Nowhere Man: Episode 05: Paradise on your Doorstep
(The Prisoner episode)
Tom’s Diary Entry:
I used to take photographs for a living. Now to get by, I find myself working on other people’s pictures. Pictures of loved ones. An attempt to preserve memories.
And more than once I have stopped to remember when I had loved ones. When I had memories worth keeping, too.
Tom takes a series of low-profile jobs once he finds out how easy it was for the Organization to track him and set him up when he used Dr. Bellamy’s credit card. In the last episode, he was a cab driver; in this one he works at a one-hour photo-mat. He should have learned from the last job they might try to bait him, but again he falls right into the trap.
Corners may have been on to something when he asked Tom if he’d ever wondered how they always knew what he was thinking.
True to form, Tom ditches his job at the photo-developer’s to follow a customer who had a picture of Alyson on her line, I mean, roll. He does the “follow that car” routine and ends up at a small airport, cornering her in the women’s lavatory.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to ask you a couple questions about the woman in that photograph.”
“I don’t know her. I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
She eyes her purse and she and Tom grab for it. A small gun spills onto the floor. Tom picks it up and trains it on her.
“It’s okay, everybody’s wearing them.”
She tries to leave to avoid his questions, but he gestures with the gun again. He searches her purse a bit more and pulls out a picture of himself in front of some pine trees holding a camera, with an address to the photo shop on the back.
“That part about not hurting you—,” he says with quiet rage, “I’m beginning to have second thoughts."
At gunpoint, Tom forces her to go with him to the small plane waiting for her.
“You’re not going to get away with this,” she insists.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that.”
Inside the plane, Tom forces the pilot to tie up the woman and the copilot. Tom checks over the flight plan from the copilot’s chair.
“Virginia,” he scoffs, “Anywhere near Langley?”
The pilot continues to prep, ignoring the question.
“It’s against regulations to fly without a two man crew."
“Well, I guess we’d just better hope that once we’re up there nobody pulls us over,” Tom retorts.
“Yeah, I know. I’m not gonna get away with this”, Tom says, continuing to study the map.
Once in the air, the pilot tries to get Tom into a conversation. While Tom looks at the map, the pilot turns off the cabin pressure. He puts an oxygen mask on himself, chloroforms the gasping Tom, then resets the cabin pressure.
Tom wakes up in a bed to the sounds of bells, birds and cheerful, distant voices. The first thing he notices is a bracelet on his wrist.
He doesn’t seem to notice that his clothes have changed. As we wander around New Phoenix, it appears that the dress code is business casual. Tom’s usual jeans are gone and khaki’s are in its place.
Fear not, there are none of the traditional piped jackets.
Still in a fog, he makes his way to the front door and opens it.
Tom lives in cottage 1743. He doesn’t get promoted to Number 6 until episode 14.
Two neighbors tending to their yards and flowers greet Tom by name, as if he’s an old friend. A boy in a striped shirt with a remote-control car waves and yells, “Hi, Mr. Veil!” His neighbor, the woman he attempted to kidnap, happily waves from the next porch over.
“Hello, Tom! Welcome home!”
After a cheerful, but evasive conversation about his home away from home, Dee (his kidnap victim) suggests he talk to Number 2.
Oops! Let me rewind that!
After a cheerful, but evasive conversation about his home away from home, Dee (his kidnap victim) suggests he talk to Paul.
There is a gathering at a bandstand in the town square. Members of the community are sharing their gratitude about what Paul has done for them.
“My name’s Roy and I’ve been disenfranchised now for 8 years.”
Paul, a charming, neighborly man with a neatly-trimmed English-professor beard warmly extends a hand to Tom as he introduces himself and welcomes him to New Phoenix. Tom keeps his hands in his trouser pockets, but Paul seems understanding, and responds with, “I’m sure you’re burning with thousands of questions.”
“Yeah, like who the hell are you people and what the hell am I doing here?”
Paul gives Tom the nickel tour of New Phoenix. He explains that every resident of New Phoenix has been disenfranchised (their two-dollar word for what the Organization calls “Erased”). They first find themselves confused, fearful and full of distrust. Everyone in New Phoenix has experienced the same thing, and they view each other as family.
“Really?” says Tom, doubtful.
Paul points out their municipal building and tells Tom they are having their 2-year anniversary tomorrow and hopes for Tom’s participation.
Tom grows impatient. “How did you find me?” he demands.
Paul explains that by joining forces among the ranks of the invisible, while they haven’t actually discovered who the Organization are; they have been able to make some progress and can get their hands on critical information that sometimes leads them to the Organization’s new victims.
Interestingly, although I haven’t done a frame-by-frame, there appear to be no telltale cigars, nor are there any broken glass signals in the village of New Phoenix, so it is possible that the residents are telling the truth when they say they aren’t involved with the Organization.
Through the trees, Tom sees a large lone building, far from everything else. Tom asks what it is. Paul tells him it’s a maintenance shed, that New Phoenix is completely self-sufficient and it requires a lot of dedication. Tom remarks that everyone seems really dedicated, Paul, ignoring Tom’s attitude, says that they are and that given time, Tom will be too. But if after awhile he still wants to leave, no one will hold him here.
Tom strays over a yellow painted line; Paul attempts to pull him away, but too late. Tom hears an alarm from his wrist and checks to find the proximity bracelet flashing orange.
“But no one’s a prisoner here,” he says.
“Just a reminder,” Paul says.
Dee speaks to Tom at the edge of a lake. She sits on a park bench as he paces. Tom says he’s not staying and Dee replies in her overly-syrupy way that no one will force him.
“The rules, the people. Isn’t it just another way of giving up?”
“How can you say that?” She says, apparently hurt, choosing her words carefully, “We’re not them, Tom, whoever they are. We’re not the enemy. The people here are my friends.”
“It’s the same game, Dee, cooperate, give up. The only thing that’s changed are the uniforms…. Paul asked me for my negatives, that’s the very same thing that got me into trouble in the first place. The very same thing that they want.”
Dee explains, as if to a child, that they all contribute, giving up the information that got them in trouble, hoping to trace back the information and find out who’s behind it.
“You really think you’re free here.”
“Free enough,” says Dee, happily.
That night, Tom discovers New Phoenix is guarded by patrols of electric carts. These look like the mini-mokes without the canopy.
Paul makes a point to make conversation with Tom while they watch the villagers set up for the anniversary festival. He steers the conversation in the direction of Tom’s negatives, Tom steers it away by asking what Paul did before he became disenfranchised. As it turns out, Paul was a teacher at a school near a military base, and through one of his students became privy to information he shouldn’t have. Tom remarks dryly that teacher to respected community leader is not a bad change of hats.
“You just can’t let go of it, can you, Tom. Your almost inborn hostility to anyone in authority.”
As Paul leaves, Tom stays in his doorway, thinking. He toys with the proximity bracelet. He watches as a food service truck leaves the residential area on its run to the maintenance shed.
Later in the day, he approaches Paul and says that he hasn’t made a decision yet, but while he’s here he might as well help out, and suggests he might help out with the mowing.
Tom deposits his gardening gloves in the back of a cart. He surreptitiously cuts the chain on his bracelet with a pair of bolt-cutters. He steals the remote-control car from his neighbor’s porch, mounting the bracelet to the top. Away from prying eyes, Tom drives the car over the yellow line and watches in horror as it is attacked by laser weapons and destroyed.
Back in the Town square, where the brass band plays, a villager reports to Paul that there’s no sign of Tom. Paul says he may just have wandered too close and set off the alarm, but if they find him to quietly report back.
Tom sees Dee setting up the baked goods for the festival and writes a note to her telling her to meet him at the lake. He hides it in a tray of rolls in the catering truck. When Dee gets the tray, she doesn’t read the note, just slides it under the tray and gets back to work. It flutters to the ground.
This nail-biting scene is right out of North by Northwest:
Paul comes by and greets the ladies, then asks Dee if she’s seen Tom. The eternally optimistic Dee says no, but she really thinks he’s going to stay. Paul spies the paper in the grass and tosses it on the table. As Paul leaves, Dee notices the writing on it and reads it, looking around for Tom.
Dee shows up at the lake, giggling as she calls for Tom. He shows Dee the charred bracelet, the result of stepping over the line at the main gate. Dee seems more concerned that he broke the rule about taking them off than about its charred remains.
“Everything that Paul has told us about being free to leave New Phoenix is a lie, isn’t it?… You have become the people you oppose.”
He asks her what’s in the maintenance shed, explaining there’s a truck that makes regular deliveries from the food service to the maintenance shed. Dee says she has work to do and attempts to leave, but Tom grabs her and says she needs to listen to him.
“I do not want to listen. I’ve spent ten years afraid of what’s around every corner, not knowing what I was going to run into when I opened the door and walked into a room. And I am not going back there.”
“No matter what you’ve become?”
“You just can’t believe in anything, can you?”
As the anniversary festival continues its small-town village charm, Tom waits for the truck to leave with the empty food trays and sneaks to the maintenance shed. As he tries the lock, he is startled by a hand grabbing his shoulder through a slot in the door.
“Better watch your step, pal, or you’ll end up in Paul’s summer camp like the rest of us.”
Paul gets his second report on Tom. The villager says they have dog teams on it around the perimeter and four working on it in the crowd. Paul stresses that he doesn’t want it seen, and tells them to continue.
Tom knocks out the guard in charge of Paul’s summer camp, taking his keys and opening the lock. He presses a button to raise the rolling door.
Paul is on the bandstand now, giving a rousing speech on how proud he is of all of the good little villagers. Tom leads a procession of weary, bedraggled prisoners around a rose hedge. Some of the crowd have begun to notice.
“Cooperation is the key to our freedom, and freedom is our doorway home!” insists Paul.
“What kind of freedom are you talking about, Paul?” Tom shouts, and then he turns to the crowd, “I guess Paul never told you folks about his private little Alcatraz. He told you that some of these people had died or were taken ill.”
Tom re-introduces some of the ragged prisoners to the community. Desperately, Paul shouts, “Look, you have to understand that these people were a threat to our security! I did it for you! I did it people of New Phoenix!”
But it’s too late. Some in the angry mob drag Paul away. Dee hurries to talk to Tom, but her tears get in the way.
Dee pours tea for Tom in his dining room and Tom asks how the meeting went. Dee says they all voted, and when it came right down to it, they’d rather be here in New Phoenix than back out on the streets.
Tom can’t believe it. Dee says, “But, this time around we’re just going to have to do it differently.”
“Even if you start out with the best… the best intentions, and you did, given time there’s gonna be… there’ll be new rules, somebody else’s rules….” Tom’s speech is getting disjointed. “People who come in with their own idea. They’re gonna break those rules… I mean, what will you do then for the good of the community?”
Dee says she doesn’t know, but they won’t throw them in prison.
Tom appears to be getting dizzy.
Was this another virtual-reality exercise that’s failing?
“You’ll end up with a security risk and… and that will threaten the group…and… and you’ll have to find somebody to deal with that and you’ll end up with… you’ll end up with another Paul.”
“We have a new leader… they elected me,” Dee says, the old sugary optimism revealed in a bright smile. “I’ve made my first executive decision.”
“What’s that?” Tom asks, as his vision blurs again.
“Getting rid of you.”
Tom attempts to stand, but falls to the floor. Dee strokes his hair.
“You’re just not a team player, Tom…. Poor baby, always so alone.”
Tom wakes in bed to the wail of a police siren. He finds a note taped to his bag, “I’m sorry. Love, Dee.”
He leans out the open window, watching traffic go by, alone again in the big city.
Nowhere Man reviews are © 2004 by Pet Serano.
Not for reproduction without the author’s express permission.
Nowhere Man names, characters and everything else associated with the series are
the property of UPN and Touchstone Pictures.