Skip to main content

Preventing is only postponing. You never understood us, Number Six. We never fail.

The Prisoner
11. It’s Your Funeral


We want information.

Number 50 informs Six that there is to be an assassination that will result in reprisals for the residents of the Village. Six is dismissive, and we see that the encounter has been engineered by Two, who drugged 50 (unbeknownst to her). Two contrives further manipulations, reviewing the Computer’s predictions of Six’s daily activities and choosing a moment in which to replace Six’s watch with a broken version. Six visits the Village watchmaker (50’s father) for a repair and learns that he is planning to assassinate Two.

When he goes to warn Two, the latter is dismissive seeing it as one of many fake plots (jamming) that is used to distract Village authorities. After discovering that the Seal of Office will contain the bomb, Six returns to warn Two again only to find a different Two in residence. He is due to retire, and at a special ceremony on the forthcoming Appreciation Day he will be garlanded with the Seal. Two dismisses Six’s warnings, showing him (faked) footage of Six warning other Number Twos of incidents that did not come to pass. However, Six has put doubt in Two’s mind and he realises that his time is up. Six manages to prevent the Watchmaker and Two’s lackey, Number 100, from detonating the device, and ensures that the outgoing Two escapes unharmed. The new Two can only look on helplessly, manhandled by Six and the Seal having been passed to him as part of the ceremony and the detonator in Old Two’s possession.


So how do you like it?

It’s Your Funeral’s one’s troubled production history rather belies its content, which is actually rather good. Certainly, it exhibits rather thinly stretched logic. But the precise nature of the acting Number Two’s scheme takes its time to become apparent, and in the process all sorts of pushes and pulls and inner discontents are revealed in respect of the hierarchy of the Village. Even more in its favour are the double trump cards of two superbly portrayed Number Twos, one (Derren Nesbitt) smooth, over-confident and enormous fun to watch, the other (Andre Van Gyseghem) weary, resigned, and that rarest of things in these regularly changing antagonists; sympathetic.


Reportedly McGoohan treated credited director Robert Asher rather badly and he promptly walked, leaving McGoohan to pick up the shots. Asher, like writer Michael Cramoy, was an ITC veteran. He’d also helmed a host of Norman Wisdom comedies and (one of the Morecambe and Wise films) and around this time would deliver some later-period The Avengers. Mark Eden (Marco Polo in Doctor Who, a story that also featured Derren Nesbitt as the warlord Tegana) and Annette Andre (Number 50, the Watchmaker’s Daughter, and the prettiest of Six’s not-at-all-love-interests; she also played Jeannie Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)) both attest to McGoohan being in a generally rotten mood. It seems the episode was partly dictated by pre-shot Portmeirion footage, which goes to explain the not-that-interesting-really predictive sequence of Six’s daily activities (Cramoy does his best to provide a scientific explanation, but we’re not really buying the ability to precisely envisage the minutiae of random encounters; are we?)


In his excellent blog, Moor Larkin persuasively makes the case that any intemperate behaviour on McGoohan’s part resulted from being at the end of his tether with the George Markstein’s approach to the series; his script editor was unable to make things work or agree to his vision. This was an episode where Derren Nesbitt announced the script’s shortcomings and realised the director had no idea what was going on either. Larkin suggests that Markstein’s subsequent exit ushered in a new mood of congeniality on set. Although, Nesbitt’s comment that he played the character in a state of confusion isn’t borne out on screen; he is very much calling the shots until the final scene. Indeed, his jaunty brio really makes the episode. There may be something of the thespian’s tendency to exaggeration in Nesbitt’s recall, dining out on and embellishing the same anecdotes over the years. There’s certainly a feeling that nuggests of opinion become great boulders of “fact” as they gain traction through the passage of time (McGoohan having a nervous breakdown for example).


As usual, there are discussions over the appropriate viewing order for the episode. The idea that It’s Your Funeral should be set prior to Hammer Into Anvil, on the basis of Kosho’s more substantial appearance here, is reasonable yet slim (there’s some footage from Hammer’s game too). Funeral was filmed eighth, Hammer twelfth, and in this series mid-ground there’s not really a whole lot to choose between the slots. The idea that the bomb threat in Hammerhas more resonance after the real one there could equally be flipped; Six’s fakery inspired the plot in this episode (which, after all, is at the behest of an unseen One who is applying sporadic pressure to the acting Two).


It continues the theme we’ve seen in Hammer, of Six becoming more involved in the power structure of the Village; he can destroy a Two, or grant him life. Which is kind like One himself, isn’t it?


Involving Six at all is surely a rather flawed act, since if he knew nothing he wouldn’t be able to throw a spanner in the works. It should be very clear to One by now that his alter-ego isn’t going to fit neatly into any pre-designed scheme. Unless it were the plan all along that Six should prevent old Two from dying, and in so doing foul up the incumbent’s career plans (which, after all, would fit in more neatly with the assassination ethos of the era; kill the heir to Camelot).  With the Village’s extraordinarily accurate predictive technology, perhaps Number One knew the precise train of events he set in motion would enable this result?


The scheme does rather suggest a degree of convolution that unravels if too much attention is paid to the details. But I don’t think its actually much more problematic than the average heightened Prisonerplot. More often than not some logic hole has a significant place in the proceedings. And there’s something attractively cynical about the hyper-conspiracy that has been set out here. Everyone is being used, and the recognition of such even factors into considerations. I don’t think it has been thought out quite carefully enough (hence my speculations about One’s true intentions) but those who note it is drawing from contemporary conspiracy culture are surely onto something. It’s not just the assassination at the core (which takes on an almost arbitary intent if it is only, as Six drily speculates, to prevent him from getting a pension; there’s none of the power of killing a nascent leader), but the manipulations that accompany it. From drugging 50 to tampering with footage.


Fifty: Jamming.
Six: Oh, er, domestic science?

Like the Fourth Doctor, Cramoy is full of good ideas. And a few less furnished ones. The disruptive misdirections of the Jammers, intended to distract those in authority by sending them on wild goose chases of plans and plots, is a strong element. Less so is that the Jammer’s papa is an old watchmaker, as if he’s stepped from the pages of a nineteenth century fable. Of course, this element in some ways reflects the old/new juxtaposition constantly at work in the series. It’s just that in this case it feels a little too broad and cheesy. That kind of thing can be used advantageously (The Girl Who Was Death) but here he’s planting a bloody bomb in Two’s Great Seal of Office; it isn’t played for laughs so the idea ends up looking rather cartoonish (the scene itself, of the handover of the Seal, is very well done, however).


There would have been plenty of potential for jokiness, what with the bomb and the arbitrary decision to kill Two (Six’s pension gag, as noted; maybe Two really pissed someone off because, while we’ve certainly seen Twos in the hot seat before, there’s been no indication that they are topped as a matter of course. If that were the case none of them would relish the role). And the layers here, while they don’t play in a particularly self-reflexive manner, encourage a kind of commentary on conspiracy fiction. The previous week we saw Two declaiming those he saw as in on the fake conspiracy into which Six drew him. This time Six is embroiled in a plot he knows is suspicious (it’s not been uncommon for a pretty girl to show up at his house and feed him a line or two). It’s even set up that he will suss out the plan too soon when the Supervisor hastily opens the door for 50 (“It wasn’t, because now he is going to assume we sent her, and we don’t want that, do we?”), which seems like a way of covering tracks that the whole thing seems like a bit of a stretch.  


But the wheels within wheels of manipulation are at times rather cunning. Old Two is only introduced at a point where we’re thoroughly baffled by what on earth New Two can hope to achieve, concocting a murder plot in which he is manipulating various parties unbeknownst to each other to assassinate him (the Watchmaker, 54, has no idea that 100 is taking orders from Two, while his daughter’s actions, coerced through narcotic means, are completely independent). And the use of a completely different Two in the opening credits effectively throws things off kilter immediately (it’s very audibly not Nesbitt).



Six: I was the only one he might have believed.

Ideas of reality are blurred throughout, obviously a common theme of the series,  and here in particular the image is used to tell a lie. Footage is manipulated to sell the idea Six keeps crying wolf over murder plots (we see more Twos than before or since in this episode), and its redolent of an era when assassinations can be caught on film (Zapruder) or images can be analysed with the promise of revealing hidden depths (Blow-up). The ruse pulled on Old Two is on the rudimentary side, it must be said, and so we come back to fool-proofness or otherwise of One and New Two’s plan (Plan Division Q has to be one of the poxiest code names ever), since it doesn’t ultimately rely on Six being exposed as full of it. It requires Old Two to have given up the will to fight. So again, if we are to come back round to who is manipulating who and why, perhaps One has in mind to put one of the other heirs-apparent (we see three after all) in office rather than New Two.


But even if that’s not the case, and Cramoy’s plot is holier than a wardrobe full of moths, the chief pleasures of the episode are borne from the interactions of the single digit protagonists and antagonists and victims. But the Activity Prognosis, or Filler Sequence, is definitely to be found in the wardrobe.


The inclusion of this section, even if you didn’t know it results from a writer attempting to staple together a collection of disparate location footage, is striking for its slender validity. Ostensibly New Two is searching for the right moment in the day to change Six’s wristwatch for a faulty one, so necessitating his visit to the Watchmaker (if Two doesn’t want Six to suspect the involvement of controlling forces, herding together a couple of “coincidences” isn’t really helping his cause; Six should really be giving the assassination plot an extra wide berth based on it being far too convenient). There’s a sense here that Six’s, and everyone’s, lives are on a set course, that there is no free will as all actions are pre-ordained and systematically calculable including the variables (the “quantum permutations”); even given the computer’s fallibility, it’s a fairly bleak notion. Only by reviewing the “timeline” and changing it, and Six’s not yet experienced future, can Two weave his trap.


But the delivery never feels other than clunky, with the obvious doubles of McGoohan, and the mismatching opponent in the Kosho game lending it a rather half-arsed quality. I dolike the slightly mystified reasoning for Six scaling the bell tower (”Is possible that subject likes the view”), the “Perfect likeness” response to Six’s “portrait” and the crucial moment with the pack of candy (more for New Two’s disassembling of the scientific explanation into layman’s terms, to the disappointment of the Eight’s programmer; the computer calculated the old woman’s behaviour would change the behaviour pattern of Six). If it had been tighter, the sequence might have worked better. As it is, it lends itself to a raft of unanswered questions such as why the Village doesn’t use this all the time if they want to get the better of their most wayward inmate (this is also an issue with Blake’s 7’s Weapon, which features psycho strategists who can deduce the future behaviour patterns of their subjects).


New Two: We never stop, Number Six.

Nesbitt’s Two is a fantastically expressive creation. The actor is apparently obsessed with prop acting, wandering around in a silk dressing gown (itself mirroring Six’s beddy-byes attire in the scene being viewed), making cups of tea and constantly removing and replacing his post-Michael Caine black plastic-rimmed glasses (although they are later given a use, doubling as a radio communicator). He is clearly a representation of the entitled classes, assuming his position as a inevitable right (and scoffing at the computer’s refusal to provide percentiles of accuracy with “They’ll be wanting their own trade union, next”) He has the air of one who assumes his right to rule, while his predecessor embodies the reverse.


New Two: I have seen the list of malcontents. It might interest you that you’re top of the bill.

Best of all, Nesbitt absolutely equals McGoohan for screen presence. A very different energy, but that may be why their scenes are so enjoyable. There have been so many good Twos it’s difficult to pick a favourite, but of those in the first eleven Nesbitt is up there with Mary Morris. His plan is thoroughly daft, but it isn’t really his plan, and he has a wonderfully nervy scene at the climax as victory slips from his grasp. Unable to make a public scene, the deposing of Old Two ends with the very real possibility that New Two instead may be turned to strawberry jam. New Two’s toneless, hurried push through his speech is one of the humorous highlights of the episode. We don’t know what’s in store for him but, given Six’s confident warning and Two’s outright failure, it’s probably not good.


Announcement: There’ll be speeches, thrills and excitement.

Appreciation Day itself, held to celebrate the departing Two, is just the kind of pathetic morale boosting exercise you’ expect from Village life, and it’s entirely appropriate that it doesn’t have the oomph of some of the earlier Village events. Even the Tannoy seems to be taking the piss. Ironically for an episode with such an involved plot, it’s the character interactions that mark it out. That said, the intrigue of the Watchmaker is very so-so and both Martin Miller (as the Watchmaker; a boring old fuddy) and Mark Eden (as the nominal heavy, and lacking any colour) fail to make much impact. Indeed, it’s Two’s assistant (22, I think), who leaves a much stronger impression.


22: Whatever you like to call it, Plan Division Q is still murder.

Mark Burns would go on to deliver a memorable turn a couple of years later as Colonel Russell of the Coldstream Guards in The Adventures of Gerard, and here his character emphasises the moral vacuum of the Village control structure. He objects to New Two’s methods on the one hand but finds himself playing the game with Old Two, unwilling to tell the truth to his one-time master. It’s a minimal role, but Burns suggests much with it.


Two: The fact that you won't explain explains everything.

If New Two is cheerfully immoral, Old Two is a picture of a broken spirit. Van Gyseghem had worked with McGoohan on a couple of Danger Mans and he lends his second in command a compelling frailty. His references to New Two as “my heir presumptive” have a nice suggestion of a replacement Old Two feels is unworthy of a seat of such responsibility, and New Two’s every action justifies the phrase. We don’t know whether Old Two beat the stick hard when he was fully in charge (he certainly seems to have been off – sick? – quite a bit with several fillers-in) but his attitude of succumbing to the inevitable, on the grounds that he knows how the system works and there is absolutely no point in resisting, is in stark contrast to the animation of Six, New Two; even the Watchmaker (“Preventing is only postponing. You never understood us, Number Six. We never fail”). Asked if he doesn’t mind his fate, he replies, “Of course I mind. It’s just that, well, I never thought it would happen to me”. And having Six in a position of saving a Two, after bring one to his knees a week earlier, is an effective turnaround (better, I think, than the other way round since it implies that Six isn’t staunchly unyielding in any situation).


SIX: Yes, and so the great day is nearly yours. And now you can look forward to your own retirement and I’m sure they’ll arrange something equally suitable for you when the day comes. Be seeing you… Won’t I?

As for Six, this may be one of his least interesting appearances. Having him save a Two is a neat twist, but his is a very reactive role; the opposing Twos have enough presence and motivation that McGoohan, while never becoming invisible, does tend to drift into the repose of the familiar. There isn’t a great deal of wit or playfulness here, until his final scene with New Two, so most of his input comes in the form of over-rehearsed pronunciations. None of this is bad per se, since the episode has much else going for it, but it’s not one you’d show anyone as a spotlight for Six at his sharpest.


Six: I won’t go for it, whatever it is. So you may as well stop crying.

New Two’s withering dismissal of Six’s response to a damsel in distress (“all good deeds and sympathy now”) is pithy, and given all the talk about McGoohan’s prurience with his leading ladies it’s surprising to see him in his PJs, while a pretty girl lies on his bed. The moral calculation here is that Six will put the needs of the many above the needs of the few (better to stop Two being assassinated, which usually he’d not be all that fussed over, if the consequence is untold reprisals for the rest of the population). That seems like a fairly standard motivational device, though, and again its more interesting for the interaction with Old Two than for what it says about Six.


Indeed, there is a feeling by this point that we’ve explored most of the potential scenarios for the Village. The Watchmaker’s case for revolt (“We are in this prison for life, all of us. But I have met no one here who has committed a crime”) is one of broad generalities, while his defence for a terrorist act (“may it's be what they need to wake them up, shake them out of their lethargy, make them angry enough to fight”) might make for an interesting inverse of the counterculture position (an elder is doing the stirring-up) if it had any thematic or emotional heft to it.  We’re at the tail end of “classic” Village plotlines at this point, so the shift to spotlight the puppet masters is understandable.


It’s Your Funeralplays much better than I had remembered. It has its faults; the bomb device is a rather rote, the predictive interlude is pure padding and (unless it’s all some arcane plan by One to which even New Two is not privy) the scheme itself doesn’t bear close analysis. But the power play and the continuing theme of conspiracy (an invented one last week, a real one this) hold the attention. Both Twos are well developed, and engagingly performed. With a little more finessing, as the premise is so solid, this might have been a great episode rather than one that tends to get a little lost in the throng.


****

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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

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.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…