THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
"IMPRESSIONS OF CHECKMATE", By Steve Yarde
'The 'Checkmate' is a superb episode. Peter Wyngarde makes an effective Number 2, who seems completely calm whilst being held captive by The Prisoner's escape committee. The human chess match at the start of the episode looks impressive. The dialogue between Number 14 and The Prisoner gives an indication of how The Prisoner will attempt to distinguish between Village Guardians and Prisoners.
The Rook is well played by Ronald Radd. Clearly The Rook is still capable of resistance, but is quickly brought in to line at the hospital. The scene where he's conditioned is quite chilling. Later on he becomes a useful ally for The Prisoner, even though The Rook misjudges his fellow prisoner, with disastrous results. The Queen is a tragic character. Initially keen to assist The Prisoner in his desire to escape, she is later conditioned by the Village authorities as part of their plan to keep track of his movements. Eventually shunned by The Prisoner, we last see The Queen on the beach. It might have been interesting to have included a scene in the episode where The Prisoner discovers that The Queen has been brainwashed, and shows outrage at The Village Authorities immoral behaviour.
The ending to Checkmate is certainly ironic. In a way it was amusing when Number 2 tells The Prisoner, 'When you took command of this little venture, your air of authority convinced him that you were one of us', referring to The Rook's error of judgement. The fact that The Prisoner is once more on his own does not deter him from trying to escape. He soundly bests the crew of the Polotska and attempts to escape in the vessel. As The Prisoner attacks the crew of The Polotska, Number 2 shows no apprehension at this. He activates Rover to intercept the ship without any sign of urgency. The final scene is significant as we see a pawn placed on a chess board by The Butler. This appears to imply that The Prisoner is little more than a pawn in a game.
For me, 'Checkmate' is one of the best episodes of 'The Prisoner'. It is well paced, tense, and contains some highly memorable scenes. Even though the focus of the episode is on an escape attempt, there is some allegory, which is emphasized by the human chess match and the method of distinguishing between guardians and prisoners.
Click here to return to the Unmutual Article Archive
Click here to return to the Unmutual Home Page