<Note: While all the characters have numbered badges, they are never addressed by number and I couldn’t make the numbers out. In the credits they are referred to as Rook, Queen, etc. so that’s how I’ll refer to them here>
We open on Rover on morning patrol. Al the Villagers are frozen in place, as they tend to be when Rover is around except for an elderly man with a cane who walks right past Rover with no interference. No. 6 happens to see this and follows the man onto the Village Square, which has a checkerboard pattern. The man grabs 6 and asks if he plays chess. 6 says he does, and he is recruited to be part of a human chess set, acting the part of the Queen’s Pawn. Two players are to sit atop high platforms and announce their moves through a bullhorn, with the human pieces moving accordingly.
6 engages the Queen in conversation, asking if she ever resisted or tried to escape. She informs him that everyone resists, but eventually is either broken or dead. 6’s move is announced, and the game proceeds until the Rook makes an unauthorized move on his own. 6 recognizes a kindred spirit in this small act of rebellion, but before he can make contact, the Rook is hauled off to the hospital for “rehabilitation”.
No. 6 catches up with the Queen after the game, and he continues to question her about attempts to escape, but they are wary of each other. No 2 arrives and invites 6 to the hospital to witness the Rook’s “treatment”. The Rook is the subject of a Pavlovian horror show, and is released, bowed and broken.
No 6 catches up to the Rook and they, too, dance around each other on the subjects of resistance and escape., and how to tell the guards from the real prisoners. 6 has the theory that if he approaches someone in an aggressive manor, that person’s response will indicate their standing. Real prisoners will back down, while guards will push back. They test this theory on several Villagers, and soon have gathered a handful of what they believe to be real prisoners, including the Shopkeeper from Arrival.
Meanwhile No. 2 has had the Queen drugged, and has planted a suggestion that she is madly in love with 6. He gives her a locket to wear containing an “emotional transmitter”. If No. 6 tries to escape, or tries anything at all out of the ordinary, her extreme emotional response will be a signal, because, you know, she’s a female. Meanwhile, No. 6 and the Rook are stealing a radio out of a maintenance cart.
The Queen confronts No. 6 on the beach and professes her love for him. He quickly spots the locket containing the transmitter and takes it, so that’s the end of that, I guess.
6 and the Rook take the radio to the beach that night and broadcast a Mayday. They almost immediately get a response from a ship, the Pelotska, and they disguise their broadcast as coming from a downed plane as they assume (correctly) that their transmission is being monitored by Village security.
The conspirators gather after dark. The Shopkeeper is to head out on a raft and signal the Pelotska. At the same time the others take control of the Village lighthouse, also to signal the ship. They then make their way to the Green Dome, where No. 2 has been listening to the radio chatter. They overcome 2 and tie him up when the signal from the ship suddenly cuts off. 6 decides to check it out while the others stay behind to guard 2.
No. 6 returns to the beach to find the raft empty. He sees the ship offshore and swims for it. He boards the Pelotska and enters the control room only to see a video broadcast of a now-free No. 2 alongside the Rook. No 6 and the Rook accuse each other of betrayal when 2 fortunately expositions. Turns out that not only was the Pelotska a Village vessel, but, because of his authoritarian manner, everyone else in on the escape attempt assumed No. 6 was working for the Village and it was all a set-up, so they turned themselves in. The episode ends with the Butler replacing a piece on a chessboard. It’s the Queen’s Pawn.
The chess metaphor has been a running element in every episode so far, and this one really brings it home. Watching it this week, it seems to me it should be earlier in the running order, probably second, as 6 comments several times on being “new” and still seems to be learning his way around. He also thinks conventional spy techniques will lead to freedom.
I wanted to like this episode more than I do. It’s great that No. 6 is brought down not by the machinations of No. 2 or the Village but by his own hubris. On the other hand, whole segments just make no sense. The subplot with the Queen is just silly and seems like filler. And why take the time to incapacitate No. 2 when rescue is just minutes away, when it just increases the risk of being captured? Also why leave everyone to guard 2 when he is already tied up?
Also, 6 heading for the ship on his own and leaving the others behind is kind of a dick move.
That’s 5 out of McGoohan’s “Essential 7”. Everything else other than the final 2 he considered “filler”, which some of it is, but there’s some really good stuff in there as well.
Next week,The Schizoid Man. Be seeing you (twice).