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The Prisoner Finale: Now It Can Be Told

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Spoilers for the finale of AMC’s The Prisoner, which if you cared enough about you have already watched but remain spoilers nonetheless, after the jump:



Earlier this year when I reviewed the Battlestar Galactica finale, I wrote that sci-fi/fantasy series finales are different from regular season finales: they are not just denouements, not just endings of stories and closure for characters—they are answers. That means, first, that there’s even more pressure on them than a typical finale: in a real sense, fans look at a BSG finale (and will look at the Lost finale) to see if the show answered itself “correctly.” Where you can be disappointed in, say, a Seinfeld finale yet still enjoy the reruns, getting “the wrong answer” in a sci-fi finale can, in some ways, retrospectively ruin a series for fans.

Second, it means that the ending of a sci-fi series or miniseries is even more crucial than usual to interpreting whether the story as a whole works. Yet in a review, obviously, you can’t really discuss its triumphs or problems without giving away the store.

Well, The Prisoner has wrapped up, so I can talk a little about my problems with the finale (and thus much of the series), which, to simplify, amount to: didn’t we already see this in The Matrix? (Corollary: wasn’t Keanu Reeves’ performance a masterpiece of emotional nuance next to Jim Caviezel’s sleepwalking?)

OK, no, the revelation that The Village was a state of mind, or level of consciousness, was not exactly The Matrix, but that essentially gnostic, hermetic setup—it’s all in their minds—is something we’ve seen often since. And I’ve never been especially good at seeing plot twists like this coming, so if it became obvious to me early on, once we started seeing the dream-like parallel’s to Michael’s New York life and learning about what Summakor was up to—I can’t imagine it floored that many other viewers.

In a nutshell, if the big reveal for your series is among the first theories fans were offering for The Island on Lost, you might want to rethink it.

Now some fans may like the new Prisoner’s definitive ending better; some may like the original’s ambiguous one better. I don’t want to get into that; this series should be judged on its own merits. But a further problem with the new twist—making The Village virtual and the Big Bad corporate rather than political—is that it makes the elements that were retained from the original make even less sense.

For starters, there’s the whole dehumanizing device of giving Vilagers numbers, which was probably too big an element for the remakers to let go. This made sense in the original, in which the Village was essentially a totalitarian prison. But if you’re designing a subconscious virtual idyll, what do you gain from building in the sinister device, whose chief message is to make everyone feel as if they’re living in a totalitarian prison?

There are also the questions of the circular logic that the setup creates at the end of the series—for instance, Michael seeming to act toward 313 in New York on the basis of his feelings for her in The Village—which I will leave here because they make my head hurt. It’s a shame, though, because there was genuinely moving material in the new Prisoner, especially Two’s heart-rending love for his virtual son 11-12, who exists only in unreality.

In fact, there was enough in this densely packed series that I’m sure there must be people who saw much more in it than I did. If you’re one of them, please feel free to let me know why I’m the one who’s sick in the head.