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:

(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 the facts.’

Main Characters:

Here are some instances that are solved by this theory, and the reasoning behind them:

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!

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©1996 Reed, Kent, and Kirby Meyer. Last modified: Oct. 25, 2005.