a semi-hysterical fashion.

Giving chase, The Man locks him in a room overhead. As he leaves the metal cylinder, The Man realizes it is a rocket, and the cavern an underground launch pad. We hear the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as he starts the launch sequence, sending the assembly and The President into a panic and the whole Village into a mass evacuation.

The Man frees Numbers 2 and 48 and, along with the Butler, they gun down the armed guards, killing several. All four make their escape in the caged room, now revealed to be on the bed of a Scammell Highwayman low loader. As they exit the Village, the enormous rocket launches overhead. The last shot of the Village in the series shows it completely evacuated. Rover (the security of The Village) deflates and is destroyed (to the accompaniment of "I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)") upon exposure to the flames of the rocket's exhaust.

The escapees find themselves driving along the A20 road — a mere 27 miles from London (this being an apparent contradiction with the location of The Village being elsewhere, as previously shown in the episodes The Chimes of Big Ben & Many Happy Returns) — and Number 48 alights and proceeds to hitch-hike.

The remaining three continue to London, stopping outside Westminster Palace. Number 2 thanks The Man and enters the building via the Peers' Entrance, while The Man and the Butler return to The Man's former residence where his Lotus 7 sports car awaits. As The Man drives off, the door to his home opens for the Butler in the same automatic manner as the doors in the Village. The door bears the number "1" (as it always had in previous episodes). The final moments repeat the show's usual opening sequence, without the music or the cloudy sky shot, showing The Man driving at high speed towards the viewer.

Themes[edit]

Self imprisonment[edit]

No. 1 was depicted as an evil, governing force in this Village. So, who is this No. 1? We just see the No. 2's, the sidekicks. Now this overriding, evil force is at its most powerful within ourselves and we have constantly to fight it, I think, and that is why I made No. 1 an image of No. 6. His other half, his alter ego.

— Patrick McGoohan in 1977[1]

The allegorical shift that takes place once the identity of Number One is revealed has been subjected to various interpretations. McGoohan himself has commented that it means to say that "Each man is a prisoner unto himself".[2] The episode's ending, with Six's door closing automatically, suggests that he is still not free. The final scene, being the same as the first scene of the series, implies that the series is a cycle that is about to repeat itself, supporting the idea that Six cannot be free from captivity.[3] McGoohan commented on the final scene that it is meant to show that "freedom is a myth," and there is no final conclusion to the series because "we continue to be prisoners".[1]

Production[edit]

Writing[edit]

"There are numbers here, there are no names, so you can't expect it to end like James Bond, so you have to have an alligorical ending. Now (...) what is the most evil thing on earth? Is it jealousy? Is it hate? Is it revenge? Is it the bomb? What is it? When one really searches it's only one thing, it's the evil part of oneself that one is constantly fighting until the moment of our demise. The Jeckyll and Hyde if you like, but on a much larger scale."
—Patrick McGoohan[4]

Lead star and series creator Patrick McGoohan wrote and directed the episode.[5] As ITC managing director Lew Grade said in the 1984 documentary Six into One: The Prisoner File, McGoohan, despite having promised earlier that he would conceive an ending for the series, came to him admitting that he was unable to come up with an ending.[4] The biggest problem was revealing the identity of Number One, which, as McGoohan and various other crew members admitted, had not been decided on prior to the writing of the final episode's script.[4]

According to the book The Prisoner by Robert Fairclough, McGoohan was informed that production was cancelled on the series immediately following filming of the preceding episode "The Girl Who Was Death" and was given only a week to write a finale to conclude the storyline started in "Once Upon a Time", which had been filmed a year earlier. Fairclough's account is, however, in contradiction to virtually all others, which state that McGoohan knew when he left for America to act in the Hollywood film, Ice Station Zebra, that there would be only four more episodes produced from that point, starting with "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" during his absence and ending with a finale; indeed, most agree that this last happened because a scheduled production break was scrapped when two series of 13 episodes were reduced to one of seventeen due to ITC chief Lew Grade deciding that the actor/producer was taking too long and spending too much money.

In order to save time and cut costs, "Fall Out" reused several sets from "Girl", most notably the rocket control room. Two guest actors from the episode, Kenneth Griffith and Alexis Kanner, were also recruited to play different characters in "Fall Out" (this was in fact Kanner's third appearance on the series in only a few weeks, as he previously played Number Eight alias "The Kid" in the Western themed episode "Living in Harmony"). According to Fairclough, McGoohan was so pressed for time that Griffith was asked to write his own dialogue. While Leo McKern's Number Two is the same character that previously appeared, Kanner's Number 48 is almost certainly a different character to the one(s) he played in "Living in Harmony" (where he is called Number 8) and "The Girl Who Was Death", but it is unclear whether Griffith's character is the same one that was the Number Two in the latter episode. It was, however, not unusual in The Prisoner for actors to play different characters in different episodes.

McGoohan receives no onscreen acting credit in this episode. The episode opens with the series title superimposed over the first moments of the "Once Upon a Time" recap, with the location credit, episode title, guest stars, David Tomblin's producer credit and McGoohan's "written and directed by" credit over aerial footage of Portmeirion following that sequence. At the end, after the names of Kanner, McKern, and Muscat appear as captions over the actors themselves (still in character), an extreme aerial shot of the Lotus on London streets (the driver is not actually recognizable) is captioned simply, "Prisoner". Nor does McGoohan receive his usual executive producer credit; in "Living in Harmony" and "The Girl Who Was Death" it is replaced with a large "Starring Patrick McGoohan as The Prisoner" credit, but here his name appears onscreen only as writer/director.

Other notes[edit]

  • Leo McKern's hair is trimmed much shorter in this final episode than in "Once Upon a Time" (and his beard is absent entirely) because he changed his appearance during the year-long production gap between filming the two episodes. The show accommodated this by showing McKern's face covered in shaving cream and being shaved before he is revived.
  • This is the only episode to feature a pop song. As Number Six approaches the large "court" chamber and again during the gun battle, The Beatles' current hit "All You Need Is Love" (1967) is played in the background; it is also played during the climactic gun battle towards the end. Subsequent home video releases of the episode retain the Beatles recording, even though use of Beatles recordings in other series (most notably DVD releases of the Doctor Who storylines The Chase and Remembrance of the Daleks) have required the Beatles music be edited out for VHS and DVD release.
  • McGoohan has very little dialogue in this final episode, save for brief exchanges with the Judge and Number 48, his unintelligible speech at the podium (only the words "I feel, that despite..." can be heard, the rest being drowned out by the "jury"), and a few slogans heard in the archive footage.
  • The jukeboxes featured in the alcoves of the cave as Number 6 is led to the court room are a Seeburg LPC480, Seeburg Mustang Discothèque, Seeburg SS160 Stereo Showcase, and a Wurlitzer 2300.

Reception[edit]

When the last episode came out in England, it had one of the largest viewing audiences, they tell me, ever over there, because everyone wanted to know who Number 1 was, because they thought it would be a ‘James Bond’ type of Number 1. When they did finally see it, there was a near-riot, and I was going to be lynched. And I had to go into hiding in the mountains for two weeks, until things calmed down.

McGoohan in 1977[2]

At the time "Fall Out" was first broadcast there were only three television channels available in the UK and the long-awaited final episode of the series had one of the largest ever viewing audiences yet seen.[1] As VCRs were not available until many years later, some viewers missed the fleeting glimpse of No 1's face, which was only four seconds long.[6] This, along with the intentional ambiguity of the finale, resulted in bafflement and anger among the show's viewership to such an extent that McGoohan had to leave the country for a few days, as dissatisfied viewers stormed his house.[6] Despite the fact that he had to go "into hiding" for a few days, McGoohan stated in a 1977 interview, that he was "delighted" with the reaction, as his intention was to create controversy.[1] He explained that his enjoyment with the outrage was in line with the show's message, "as long as people feel something, that's the great thing, it's when they're walking around not thinking, not feeling, that's though, that's where all the dangerous stuff is, cause when you get a mob like that, you can turn them in to the sort of gang that Hitler had".[4] The popular press joined in with the public indignation at this "rubbish" McGoohan had foisted on them.[7] Although it is sometimes claimed that McGoohan never worked in the UK again after this, this is untrue as, for example, he starred in the Channel 4 production The Best of Friends in 1991, and also appeared in the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots, which was partially filmed in the UK.

In 2001, TV Guide listed "Fall Out" as the 55th Greatest TV Episode of All Time.[8]

Reinterpretation in Shattered Visage[edit]

The comic book sequel mini-series Shattered Visage (1988) opens with the text of a classified intelligence report on the Village. It describes the events of this episode and the previous as "a theatrical tour-de-force involving actors as well as hallucinogenic drugs," organised by Leo McKern's Number Two, in which Two "staged his own death and resurrection." Further explanation of this episode is suggested when Number Two narrates the life of Number Six and recounts how a psychologically broken Six was convinced to choose a number - Number One. The comic suggests that the final sequences of this episode, from the gun battle to Six driving his Lotus Seven, represent a skewed perception of actual events.

Shattered Visage interprets the inauguration of Number Six in this episode as psychologically entrapping him. Where before the Village sought to crush any sense of free will Number Six possessed, here its administration claims to respect his self-identity and offers him the reward of leadership. This position, however, requires that Number Six accept that he is a number - Number One. According to the comic, Six's acceptance of the number and abhorrence for being a number breaks his mind. It is implied that all this is initiated by the Degree Absolute interrogation process of the previous episode.

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d McGoohan, Patrick (March 1977). The Prisoner Puzzle. Interview with Warner Troyer. TVOntario. Ontario, Canada. Archived from the original on Jue 30, 2014. Retrieved 30 Junue, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Woodman, Brian J. (June 2005). "Escaping Genre's Village: Fluidity and Genre Mixing in Television's The Prisoner". Journal of Popular Culture 38 (5): 939–956. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  3. ^ Britton, p. 107
  4. ^ a b c d Postma, Laurens C. (director), Rodley, Chris (writer) (1984), Six into One: The Prisoner File (documentary), Channel 4 
  5. ^ Bianculli, David (December 13, 1984). "'The Prisoner' has aged well.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. C14. 
  6. ^ a b Morreale, Joanne (December 2010). "Lost, The Prisoner, and the End of the Story". Journal of Popular Film and Television 38 (4): 176–185. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  7. ^ From the pen of Chris Gregory: The Prisoner episode by episode| accessed on 17 April 2011
  8. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV episodes of all time!". TV Guide. 13 March 2003. Archived from the original on 28 October 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2009. 

Other sources[edit]

  • Fairclough, Robert (ed.). The Prisoner: The Original Scripts. vol. 2. foreword by Roger Parkes. Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1-903111-81-9. OCLC 61145235.  - script of episode
  • Britton, Wesley Alan (2004). Spy Television. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275981631. 

External links[edit]