Skip to main content

We’re both claiming to be Number Six, are we not?


The Prisoner
5. The Schizoid Man

We want information.

Number Six is helping Number 24 with her mind-reading skills, using a pack of Zener cards. Later, Six is drugged and subjected to an aversion therapy treatment (as a result of which he becomes left-handed). His appearance is also altered. He is ushered to see Number Two who refers to him as Number 12, an old friend, and requests his aid in a plan to discover why the “real” Number Six resigned (the real 12 is now masquerading as our hero). “12” has a makeover; now he looks like Six (or rather, like himself again) and a series of confrontations ensue. At first the sparring is sporting (Six loses as he has he tries to respond with his left hand), then Six is unable to prove his physical identity (his wrist mole has gone, his fingerprints don’t match). Finally 12 beats Six at the mindreading game with 24. Six appears to be cracking but he notices a nail he bruised before the switcheroo, and he recalls the brainwashing techniques used. He electrocutes his left hand to return dexterity to his right. Then he beats up 12, who reveals the password (Schizoid Man) before being killed by a Rover. Six pretends that the “real” Six is dead, and attempts to leave as 12. But Two has deduced that he really is Six (he did not know that 12’s wife had died the year before) and brings him back to the Village.

So how do you like it?

If that plot summary sounds convoluted, it’s decidedly less so on screen. The Schizoid Mangenerally seems to be one of the best regarded episodes of the series, but it has never really captured my imagination. Patrick McGoohan is superb in his dual roles, but I can’t see why anyone in the Village thought this idea would work. Less still why Six would ever come close to falling for it. Lest that sounds like I’m missing the point of a fantasy series where logic is not always a foremost, I should emphasise that the (in some respects) not dissimilar A. B. & C. ranks as one of my favourites.


Two: You have a unique physical advantage.
Six: Physical advantage of GROWING A MOUSTACHE OVERNIGHT?

Maybe it’s partly because doppelganger stories are so commonplace; something fairly extraordinary needs to be done for the results not to seem a tad predictable. There’s no point during The Schizoid Man where we are in doubt over who the real Six and the real 12 are. There’s no mystery here at any point, as we follow the process of Six’s treatment. And, since only Six’s body (and his memory of the procedure itself) has been affected, it seems like a huge stretch that he would gradually become discombobulated. His sense of identity is, after all, overwhelming. This is why he’s so hard to break. They got into his subconscious and manipulated his dreams, and still he came out trumping his captors. Are we really supposed to believe the old double ploy would catch him off guard?


Two: Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he’ll crack. What do you think of the idea?
Six: I think it has fascinating possibilities, but you’ll have an awful job convincing me that I am not your Number Six. 

Terence Feely may be partially aware of this, as he has Six consciously go along with Two (and Two consciously going along with Six consciously going along with him) when asked to masquerade as “Six”. If everyone is so self-aware, perhaps Feely intends to do something clever with the trajectory? Not a chance. Six should know that the cosmetic is easily alterable, and he’s had enough experience of weekly totty proving duplicitous that he should have seen that one coming. Much more likely, if he were true to form, he would display lofty boredom at this latest silly scheme.


Perhaps it’s appropriate then that the best reversal involves not Six but his double. Interrogated by the genuine article and Two, Twelve finds himself in exactly the scenario Six has been, and be will again, subjected to. As in the previous episode, the grilling is visualised as focussing on his third eye (this time with a spot of light on his forehead) as Twelve exclaims desperately:


Twelve: I am Number Six. I… am… Number Six. Number Six! Six! Six! Six! Six!

Perhaps if we’d seen Six take a bit too much pleasure in becoming the interrogator, there’d have been a more effective blurring of lines. Even Six is impressed at Twelve’s rigour, a bit (“Hmm! Your… boy is dedicated to his work”).


That’s not to say the episode isn’t entertaining. But it doesn’t dazzle. I can’t see why Two (Anton Rodgers) would be so willing to pursue the idea either. Rodgers makes little impression as Two, ever-pleasant but lacking in substance. We’re told at the end that this was the General’s idea (whom we meet in the next episode). I guess that should have been a warning sign over “his” fallibility, coming up with something that is at once complex and also utterly daft. If there’s one undeniably good thing that comes out of The Schizoid Man, it’s the episode title. Highly evocative, it suggests the sort of dark, antic behaviour that we never actually get to witness.


Supervisor: In Haiti, we’d say he has stolen his soul.

I’m sure some valiant fellow can (and has) compared The Schizoid Man to the theories proposed by Otto Rank’s The Double; as he tells it, the double represents the ego as a symbol of immortality, and this is inverted when said double is removed. However, the fate of 12 restores Six to his indomitability. The plot is too literal too tease much substance from the theme; by telling Six there is a plan at the outset he is forearmed against any encounters with the uncanny. Also, Rank was in part concerned with spotlighting the states of authors who explored such ideas; what was on Feely’s mind, I wouldn’t seek to speculate. Nevertheless, “primal narcissism” sounds like just the sort of behaviour you could level at Six.


Twelve: We’re both claiming to be Number Six, are we not?
Six: I am Number Six, you are doing the claiming.

There was so much potential here, particularly of the kind that could have woven into the series’ integral themes. If, in the end, we (or our egos) are our own worst enemy, so how does our appearance inform that? Are we more than surface details and habitual behaviour? If we follow the line of the plot clearly we are, as Six is never swayed by his frustrating inability to throw a punch or a magically disappearing mole. There may be the suggestion that our relationships with others tell us most about who we are, since Six’s failure to recreate his simpatico experience with 24 does the most to dash his self-belief (and will presumably reinforce his loner approach, as if he didn’t already have good enough reason to shun other Villagers). The problem is, again, that he’s never really tested; he just becomes a bit disorientated by a rather silly ruse. It’s an exercise in over-complicated but underwhelming plotting and so has no greater resonance. If nothing else though, the overlords of the Village succeed in manipulating Six into defining himself as a number at last, something that was anathema a precious few episodes previously.


The Schizoid Man was filmed seventh, made following a decidedly more intense brain-frying episode (Once Upon a Time). It generally finds itself positioned in a similar running order no matter whose system is followed (fifth is the earliest, eighth the latest).  It certainly makes considerable sense to have it directly preceding The General, as the initial screening order has it.


There’s some curiously atypical behaviour on the part of Six here. Why is he so willing to help out 24? In the screening order so far we’ve seen him betrayed by Nine (Arrival), then by Nadia (The Chimes of Big Ben) and then another woman has shown herself to be a right schemer (Free For All). All three preceded The Schizoid Man in production order. He should be thoroughly unconvinced by the fairer sex at this point, less still becoming uncharacteristically chummy with a fellow inmate. It’s a peculiarly paternalistic rapport that he has struck up, and the lack of restless pacing doesn’t quite fit with him. It’s no surprise when 24 betrays him, and the reluctant turncoat character is familiar from the opening episode. Jane Merrow, who appeared in a host of TV roles including The Avengers, UFO, Danger Man and The Saint (and then a raft of US TV roles during the ‘70s and ‘80s) shows a winning earnestness as 24, so Six’s mentoring at least fits with that. But as someone for Six to pass the time with, she has been introduced purely to add substance to the later test scenario.


As for what her abilities are supposed to say about extra-sensory perception, the episode appears to be quite credulous. It is clear that we are supposed to believe that there is a psychic link between Six and 24; any possibility that there was some trickery during the opening stages is negated by the later scene in which Six lights her raised cigarette synchronously as they discuss synchronicity (“… little things, sudden coincidences that aren’t really coincidences”). Then, this is a series that is quite comfortable with the expanding possibilities of the mind, be it manipulation of dreams, brainwashing or the illusory nature of “reality”; it is ever an undiscovered country.


Does the drug treatment and aversion therapy “repeatment” convince? Not even closely. Quite apart from failing to address what happens when Six is called on to write something with his left hand, we’re asked to believe it’s taken effect in the time it takes him to grow a stylish tache? As for flapjacks versus bacon, would the refrain “Flapjacks are my favourite dish” really prevent him from tucking into some bacon? Maybe if “Bacon makes me puke” was included, but that doesn’t seem to be in the mix.


Undoubtedly the episode is a technical triumph. We’re often more aware of McGoohan’s stunt double at work in other episodes than we are here, and the star never fails to convince us that he’s playing two different people. The split screen is generally successful, with only the occasional sense that something isn’t quite right with an eye line. The fights are tightly cut, as you’d expect, although it helps when you have a fencing competition complete with visors.


Breaking with the standard, there’s no chase this time out. Perhaps it was thought that the fisticuffs were enough. There’s a moment where the music strikes up and you think one’s about to kick off, but it’s a false alarm.


Six: Yes, yes – I am Number 12. But sometimes in my dreams I’m… somebody else.
Twelve: Who?
Six: I don’t know. Sometimes in my dreams I resign from my job.

If Six’s slight cowing by this latest plot is hard to swallow, it’s no more so than Curtis (12’s real name) giving up very easily when Six sets to work on him. Two earlier extolled his virtues as an agent, so you’d expect him to be able to hold out and not admit to the Top Secret password after a minute or two of fist work. His demise is a first too; Rovers tend to immobilise their victims and Two is visibly shocked that this one has overstepped the mark (perhaps they have a form of vague sentience and have developed a dislike of Six?)


I suppose some credit should be due to Two for figuring out Six’s deception at the climax. Except that any self-respecting Two would have been alert to the potential confusion of double Sixes anyway. Indeed, surely a full physical examination would be a prerequisite before letting Twelve loose on the world again? It doesn’t help Rodgers’ case for being a compelling Two, and he’s the least impressive so far.


The Schizoid Man is an agreeable but unremarkable episode. We’re treated to a fine showcase for McGoohan, who delivers a dual tour de force. But in general this is too faintly familiar, the convolutions of the plot failing to coalesce into a genuinely intriguing narrative. 









Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.