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Access Control in Film & TV - Pt. 2

Lee Odess

This week I thought I would revisit a subject I touched on a couple of weeks ago: access control in the media. I had so much fun diving into how different movies and TV shows portrayed locks and keys that I fell down a lockpicking rabbit hole.

Ever since I started writing for The Inside, I’ve become increasingly aware of how truly ubiquitous access control is. It’s an industry that most of us don’t think about as we go about our day-to-day lives, but if access control weren’t part of our day-to-day, our lives would be very different.

So much of our ability to feel safe in our homes, offices, and schools is thanks to access control. We enter our office and apartment buildings and know that not just anyone can walk through the door, roam around, steal our things. We lock our doors at night and sleep knowing multiple security points come between our apartment door and a stranger.

This industry is so essential to society as we know it that we see it over and over on the media we consume. However, we rarely stop to think about the technology that exists on our own doors and locks.

So let’s look at a few more examples of how access control and lockpicking show up in the media:

Gotham

In season 1 episode 14 of Gotham, we see the Riddler trying to break into a locker. He’s faced with a regular padlock and has a full lockpick kit at his disposal. Upon doing some research, I found that this scene was spot on in how you would go about picking a padlock. The Riddler is using a tension tool along with one of the lockpicks in the kit. He inserts the tension tool to apply pressure and then proceeds to insert a lockpick to lift each pin needed to unlock it. If you’re interested to see a real-life example of this type of lockpicking, you can watch this video. It’s pretty fascinating.


Skyrim

This is a great example of how locks are present even in other “non-traditional” forms of media such as videogames. In this clip of Skyrim, we encounter a similar lockpicking process as the one we saw in Gotham. The main character is using both a tension tool and a lockpick. However, given the fantasy nature of Skyrim, the lock here is most likely not going to have the same mechanisms as the padlock as we saw in Gotham. This looks more like that of a lever lock, aka a lock that would use one of those heavy, cool-looking keys that comes to mind when we think of old castles. Instead of pins like the ones found in padlocks, this type of lock consists of levers that you have to lift one by one. The main technique stays the same: you apply a bit of pressure and use the lockpick to lift each lever into place. The challenge presented in Skyrim is having a brittle tension tool that breaks if not finessed correctly. If you want to see a lever lock picking in action, you can watch this video.

Overall, I’m fascinated by how access control sneaks its way into our lives without us noticing. We encounter it with every building we enter, every key we use, every visitor pass and badge we are given, as well as in a lot of the media we consume.

Next time you encounter a lockpicking scene on TV, make note of it and observe how accurately it’s being portrayed. It’s always exciting to see an accurate depiction of these types of mechanisms and a sign that the writers have done their research.

Do you have any favorite lockpicking scenes? If so, be sure to send them our way. We’d love to feature them in a future article!

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.

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