14. Living in Harmony
We want information.
A sheriff (known as the Stranger; Number Six) resigns, is attacked, and dragged to the Wild West town of Harmony. There, he meets the town mayor, the Judge. After refusing to assume the mantel of town lawman, the Stranger is taken into protective custody as refuge from an angry mob of townsfolk. In the jail, he is guarded by a silent psychopath gunslinger, The Kid. The Judge accedes to the replacement of the Stranger with another prisoner, who is lynched to appease the crowd. He was the brother of Kathy, the saloon madam, and she aids the Stranger in an escape attempt. The Stranger is recaptured, but Kathy is imprisoned this time and receives the unwanted attentions of The Kid. The Stranger agrees to wear the sheriff’s badge but refuses a gun. Before he can escape Harmony with Kathy, The Kid kills her. The Stranger turns in his badge and shoots The Kid dead during a showdown. Returning to the saloon he is involved in a shootout, which ends when the Judge kills him. Six awakes wearing headphones and discovers familiar characters posed around the saloon location, but in the form of cardboard cut-outs. This was an experiment by Two (the Judge) and Eight (The Kid), aided by 22 (Kathy) to extract information, but it has been an abject failure. 22, upset by her complicity, returns to the saloon where Eight, who has become obsessed with her, strangles her. Two arrives to see Eight topple over a balcony and die.
So how do you like it?
The series’ pre-penultimate episode filmed is a western “filler”, partly shot on location in Wales. Thus, it follows in the not-so-illustrious tradition of Yankophile productions such as… Carry on Cowboy and Doctor Who’s The Gunfighters. Later there would be The Goodies’ Bunfight at the O.K. Tearooms, which transposed business to Cornwall. And Edgar Wright’s best forgotten A Fistful of Fingers. It’s one thing to take the piss, but embracing the iconography of a genre with different cultural and geographic markers can be a tricky business. The final product is prone to looking a bit silly, or just plain rubbish, even when mockery is your goal. Living in Harmony just about manages a pass on that score, but the episode is never more than indulgence; an unnecessary résumé of the series’ premise lacking sufficiently original ingredients to justify its existence.
That’s probably because it didn’t need to justify itself. Co-writer Ian Rakoff, whose script was reworked by director, and series producer, David Tomblin, says McGoohan just plain liked the idea of making a western. And so it came to be. Of the three filler episodes, it can at least be said they incrementally improve in quality (the next one is top notch, fully exploring the series’ triptastic possibilities). Tomblin, who may never be surpassed as “the finest first assistant director in the business” only rarely dabbled with the full credit. His UFO work is some of the most interesting of that show (The Cat with Ten Lives, featuring Harmony’s Alex Kanner, is particularly arresting). On The Prisoner he co-penned the opener and wrote/directed this and The Girl Who Was Death.
As director, Tomblin takes on board both the classics of the genre and the then current Spaghetti Western subgenre. The script too, as normative as it is, broaches the brutality of the Italian subgenre and the more archetypal noble lawman of the 1940s and 1950s. The town was shot on the MGM backlot, which provides for a reasonable variation of the Wild West town, but nothing here can really mask the feeling that this is budget fare. Leone et al had production values money couldn’t buy through decamping to Spain. Harmony may have been the most expensive episode of The Prisoner, and Tomblin chooses his shots with expectedly loving care, but the trappings never lend themselves to more than a sense of the cast playing at fancy dress. The dubious accents (McGoohan included, speaking through the side of his mouth in an unconvincing drawl) don’t help. There’s even a crazy Mexican with terrible teeth (Larry Taylor, who also appeared as a gypsy in Many Happy Returns).
The big problem with Living in Harmony is that, aside from the extremes of The Kid (Kanner) subplot, the writing is so damn predictable and unchallenging. It takes Number Six’s predicament (living in the Village or living in Harmony; either way, he cannot escape) and overlays a familiar High Noon vibe. Six is subject to similar coercion to that of the Village, following a similar resignation. So The Judge who runs the town is Number Two, pressing him and manipulating him, and Six faces the dilemma of bringing order to a corrupt town. There are overt heavies (The Kid) and damsels in distress/femme fatales (Kathy, the saloon madam who hides her tender heart beneath a confident exterior; Valerie French, who also appeared in Connery western Shalako). The problem is, one can’t, or at least shouldn’t, expect their audience to be happy with nothing more than a straight-up transposition. There’s barely a moment in Harmony where something smart or different has been done with the genre overcoat. Not until the last 10 minutes in fact, when the conceit is dropped and Six returns to the Village (the virtual reality device is given little support, and the connective flesh is highly flawed, but I still find it difficult to believe that McGoohan initially had no plans to overtly link the episode to the Village).
There’s nothing wrong with a pastiche per se, but it’s usually easy to identify the ones content to rest on the paraphernalia they appropriate. Nine months after Harmony aired in the UK, Star Trek’s patchy third season delivered Spectre of the Gun. It was one of the better episodes of that run, replaying the events of the O.K. Corral with members of the Enterprise crew and achieving an at-times Twilight Zone-esque strangeness. Harmony eschews anything of that order, which seems like a missed opportunity. Wasn’t the leaking in of reality one of the best elements of A. B. and C.? Perhaps the decision was consciously made not to go that route as the parallels would be too obvious but without it the episode is disappointingly simplistic and linear. The best compliment I can pay the series in general is that this seems beneath The Prisoner, in a similar fashion to Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (which stole Harmony’s title) slumming it with a moribund continent-hopping spy yarn.
If the structure is formulaic (escape, capture, confrontation, liberally interspersed with fisticuffs), and certain of the characters are tried and tested standards, Tomblin scores with the way he depicts The Kid. Clad in dungarees over a union suit, and a top hat that evokes the retro-modern vibe of the series but this time with an impertinent leer, Kanner’s performance is perhaps the series’ most unremittingly unwholesome. Various regions in the UK may have made cuts to the episode on the grounds of violence (or broadcast it later in the evening), but the Kid’s obsession with Kathy is more disturbing than any of the violence on display (a scene where he shoots a guy who talked fancy to Kathy, is also very effective). His silent, antic disposition nurses brutality, lust, and rape. Tomblin favours shooting The Kid at low angles, making him the more imposing and off balance. Kanner’s performance is one of stares, blinks, and twitching eyes; it doesn’t need to be subtle because its entire purpose is to intimidate, which it does. At one point he moves into the camera, and goes out of focus.
That said, Harmony also features the most extreme violence the series has seen; a lynching utilising point-of-view camerawork, The Kid forcing himself on Kathy then strangling her when she repels him (biting his lip, giving him a vampiric quality). Kanner is the best aspect of the episode, and it’s easy to see why McGoohan brought him back for the finale and why Tomblin re-employed him for UFO.
Is The Kid (Number Eight) the same character as Number 48 in Fall Out? The argument against is the little fact that he dies at the end of Harmony. But, as has been pointed out, so does Leo McKern’s Number Two, and he is revived by Village technology. The link wants to be made, and McGoohan is clearly doing nothing to discourage it; The Kid of Living in Harmony becomes the representative of wayward youth in Fall Out. His musical speech pattern there is in step the broken sing-song final lines here (“Not going to hit me no more, Judge, No more”). And to crown the comparison, so to speak, the last appearance of 48 finds him sporting that same top hat. A mention too for Kanner’s excellent death scene; we aren’t sure who was the quickest draw, and The Kid holsters his gun as if his job is done. Only then does he drop to the ground.
Kathy, as Six’s female co-conspirator, bears comparison with any number of prior female supporting roles. While, as per usual, Six shows no inclination of romantic interest, hers in him is perhaps the most overt of any female in the series who has not been medicated (it appears that those collaborating in the process have not consumed hallucinogenic drugs like Six). Indeed, she says, “I wish it had been real” after succumbing to Eight’s violent mitts. That, combined with The Kid’s predatory disposition, also makes this the most sexualised episode in the series (it’s interesting that an episode alluding to the States should embrace sex and violence on a relative scale). French is very good, both as Kathy and 22; as with Kanner, she rises above the material (Mary Morris aside, French’s might be the strongest performance from an actress in the series).
The Judge: What were your reasons?
The Stranger: My reasons.
David Bauer, a veteran of ITC productions including The Saint and The Baron who also guested twice on The Avengers, was an American actor who found more regular employment on settling in the UK. As such he’s an easy fit for a cast struggling with their transatlantic vowels, and he’s a confident imposing presence. Unfortunately, there’s little else to really make the Judge stand out. He questions the sheriff on why he turned in his badge, tells him he will fall into line, and predictably finishes in a state of defeat. He has eyes everywhere, of course, so he can dispense with a potential collaborator with barely a flick of the wrist. As with a number of other Twos, the threat of consequences is more motivating than the goal of success itself (“It’s okay for you. I have to answer for this failure” he tells Eight).
The Stranger: I agreed to wear the badge but not the gun.
The Judge: It’s a start. You’ll find it’s a tough town without a gun.
As for Six, it’s another episode where he isn’t all that interesting. The new wardrobe and untended accent failure to muster anything distinctive beneath. That’s because, as with everything else in the plot, this is only reheating his motivation. His rebellion against being forced back into the role of sheriff meets with peer pressure to take up arms to protect them (“Get some guns on, sheriff”). The townsfolk are sheep doing the beckoning of Two (even when they despise him). At one point the Stranger sounds like he’s prefiguring Pacino in The Godfather Part III (“Last time I got out, they dragged me back”).
A fair bit has been written about why this episode wasn’t aired on first run in the States, but the interpretation that it was down to a “pacifist” stance in the era of Vietnam is the most obtuse (another has the objection being its depiction of drug use). It’s true that Six refuses to pick up a gun… until he doesn’t. He also shows no disinclination to give Harmonites a ruddy good thumping whenever it proves necessary. Perhaps the distinction the writers want to make is that Six doesn’t consider it right to mete out final justice from a position of power (he surrenders the badge when he takes up arms). Or maybe it’s due to recognition that this is a personal, not professional, retribution. Notably, though, Six only kills someone in his own mind. Eight self-immolates by tumbling over a banister. My favourite Stranger moment has him correct the Judge’s grammar.
The Judge: You’ve already taken a job? With who?
The Stranger: With whom.
One of the slightly divergent elements of Harmony might be viewed as providing a clue to the bigger picture. If Six fully embraces the role of Sheriff, rather than reluctantly, he will become the Number One in the town and eclipse the power of the Judge. Is that what the Village is designed for, encouraging him to recognise and accept who he really is? His own malign nature?
The conclusion is one of Harmony’s most problematic elements. The reveal takes shape with flair as Six, shot in grotesque close-up, comes to on the floor of the saloon wearing headphones and a microphone. There and outside he discovers a succession of life-size cardboard cut-outs, from The Kid to a horse. It’s a level of oddness the episode has hitherto desperately needed. Alas, it is quickly diminished when Six climbs a hill and… there’s the good old Village just over the top. Coo, really? As usual Six’s strong mind is remarked on by those who conducted the experiment, led by Number Eight (“Interesting that he could separate fact from fantasy so quickly”). Two’s admonishment (“I told you it couldn’t work”) isn’t such a surprise since mind alteration and brainwashing has hitherto met with zero success (A. B. and C., The Schizoid Man, Dance of the Dead, A Change of Mind).
Six: It seems I’m not the only one who… got involved.
Then, almost as an afterthought, we learn the role-play has deeply disturbed Eight, who has become obsessed with 22/Kathy in real life. We’re given no clue as to why this should be (after all, Kathy falling for Six is a result of sympathising with his plight; it doesn’t require a change of personality). Since Eight has clearly commandeered this procedure many times before, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense other than as dramatic device to show real world consequences (the moral can’t be that drugs will mess you up though; perhaps it’s don’t mess with Number Six). And Eight’s interaction with Two displays no strain, making it all the more out-of-the-blue.
The ending, with Eight strangling 22, just seems cruel and unnecessary. It requires prefiguring to justify the excess (we only meet these characters in the last fifth of the episode). Not only is it unpleasant, the set-up is also rather lazy as it requires Six to be out on an evening stroll and come running in at just-too-late a moment. As for Six’s parting line (“It seems I’m not the only one who… got involved”) it’s so morally vague as to be abstruse.
When I first saw The Prisoner on a Channel 4 run in the early ’90s, I managed to miss Living in Harmony. Perhaps because of the images I had seen, I expected something more on the surreal and phantasmagorical side. Maybe that anticipation informed an unfair critical eye when I finally saw it. But I don’t think so. The odd character aside (The Kid) this is a very ordinary affair. It’s well made but, if the idea is to take pleasure from seeing Six deposited in a different yet familiar setting, it succeeds only on those terms. To truly make its mark a vital ingredient Living in Harmony lacks was required; inspiration.