The Century’s Strangest Act of Pop Culture


Amid the Cold War heat-up in Southeast Asia, British television gave birth to one of the century’s strangest, most hermetic, most symbolically stoked act of pop culture— The Prisoner, star–co-creator Patrick McGoohan’s single-season (’67–’68) landmark series. Newbies should buckle up: McGoohan plays a retired spy who is suddenly kidnapped and brought to the Village, a faux-idyllic prison community where names are replaced by numbers, identities and motivations are as hard to nail down as blobs of mercury, and interrogation/brainwashing techniques have reached a mysterious level of Orwellian sophistication. The ultimate puzzle without a solution—just like life, as they say—the series is surely the most pure-minded expression of espionage as an abstracted form of mass insanity, while still boiling totalitarian experience down to paranoiac board-game essentials. Conceptually, English-language television has never come close to this bad dream, which is often uproarious in any case. The 10-disc box includes lost footage, trivia, on-the-set docs, alternate sequences, more trivia, stills, and an interactive map of the Village.

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