The Prisoner “Fall Out” Theory
By Kirby, with contributions from Reed and Kent
Before I discuss my interpretation of the episode “Fall Out,” it is important to first note there is a distinction between the first sixteen episodes and this final story. It can be supported by several facts:
- George Markstein left the series by this time due to ‘creative differences’ with McGoohan.
- McGoohan wrote the script for “Fall Out” within 48 hours of the shooting deadline.
- “Fall Out” is ‘enriched’ with a heavy amount of symbolic devices.
- The first airing of “Fall Out” caused mass confusion in England and abroad.
(Much of this can be found through the Troyer Interview and other websites.) The first sixteen have some sort of pragmatic functionality about them, prompting the show to be treated as a science-fiction series (as evident by being shown on the Sci-Fi Channel back in the 90s). It is in my opinion an error to give “Fall Out” that same treatment. Rejecting “Fall Out” as a science fiction story is crucial to understanding the theory I'm about to present. At this point, only accept the idea that the final episode continues on with the same characters and attempts to wrap up holes left from the first sixteen episodes. Or, if I may indulge, accept “Fall Out” as a philosophical soapbox for Patrick McGoohan, who now had creative freedom over the show since Markstein had left.
“Fall Out,” somewhat like its predecessors, has its place with the Sixties' ‘Peace Revolution’ and the Cold War. I make note that the first sixteen episodes share some common ground with the final episode regarding the Orwellian term ‘Big Brother.’ However, rather than drum into our heads that a pragmatic unconnectable entity -- the Village -- is watching us, McGoohan attempts to move things back into the real world (note the A20 road at the end). So, the purpose of the episode is to find out who is ‘Big Brother’ here in the real world.
Here, I believe, McGoohan implements a unique tactic. Rather than perhaps conceding it is some authoritarian government, which would appeal to the majority of viewers of the time, he claims it is Society itself which is making Prisoners out of people. Such an action would anger viewers because they are an example of Society trying to force what they like on those at the other end of the TV signal.
If we knew who or what “Number One” was, we can probably make sense of the rest of “Fall Out.” So, who's Number One? It is Society's demand of Number Six, that's who. As director and producer, the way in which to reject conformity is to reject the Number Six character as a super-spy.
As such, we see him blast this portrayal of himself into outer space. This is symbolic of McGoohan rejecting what the mass viewers wanted. The freedom he granted himself was freedom from this typecast.
Now, was this rude of McGoohan? Not really. In fact, one should've expected this, but probably most fans of the series at the time were blinded by the intricate details and well-directed scripts of the first sixteen episodes. Because we as a society tried to idolize No.6/McGoohan, McGoohan had to reject this very hypocritical view of the Prisoner. Sure, the show initially tried to portray our governments molding people, but having the TV viewers molding individuals is just as bad. The Prisoner had a new evil to free himself from. At the same time, McGoohan wanted to teach TV viewers a lesson: build your own kingdom; don't worship others.
This might explain why the
story is so surreal. In 48 hours, how would you develop a script which
naturally ties the old episodes of the higher powers watching us to this new form of evil?
Given the short amount of time,
it is reasonable to expect that the script would have to be surreal, to ‘fit
- Number Six -- Patrick McGoohan, or a person affronted by public scrutiny at the business end of the camera.
- Robed figures -- Reactionists, Patriots, Nationalists...various members together representing the entire public.
- the President -- an intermediary between the public and Number Six ( the President of the BBC comes to mind).
- No. 2 and No. 48 -- other people scrutinized by the public that just didn't meet their approval and have been stereotyped or ‘labeled.’
- the Butler -- Tied in from the other sixteen episodes, he is considered below the other candidates and is not held under scrutiny.
- Number One -- Manifestation of Society wanting a superspy celebrity such as PMcG to idolize.
Here are some instances that are solved by this theory, and the reasoning behind them:
- The ending to “Once Upon a Time” makes some sense, if we were to assume it is No.1 who says, ‘Die, Six, Die!’ “Once Upon a Time” was actually produced much earlier than right before “Fall Out”; in fact, it was one of the first six or seven episodes to be filmed. Thus, “Once Upon a Time” was filmed before McGoohan envisioned who No.1 was going to be (he stated this himself in the Troyer Interview), except for the final minutes of the episode. The final few shots, which stretch from the “Swanwick” encounter until the end, were dubbed in at the last moment before it was released as the penultimate episode. Assuming that the ‘Die, Six, Die!’ voice was also dubbed in (it certainly sounds like it was!), it is possible that the voice is No.1's. Thus, No.1 may have killed No.2 because PMcG thought everyone wanted to see No.2 die [because No.2 was so evil (sarcasm)]. This is not what McGoohan's real character wanted; hence, Number Six's desire to confront No. 1 in person.
- When No.6 gets his real suit back on, he's back to his ‘real self’, as what the masses wanted to see, as stated by the Supervisor. (Note that the swinging hangers imply the Robed figures had just dressed themselves.) PMcG takes off the old suit because he eventually wants to leave the series behind him.
- McKern (No.2)'s and Kanner (No. 48)'s speeches were to emphasize the fact that they were individuals, but their rebellious forms were not in good keeping compared to No. 6's well-cultured method of rebellion, which everyone craved. (No. 6 says to Kanner, ‘Don't wear yourself out,’ for a different reason. He's simply saying that we can rebel against society, but it doesn't have to be to the point that we destroy society (see the Beginner's Page).)
- McKern's speech and act of rebellion is to deflect the notion that it was the U.K. government that was ‘Big Brother’. After all, even a man of Parliament became a prisoner.
- PMcG (No. 6) rejects the President because the President and Robed figures represent the public. Everyone yells “I” in No.6's final speech because everyone only cares about ‘him.’
- He takes the checks and petty cash because he rebels against anything that the public wants (he's trying to show the viewer that he won't stand for anything the public wants him to have).
- An ‘orbit’ module is sent up to eventually fetch No. 6. Note that it is unnumbered. He has been promoted to a numberless person, but is still held under check. By taking the money and not the job of leading the world, he has failed to appease the masses and must be put into the same category as No.2 and No. 48.
- Why the modules have the name ‘Orbit’ remains largely unsolved by this theory. However, because of the space race of the 60s, it could have something to do with symbolism of ‘rocketing’ No.2 and No. 48 from existence. This, of course, changes to ‘rocketing’ No.1 and the Prisoner series from existence.
- The glass orb (which No.1 holds out to No.6) is a symbol of No.1's power. It seems to be an allegory of God holding ‘the whole world in His hands,’ where now No.1 (the image of PMcG which PMcG is trying to reject) is holding the ‘world’ of worshipping TV viewers who want to conform to him. (Note that you can see images in a glass orb, just like you see images from a glass TV screen. Also, there are all kinds of world globes in that room, strengthening the ‘world in His hands’ analogy. Each globe appears to be fixed on some part of the world where the Prisoner is being watched.) When No.6 takes this orb and smashes it, it represents PMcG's desire to ‘free’ the public of conforming to his ideals and his hope that they become independent thinkers.
- No.1 is wearing an ape mask because this symbolizes the many viewers who are trying to conform to PMcG's ideals -- who are trying to imitate him (after all, ‘to ape’ means to imitate or mimic).
- The Robed figures look like members of the Village when undressed. This is to offer segue from the first sixteen episodes in that members of the public were mixed into the Village, keeping baneful watch over their guests.
- Rover ‘dies’ for the same reason No.1 gets ejected into space -- everyone saw Rover as an icon of The Prisoner, which made PMcG feel it distracted the people from understanding his ideals, so it is destroyed at the end. (He wants this icon ‘out of his life’ as well.) The song “I-I-I ... I like you very much” makes a lot of sense here, if you were a viewer who likes Rover a lot!
- Most of the celebratory events going on in the truck at the end is in knowing the Prisoner series is over and getting rid of junk associated with it.
- A road to the Village is the A20. When Markstein left, McGoohan overrode any possibility of some concentration camp or secret base conjured up in “Many Happy Returns,” for example. By this view of “Fall Out,” the Village not only represents a society of conformers but, more specifically, the public trying to conform to PMcG. PMcG wanted to place the Village literally in the TV viewer's backyard. Therefore, the Village is anywhere and everywhere in Britain (and maybe even the world, for that matter).
- PMcG befriends the Butler, McKern, and Kanner, because they are the only ones who don't conform to his ideals. The Butler, in particular, doesn't care about PMcG's ideals; he just does his job. (This was already figured out a long time ago, though ... I just use this to illustrate how this theory meshes well with other theories.)
So, we should not feel any resentment to McGoohan at all. It is our fault that we made Number One who he is, not Patrick McGoohan's. McGoohan heroically avoided a close call with hypocrisy -- and it is an obscure form of ‘not giving in.’ We can still learn from this episode that we should live with independent minds, even in a society such as today's.
Many fans still wonder whether Number Six is really Patrick McGoohan? Some believe that it is John Drake, the fictitious star of Danger Man. All we can say is this: in the beginning of production of the Prisoner, PMcG may have wanted Drake's name omitted from the series because it would be easier to write stories from a first-person than a third-person point of view. (Franz Kafka's The Trial and The Castle is similar in this regard -- Kafka originally made the story first-person, but later made it third-person so that people could readily associate with the main character in the story.) By the time of “Fall Out,” you may see that McGoohan has really manifested No.6 as himself!
©1996 Reed, Kent, and Kirby Meyer. Last modified: Oct. 25, 2005.