However, I can also understand the frustration many viewers have felt. Over the course of its seventeen episodes, this offbeat spy thriller becomes further and further offbeat until it ultimately transforms into surrealistic allegory. I confess I'm not sure whether this transformation was intended as a complete surprise, or whether you were supposed to know where the show was going, but in either case, I think you can better appreciate the series if you can see the earlier episodes as preparation for what's to come.
THE PRISONER's title character is a British secret agent (series creator Patrick McGoohan) who may or may not be SECRET AGENT's John Drake. The story begins with him suddenly and mysteriously resigning, then just as suddenly and mysteriously being rendered unconscious and transported to a place known only as The Village, the location of which is known only to those who run it. The Village is a prison camp, but with all of the amenities of a vacation resort,. Attractive dwellings, shops, restaurants, etc. exist side by side with high-tech methods of keeping order and extracting information from those who won't give it up willingly.
Those who try to escape get to meet Rover, a belligerent weather balloon capable of locomotion, and seemingly of independent thought. It appears (to me anyway) that the authorities can summon Rover, send it away, and give it instructions, but that it acts more or less on its own initiative. Rover deals with fugitives by plastering itself against their faces, rendering them either unconscious or dead, depending on how bad a mood it's in. Twice, we see it haul someone in from the ocean by sucking them up into a whirlpool it creates.
Citizens of The Village, including those in authority, are identified only by numbers. Our protagonist is known only as No. 6 throughout the entire series. The Village is run by No. 2, who in turn reports to an unseen and unidentified No. 1. No. 1 is apparently an unforgiving boss, because No. 2 is always being replaced.
Shortly after he arrives in in the Village, No. 6 is informed, by the reigning No. 2, that he should count on remaining there permanently. If he cooperates, life will be pleasant and he may even be given a position of authority. If he resists -- well, the only restriction they're under is not to damage him permanently. To satisfy his captors, No. 6 need only answer one question: `Why did you resign?' His question in turn is, `Who runs this place? Who is No. 1?'
Most of the episodes deal with No. 6's attempts to escape, and/or his captors' attempts to break him, although there are a few side trips. Several episodes suggest that No. 6's own people may be involved with running The Village. Some of the episodes are fairly straightforward, while others leave you with questions as to exactly what went on. It's important to note that several of the more obscure episodes -- for example, `Free for All' and `Dance of the Dead' -- are among the seven episodes that McGoohan considers essential to the series.
And then we come to the final episode, `Fall Out,' which promises to answer all the burning questions the viewers have been anguishing over for seventeen weeks -- and which so frustrated and angered those viewers back in 1967 that McGoohan had to go into hiding for awhile. Of course, I can't reveal any of the really important details, because, as No. 2 says in the recap that begins most of the episodes, `That would be telling,' and as all of us IMBD contributors know, `telling,' is frowned upon. However, to come back to the point with which I started, you should be prepared for a resolution of an entirely different nature than the one you'll probably be expecting -- a resolution that forces you to rethink your entire concept of the Village, and of the intention of the series. If you aren't ready, you'll be frustrated. If you are, you can accept THE PRISONER is the spirit in which it was offered.