The Prisoner

The Prisoner TV series, 1967-1968, 4 ½ stars

Ranking The Prisoner

Photos copyright ITC/Everyman Films

Exclusive to MeierMovies, June 16, 2015

Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner is to television science fiction what Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is to cinematic sci-fi. It broke new ground. Heck, it dug ground we didn’t even know was there. (Cordless phones, anyone?) And even taking into account the disappointment of the last three episodes, the show remains a stylish and clever concoction of fantasy, science fiction, politics, paranoia and social commentary.

Countless articles on the overall show have been written since the last episode aired in 1968, so I won’t attempt – and likely fail – to add anything new to that discussion. But one thing I haven’t seen is a ranking of all the episodes in order of quality, so that’s what I present here.

If you’re not familiar with The Prisoner and would like to watch just the best episodes, let this list be a guide. It is possible, after all, to view a small handful of episodes and still understand most of the series. So if you’re looking for a Cliff’s Notes, so to speak, of the show, I’d suggest starting with episode 1 (Arrival) and following that with four or five others. (Keep in mind this article uses the ITC/American numbering of episodes, which is the order in which the episodes aired in the United States and were originally intended to air in England. For more on the correct order, see Wikipedia.)

the-prisonerRegrettably, there is no need to watch the final episode. You will get no real answers. Yes, you will get an admittedly brave attempt at pure absurdism, but you will also likely experience the same level of frustration that the original British audience did. Instead, you might treat episode 7 (Many Happy Returns) as the finale. After all, isn’t that the real message of the show: that we can never escape our own prisons, and that we’re all being watched? Sadly, that theme is even clearer today than it was then.

Click on each episode below to access the individual Wikipedia articles.

  1. Episode 7: Many Happy Returns
  2. Episode 5: The Schizoid Man
  3. Episode 2: The Chimes of Big Ben
  4. Episode 1: Arrival
  5. Episode 10: Hammer into Anvil
  6. Episode 14: Living in Harmony
  7. Episode 12: A Change of Mind
  8. Episode 3: A. B. and C.
  9. Episode 9: Checkmate
  10. Episode 6: The General
  11. Episode 4: Free for All
  12. Episode 11: It’s Your Funeral
  13. Episode 13: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
  14. Episode 8: Dance of the Dead
  15. Episode 17: Fall Out
  16. Episode 16: Once Upon a Time
  17. Episode 15: The Girl Who Was Death

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