THE UNMUTUAL PRISONER ARTICLE ARCHIVE
"KILLING THE KING" By Howard Foy
The first thing that must be understood about "It's Your Funeral" is that it is unique. It can be argued that other episodes of "The Prisoner" stand alone ("The Girl Who Was Death" and "Living In Harmony", for instance). But, if we leave aside "Once Upon A Time" and "Fall Out", the remaining episodes slot neatly into one of two categories. Most are straight forward easy-to-follow narratives with an internal logic which makes them stand up as self-contained stories within the Village/prison framework. A handful - "The Girl Who Was Death", "Living In Harmony", arguably "Do Not Forsake Me..." and most certainly "Free For All" - are broadly speaking "fantasy" episodes which can best be understood if it is assumed that No.6's perception of "reality" (or our own, in the case of "Girl") has been distorted.
But one of the 15 episodes cannot be categorised in such a way - "It's Your Funeral". On the face of it, it is a straight-forward Village story and No.6 is lucid and coherent throughout. But unlike "The General", say, or "A, B & C", the events of this episode make little sense on any rational level when we take the rest of the series into account.
The writer, Michael Cramoy, and director, Robert Asher, worked only on this episode out of the 17. Hence they present a vision of the Village and its administration that is almost totally at odds with the Village we see in every other story.
One of the most intriguing, and unconvincing, aspects of "It's Your Funeral" is that No.6 actually helps a No.2 (if only against another person of that status). This is, of course, the only time in the series in which he finds himself in such a position. It has been said that No.6 embarks on this curious course of action because he feared the reprisals which would inevitably ensue if the assassination plot had been successful. But why should he care? Whether or not "It's Your Funeral" is intended to fall in the ideal Prisoner screening order, it is clearly not one of the opening episodes and No.6 will have been a Village "resident" long enough to know that no one can be trusted and that things are never what they might seem.
A "crackdown" against the whole Village might have actually worked in his favour by upsetting the smooth running of the community in such a way that could have facilitated an escape. We know from the outset in "Arrival" that No.6 is literally against the world (or at least his small corner of it) and while it may be highly commendable for him in "It's Your Funeral" to put the interests of his fellow Villagers first, such an attitude is inconsistent with the general tenor of the series. But the biggest flaw in "It's Your Funeral", and the one which makes it a particularly unsatisfactory episode, is the whole concept of Appreciation Day around which the story is based. Looked at from any angle, the very idea of Appreciation Day is nonsense.
We have already seen, in "Arrival", how the No.2s can change inexplicably over night. Each subsequent episode has a different occupant in the Green Dome (with one exception), and whatever else we might surmise about the timescale of the series, it is clear that an entire year does not elapse between episodes. So the "annual" ceremonial hand-over of power between No.2s is obviously a sham event. As a sham, it can only have been engineered for the Village's benefit, but neither our hero nor the Village authorities gain any advantage out of what transpires. The only "winner" is the outgoing No.2 who thwarts the plot on his life and escapes to freedom. (In doing so, he thus becomes the first person to make a successful escape from the Village!)
If Appreciation Day itself is nonsensical, so too is the assassination plot itself on which the whole structure of the story is based. Why should No.2 be so concerned - as has been suggested - to gain a public excuse to crack down on Village dissidents? Surely if the Village authorities want to be rid of irksome Villagers they can simply be eliminated? As prisoners, they are already as good as dead as far as the outside world is concerned. Even if they are too valuable to be killed off, couldn't they be transferred to a more conventional prison where such dissident activities would not be tolerated? Why hasn't the Village got its own prison where troublemakers could be incarcerated, perhaps in solitary confinement? It seems strange that a Village with all the appearance of a real-life community - shops, newspaper, town council, graveyard - should lack something so glaringly necessary as a police station with a few cells for people who break the "law". The inconsistencies of "It's Your Funeral" can largely be attributed to the fact that writer Cramoy was given either too much licence, or not enough information, when creating his image of the Village. Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate on where he got the idea for Appreciation Day, the ceremonial transfer of power between Village leaders, and the assassination plot with which it is inextricably linked.
One source for his ideas may have been the practice of primitive pagan societies in pre-history to sacrifice their kings in a ritualistic fashion at the end of their term in office. The noted Victorian historian and anthropologist Sir James George Frazer, in his definitive work "The Golden Bough", relates how some primitive societies ritually selected a god-king from among their number and then imbued him with the responsibility for their welfare - particularly with regard to fertility of both their crops and the tribe itself. As the king grew old and his powers began to fail, some peoples devised a cermony in which these powers could be transferred to a new incumbent. Once the hand-over was complete, the old king was put to death.
This practice of killing the king developed as time passed in some societies so that their leader was allowed to reign for a fixed period, at the end of which he was put to death. This period could be as little as one year. In some societies, particularly as Christianity and other organised religions gained sway, the practice of physically killing the king gave way to a mock sacrifices on an annual basis to ensure a good harvest. There are many instances in European folk customs which survived until recently of such mock killings. In some German villages young people would assemble on the third Sunday in Lent and fashion a straw figure which would be carried to the open fields and set on fire. Anyone who has seen the Edward Woodward film "The Wicker Man" will recognise the parallels.
Getting back to "The Prisoner", did Michael Cramoy have any of this in mind, even subconsciously, when writing "It's Your Funeral"? Whatever the truth of the matter, the episode certainly remains an enigma. It is so unlike other episodes that it deserves a category of its own. Of course, speculation about what it all means is ultimately pointless - precisely because of all its inconsistencies. Perhaps we shouldn't worry about it all. It may be deeply unsatisfactory when we attempt to place it in the Village framework, but "It's Your Funeral" is a cracking story in itself, and any episode with Annette Andre has got to be worth watching. So just enjoy it!
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