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

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

No, I ain’t a good man. I ain’t the worst either.

A Perfect World (1993) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to assume, retrospectively, that Clint’s career renaissance continued uninterrupted from Unforgiven to, pretty much, now, with his workhorse output ensuring he was never more than a movie away from another success. The nineties weren’t such a sure thing, though. Follow-up In the Line of Fire , a (by then) very rare actor-for-hire gig, made him seem like a new-found sexagenarian box office draw, having last mustered a dependably keen audience response as far back as 1986 and Heartbreak Ridge . But at home, at least, only The Bridges of Madison County – which he took over as director at a late stage, having already agreed to star – and the not-inexpensive Space Cowboys really scored before his real feted streak began with Mystic River. However, there was another movie in there that did strong business. Just not in the US: A Perfect World .