The Prisoner - Old and New

I wanted to like the new version of The Prisoner on AMC but so far it’s been a failure.

A big part of the problem is the absence of Patrick McGoohan. He was the key to the success of the original series and Caviezel is an inadequate replacement. What made McGoohan so good was his anger and a sense of danger. You really felt like he wanted to destroy the whole village if he didn’t escape. Caviezel is upset but never really angry, he yells a bit but it doesn’t feel genuine. McGoohan’s anger was always on the knife edge of erupting in unexpected ways.

And consider the opening credit scenes. In the 1960s series McGoohan stalked down the hall and sped away in his sports car through the streets of London. In the 2000s series we get intercut visuals of Caviezel spraypainting “resign” across the windows of his office and blurry surveillance video. The former reeks of danger, risk, and spy games a la James Bond. The latter is corporate, the panopticon.

Perhaps it’s an indication of how spying has changed in our imaginations as well as reality. The glory days of the spy were the height of the Cold War; when the enemy was well-defined and the game had rules as portrayed in the works of Ian Fleming, John LeCarre, Alistair MacLean. McGoohan even played a role in a film of a McLean novel - Ice Station Zebra.

Today spying is pervasive. The city of London is constantly monitored by CCTV. No one is followed by a “tail”, instead it’s just recorded on video. We’re living in the Foucauldian panopticon where everyone is being watched. Spying and data-mining are a way of life, hidden beneath every thing we do in the West. It is the water we swim in. During the Cold War we could at least pretend that we were fighting for something else, fighting against the reds to be a free economy, fighting against becoming a number. Today the fight is mostly over. We’re all numbers now and either don’t know it or are resigned to it.

Perhaps that’s why the remake of The Prisoner feels so empty. This time around it’s less about finding the truth, if it’s really out there, then doing our time in purgatory.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.