how do I have only one post tagged #evil overlord ಠ_ಠ
I have been remiss in my duties
or, Handcuffs Do Not Work That Way.
TV writers and directors do not seem to understand how physically restraining people actually works. Specifically, how handcuffs work. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a character get their hands cuffed in front of them and then be taken out of the action almost as effectively as if they’d been tased.
It’s easy to understand why people do things like this: it’s an unfortunate habit writers have to get really essentialistic about things: handcuffs = restraint, therefore if a character is handcuffed, they’re restrained. The thing is, the human body doesn’t have a convenient off-switch like that. Having both hands cuffed in front of you will certainly keep you from typing very quickly, it would hinder you in hand-to-hand combat, and it would make operating a rifle difficult, but there are very few things it would actually completely stop you from doing. Ironically rope can actually be a more effective restraint than standard handcuffs, because if you use the right kind of knot, you can lock somebody’s wrists to the same angle, which standard police handcuffs don’t do.
Hinged handcuffs, on the other hand, are a much more effective restraint: they have the advantage of rope in that they can keep your hands at the same angle, and the advantages of metal in that you can’t just cut them off. But I don’t think I’ve ever once seem them in a movie or on TV.
Then there’s escaping from handcuffs. This is usually portrayed as a huge deal, with characters resorting to breaking the chain with an axe or something, and then wandering around for the next few scenes with broken handcuffs hanging off their wrists and looking suitably badass. While this can be excused for characters without any tactical or espionage training or experience, for spies and professional soldiers it’s extremely silly. Escaping your garden-variety police handcuffs is actually very easy unless they’re locked in exactly the right way. In most places police are trained to cuff somebody’s hands behind their back, with their hands facing outward; done properly, this is nearly inescapable, although if you’re somebody who, like me, has very small wrists, it’s generally possible (if potentially excruciatingly painful) to twist your wrists around in the cuffs and escape anyway.
At most, three things are required to escape from handcuffs: you need a little bit of time out of sight of your captors, you need to be able to reach a keyhole, and you need a flimsy keyring you can unbend to use as a makeshift “lockpick.” It takes some practice, but it’s very easy to open the locking mechanism. There are several ways this can be prevented: hinged handcuffs with the keyhole pointed away from the hands, a wrists-outwards restraint position, or high-security handcuffs that use an actual lock instead of the simple ratcheting mechanism that police handcuffs use. Opening the ratchet is generally much more difficult when your hands are behind your back, but it’s certainly possible and it probably gets easier with practice. And of course it’s usually possible to get your hands out from behind you, if you don’t mind a bit of pain and indignity.
And keep in mind: this is all from my own personal experience, as somebody with below-average hand-eye coordination. So it doesn’t require any particular feats of precision or agility.
(Another pet peeve I’d like to point out: standard lockpicks aren’t very useful for opening standard police handcuffs, because handcuffs locks don’t use a pin-and-tumbler mechanism. A curved piece of wire is a much better tool. This is another area where author essentialism shows through, where we think only in terms of “locks are opened by lockpicks”, rather than the actual underlying mechanisms.)
So now that we’ve covered the wrong way to do it, let’s talk about something much more interesting: the correct way to tie up your characters. As in all things (with the grudging exception of murder), I highly recommend doing some original research of your own; “it’s for a book” remains the world’s best excuse for doing anything, second only to “FOR SCIENCE!”, and tying people up FOR SCIENCE! is much more likely to see your castle besieged by pitchfork-wielding peasants.
(Or so I’m told. Obviously I have no firsthand experience in that area. At all.)
Figuring out the best way to restrain somebody requires stepping back a bit and thinking about the objective you’re trying to accomplish. The purpose of restraint is to keep somebody from escaping from or interfering in your nefarious sche*AHEM* perfectly legitimate law-enforcement activities. Generally you don’t want your captive harmed, and so you’ll want to apply the minimum amount of restraint necessary. In many cases, this means not even bothering with making their restraints inescapable, just secure enough that they won’t be able to cause trouble if everything else goes as planned — if the heroes break into your underwater volcano base to liberate their dashing leader, it doesn’t really matter whether she can escape from handcuffs or not since they’re just going to free her anyway once they take out the goon squad guarding her.
(Of course, there’s an exception in the case of characters with supernatural powers that are somehow inhibited by restraints, in which case it’s probably a pretty pressing need to make sure the lead doesn’t get her all-destructive powers of awesome back until she’s far away from your Supreme Evil Headquarters.)
But in cases where you do really need to make sure your victim stays as put as possible, you need to take human biology into consideration. Our individual joints are relatively limited in how far they can move and turn; the huge range our hands have is a result of three different joints, the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Of these, the wrist actually contributes the least to range, so tying somebody’s elbows together, especially behind their back, is actually a much more effective restraint than just the wrists, since this way it’s impossible for the victim to even reach their restraints. Combined with wrist restraints, your sacrifice to the Hive Gods shouldn’t be causing any trouble. And then to keep somebody from walking off, ankle restraints are pretty much sufficient.
Any restraints beyond this and you’re eith*AHEM* your villain is either probably going to come across as cartoonish or kinky, and it’s really more about their character and personal brand than anything practical. Likewise with anchoring one’s victim in place: tying their hands behind a folding chair in a dingy basement comes off as practical and slightly gritty, perfect for your chain-smoking mob-bosses and antiheroes alike; tying them to a pillar in your Arena of Doom is excellent for when you have some gloating and monologuing you need to get off your chest before you have them devoured by Altairian Hyperwasps; chaining your victim to a wall by a collar is really overdoing it a bit, appropriate only for the most diabolical of Evil Overlords, the most sinister of cults, and the most sleazy of crime lords.
And when you’re dealing with non-humans, things get very, very interesting. The galactic police are going to have their hands and hand-analogues very full just trying to figure out how to restrain every species in the galaxy; I have no idea how you’d go about restraining a hanar or an elcor, and I don’t envy the C-Sec officer who has to carry around restraints suitable for every species likely to turn up on the Citadel.
(I know this sort of morphed from “writing advice” to “advice for evil overlords” but I’m not an evil overlord, I swear to the Hive Gods! WHOM I TOTALLY DON’T WORSHIP AT ALL. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THOSE SCREAMS.)