The Prisoner ran for just 17 episodes, but the British series was the granddaddy of The X-Files, Lost, and all other puzzle series. Star/producer Patrick McGoohan played Number 6, a spy who’d been kidnapped and imprisoned in a seaside village where everyone is known by a number. Six is always trying to escape, or at least learn the identity of Number One, the colony leader. In each episode, he’s foiled, and the Kafka-meets-Orwell premise is reinforced.
In the finale, Six finally confronts Number One and rips off his mask, revealing a gorilla mask underneath. And below that is the face of… Number Six himself, laughing maniacally. So, does that mean that Six was a clone, or was he, in some existential sense, his own captor? The much-anticipated episode drew huge ratings in England, but fans apparently expected a definitive and literal resolution, one that would have identified Number One as some James Bond/Cold War-style supervillain, like the adversaries in McGoohan’s previous series, Secret Agent (a.k.a. Danger Man).
The headscratcher ending McGoohan offered instead nearly drove fans to riot. McGoohan claimed later that he feared he was going to be lynched and went into hiding in a remote mountain location for two weeks. See, he really was both jailer and captive!