Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Memoriam: Patrick McGoohan

I'm not sure where I first heard of the remarkable television show The Prisoner. Like other cult television shows (Twin Peaks being the most obvious example), The Prisoner had an extremely brief run, from October 1967 to February 1968, but has come to loom large in the pop culture imagination. Maybe I was familiar with the concept from the Simpsons episode "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes," a terrific Prisoner parody of which no YouTube clip seems to exist, sadly. In any case, I received the complete series DVD set for Christmas 2004 and watched it in its entirety over the next six months.

It was a happy time in my life. I was a sophomore in college, living in a tiny Lower East Side apartment with my boyfriend and my best friend. The apartment was advertised as a two-bedroom, but was in fact a one-bedroom. My boyfriend and I slept in what was meant to be the living room, which featured the only two windows that let in natural light (the rest looked out on airshafts). Our futon was pressed up against the windows, and it was freezing in the winter. My mild domestic impulses seemed like hysteria in contrast to the laissez-faire housekeeping of my roommates, who left snail trails of library books and sweaters in their wake as they moved through the three rooms. The bathroom was coated in tiny curly black hairs and the kitchen was almost always dirty. I had never been so happy in my entire life.

During our frequent breaks from reading Orientalism and writing about the fluidity of gender roles my boyfriend and I would sit down and watch an episode or three of The Prisoner. What joy the opening sequence always brought us:

And what happiness to hear the series' star, Patrick McGoohan, intone some of his immortal phrases. Our particular favorite was his send-off, "Be seeing you," of which my boyfriend could do a killer impersonation. More than forty years after the show was on the air, he and I had become rabid Prisoner fans. The series is terribly smart, engaging and challenging a variety ideologies. Even in its missteps - there's an entire Western-themed episode, which didn't work for me - it never condescends to the viewer. Plus, it features a villainous weather balloon.

The news that the show's star, ice-cold badass Patrick McGoohan, died yesterday at age 80 filled me with a sadness I can attribute to more than my hatred of the freezing weather. On The Prisoner he rode the line between camp and cool like it was a British sports car or a crazy-ass bicycle. Rest in peace, Number Six. Be seeing you.


Axel said...

Aww. This is a really wonderful tribute to the man, Lise. Be seeing you!

Axel said...

Also, the art of Kosho:

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