“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 an idyllic setting with parks and green fields, recreational activities and even a butler.
While luxurious and resort-like, 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.
Number Two, the Village administrator, acts as an agent for the unseen and all-powerful Number One, whose identity is not revealed until the final episode.
“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.