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Now let's see how our loner withstands real loneliness.

The Prisoner
12. A Change of Mind


We want information.

After two Villagers pick a fight with Six, which he wins, he is accused of anti-social behaviour. He is summoned before the Committee and is asked to confess his crimes, which he refuses to do. Subject to further investigation, Six is warned by Two that defiance of the Committee could be very dangerous. 86 has been appointed to guide Six through the process of public contrition, but he shows complete disinterest. He attends the Social Group where he ridicules those seeking help. Following this, the Committee classifies Six as “unmutual” and he is shunned by the Village populace. He rejects the approaches of the Appeals Sub-Committee and is taken away for Social Conditioning; essentially to be lobotomised. Six awakes placid, with a scar on his forehead, but he quickly realises that his state of mind is merely a result of being drugged. He dodges Two’s questioning on why he resigned, and through a switcheroo drugs 86. Six appears before a crowd of Villagers ready to confess the error of his ways, but this is set-up. He has hypnotised 86, who arrives accusing Two of unmutuality. The Villagers join in the chant and Two runs from the angry mob.


So how do you like it?

A Change of Mind, Roger Parkes’ sole script for the series and his first professional TV job, starts very promisingly. This is an episode that strongly bears Patrick McGoohan’s fingerprints (he took over the direction from Roy Rossotti during the first day, and the credit goes to the star’s pseudonym Joseph Serf). The accusation with which Six is charged, that of being an anti-social “Unmutual” takes in themes of social conformity and subservience that were dear to McGoohan’s heart. It’s a shame then that, once Two’s plan digs in, the episode becomes a rather standard affair, with a scheme to trick Six that overtly recalls The Schizoid Man and a table-turning engineered by the rebellious inmate suggesting a more tepid and less well-conceived version of Hammer Into Anvil’s toppling of a Two (except this time it is the Village residents that rise up, rather than self-defeat).


Nevertheless, A Change of Mind carries solid themes and strong plot devices, and McGoohan is always at his best, as here, when he is throwing out barbs and acid comments. Parkes, who would go on to script episodes of The Survivors and some variable Blake’s 7s, has a strong basis for his story, running with themes of lobotomisation and brainwashing (he cites The Manchurian Candidate as an influence), but these don’t pay off as successfully as the status of Six as a social reject. While some considerable time is spent setting up the eventual “operation” on Six, the object of which is the “Isolation of the aggressive frontal lobe of the brain”, presumably to convince the audience that it is actually happening, he suspects it is a sham almost as soon as it is over (this also affected the credibility of The Schizoid Man). By this point the incumbent Twos should be sworn off such pallid methods. That he doesn’t swallow it isn’t necessarilya problem; his realisation of what 86 is up to, and tricking her into taking a dose of his drug, is confidently played out and almost musical in its rhythm. But if that route is taken, Six needs to come back with a really strong pay-off and he doesn’t get one. It’s not enough to simply assume the subtext is that people are sheep (as Six continually asserts) and easily influenced (into changing their allegiances and deposing their leader); Six’s argument needs to be a sufficiently strong one for the viewer too, and having 86 merely accuse Two isn’t fails to satisfy.


In contrast, the scenes with a prior lobotomy victim, played with an aspect of convincing derangement by Thomas Heathcote, sells wholesale the idea that this is a very nasty process (“I’m one of the lucky ones. The happy ones. I… I was unmutual”). Indeed, A Change of Mind is most effective when it casts its gaze on the unsavoury, easily influenced or victimised Villagers.


Michael Miller, as 93, who also appeared in The General and Fall Out (as the same character?) gives a splendidly fraught confession at the dictate of the Village, repeating their placed lines contritely, gradually building to a tearful crescendo.

Ninety-Three: They’re right of course… Quite right… I’m inadequate… Inadequate… Disharmonious… I’m truly grateful… Believe me… Believe me Believe me!


And then he is replayed when Six leaves his hearing. We also meet 42 (Kathleen Breck), whose position appears to embody McGoohan’s lurking suspicions of the malleable types that form the larger part of society. First seen tearfully, she is later revealed as a poet deemed unmutual for failing to respond to 10’s greeting (so involved was she in her composition). McGoohan seems as contemptuous of self-involved artistry or philosophy, the pseudo-intellectual, as he does of modern art in earlier episodes.


Six: Poetry has a social value.
Social Group Member: His intentions are obvious. To stop us from helping this unfit girl!
Forty-Two: You’re trying to undermine my rehabilitation. Disrupt my social progress!
Six: Strange talk for a poet!

This scene is McGoohan at his finest, undercutting social constructs and artifice; we’re more than familiar with the show’s musings on conformity and the infringement of individual liberties (directly or subtly) by this point, but there is something quite refreshing about the focus on the Villagers themselves here. We’ve seen investigatory bodies and juries, but nothing quite so sustained outside of Two’s (overt) influence. The identification of Six as a source of all woe (as he moots, a “scapegoat”), has echoes of the likes of The Crucible and the pitch of the accusations that follow him “Reactionary! Rebel! Disharmonious!” would precede a lynching in a less “civilised” environment.  The invitation to watch Six’s operation (“Those wishing to study the conversion of Number Six please report to immediately to the hospital”) recalls the unsettling appetite for public executions and hangings that once held sway, but here masquerading as scientific enquiry. That the whole of Six’s experience is spread across society (the Village) as a whole (his hearing is televised and therefore he must be on best behaviour) indicates how infected and without moral underpinning the process is. There is a sense that the Villagers would lap up just about anything their masters allowed, and if it came to it the public hanging of an unruly denizen would just be part (well, a highlight) of another day.


Six is attacked from all sides, first from archetypal bullyboys using the language of social order for their own pugnacious ends (“Not at all the actions of a public minded citizen” they say of his desire for private exercise). It’s their unjustified assault, and Six’s response, that initiates proceedings (one of these is Michael Billington, soon to be of UFOand potential Bond fame). Later, setting upon an apparently docile Six (“too much of a social convert this time”), it’s perhaps a little disappointing that Six fully regains his old self through some good old fashioned violence. Mainly because it has none of the sense of satire or irony of (for example) Six’s machine gun rampage in Fall Out.


Six: Number 42? Appeal Subcommittee already? You certainly get around.

If this aspect is rather par-for-the-course, the Appeal Subcommittee, which 42 has joined, has the friendly veneer of a local church Women’s Social Group complete with all the well-spoken offence at Six’s impudence one would expect from such a body (“It is clearly premature to look for contrition in the poor creature”). So the later beating Six takes at the hands of their leader, setting on him with a brolly (and followed by her colleagues), before he is dragged off for conversion makes for one of the most effective lurches into surrealist horror the series has seen, and recalls the crowd’s pursuit of Six in Dance of the Dead.


Committee Chairman: All we ask for is your complete confession.

Indeed, nicely done as the trappings of Six facing another committee are, it is still another hearing, another judgement. McGoohan was right to see the series as a finite story. There are some neat touches; Six is not being called on to defend himself this time, merely to confess. And the theme of trial by accusation; that the accused is seen as guilty by the mere charge in the eyes of the media and the greater public, is one never more topical. The casualness of fostering responsibility for someone’s life or sentence (“Gentlemen, it’s time I think we are all more than ready for a tea break”) is acutely recognised. McGoohan seems to see this mainly in respect of the brainless sheep angle, that people will unthinkingly get behind a voice of authority (“Any unsocial incident involving Number Six should be reported to immediately to the Appeal Subcommittee”), and it is presumably what he has in mind in terms of the (all too easy) persuasion to renounce Two at the climax. But the mob mentality rears its head throughout. One wonders if he couldn’t have done more with this, as the brain change plotline is less than spectacular.


The tales of how McGoohan wouldn’t film romantic scenes tend to follow the series around as one of its most standardised behind-the-scenes bits of tittle-tattle. Parkes has commented that one of the first things the actor did with the script was cut the flirtation between Six and 86 (Angela Browne, whose performance is very good). A consequence of this knowledge is that, even though Six is an equal-opportunities distruster, his scorn ends up appearing to be particularly reserved for women. The nature of the plotting of The Prisoner isn’t so outré that the need for female co-stars can be avoided, so it’s left for the character who would have been the love-interest to be either a bit weak/wet or conniving. In A Change of Mind, 86 gets to be both, and the result is an episode where it’s less easy to ignore the cumulative tension.


Two is evidently intended to be a misogynist as indicated by his stream of disparaging remarks regarding 86. He instantly doubts her abilities (“Females! If that woman makes one mistake we could lose Number Six”) and uses her gender as a term do scorn. He repeatedly refers to her as “Stupid woman”, (“Stee-upid woman!” even) blaming her for the potential failings of a plan he should have known stood little chance of success if he’d bothered to research previous Twos’ failed mind games in A. B. & C. and The Schizoid Man. As such, it might be considered entirely appropriate that 86 should be instrumental in his downfall, levelling the accusation that Two is unmutual. The effect is somewhat different, though, since 86 has been resoundingly tricked by Six. The problem with the representation of 86, and by implication the female characters here generally, is that Six’s attitude serves to underscore rather then counterpoint Two’s. Two’s dismissive instruction to “Make Six a nice soothing cup of tea” (because that’s all women are good for) ends up seemingly affirmed by Six when he admonishes her skills at even that.


86 is weaker than Six; she allows herself to be outwitted and drugged. In that state, replacing the bold authority figure of earlier scenes (and paralleling the differences between interior-exterior of 42), she shows herself to be easily manipulated when Six hypnotises her. Even before this, there’s a suggestion that she can’t help but fall for Six’s man of mystery; how else to explain her showing off a dress and asking if he likes it. Six appears to endorse traditional values doing this sequence, affirming that it is “more feminine than slacks” and then indicating that a woman who doesn’t know her way around the kitchen is not for him (“I cannot stand a girl who doesn’t know how to make a decent cup of tea”), even if his motivation is purely to slip her a mickey. The only other female character of note is 42, and as we have seen she is blowing in the wind. In general then, if it’s not quite bullying, A Change of Mind is less than progressive even by the show’s standards. There’s only the savage Appeal Subcommittee lady with the brolly to even things up slightly.


This is quite an episode for consumption of one kind or another. Making a pot forms the “business” of the first scene between Six and Two. Tea isn’t just on the minds of the Committee, there’s a whole lesson the art from Six (“One for me, one for thee, one for the pot, one for luck”). Two joins in (“All charmingly domestic. I think I’d like some tea”) but since he’s first seen eating, and is decidedly corpulent, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Then there is the substance abuse (Muteol?), which gives Six a placid, impressionable, childlike aspect. One would be hard-pressed not to find a direct comment on youth recreational activities in 86’s reaction to the drug.


Eighty-Six: I’m higher.
Six: Oh?
Eighty-Six: I’m higher than Number Two.
Six: Are you?

Not only is she high (and referencing “The ecstasy of illusion” no less, which might seem curiously predictive) but she’s higher than Two, which makes her… And of course, the man who is One experiences his own distinctive “trip” in not too many episodes’ time.


John Sharp’s Two, despite having significant physical presence, isn’t one of this select number who instantly comes to mind when thinking about the series. He appeared in a selection of genre fare, from The Avengers to The Wicker Man, but is probably best known to viewers of a certain age as Mr Biggins in All Creatures Great and Small. If there’s little to really single him out in terms of character, aside from his disdain for women, he provides an impressive vocal performance, relying on an innocuous wheedling whisper as much as shouting and stamping his feet.


Two: Particularly about that little incident which has been causing you such absurd distress. The trivia, the trivia of your resignation. Why did you resign?

He certainly suffers from being twelfth in line; as noted, Twos should really have wised up a bit by this point. His pearls of wisdom regarding conformity (“You’ll soon have lasting peace of mind and adjustment in the social system”) are familiar, and the use of stylings of Lord Kitchener on Village posters seem a little too obvious, rather than witty (“Your Community Needs You”). It’s notable that this is the first concerted attempt to extract the goods from Six since the fifth episode (the Dance of the Dead procedure was non-authorised), and one could as much see it as timely reminder of the remits of the protagonist and antagonists as a bit of an unnecessary rehash.


Six: Public Enemy Number Six?

Six meanwhile is at his caustic best when he isn’t under the influence. One of the nice twists here is that Six really has become part of the furniture of the Village. Much as he’d rather it didn’t, it does affect him when he is declared unmutual. First there’s the shunning by 61, with whom he clearly exchanges regular greetings. Then there is the clearing of the decks when he goes to get a cup of coffee (not tea) at the café; Six’s own reluctant order is undermined.  As Two aptly summaries, “Now let's see how out loner withstands real loneliness”. There’s a nice wistful moment where he gazes at a gaggle of (free) geese flying off (to Moscow?) When he’s on the offensive, showing disinterest in the Committee or making witty remarks, dismissing the threats of Two (“Oh, no more taxes? No more credit?”) and poking fun at the Social Group, this is McGoohan playing to the character’s strengths and blessed with clear targets (if not quite as precision-crafted as those in Free For All) he makes an impression.


Less convincing is his plan of retaliation. He is revealed as a remarkably effective hypnotist and the set up for the big speech promises a satisfying conclusion. In particular, his two-edged validation of Two (“To borrow one of Number Two’s sayings, the butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart”) is nicely put, and Sharpe plays the slightly unsettled response perfectly. But his ploy essentially rests on… persuading the Villagers to rise up against Two for what they know of him anyway (“Some of you have resisted in the past, have withheld knowledge that was important to Number Two”)? All it takes is for 86 to claim he is unmutual, and that the welfare committee “is the root of those who wish to possess your minds” and they turn on a pinhead?


Six: You still have a choice. You can still salvage your right to be individuals. Your right to truth and free though. Reject this false world of Number Two. Reject it now!

One might argue there’s an essential irony here, of the order of Life of Brian’s “Yes, we are all individuals!” Instead of actually exercising choice and salvaging their right distinct thought, they prove they are the sheep Six accused them of being all along. They react based on a few choice words from 86 and Six. Maybe that was McGoohan’s intent, but it fails to satisfy dramatically. It’s just tooeasy. Still, the sight of Two being chased into the distance, cries of “Un-mut-ual! Un-mut-ual!” following him, makes for an effective near-parting shot (that’s definitely a double for Sharpe running, though). From here on out there will be a run of kind-of Six victories until the finale but, because the episodes are so different stylistically and in terms of content, the choice (if it was conscious) doesn’t come across as repetitive.


And that’s probably the most noteworthy aspect of A Change of Mind; it’s the last of the traditional, or typical, Village episodes. The last where an obvious plan takes an obvious course. It’s well directed, and features a number of clever scenes in it, but it ultimate fails to carve itself out sufficiently distinctive ground from its predecessors. Calling it a greatest hits would be going too far, and rather unfair, but its also true that it doesn’t make the most of its potential, particularly since it bears one of the series best known plot devices in the declaration of Six’s unmutuality.


***1/2



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