The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E14 Living in Harmony
29 December 1967
Written by David Tomblin (story by David Tomblin and Ian L. Rakoff)
Directed by David Tomblin
Story: Number Six finds himself in the Old West, in a town called Harmony that is reminiscent of a certain Village…
Who is The Judge? David Bauer (also Number Two)
Guest Cast: Alexis Kanner, Valerie French
Wells Fargo Despatches: As a teenager when The Prisoner was first re-run on British television on Channel Four in 1983-1984, I was astonished when this instalment appeared. My parents were sick of hearing me go on about ‘the one when The Prisoner was a Western!’ It wasn’t that I was particularly a fan of Westerns, it was just that even in the context of The Prisoner, which as it went on had gradually become less like most other television shows of the 1960s, Living in Harmony was something of a further departure. Of course, I’d read as much as I could gather about classic 1960s television (which wasn’t much except library books before I discovered magazines like Primetime), but actually experiencing The Prisoner for myself was something else, especially this offbeat episode.
Completely lacking the usual title sequence, the episode wrong-foots the viewer from the off, with a Old West-set recreation of Number Six’s resignation, this time as a Sheriff turning in his badge and gun. Why? His reasons are his own. It’s a clever re-encapsulation of the basics of the show in a most surprising context. After that, the familiar situations of The Village and Number Two are recreated in the form of the Western town of Harmony (which Number Six cannot leave—his early escape attempt is thwarted and he’s dragged back) and The Judge (David Bauer), the Old West equivalent of Number Two. The Judge runs the town, has his enforcer thugs, and controls the populace—just as Number Two does in The Village.
This was the second episode made in the second production block following the departure of George Markstein as script editor. As far as Markstein was concerned, The Prisoner was a direct follow-on from Danger Man, and Patrick McGoohan was playing a version of John Drake who has resigned, becomes a victim of what we’d now term ‘extraordinary rendition’ and is sent to The Village. When Markstein left, producer—and McGoohan’s partner in Everyman Films—David Tomblin took greater control over the series, especially in McGoohan’s absence during the making of Ice Station Zebra (see Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling). The final batch of episodes are heavily reconfigured through Tomblin’s approach to The Prisoner, resulting in a very different show from the one Markstein thought he was making. Fairy tale and fantasy dominate Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Living in Harmony, and The Girl Who Was Death. McGoohan takes firm control once again for the two-part finale, Once Upon a Time and Fall Out, but Tomblin still had huge input.
Patrick McGoohan was a big fan of Westerns, and it was this interest that played into the creation of Living in Harmony. It had become clear that the basics of The Prisoner were well established, and that Number Six could never escape, otherwise that would be the end of the show. Although it came in the second production block, it appears that the ‘mission of the week’ format of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling may have been Markstein’s approach to extending the life of the series. McGoohan and Tomblin had a more imaginative approach when they realised that in accepting that Number Six can never escape, they could do almost anything they wished within the confines of The Village. Why not, in that case, do an episode that was a Western, or an episode that is presented as a fairy tale (The Girl Who Was Death)? Anything was possible.
With Markstein’s post unfilled, there was a free-for-all in ideas, with assistant editor Ian Rakoff putting together an initial concept that caught McGoohan’s eye. Rather than reproduce a standard Western however, those creating Living in Harmony drew upon the 1960s vogue for deconstructing the Western, as seen in the work of Robert Aldrich, Sam Peckinpah, and Budd Boetticher, that picked apart the archetypes and settings of the classic work of John Ford and others. Also in their mind was the popular genre of ‘spaghetti Westerns’, especially the films of Sergio Leone, whose first instalment in the Dollars trilogy—A Fistful of Dollars (1964)—had been belatedly released in the UK in April 1967. McGoohan’s ‘The Stranger’ version of Number Six could easily fit Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name poncho.
Shot over five weeks, instead of the normal two, this was one of the most elaborate (and the most violent) episodes of The Prisoner. With increased stunt work, a larger cast of physically active extras, and greater pre-production, much of the preparatory work was done while McGoohan was absent filming Ice Station Zebra. A telegram to co-star Alexis Kanner suggested that McGoohan was preparing by taking quick draw lessons from Steve McQueen, resulting in Kanner stepping up his own practise. French-born Kanner—who died in 2003, aged 61—had featured in Softly, Softly and quickly became a favourite of McGoohan’s (hence his swift return to the series, despite Number 8’s demise in Living in Harmony). Valerie French (Kathy) had several real Westerns in her filmography, including Jubal (1956) and two episodes of TV’s Have Gun-Will Travel (in 1959 and 1960). She died in 1990, aged 62. The Number Two substitute, The Judge, was played by American blacklist fugitive David Bauer, who was a regular face in several ITC shows. He’s an interesting choice given that Living in Harmony explicitly riffs on 1952’s High Noon, itself a response to the American McCarthy anti-Communist blacklist.
What’s it All Mean? Living in Harmony is a wonderful deconstruction of the Western genre, although whether it veers into cliché or simply plays with the tropes is very much in the eye of the beholder. The presentation of this episode is entirely suitable to The Prisoner, given that everyone in it (more than usual, even) is playing a role—The Stranger, The Judge, The Kid, The Saloon Girl. Everyone in The Village is trapped in a role not of their own making, and so it is here for Number Six and everyone surrounding him. The deconstruction of the Western genre was all the rage in the late-1950s and into the 1960s as tired old tropes were revitalised through new approaches, often from radical writers. This episode of The Prisoner fits in that vein.
Explicitly, to the extent that it saw the episode initially banned in the US [see Trivia], McGoohan uses Living in Harmony to tackle notions of pacifism. The refusal of The Stranger/Number Six to pick up a gun (even when forced into the role of Harmony Sheriff over his compassion for Kathy) is the backbone of the story; it is what brings him increasingly into conflict with The Judge and with the generally understood rules of the town (The Village). His refusal to conform to type echoes many other episodes of the show and would inform the confrontation with the growing 1960s youth-driven counter-culture in episodes like Once Upon A Time and Fall Out.
The method by which the immersion of Number Six in the Old West environment is achieved is never fully explained. Number Two throws out some stuff about drugs, and the main participants all seem to be wearing headphones/microphones: ‘Fill him with hallucinatory drugs. Put him in a dangerous environment. Talk to him through microphones. Give him love, take it away. Isolate him. Make him kill, then face him with death. He’ll crack. Break him, even in his mind, and the rest will be easy.’
The town of Harmony resembles a Western back lot because that is exactly what it is, seemingly an adjunct to The Village itself. The mix of drugs, VR simulation, and real world theme park is ahead of its time (but not unique). The use of cardboard cutouts (perhaps we’d term them ‘avatars’ today?) for the main characters after Number Six exits the simulation is inspired (Tomblin’s idea, apparently). The use of VR as a method of extracting information (the reason for Number Six’s resignation, as always) is interesting. Of course, in a modern television context it is hard to avoid the echoes of Living in Harmony in the HBO series Westworld, in which participants holiday in a fully-immersive Old West theme park (drawn from Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie—maybe he saw Living in Harmony in the US in 1968?). In the context of Living in Harmony, the after effects of VR immersion on both Number 8/The Kid and Number 22/Kathy are interesting—more than Number Six they find it difficult to escape the ‘make believe’ of the VR simulation and recapitulate their fake roles in real life. Number Six gets his vicarious revenge for Kathy’s death through Number 8’s suicide—after all, look at the lengths he went to in avenging the death of a woman he didn’t even know in Hammer Into Anvil…
Oddly, the conceit of Number Six’s immersion in the simulation is rather broken when the viewer is witness to scenes involving townsfolk for which Number Six is not present—they serve no purpose in terms of the simulation. If made today, the production would no doubt have gone to greater lengths to structure things as seen entirely through the participation of Number Six. Maybe McGoohan and co. simply didn’t want to tip their hat too early to any more than usually attentive 1960s viewers who could guess what they were up to?
That’s Weird! Well, the whole episode is weird in the context of the regular show, but beyond that the non-speaking character of The Kid is an odd one. He’s the archetypal young gunman, but he’s depicted as seemingly mute (echoing the diminutive figure of the silent butler, absent from this episode), perhaps lacking in education, and physically and sexually aggressive—that doesn’t seem to follow any particular Western archetype (although I’m not as well-versed in Westerns to be sure). Perhaps oddest of all, following one of the streets confrontations, there’s a random kid (an actual child, not another young gunman!) in the shot—was it ‘bring your kid to work day’ or what? [Apparently, according to Robert Fairclough, this was in fact the young son of assistant director Gino Marotta, who seems to have been caught in the frame in all his 1960s finery by accident.] BTW, who is The Bishop and when exactly is he coming and for what reason? Enquiring minds need to know…
Duels in the Sun: Almost immediately, the Old West version of Number Six finds himself in a fist fight, first with a seemingly lone opponent, before the rest of his gang turn up to whisk him off to Harmony—it’s the equivalent of the Hearse and the gas from the usual title sequence. Arriving in the Saloon, Number Six almost immediately lands a punch on The Kid (he did shoot his whisky, so that’s justified). Later, still refusing to arm himself, Number Six’s reluctant Sheriff gets into a rumble with Zeke and his gang of misfits in the Harmony’s main (only?) street.
Trivia: This episode was originally dropped from the US transmission of the series in 1968 due to its perceived pacifist message at a time when the on-going conflict in Vietnam was proving ever more controversial, especially in the conscription of America’s youth into the Army. The official reason given for not screening the episode, however, was its focus on the use of ‘mind-altering drugs’, which is less than valid as there had been a more overt focus on drugs in earlier episodes that were screened in the US. Maybe, as Alex Cox speculates, this episode was simply too ‘out there’ for the US and French broadcasters who failed to screen it as it broke with the spy genre conventions that (barely) signified an episode of The Prisoner.
Verdict: Top marks for chutzpah, but despite the innovative approach, Living in Harmony can be rather slow at times as it simply replays many of the dilemmas that Number Six has previously faced albeit in a fresh, unique context. Top marks for anticipating VR/theme parks, too…
Score (Out of Six): Four
Brian J. Robb