Synopsis of The Prisoner episode 6 — The General

The following synopsis of The Prisoner episode 6, The General, is by John Peel, ©1985 Speed Learn

As Number 6 [our hero] drinks his coffee in the cafe, a helicopter arrives in the Village. All about are posters with slogans like: "It can be done. Trust me." There is a firm, authoritative face on the posters. Another man, Number 12, is watching him interestedly. There is an announcement from the General's office about a three-part history course. Everyone starts to leave to go for the course, except Number 6. The ancient waiter tells him that "you're never too old to learn." This delightful information comes from the General, of course. He sees another poster which says: "Our aim: one hundred percent entry, one hundred percent pass. It can be done. Trust me." The Professor is to give the lecture in thirty minutes. Number 12 approaches Number 6 about the course — three years' worth of information in three minutes. Number 6 thinks it's far-fetched, but "nothing's impossible in this place." Number 12 claims that he's a cog in the machine. As they talk, an ambulance flashes past, and the copter and a search party head for the beach. They are after the Professor.

Number 6 follows, and sees the chase, as the Professor runs. He discovers a buried tape recorder, the Professor's warning words about Speedlearn. He hides it again in another spot, as the Professor is brought down. Guards arrive, and give Number 6 a lift home for the course. He asks them, without getting an answer, "Who is the General?" Back home, his television comes on, to explain the course. Speedlearn is a revolutionary new technique, it is claimed. The Professor's Wife apologizes for her husband being delayed, then he comes on. He explains that Speedlearn is "a marriage of science and mass communication." It avoids years of tedious learning and waste, and makes the Professor's job obsolete. The General is the one who convinced him that such a thing was possible. A six-month course, "Europe since Napoleon," is to be covered in 15 seconds. A picture of the General appears on the screen, accompanied by tonalities.

As it finishes, Number 2 arrives with Number 12, looking for the missing recorder. Number 2 is certain that Number 6 has it, and offers him amnesty to turn it in. Naturally, Number 6 denies it; anyhow, he knows he cannot trust Number 2. Number 2 loves the Speedlearning — "a great experiment," he calls It. Number 6 thinks nothing happened, until Number 2 asks a question from history, and makes Number 6 parrot phrases planted in his brain that he didn't even know were there. Disturbed, Number 6 calls up the telephone operator, and asks questions. The man parrots back the answers, word for word what Number 6 said... In the evening, he heads for the beach where he hid the recorder, but it is gone. Number 12 is there with it. He suggests it could be Number 6's passport out of this place, and returns it to him. Then he demonstrates how limited the learning is by asking a slightly different question. Number 6's parrot answer is thus wrong. On the tape, the Professor claims that "You are being tricked. Speedlearn is an abomination. It is slavery." Their only chance for freedom is to destroy the General.

The following morning, everyone is in a festive mood, because of the success of the course. Number 2 assures Number 1 that things are in control, and the Professor will co-operate fully from now on. He says, softly, that this is "Probably the most important human experiment we've ever had to conduct. Let's treat it like a military excercise." Number 12 offers his opinion that the Professor is a crank, and a troublemaker. Number 2 dismisses him, annoyed, and heads for the monitor room. He sees the Professor working away, driven now by a compulsion to work. His pages as he finishes them are fed into a machine that produces a computer tape from them. The Professor's wife is in the Village Square, teaching modern art. Number 2 sees Number 6 there, and observes, "How very odd."

Number 6 has a method in his apparent madness. He talks with his wife, who explains some of the theories of these artists. A man is tearing up a book, in the insight that "Construction arises out of the ashes of destruction." A woman standing on her head? "She's developing a new perspective." A man asleep is just a man asleep — we learn only when we want to learn. Number 6 has drawn a picture of the wife as a General. She tears it up, as she claims to be interested in military history. She walks off in a huff, and he follows her to her home. Inside is her studio, with a number of covered busts. It's a very elegant house. She's annoyed to find him here, and claims that she and her husband arrived voluntarily. Number 6 uncovers the busts, the last two being one of himself, and one of Number 2. The real person arrives, and tells Number 6 that the Professor cannot be seen, as he has been sedated. The Prisoner pushes past, and sees a shape in the bed that he strikes with a cane. It is just a plaster cast of the Professor, and shatters. Number 6 hands back the recorder. The Professor's wife is worried that things are going wrong, and that she won't get her husband back, but Number 2 assures her that things are fine.

The Village is still celebrating the fruits of Speedlearn. Number 6 goes home, and switches on the lights, which blows a fuse. An electrician arrives with Number 12. It was deliberate sabotage, and while the electrician is making repairs, Number 12 gives Number 6 a pen that contains an encoded version of the lecture on rebellion from the tape recorder. He asks him to help substitute it for the one going out the following day. He also gives him a pass disc to the meeting room. Number 6 agrees to do it.

In the morning, the Lecture Approval Committee members start arriving, all dressed in dark suits, sunglasses and top hats. One man brings the encoded form of the lecture, which Number 2 takes to the projection room. It's a strip just a few inches long. Then he goes to the meeting, where Number 12 explains the theory. Speedlearn is based on the confidence the students have in "a tried and trusted professor," and the confidence the Professor has in science. The lecture is transmitted through a sublimator, directly onto the cortex of the brain. It is virtually indelible, and one hundred percent effective. Meanwhile, Number 6 has also slipped in, thanks to the token. Knocking out the guards and the projectionist, he places his own "lecture" into the sublimator. Number 2 scans the departments prior to the broadcast, and spots Number 6. He has him knocked out and brought to him.

The transmission goes ahead, using the correct tape. Number 6 is being interrogated successfully by Number 12, while Number 2 examines what Number 6 would have sent, and is amused by the "reactionary drivel" in it. He wants to know who supplied it, but knows that he'll get nothing from Number 6. With the lecture over, the wife calls up to check on her husband. Number 2 informs her that he'll be returned just as soon as he finishes the series of lectures. He then tells Number 6 that she's a wonderful woman. "She'll talk him into anything to keep him alive." Since Number 6 won't answer his questions, he will take him along to the General, who can answer anything, given the right facts.

Number 6 is taken to the General's office, where the Professor is still typing away. He feeds his notes into the encoding machine and gets the computer tape back. It is to be fed into a huge computer — the General. It was created by the Professor, and he both loves and hates it. While he is under control, he must operate it. With the General, education can produce what the Village wants. "A row of cabbages," Number 6 objects. "Indeed," Number 2 agrees. "But knowledgeable cabbages." Though they are now using ancient history, if the course is a success, they will soon be using their own history... He aims to ask the General who the traitor helping Number 6 is. He's already fairly certain it's Number 12, but wants confirmation. To save him being exposed, Number 6 asks for permission to ask a question, which is insoluble. Stung, Number 2 agrees. Number 6 types four characters, then encodes it.

When the Professor feeds it into the machine, it overheats and starts to malfunction. The panel becomes electrified, and the Professor is shocked. Number 12 races to pull him free, but gets electrocuted also. Both are killed, and the computer destroyed. Number 2 wants to know what the question was, and Number 6 tells him. It is insoluble by man or machine: WHY? "Why?" Number 2 asks in anguish... Later, Number 6 visits the Professor's wife to comfort her.

Synopsis of The Prisoner episode 6, by John Peel, ©1985

A complete transcript of the episode

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