One of the most bizarre, surreal, and thought-provoking television programs ever produced was a 1967 British series know as The Prisoner. Long before the existential phenomenon of The Matrix there was this cult Cold War spy dystopia co-created by lead actor Patrick McGoohan.
I remember watching this strange series as a kid, in late-night syndication on a local television station in the 1970s (in America).
The superficial premise of the show was that Cold War spies could never resign; they were the eternal prisoners of the deep state intelligence apparatus they served. Yet the show presented many esoteric ideas and raised existential questions of identity, freedom, surveillance and imprisonment, fit for the psychedelic era of the late 1960s.
In hindsight, the series was deeply illuminati long before illuminati symbolism was a visibly pervasive presence on the airwaves. One striking feature is the half black/half white duality masks worn by the Village’s mysterious administrators, not to mention an early appearance of the all-seeing-eye (see images below). For insight into NWO duality programing, creating a controlled opposition, read my post about The Giver.
As the first article below points out “The Prisoner was an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.” This article presents a predominantly political analysis and concludes that “the Prisoner’s Village is also an apt allegory for the American Police State: it gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.”
However in the second article, Jay Dyer suggests “The Prisoner is about modern man as a dead man.” Dyer demonstrates how The Prisoner is a victim of modernity and duality programing. He seeks freedom from his imprisonment yet fails to understand that concepts of freedom and imprisonment have lost all meaning in the everyday, sugar-coated, modern secular world (where dystopia masquerades as utopia), concluding that “he is just as much a prisoner of the dialectic as the collective he opposes, as he has no other higher aims than himself.” Thus we are all in the same modern cage as The Prisoner, whether we realize it or not. And that’s where our spiritual awakening begins.
By the end of the 17 episode series, The Prisoner realizes that he (or his alter-ego) is the one responsible for his own imprisonment, a plot revelation that left many viewers angry, scratching their heads, puzzling over the meaning of the series. In Dyer’s words “his worst enemy is not the system, the people, or the world, but himself” The enemy is within. And so is our salvation.
Just like The Matrix, the existential themes and esoteric messages within The Prisoner can be interpreted in multiple layers of meaning – a sort of Russian nesting doll of political, social, philosophical, occult, and spiritual interpretations. Unpacking this Russian nesting doll is the same process of personal awakening, moving from a secular political awakening to a spiritual awakening, and the truest meaning of freedom from imprisonment. This challenging process of awakening to deeper levels of imprisonment is illustrated in the post The Nine Veils that Shroud the Human Soul, where the first veil is the world of politics.
In a larger sense, The Prisoner is about modern man as spiritually dead. At the core of The Prisoner and The Matrix are aspects of Gnostic spirituality, that our ego individuality is largely an illusion, that true freedom is a matter of spiritual pursuit and discipline, that the material world is a prison of Archon or extra-dimensional powers we dimly fathom whom we have permitted to deceive and blind us. That these powers and their servants, the illuminati, wish to keep us hypnotized in this illusory village of imprisonment. However, we ultimately hold the keys and thus bear the responsibility of our own liberation.
Freedom Is A Myth: We Are All Prisoners of the Police State’s Panopticon Village
“We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche…. As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy… We all live in a little Village. Your Village may be different from other people’s Villages, but we are all prisoners.”
– Patrick McGoohan
First broadcast in Great Britain 50 years ago, The Prisoner – a dystopian television series described as “James Bond meets George Orwell filtered through Franz Kafka” – confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of humankind to meekly accept their lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of their own making.
Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner (17 episodes in all) centers around a British secret agent who abruptly resigns only to find himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly tranquil retirement community known only as the Village.
The Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers.
The series’ protagonist, played by Patrick McGoohan, is Number Six.
“I am not a number. I am a free man,” was the mantra chanted on each episode of The Prisoner, which was largely written and directed by McGoohan.
In the opening episode (“The Arrival”), Number Six is told that he is in The Village because information stored “inside” his head has made him too valuable to be allowed to roam free “outside.”
Throughout the series, Number Six is subjected to interrogation tactics, torture, hallucinogenic drugs, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination and physical coercion in order to “persuade” him to comply, give up, give in and subjugate himself to the will of the powers-that-be.
Number Six Refuses to Comply
In every episode, Number Six resists the Village’s indoctrination methods, struggles to maintain his own identity, and attempts to escape his captors. “I will not make any deals with you,” he pointedly remarks. “I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”
Yet no matter how far Number Six manages to get in his efforts to escape, it’s never far enough.
Watched by surveillance cameras and other devices, Number Six’s getaways are continuously thwarted by ominous white balloon-like spheres known as “rovers.” Still, he refuses to give up. “Unlike me,” he says to his fellow prisoners, “many of you have accepted the situation of your imprisonment, and will die here like rotten cabbages.”
Number Six’s escapes become a surreal exercise in futility, each episode an unfunny, unsettling Groundhog’s Day that builds to the same frustrating denouement: there is no escape.
The series is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy.
As Thill noted when McGoohan died in 2009, “The Prisoner was an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.”
The Prisoner’s Village is also an apt allegory for the American Police State: it gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.
The American Police State, much like The Prisoner’s Village, is a metaphorical panopticon, a circular prison in which the inmates are monitored by a single watchman situated in a central tower. Because the inmates cannot see the watchman, they are unable to tell whether or not they are being watched at any given time and must proceed under the assumption that they are always being watched.
Eighteenth century social theorist Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon has become a model for the modern surveillance state in which the populace is constantly being watched, controlled and managed by the powers-that-be and funding its existence.
Related: A visit to the Panopticon
Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide: this is the new mantra of the architects of the police state and their corporate collaborators (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Instagram, etc.).
We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers.
Consider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.
This is the electronic concentration camp—the panopticon prison—the Village—in which we are now caged.
It is a prison from which there will be no escape if the government gets it way.
Even now, the Trump Administration is working to make some of the National Security Agency’s vast spying powers permanent.
In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pushing for Congress to permanently renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows government snoops to warrantlessly comb through and harvest vast quantities of our communications.
And just like that, we’re back in the Village, our escape plans foiled, our future bleak.
Except this is no surprise ending, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People: for those who haven’t been taking the escapist blue pill, who haven’t fallen for the Deep State’s phony rhetoric, who haven’t been lured in by the promise of a political savior, we never stopped being prisoners.
So How Do We Break Out?
For starters, wake up. Resist the urge to comply.
Think for yourself. Be an individual. As McGoohan commented in 1968, “At this moment individuals are being drained of their personalities and being brainwashed into slaves… As long as people feel something, that’s the great thing. It’s when they are walking around not thinking and not feeling, that’s tough. When you get a mob like that, you can turn them into the sort of gang that Hitler had.”
We have come full circle from Bentham’s Panopticon to McGoohan’s Village to Huxley’s Brave New World.
You want to be free? Break out of the circle.
About the Author
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick McGoohan: ‘The Prisoner Explained’
The Remake: The Prisoner (2009)
Numbered Man – An Analysis of The Prisoner (1967)
Source: Jay’s Analysis | by Jay Dyer
1960s spy fiction is some of my favorite fiction. Developing its own unique aesthetic, from Bond to The Saint to Harry Palmer, the vivid, flamboyant style of both the spies and their cinema incarnations created an iconic pop phenomena that survives still (as 007 is still going strong). Everyone knows 007, but few are aware of the more philosophical, science fiction based British cult show, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan not only starred in the show, but is also the series’ co-creator, following his successful Danger Man series, and reportedly passed over the role of Bond in Dr. No and The Saint due to moral qualms with 007’s ethics(McGoohan was a professing Roman Catholic). Regardless, The Prisoner remains one of the most fascinating presentations of the dark side of international espionage, combining the esoteric, philosophical, geopolitical and the fantastical, as well as functioning as a critique of the most foundational assumptions of modern, “progressive” man. For this, it most certainly warrants an analysis.
Mysteriously resigning from the British Secret Intelligence Service, “No. 6” finds himself drugged and kidnapped before he is even able to pack his bags and skip town. Waking in a mock version of his own London apartment, 6 discovers himself transplanted to an idyllic self-contained, prison-like Disney-looking village, where former spies and agents are “retired.” Unaware of his location, The Village in real life is actually Portmeirion, North Wales, which is a curiously out-of-place Italian-style village rumored to be visited by the Royal Family, as the village is now owned by the Clough-Williams Ellis Trust connected with the Crown.
This is worth noting, because the metanarrative aspects emerge with the Crown (the head of the SIS) being associated with Portmeirion, and the SIS in the film secreting 6 away to the Village for his imprisonment. This connection is further driven home by the fact that the series based its story on an actual “retirement home” for British Spies, the Invair Lodge “cooler” according to George Markstein’s book, which claims such notions were so infinitely “deep state” they could only be told in fiction. Markstein was also the script editor for The Prisoner, and his close connections to the security establishment suggest the same type of intelligence-scripting I have highlighted elsewhere.
Back to the story. No. 6 quickly discovers the Village is a strictly communal, statist system in which unknown “wardens” hide amongst the docile, passive population, under complete control by No. 2, the antagonistic would-be handler of 6. Number 2’s that fail to psychologically break 6 are inevitably replaced, and new forms of psychological manipulation, mind control and MKULRA-style de-programming and re-programming strategies are continually applied.
Each episode features some conspiracy on the part of the shadow establishment, ruling from atop the Village in their panopticon surveillance dome, over the completely managed social order. Like 1984, all actions are video taped and recorded for review by No. 2 and his technocratic bureaucrats to determine 6’s reason for resignation. Did he defect? Was he brainwashed? Was he involved in something illegal?
In the first few episodes, 6 is tempted with standard fare in the espionage world – honeypots, swallows, emotional manipulation, and mind control, none of which take effect. Seeking escape, 6 continually eludes the manipulative strategies of the various 2’s, yet every escape attempt from the island is frustrated. Supernaturally apprehended by the eerily cheesy “rovers,” the lava lamp spherical orbs emerge from the abyss to ever-foil 6’s escape, returning him to his mimicked apartment the next morning.
“What do you want?” 6 demands. “We want information!” 2 replies with a hearty cackle, never divulging Number 1’s identity. 6’s resilience appears at first to be a noble image of the individualistic rebel, the lone wolf who stands for his own identity against the dastardly designs of the statist collective. However, we will see by the end of the series and from McGoohan’s rare interview, that is not the case – the critique runs much deeper.
Worth mentioning in the early episodes is the presence of numerous technologies of social control and manipulation far ahead of their time. Prescient, as most science fiction tends to be, references to fMRI machines that can read brainwaves, mind-wiping technologies and drugs reported to be had by DARPA in our time, and techniques for the manipulation of archetypes through psychoanalysis, and global brain style super computers that tabulate predictive algorithms to manipulate and control 6 are rife in the series. Ultimately, the Village represents the modern world en toto, and McGoohan has identified the series’ famous bicycle logo as symbolic of man’s illusory belief in “technological progress,” which actually leads to his increasing enslavement.
The Village is the world under the control of a scientific dictatorship with total NSA-style-meets-Brave New World surveillance, creating a virtual prison planet predicted in Bentham’s panopticon. Indeed, in conversations between 6 and 2, 2 identifies the Village as the Global Village, subject to a false dialectic in which the “two sides” of the Cold War coin are a manipulated dialectic. This is elucidated symbolically when 6 is hauled before a kangaroo court under No. 2, himself sitting beneath an All-Seeing Eye. In this context, the eye signifies both surveillance and perhaps the control of the farcical legal system by secret societies. Unaware of his violations, the Kafka-esque trials throughout the series result in “guilty” verdicts based on “democracy” and “public opinion,” laughably determined for the community by the technocratic oligarchy that controls the Village.
In Episode 3, “Free for All,” Cold War dialectics are evident in 6’s plot to spark a democratic revolution. As can be expected, the “666!” revolution was entirely the plan of 2 all along. In this context, chants of “666!” are not accidental – the beast of humanistic statism mentioned in John’s Apocalypse has “666” standing for the “number of a man,” an antichrist, or a numerological image of Babel style world state, where a shadow elite sways a complete collective like a head steers a body (the body of the Hobbesian Leviathan beast). Always, despite his exemplary fire to spark a revolution in the minds of men, 6 discovers his free individual plan to be co-opted by the establishment. Since the collective and democratic revolutions proved fraudulent, perhaps the new revolution could be that of the great man, the true individual – or is this also a ruse?
“The whole earth as the village.”
The next several episodes feature 6 as subject to altered personalities in the vein of Dr. Estabrooks’ MKULTRA work, hypnosis, and mass Village mind control through television signals. Again, revelation of the method emerges in 1967, revealing the means by which highly sophisticated mind control occurs in our day through television flicker rates which lull brainwaves into an alpha state, the lowest, most suggestible arena of brain activity. The “General” behind this manipulation, as I mentioned, is actually an A.I. supercomputer of sorts, ultimately outsmarted by 6’s cunning question, “Why?” which a programmed computer can never process. “Why?” will become the great secret to the series, where in the finale episode, when achieving his throne as the new king, the great individual, 6 begins to question his former interlocutors, “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” to which they can never give an adequate response.
Death is mentioned consistently through the series, which I read in multiple ways. Is 6 dead, and is the Village a form of afterlife where 6 must suffer a kind of purgatory or final judgment? In my estimation the solution is both – 6 is dead, and not only his death the secret of the series, as representative of modern man, and man as the great, libertarian individual, he is “dead.” In Buddhism, the broken cup signifies death (the cup is already broken) and numerous times in the series, cups are broken, often by 6. That 6 is dead is also shown by the supernatural elements of the Village which emerge in rare intervals, such as the rovers, “dem bones,” the emergence of long-dead historical figures like Napoleon, time freezing, and the memorable episode 7, dance of the dead, where 2 reveals to 6 the body in the morgue is “You.” As the mob seeks to murder 6, 2 informs him, “They don’t know you’re already dead.” Long speculated, the meaning is, as I said, twofold. 6 is dead, and so is the revolutionary modern man, who since the time of the French Revolution has believed himself to be “free from oppression” under liberte, egalite, fraternite!
Ultimately the death thesis is demonstrated in the allegorical episode, “The Girl Who Was Death,” where 6 traverses Europe seeking a mysterious German femme fatale who provokes war based around political assassinations. In the end, Death is a daughter of the Frankish-Napoleonic power, the very power that has dominated Albion since the Norman invasion. Could the series be hinting at the very thesis my friend and historian James Kelley has proposed, following the work of Fr. John Romanides, that the subjugation and decline of Europe is the result of the Frankish model of enslavement? It is possible, as the Merovingian line seems to have gained a large amount of power over the last millennium. The episode is oddly presented as a “fairy tale” that 6 tells to a bunch of children, that only children would believe the thesis that London’s enemies are going to create the ultimate terror threat of the bomb almighty. Is 6 saying only foolish children believe such childish, contrived global crises?
The “false flag” thesis is supported by episode 10, “It’s Your Funeral” (also supporting the death thesis), where 6 is set up to be framed for the assassination of 2. Ultimately a plot of 2 himself against a new No. 2, the bomb plot is entirely contrived. As all the episodes, 6 is able to out Psy Op the Psy Op masters themselves, which early on give the viewers hints as the real identity of the elusive. unknown No. 1 to whom all the Village is subject. As the series comes to an astonishing close, 6 is brought underground into his deepest subconscious where he regresses to a childlike state under the original No. 2’s mind control psychoanalysis. Like the SIS-connected Tavistock Institute, the Village functions as the scientistic mechanism for converting the world into a gigantic test tube for the manipulation of the latest behavioral conditioning perfected through psychological warfare operations that originated in the world of espionage and warfare.
Regressing 6 to his earliest years, 2 remains unable to extract the ultimate reason for 6’s resignation. The complicated finale depicts a 6 victorious over No. 2, now the greatest “individual” and the first successful “revolutionary.” As 6 is enthroned, he sits in judgment on the rest of the Village, including all dualities and binary oppositions – judging the anarchists and the pacifists, the radicals and the conservatives. The big reveal is that No. 1 is No. 6, a truth revealed in the opening of each episode, where 2’s response to 6’s question as to the identity of No. 1 is always met with an ambiguous reply that could be read in two ways – “You are number 6,” or “You are, number 6.” Colin Cleary accurately explains the series’ anti-modern, anti-individualist stance as follows in his essay:
“In short, The Prisoner attacks modernity on the following grounds:
- Modernity rests upon a materialistic metaphysics (all is matter), and champions materialism as a way of life (the focus on material comfort and satisfaction).
- Modernity is spiritually empty (again, no church in the Village); it must deny or destroy what is higher in man.
- Modernity destroys culture, tradition, and ethnic and national identity in the name of “progress” (called “multiculturalism” and “globalization” today). It is significant that we do not know where the Village is, for modern people are really “nowhere.” As Nietzsche’s “Madman” said, “Where are we headed? Are we not endlessly plunging—backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there an up and a down anymore? Do we not wander as if through an endless nothingness? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it grown colder?” (The Gay Science).
- Modernity promises only trivial freedoms (e.g., the freedom to shop) while suppressing freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of association.
- Modernity involves the belief that nature (including human nature) is infinitely malleable, open to the endless manipulation and “improvement” of science. In a 1977 interview with Canadian journalist Warner Troyer, McGoohan said, “I think we’re progressing too fast. I think that we should pull back and consolidate the things that we’ve discovered.”
- Modernity systematically suppresses ideals that rise above material concerns: ideals like honor, and dignity, and loyalty (the Village is filled with traitors).
- Modernity preaches a contradictory ethos of collectivism, and “looking out for No. 1.”
- Modernity banishes the sacred, and profanes all through oppressive levity, irony, and irreverence (masking cynicism).
- Modernity places physical security and comfort above the freedom to be self-determining, to be let alone, and to take risks.
- Modernity fills the emptiness in people’s lives with noise (the TV and radio you can’t turn off). Silence might start people thinking, which could make them unhappy.
In addition to the hostility to religion, the Village also seems to be hostile to marriage, sex, and procreation. It is not clear whether there are any married couples in the Village. Sex is probably forbidden. No children are seen until “The Girl Who Was Death,” and those children are depicted as living in a kind of barracks. There is a touch of Plato’s Republic in The Prisoner.”
In the final analysis, The Prisoner is about modern man as a dead man. In his final revolution, the revolution of the solitary, atomized individual unit, there is no “Why?” for this man to be the free individual he imagines himself to be. He is just as much a prisoner of the dialectic as the collective he opposes, as he has no other higher aims than himself. When he is enthroned as king, his final revolution results in the launching of a revolution that destroys The Village and launches an ICBM that will presumably destroy London. Having overcome all his inner demons and the prison of his conscience (that is, the Village and its rovers are 6 grappling with his conscience in the afterlife), and realizing his worst enemy is not the system, the people, or the world, but himself, 6 returns to his old life as No. 1.
In fact, the address to 6’s apartment was always “No. 1.” In like manner, modernity’s “revolution” in the global village, is the revolution of a meaningless numerological quantification where being “No. 1” means nothing more than being No. 2 or No. 86 in a world divested of any meaning beyond the individual’s competing ego desires. While The Prisoner is a treatise against the collective, it is also a warning to unfettered, meaningless individualism.
McGoohan foresaw the coming age of dystopian control where all of us would be tracked by a numerological cipher, under the “wandering stars” of the stellar luminaries that emblazon the heavens of the surveillance dome of the Village. In biblical symbology, the celestial luminaries are guided by angelic intelligences, or Watchers that correspond to earthly potentates. In the Village, the control grid of the Watchers is primarily technological and scientific, where man has been converted into a generic number in a long set of numbers, as if he were himself a cipher to be decoded and programmed.
About the Author
JaysAnalysis has grown to become one of the premier film and philosophy sites on the net, showcasing the talents of Jay Dyer, whose graduate work focused on the interplay of film, geopolitics, espionage and psychological warfare. Jay is a public speaker, lecturer, comedian and author of the popular title Esoteric Hollywood: Sex, Cults and Symbols in Film,