The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E17 Fall Out
1 February 1968
Written by Patrick McGoohan
Directed by Patrick McGoohan
Story: Having defeated Number Two, Number Six/Prisoner is brought to meet Number One. There are, however, a few formalities first…
Who is Number Two? Leo McKern
Guest Cast: Kenneth Griffith, Alexis Kanner, Peter Swanwick, Angelo Muscat
Information: So, we come to the final episode of The Prisoner, the one with all the answers. Well, maybe not! Following a recap of an apparently random series of scenes from the preceding Once Upon A Time, the final episode of The Prisoner opens with a caption card thanking Sir Clough Williams-Ellis for the use of the North Wales resort of Portmeirion as a primary filming location on the series—creator and star Patrick McGoohan had an agreement not to reveal the location until the series final episode.
With Lew Grade having pulled the plug on a full second season of another 13 episodes of the show, McGoohan was faced with wrapping up the series in short order. Having repurposed the earlier-shot Once Upon A Time (originally entitled Degree Absolute) as the first part of a two-episode conclusion, McGoohan scripted and shot a new ending which saw Number Six taken by the Controller (Swanwick) to meet Number One following his victory over Number Two.
According to production paperwork, the shoot on Fall Out took 12 days during November 1967 alongside pick-up filming for another preceding episode, The Girl Who Was Death. Indeed, Fall Out repurposes several sets and actors from that episode, including the rocketship control room and Kenneth Griffith (no longer Number Two, now the Judge or the President). Alexis Kanner, from Living in Harmony and who had briefly appeared in The Girl Who Was Death, was also retained to play Number 48, embodying the 1960s conception of ‘youth’.
As there was almost a full year between the filming of Once Upon a Time and Fall Out, Leo McKern looks rather different than he appeared then. As the episodes were broadcast one after the other, McKern’s Number Two is not only revived from death but given something of a makeover in the process (McKern’s shorter dyed hair was for a stage role he was then playing). McKern had a difficult time working with McGoohan, yet he appears in three episodes of the series (including The Chimes of Big Ben). According to Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner Official Companion, he regarded McGoohan as a bully as he was something of a tyrant on set. This supposedly contributed to McKern’s poor health during the filming of Once Upon a Time. However, he seems to have been happy enough to return a year later for the series final episode.
While the script was written rather quickly for Fall Out, Alex Cox maintains it was not written, filmed, and completed in the two-week period suggested by Fairclough. In I Am (Not) A Number, Cox uses the show’s production paperwork to highlight that shooting took place two months before transmission at the beginning of February 1968. The problem facing McGoohan was that he nor anyone else on the production had actually considered how the series would end or how the identity of Number One would be revealed (if it ever was). Producer David Tomblin recalled there had been various conversations and ideas put forward early in production, but nothing definite had been decided, until circumstances forced McGoohan into a corner. Presumably Fall Out, as it was entirely under McGoohan’s control, reflects some of those earlier ideas, filtered through his experience of producing the series previous 16 instalments.
There was little location work for Fall Out, and none filmed in Portmeirion itself. Much of the location footage involved the journey of the lorry in which the Prisoner, Number Two, the Butler, and Number 48 escape to London in. Central London locations featured, and the show returned to where it began, at No. 1 Buckingham Place, where the door of the Prisoner’s flat closes behind the Butler automatically with a sound any attentive viewer of the series would recognise. The material depicting the evacuation of The Village was put together using material previously filmed but not used in any episodes, as well as shots lifted from earlier instalments, especially Arrival and The General.
What’s it All Mean? Fall Out is open to any number of interpretations—and has been over the 50 years since it was first transmitted. Many have tried to figure out what the message was, what McGoohan was trying to say (although if they hadn’t got that from the previous episode, they simply hadn’t been paying attention). There is no definitive answer to Fall Out or to The Prisoner as a whole. It relies upon the single thing that McGoohan was championing throughout the series: individuality. Everyone is free to take what they might from the series and put their own spin on the final episode. To that end there have been left wing, right wing, libertarian and other analysis of the final instalment, and all have been equally valid. McGoohan provided a text with no single meaning, no overall answer to the puzzle, except that which each individual viewer him/herself brings to it.
However, there are some obvious topics featured in Fall Out. The ‘establishment’ versus the upcoming generation is a major one, with McGoohan himself falling in between the ‘old guard’ and rising ‘youth’. It is through Kanner’s Number 48 that McGoohan (who has little dialogue himself in the episode) captures the spirit of rebellion that was abroad in the late-1960s. Whether such rebellion can be productive or is simply destructive is a question raised, but never answered. As ever, McGoohan was influenced by the world around him and his own personal reactions to it.
In an environment that recalls nothing less than one of James Bond’s adversaries hidden lairs, Number Six is given back his identity (although the caption over the character driving away in his Lotus continues to label him ‘Prisoner’), returned to his civilian dress and given the best seat in the house (a literal throne) to watch as The Village bureaucracy attempts to deal with him. There is much obfuscation, but the choice is ultimately a simple one: ‘Lead us… or go.’ Although he is provided with (and takes) money and a passport, this Prisoner has no intention of leaving The Village intact.
Before the revolution, he has one final bit of outstanding business: the much-vaunted meeting with Number One. Here, McGoohan becomes ever more esoteric in his choices. The white robed figure he unmasks in the rocketship control room is shown to be wearing another mask underneath, that of a monkey. Under that mask, the Prisoner confronts nothing less than his own face—his jailer, Number One, is himself. It is little wonder that audiences expecting a Bond-style finish to the series were thrown by this revelation: how could McGoohan be both Number Six (prisoner) and Number One (jailer) at the same time? No wonder certain members of that dissatisfied audience apparently wanted to lynch the show’s creator/star.
Of course, McGoohan doesn’t intend the image to be taken literally. He is clearly playing on the idea that man’s greatest enemy is himself—it is humankind’s worst aspects that hold back its finest. Progress is often followed by re-entrenchment by reactionary forces (McGoohan would easily recognise the world of 2018, despite the fact that many would hold it is very different from that of 1968). McGoohan’s message is ultimately simple: there can be no escape from oneself (personally or politically).
That’s Weird! Rover, the large white balloon-like security guard/punishment machine that was last seen occupying Number Two’s distinctive ball-shaped chair in his office, was disposed of in Fall Out. Towards the end of the series, Rover is seen to ‘melt’ away as all hell breaks loose in The Village, presumably returning to a dormant state, or perhaps simply ceasing to exist. The effect was supposedly inspired by Alexis Kanner dropping ice cream into his coffee, only to see it bubble and melt away.
Punch Ups! None, really, although there is one almighty gun battle (McGoohan’s only accommodation of those expecting an all-action finale—all the elements are there from a rocket, military guards, and an evil overlord). The Prisoner does do battle with various Village henchmen, aided by a rebelling Number Two, the Butler, and Number 48. This trio destroy the underground lair, leading to the abandonment of The Village.
Trivia: At the height of their popularity in the second half of the 1960s, The Beatles were notoriously picky about the use of their music in film and television. While some was licensed, it was often for a single use only. This approach meant that their music had to be removed from a trio of Doctor Who stories when they came to be released on home formats (The Chase and Remembrance of the Daleks on VHS and DVD; the mostly missing Evil of the Daleks on CD). However, The Prisoner’s music editor Eric Mirval was unusually far-sighted, securing the use of The Beatles ‘All You Need is Love’ for Fall Out in perpetuity for the one-off payment of just $60. Was John Lennon a secret fan of The Prisoner, or was a simple error made? Whichever, that is why audiences can enjoy Fall Out today as it was originally transmitted, complete with ‘All You Need is Love’ scoring scenes of mayhem and gunfire!
Verdict: It may not have been the finale that viewers at the time wanted or expected, but Patrick McGoohan’s closing episode of The Prisoner is as oddball and enigmatic as the series had always been and as its creator would continue to be throughout his life.
Score (Out of Six): Six (could it be anything else?)