THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
TRIO By Vaughan Brunt
In "Chimes", McKern shows his mastery of the role of Number Two in the opening dialogue. He displays a variety of apparently conflicting impressions, deliberately off-putting to the Prisoner's desire for straight answers. For example:
"In The Village" - Unconcerned, non-imposing, in a matter-of-fact way.
"Information" - Sterner, more directly aimed at the Prisoner.
"That would be telling" - Reproachful, as if an unwritten law was being violated.
"We want information, information, information!" - Becoming more sinister, secretive and dangerous.
"By hook or by crook we will" - Both certain and determined. His smile denotes an easy confidence.
"The new Number Two" - Matter-of-fact again, non-threatening and explanatory as if it is a perfectly logical thing for him to be.
"You are Number Six!" - Dominant, giving the implication that there is no option, no room for argument.
The laugh - No sudden burst of sound like Colin Gordon's re- sponse. McKern starts with a Santa-like upward
roll of sound then finishes as if the Prisoner was an old friend with whom he was sharing a familiar joke. They would seem to be playing pre-determined roles with an inevitable outcome which they may just as well sit back and accept. McKern's is certainly the most subtly intelligent reading of those lines in the series. One which more than any other makes Number Six's angry delivery feel like point-less posturing. The implication is obvious, "You are here and this is where you are going to stay!"
McKern's first appearance proper in "Chimes" features Number Two rising imperially from his round chair. His lines show him to feel Number Six is an adversary to be admired. Someone who will be an important challenge to Number Two personally. He is clearly very determined to win. He is quick to anger at Christopher Benjamin's over-confidence concerning Number Six. His arrival at the chess game shows him in an extrovertly amiable mood. All friends together and all's right with the world. He is happy to laugh at the irony of Number Six's comments and avoids the "Hammer Into Anvil" approach of Patrick Cargill's character. His confidence is genuine and needs no role-playing subservience from others to boost his ego. The "we don't need to be enemies" stance continues as they have tea in the Green Dome. His dismissal of the Butler however shows an obvious dislike of the silent servant. He begins to lose patience with the Prisoner when Number Six tells him to use his file for information on how many sugars he takes. It is as if he is saying how much more pleasant things are for them both when everyone co-operates. It could almost be a scene from "Wind In The Willows". All jolly nice chaps together so long as no-one makes any waves. In fact, when Number Six says he is going to escape, come back and obliterate the place, Number Two's reaction is the same as Badger's when he hears that the weasels have taken over Toad Hall. How dare Number Six think he is important enough to ruin the 'amicable' ambience of the Village. For an Aussie, McKern captures that Edwardian Englishness perfectly. It is no surprise to me that one of his favourite parts in the theatre was when he played Mr. Toad.
When viewing the revival of Nadia he asks the Prisoner if he remembers his first day as if it were a treasured nostalgic event! On seeing her reaction to the new view from the window he laughs like Jeremy Beadle on the success of another of his sadistic schoolboy pranks. He bids Number Eight "Good morning" and like an amiable family doctor asks how she feels. He then becomes serious for a moment as he delivers his suggestion that all they need is for Number Six to say why he resigned. He makes the Village sound like a golf club which Number Six can easily join if only he will answer that simple question. But when Number Six leaves still smiling, Number Two shows an almost violent determination to get what he wants from the Prisoner. Later, Number Two is back to his affable old self when he and Number Six meet by the beach. Now he has the air of a politician on "Question Time" as he orates his opinions to a potential convert. Resignation in this instances would more likely refer to his acknowledgement that he too is a prisoner. In view of what is to happen later in the series, this scene has an added significance when watched after seeing "Fall Out".
He seemed surprised to see the information in Number Eight's file that she was a good swimmer so perhaps he was not informed in advance that she would fake an escape attempt that way. Once again, his amiability is in stark contracts to Swanwick's robotic Supervisor. Number Two's "Oh well, Orange Alert" also contrasts strongly against the abstract horror of the launch of Rover. His demand of Number Six to meet him in the hospital may seem a little out of character but that may have more to do with the line actually being said by Robert Rietty in post-production. The scene where Number Two and Number Six watch Number Eight's treatment in the hospital is underplayed by McKern as he talks to Number Six almost as if they were both doctors diagnosing a puzzling patient. The menace of the electronic floor is handled in a matter-of-fact manner.
mocks Number Six's suggestion that he is prepared to collaborate and seems greatly
amused by it. He is however optimistic and slightly paternal as he checks how
the relationship between Number Six and Number Eight develops. But, is he pleased
because he thinks Number Six is settling in or because he has anticipated the
Prisoner's escape attempt? McKern has to fool the audience as well as Number
Six at this point. During the exhibition scene he could not be happier with
Number Six, even feigning mock alarm at the Admiral's reproach over Number Six's
exhibit. The `village fete' atmosphere is utilised to delineate the irony in
the fact that all the entries show the real mind con-trol the wardens have over
Number Two is unconcerned at the radar sighting of the raft but again, the viewer is not tipped off by this as to the Village's hidden agenda. When all is revealed and departs from the Village for real this time, Number Two seems fatalistic about the failure to beat Number Six, as if he expected no other conclusion. This shows that as far as he was concerned, a very different method would be needed to make the Prisoner crack.
At the start of "Once Upon A Time", McKern rises into the control room of the Green Dome in a stern, angry bad temper. He is the only Number Two willing to argue with Number One on the phone as he reiterates that they were using the wrong methods. he stares at Number Six on the giant screen. Hii obsession makes him talk to the screen image even though he cannot hear him. There is almost fear in McKem's voice as he knows what must be done. His question is now "Why do you care?" It has become Number Six's motivations which intrigue McKern.
Both men are clearly close to breaking point. Number Two's call for `Degree Absolute' is spoken in the knowledge that it is to be all or nothing in their battle of wills. He is willing to risk himself and has to demand Number One implements his deci-sion no matter what the consequences. Impatient and fuming, Number Two shouts and rants his orders to the Supervisor as they go into `Double night time!' He is a man summoning up the courage to meet the ultimate challenge head on as the Pris-oner's treatment begins. he is weary and unhappy as he screams the nursery rhymes at the sleeping Prisoner. He then returns to the school-masterly ways of "Chimes" as he heads Number Six into the Embryo Room contrasting with McGoohan's child-like performance. His lecture on the seven ages of man plus his strident ordering of the Butler also show this.
He sounds soothing as they rock on the see-saw until the word `master' is rejected by McGoohan. Then the unfriendly facade of `Authority' (the school master) takes over using violence to ensure the citizens conform. That same figure declares pride in the Prisoner's total obedience as he graduates from school, but when Number Six refuses to say why he resigned Number Two quickly loses his temper and this acts as a catalyst for Number Six's own violent rejection of childhood authority. The Prisoner thus strikes the master and tries to kill him.
So far the duel seems to have taken more out of McKern than McGoohan and when Number Two says "I'm beginning to like him" for the first time we can probably believe him. The dominating parental figure is utilised as Number Two challenges Number Six at boxing and fencing. In both instances, when the crunch comes, violence erupts.
McKern returns to his ebullient mask next for the interview in a manner identical to the `world as the Village' sequence in "Chimes". He then creates an impatient, shouting personality to bully Number Six into rushing to meet the managing director. At this point, McKern's performance is still dominating McGoohan's because the prisoner is only allowed to react to Number Two's scenarios. Number Two is now furtive and secretive as he cajoles Number Six into `secret work'.
McGoohan becomes desperate and nervous as he tries to defend himself in the courtroom scene. McKern turns the judgement into a test before asserting the Prisoner's obligatory position as a `unit' in the Village via intense anger and force. Nor surprisingly, Number Two is close to complete exhaustion as the `Degree Abso-lute' goes inexorably on. His is almost in a daze as he asks `Why?' through the cell bars. He begins to panic as he aims the knife at McGoohan's neck and finds that he is now being tested by the Prisoner. After the bombing raid and McKern's as-tonishing `German' interrogator, he seems to lose the dominance he had previously maintained. He is no longer in total con-trol of events and fear returns as his questioning becomes more desperate, while Number Six, walking out of his cell simply smiles and asks for supper.
As the `treatment' seems to have worn off Number Six, it is Number Two who be-comes manipulated. As equals they lookaround their `home from home'. McKern dances through the Embryo Room as if in-toxicated (or perhaps in the first stages of a nervous breakdown?) They then calm down as Number Two admits they have `mutual problems'. There is a childish glee in Number Two's voice as he explains the mechanics of the room but this turns to screaming panic as he sees he has only five minutes left!
McKem's delivery by now has become almost delirious as the Prisoner becomes `the boss'. Number Two rejects Number Six's offer of freedom even though McGoohan states that he did not resign, he rejected! McKern begs for another answer to why he resigned and crawling in dejected defeat, he attacked the Prisoner. He is totally confused and rambling by the time the drink does its work and no amount of pleading can stop the apparently tragic outcome. The fact that Leo McKern did not even get nomi-nated for a best supporting actor award for this literally staggering performance must go down as one of the great mysteries of British television.
After the condensed pre-credit version of "Once Upon A Time" which opens "Fall Out", our first view of McKern in the final episode is as a corpse lying on the floor of the cell. The butler opens the cell door and the `resuscitation' begins. Number Two's inert body is carried in by the green-garbed `doctors' to the flashing `hair dryer' and after a quick shave and heart jolt his next appearance is not for another ten minutes or so.
As the unbearded, grey-haired McKern awakens, the sound of his mighty laugh fills the cavern. He is puzzled and feels his heart. He slowly staggers towards the presi-dential dais. He shouts to the assembly `I feel a new man!' and invites them with a gesture to laugh with him. His initial reaction to seeing Number Six throned is to shake his hand and ask how he is keeping. He knew it was inevitable all along that this was toe be Number Six's destiny.
Number Two is reflective and saddened to see that the butler no longer considered himself to be his servant (Muscat turns to Number Six in distaste at this). He sees that he is not the man in charge any more. McKern's speech to the masked collective has all the overblown rhetoric of a false politician. There is great irony in his voice as he accepts and thanks them for recogniz-ing his former power. Number Two's sudden realisation that he had been `killed' by his masters for failing releases an angry outburst and his hatred for the Village system is finally established as they would not even let him `rest in peace'.
He laughs at the Prisoner's idea that he could have actu-ally met Number One. "Meet him?" implying that there is some reason why this had to be impossible. maybe Number Two had already guessed the true nature of Number One. His final act of revolt, spitting in the eye of authority, gives him pleasure by displaying his contempt for "whatever" it is. Number One's control over him has ended. Number Two mocks the guards who lead him off to his fate. The `late' Number Two's laughter as he says a final "Be seeing you" shows a man who will no longer play his master's game.
Later, encased in the `Orbit 2' rube, he guffaws like the mechanical clown in "The Girl Who Was Death". The Village has reduced their best man to a human puppet. The laughter stops as the fight with the guards begins. Number Two, now disguised as a white-cloaked figure, joins Number Six, Number 48 and the butler against the Village. They sneak up to the cavern and the tumultuously violent gun battle shows the rebels making their way to the cell. This time, turning it into their eventual getaway vehicle. McKern makes an unlikely all-action figure but the whole sequence is meant to be symbolic rather than literal so that does not matter.
The journey down the motorway shows them acting like characters from the mid-60s movie "The Knack" or even "Help!". They dance and sing in a way totally alien to virtually anything in the series prior to "Fall Out". He does not bid farewell to the Prisoner or the butler as he leaves the truck but he may have acknowledged McGoohan's quick hand-wave as he enters the parliamentary building. Maybe he is to be the insider within the establishment but this time without the control normally inherent in such a position. Finally he has his bowler hat and brolly as well as the policeman's recognition as he returns to the halls of power a happy man. So perhaps his prison has gone into orbit - but for how long?
Unlike the other two episodes, there is no confrontation between McKern and McGoohan, however the traces of earlier portrayals are still apparent. if the revolution of strong-minded individuals like McKern's Number Two could occur then logically their attempt to convert Number Six must have been doomed from the start.
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