Anyone confused by the blatantly Machiavellian/Orwellian/Huxleyesque machinations on display during this unique campaign season need only watch a single episode of an almost fifty-year-old television show to fully comprehend the peculiarities of the nightmarish dilemma in which we now find ourselves. In 1967 writer/actor/director Patrick McGoohan created The Prisoner, which remains the most prescient drama ever aired on television. The series chronicles the Kafkaesque adventures of a man known only as Number Six (McGoohan) who attempts to resign from his highly sensitive position as a secret agent, and as a result is abducted, held prisoner, and tortured repeatedly by entities unknown.
In light of the surreal overtones of our current campaign season, it’s noteworthy to keep in mind that such absurdities are not at all unprecedented in the world of dystopian fiction, The Prisoner being the prime example. Everything you really need to know about Campaign 2016 is embedded in “Free for All,” one of the best episodes of the series, in which Number Six is recruited to run for political office in The Village, a fascist island resort where life would appear to be utterly pleasant and utopian, except when one attempts to contradict the party line, speak one’s mind, and tell the truth.
Though I recommend watching all seventeen episodes of The Prisoner, McGoohan himself felt there were only seven essential episodes: “Arrival,” “Free for All,” “Dance of the Dead,” “Checkmate,” “The Chimes of Big Ben,” “Once Upon a Time,” and “Fall Out.” McGoohan wrote and directed at least three of these episodes….
Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books).
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