THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
“FREE FOR ALL - A PARTY POLITICAL BROADCAST” By Gareth Thomas
I was immediately
drawn to "Free For All" by the fact that it was both written and directed
by Patrick McGoohan, providing a unique view of his true opinions and ideas
at this stage in the series. Within his `Social Commentary', principally on
the electoral process, I believe that McGoohan has tackled in some detail the
subject of personality and individuality. "Free For All" expresses
the two sides of a human personality, `The Self'; individuality and character,
and alternatively `The Community'; universality and conformity. The characters
and situations show the wide variation in how these sides can be mixed or excluded
to produce different types of people. McGoohan's aim is to display the effects
of these variations and to suggest the right proportions for each.
We start off with a familiar scene; the villagers moving as a unit, and being controlled as a unit, notably by the Butler holding up prompt cards. Character and individuality are alien to them as their col-lective response shows when the Prisoner claims not to be a number but a person. Their existence consists solely of the 'Com-munity' side mentioned previously This one sided state is visually reinforced by the single silhouetted figure on the Prisoner's television screen which looks in only one direction. The necessary addition seems to be an element from the other side, the `Self which comes from the Prisoner's `militant and individualistic' outlook as he enters the election battle. This addition is `fortunate' according to Number 2.
Number 2 (to the Prisoner): You are just the sort of candidate we need.
The result is a variation in the electorate, some supporting the old ways of Number 2, while some have adopted the Prisoner's ideas. This scene however, is not the first or the last where McGoohan sug-gests the need to mix universality and indi-viduality. As he breakfasts with Number 2, the `international cuisine' is helped along with some solid British character, in the form of toast and marmalade. The very last scene also subtly mixes the two. The cam-era closes in on `6 private' and the dialogue follows up with `The Homeland', a delib-erate reference to communism.
Although the series often rejects the pure extrovert attitudes of the villagers, McGoohan goes into more detail with "Free ForAll" when the Prisoner attacks the Village council. Great care is taken to expose the `brainwashed imbeciles' who have adopted the community and conformity side to the absolute extreme. They have no influence or control as shown by Number 2's manipu-lation of the `unanimous' vote. They have no character or feeling; they cannot laugh, cry, or even respond to the Prisoner's questions. Their state, he suggests, is an example of the village journalism at work. It totally suppresses any personal opinion and only serves the convenience of society. They are in a sorry state!
Equally undesirable is the opposite extreme, absolute self, which is displayed at the end of the episode. The Prisoner has won every vote, and there is no longer any mixture or variation at all. This state, the deepest and purest part of his self, has to be Number 1, and as he enters the Green Dome:
The Prisoner: I am in command, obey me and be free...
As the Prisoner
predicted, everyone has voted for a dictator, but a dictator of his own being.
He explores Number 1 more, and his confusion mounts as he stumbles on strange
and frightening elements of his self that he never knew existed, such as the
Rover worshipers. The symbolism of his horrific beating speaks for itself, and
it is clear that Number 1, the pure self, does not create a pleasant personality.
The dangers of one side without the other are displayed side by side during the alcohol scenes. On one hand we have the `Cat and Mouse' setting with the automated drum set mirroring the extent to which the effects of extroversion can overcome one's personality. The drinks are phoney; they taste the same and look the same but lack any depth of being. The serving girl also fails. She lacks any adventure and is too ready to conform to the Prisoner's philosophies. The Prisoner himself wants a real drink, but he gets more than he expected. We then see the other, personal side, the selfish alcoholic Number 2, and even if he is only pretending to be overcome with drink, the expression still stands.
Number 2: To hell with the village!
the self centred side taken to a greedy extent, a side that sneakily copies
a scientist's work and then jokes about it. In all cases the exposure of one
side alone is proof that a mixture is required. To form the correct mixture,
the Prisoner himself must have a few alterations made to him as he undergoes
During his encounter at the Labour Exchange it is stressed to the Prisoner that "the community has to live", as well as his own self. He is also told that he mustn't think only of his self as he has a 'responsibility'. However the Prisoner's discipline in not taking sugar in his tea is applauded, and it would appear that personal control, which was so absent to the council members, has an important part to play in his personality. Also applauded is his honesty to himself He is asked if he is on the side of the peo-ple, and the Prisoner's answer is equally true and false, therefore, whether it was `yes' or `no', he must have the same levels of commitment to both the community and himself. An equal mixture of the two sides has been concocted.
With this new state implanted, the Prisoner can be released to the community. Its success is outstanding, and he celebrates it himself upon leaving the Labour Exchange. He is now more relaxed with the press while his answers to their questions are glib enough to hide his deepest feelings. The new successful equilibrium of self and community is summed up after his televised speech, when two silhouettes stand together on the screen, each looking in opposite directions.
Announcer: It looks as though it's going to be neck and neck.
We must assume now, that an in-crease of influence from either side will disturb this successful equilibrium, and the very next incident is such an increase. One isolated aspect of his personality, his Eng-lish language, is overcome as he opens up too far in conforming to the maid's strange speech. This is not good, and the Prisoner becomes confused, cumbersome and pan-icky as the maid continues to oppress his individuality. His physical fleeing can represent his withdrawal from the successful community values he has recently adopted, in an attempt to hold onto his language. The symbolism extends as far as him punching the two mechanics from the boat, and Number 2's helicopter turning away as the Prisoner dismisses the community side of his personality piece by piece. However, it now appears that he has gone too far. When Rover appears on the horizon he is completely alone, and out of control as he heads into the unknown regions of himself. As discussed before, the result of this can be less than pleasant. The effects do not last long however, and soon the Prisoner is re-peating his successful election speech. He has returned to the equilibrium state that lacks extreme elements of the self such as Number 1. Sure enough, after uttering the words, Rover is distinctively and dramati-cally returned to his watery berth.
"Free For All" is a play in two acts. The first part, up to the Prisoners social conversion at the Labour Exchange, is dominated by the `Community' side. Scenes with the prompt cards and the journalism can prove this and it is interesting to note that even the Prisoner is controlled and guided by Number 2 as he enters the town hall. The climax is, of course, at the end of the part when the ultimate, and worst, extent of this side is exposed in the council. The second part starts as the strange light comes down over the Prisoner's face, and is now dominated by the `Self' side. It is as if one extreme has been overcome, but new problems arise from the other side. Has self-ishness taken over? Number 2 claims that the Prisoner's electoral promises are nothing more than fuel for his campaign and that he cannot really carry them out. He certainly seems almost childlike as he demands `more play!' Also, he seems to favour the self oriented alcohol scenes with Number 2, rather than the community end conformity side at the Cat and Mouse. The climax of the second half also appears at the end as the Prisoner experiences the total `Self'. The only truly successful part of the whole episode is in the middle, when the two sides are `neck and neck'. Are we to believe that the Prisoner is half way up the mountain? Number 1 is at the summit and Number 2, representing the village, at the bottom.
Number 2: I've never had a head for heights.
During this second part, it would appear that McGoohan predicts the Prisoner's eventual downfall.
The Prisoner: They say six of one, half a dozen of the other, not here... It's six for two and two for nothing...
While the equilibrium is impaired he is heading for `nothing', so there is a definite need for an equal combination of the `Self' and the `Community'; half of each. McGoohan's message is that we shouldn't lose individuality, strength of character or self control. However, we must never let the greedy, selfish Number 1 take over. We have a responsibility to the community and sometimes compromises have to be made. There are some things to which we must conform. As they say, Be seeing you.
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