The Prisoner (1967) – Checkmate, and Hammer Into Anvil

Number Six (Patrick McGoohan) squares off against Number Two (this time played by Peter Wyngarde) in a layered scheme in Checkmate. Written by Gerald Kelsey, this episode first debuted on 24 November, 1967.

Inspired by a life-sized chess game, Six begins canvassing his own pieces, fellow prisoners, as he’s reasoned out how to tell the difference between prisoners and guardians, and assembling a team and a plan to escape the Village once and for all.

Number Two, meanwhile, has machinations of his own in play, including the Pavlovian conditioning of some of the prisoners, and the use of hypnosis to use the Queen chess piece (Rosalie Crutchley) against Six.

The schemes of both sides seem to be developing towards success until things start happening a little too quickly during the escape, and Six makes a last ditch attempt at getting out to sea and escaping.

But there are betrayals, intentional and otherwise, as pieces are moved and gambits are played.

This episode, while not exploring it, suggests that not all the residents of the Village are prisoners, and that it’s possible that some may have chosen to be the voluntarily. We also learn that agents aren’t the only types being held prisoner, there are scientists, like the Rook (Ronald Radd) who simply have ideologies that are opposite to those in control, and could be considered treasonous by their respective governments.

There’s a lot of subtext in these episodes, and I think that is one of the things that allows the series to endure.

Hammer Into Anvil first aired on 1 December, 1967, and was written by Roger Woddis. There’s another Number Two (Patrick Cargill), who has a bit of a sadistic streak, and has pushed a young woman so far in an interrogation that she commits suicide.

Six vows vengeance on him right away, and puts a plan into action that makes Two believe that Six is reporting to Two’s higher-ups, and is making recommendations about him and the Village, and has conscripted a number of the guardians, scientists and more into working with him.

Six shows how easy it is to manipulate Two into believing what he wants, and Two begins to fall apart very quickly, descending into paranoia and mistrust, all because Six knows how to play the system.

It’s a fun episode, and shows that Six is very much the equal of anybody in the Village, but if that’s the case, why is it so hard for him to escape? In fact, he doesn’t even seem worried about that this episode, he’s simply intent on bringing Two down for his involvement in the young woman’s death.

The Prisoner remains a smart and engaging series, hallucinatory and challenging, and I have seven episodes left…

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