Fall Out (The Prisoner)
|The Prisoner episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Patrick McGoohan|
|Written by||Patrick McGoohan|
|Original air date||1 February 1968|
"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 favour 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.
After the apparent death of Number Two following their battle of wills in the previous episode, Number Six asks The Supervisor to take him to Number One. 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 judicial 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 Six 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 Six has passed the "ultimate test" and won the "right to be an individual," and as such, he is no longer a number and to be referred to from this point onward as simply "sir." The President then explains there are many matters of ceremony involved in the "transfer of ultimate power" at his imminent "inauguration."
The caged living area from the previous episode is lowered into the chamber and the body of Number Two is removed by medical personnel, resuscitated and given a make-over, including a shave. 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 Two asks why he was revived, and reveals that he, like Number Six, was abducted and brought to the Village against his will, and spits at the mechanical eye in defiance of its authority. Both men are then taken away, secured until Six's "inauguration."
The President explains how these "two forms of revolt – the first, uncoordinated youth, rebelling against nothing it can define; the second, an established, successful, secure member of the establishment turning upon and biting the hand that feeds him" – are attitudes which are "dangerous. They contribute nothing to our culture, and are to be stamped out."
As for the third form of revolt, that of Number Six, The President says that the assembly is "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 and secure." At which point he shows Number Six 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 Number Six a choice: "lead us or go." Six asks "why" he's being given a choice, to which The President responds, "You have been such an example to us." Six 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," Six finally says, to which The President responds: "You see all."
He then invites Six to address the assembly, but, after mounting the rostrum, Number Six 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.
Number Six is then led into a tall, metallic cylindrical room to "meet Number One", passing Number 48 and Number Two being held in transparent tubes labeled "Orbit 48" and "Orbit 2" next to an empty tube labeled "Orbit" with no number. Six climbs a spiral staircase to an upper level, and sees the hooded figure of Number One, watching surveillance videos of Number Six. Tearing off the same black-and-white mask that the delegates wore, he reveals a gorilla mask, and then removes that to reveal the true face of Number One -- his own. The figure flees, laughing maniacally, climbing a ladder through a hatch into the room above. Giving chase, Six locks the overhead hatch. Now realising the metal cylinder is a rocket, and the cavern an underground launch pad, Six starts the launch sequence. The assembled delegates are sent into a panic and The President initiates a mass evacuation of the entire Village.
Six frees Numbers Two 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" and "Many Happy Returns") – and Number 48 alights and proceeds to hitch-hike.
The remaining three continue to London, and are stopped outside Westminster Palace by a motorcycle policeman. Number Two departs, entering the building via the Peers' Entrance, while Number Six and the Butler return to Six's former residence where his Lotus 7 sports car awaits. As Number Six 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. As the former Number Two returns to his previous profession, now dressed in a suit and bowler hat with briefcase and umbrella, we hear the thunderclap of the series' opening sequence, followed by the same shot of the speeding Lotus, and the final close-up of Number Six -- The Prisoner -- at the wheel...
Number One was depicted as an evil, governing force in this Village. So, who is this Number One? We just see the Number Two'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 Number One an image of Number Six. His other half, his alter ego.— Patrick McGoohan in 1977
The allegorical shift that takes place once the identity of Number One is revealed has been subjected to various interpretations. McGoohan himself commented that it means to say that "Each man is a prisoner unto himself". The episode's ending, with Six's apartment door opening automatically, as in the Village, 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. 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".
Lead star and series creator Patrick McGoohan wrote and directed the episode. 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. 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.
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; he had previously played Number Eight alias "The Kid/Number 8" in the Western themed episode "Living in Harmony" as well as his uncredited role of the Photographer in "Girl". According to both Fairclough and Kenneth Griffith himself, McGoohan was so pressed for time that the actor 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 his character in fact dies) 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.
- 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, though the reason for this is not made clear on screen (though some of No. 2's first words after revival are "I feel a new man!").
- This is the only episode to feature a modern pop song. As Number Six approaches the large "court" chamber and again during the climactic gun battle, The Beatles' current hit "All You Need Is Love" (1967) is played in the background. 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. After being shouted down by the jury, No. 6 is not shown speaking again for the remainder of the episode.
- The jukeboxes featured in the alcoves of the cave as Number Six is led to the court room are a Seeburg LPC480, Seeburg Mustang Discothèque, Seeburg SS160 Stereo Showcase, and a Wurlitzer 2300.
- With Rover destroyed, the final shot of the closing credits remains on the completed graphic of the penny farthing bicycle.
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. As VCRs were not available until many years later, some viewers missed the fleeting glimpse of Number One's face, which was only four seconds long.
The finale intentionally avoided answering any mysteries regarding the origins of the Village, its intentions for Number Six, his reasons for resigning and there is also no clear explanation for why the Village releases Number Six. The episode depicts Numbers Six, Two, 48 and the Butler shooting their way out of the Village; this is in stark contradiction to the previously established absence of weapons in the Village and its impenetrable security. The Village's proximity to London in the finale is also unexplained. This resulted in bafflement and anger among the show's viewership to such an extent that McGoohan had to leave the country and go "into hiding" for a few days as dissatisfied viewers stormed his house.
Despite this, McGoohan stated in a 1977 interview, that he was "delighted" with the reaction, as his intention was to create controversy. 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". The popular press joined in with the public indignation at this "rubbish" McGoohan had foisted on them. 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. He did, however, tend to work in American television hereafter, including a Prisoner-tinged appearance on Columbo a few years later.
Sequels in other media
There have been two licensed sequels to this episode in other media.
- The Prisoner: I Am Not a Number, a 1969 novel by Thomas Disch, is set after this episode and has Number Six living in London with the Butler as his servant, but Number Six's memories of the Village have been erased. The novel suggests that this episode was a hallucination during the memory erasure process. The amnesia itself is a Village plot to manipulate Six into regaining his memories and inadvertently reveal secrets he would otherwise guard. However, Disch's novel additionally suggests that the Village may be a dream, a state of consciousness, a set of false memories or a virtual reality simulation. It is left to the reader to wonder which of these theories may be true.
- The 1988 comic book sequel, Shattered Visage, declares that this episode was a drug-induced psychodrama in which Number Two staged his own death and resurrection, and that the onscreen images are part of the Degree Absolute process that began in the previous episode, "Once Upon a Time." It offers two contradictory accounts, however: Number Two claims that in this episode, "The man who that not bend simply broke. Shattered and alone, he chose a number and christened himself Number One. He had accepted. He was ours, body and soul. We had won!" In contrast, a British intelligence officer reviewing the Village files reports, "Number Six made several attempts to escape. The administration, in turn, interrogated him repeatedly. And, as far as I can tell, he did not talk."
- McGoohan, Patrick (March 1977). The Prisoner Puzzle. Interview with Warner Troyer. TVOntario. Ontario, Canada. Archived from the original on 2014-06-30. Retrieved 2014-06-30.
- 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. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2005.00149.x. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
- Britton, p. 107
- Postma, Laurens C. (director), Rodley, Chris (writer) (1984), Six into One: The Prisoner File (documentary), Channel 4
- Bianculli, David (13 December 1984). "'The Prisoner' has aged well.". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. C14.
- Morreale, Joanne (December 2010). "Lost, The Prisoner, and the End of the Story". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 38 (4): 176–185. doi:10.1080/01956051.2010.508504. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
- From the pen of Chris Gregory: The Prisoner episode by episode| accessed on 17 April 2011
- "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.
- 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.