Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.
I knew a couple things going in. One, I knew this was by general agreement the penultimate episode. Two, I knew...well, I knew Two - specifically that Leo McKern would return to play him. First the episode order. No listing I've seen has placed this anywhere else (although its shooting order and production code - whatever that is - were sixth and thirteenth according to Wikipedia). So clearly something important was going to happen in "Once Upon a Time." And indeed, at the end of the episode Number Two, Six asks be taken to see Number One and apparently gets his wish. That's would be pretty hard to slot elsewhere in the lineup, especially if the finale does indeed begin with Six meeting One. As for Number Two, while I knew about McKern's casting I wasn't sure how it would be handled onscreen. To my mild surprise, it was fully acknowledged. "I know you," Six remarks on hearing Two's voice, and to both his superiors (over the phone) and to Six, Two says, "I've been here before." This in itself is an anomaly; every episode is usually careful not to reference the events of others (although the earlier repeat Two appearance edges pretty close to this line). While both of these facts are small, they - especially the first - affected my attitude going in. I wonder if I would have experienced "Once Upon a Time" as something more routine had its placement been more random, or if I would have sensed something afoot right away. In other words, was the episode's unique quality in my own head or inherent in the material? I'm not sure, and that uncertainty is indicative of the episode as a whole. This is a thoroughly strange fifty minutes, fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. It's pretty brilliant, and I'm not sure I liked it. The episode crawls inside your head and insinuates itself in your consciousness, appropriately for a show about brainwashing.