The popularity of infographics, particularly interactive maps, is on the rise in popular culture and daily life. Recently, I’ve seen glimpses of boring information, in graphical form, popping up in popular entertainment. Today, I’ll talk about the British TV series ‘Sherlock’. Note: this post would be better with a nice action, instrumental soundtrack. I’m just saying.
Who doesn’t love a good chase scene? Cops jumping over buildings, secret agents commandeering motorcycles in pursuit of thuggish Russian agents, Wiley Cayote mounting an ACME rocket in pursuit of that dastardly road runner. What can be better than well shot sequences of gun shots, jumps, swinging, running, ducking and breaking through glass? What’s missing? I think the answer is ‘context.’
Single perspective views can not capture both the chaser and his or her prey. It’s not always easy to know if either is making a good move to catch or evade their competitor. Enter the info-graphic.
In the pilot episode of ‘Sherlock’ (the mystery of pink), Sherlock and his reluctant sidekick Watson are in pursuit of a cab through the streets of London. The cab is bound to stay on roads. The heroes are on foot but are free to climb stairs, jump across buildings, cut through gardens and romp through small alley ways.
The scene is populated with cut sequences of cars whizzing and our heroes moving in a totally non-overlapping geographical space. To help the viewer keep track of this scene, they display a map of the London neighborhood (frame 1), with the baddies in red and the goodies in green (can it be any other way? I maintain that it can not). These graphics help provide strategic context by illustrating Sherlock’s thought process and update the audience with the geographical history and future of the chase scene.
Starting at around the intersection of Ingestre Pl and Hopkins St, Sherlock deduces that the cab is unlikely to take the route along Wardour to Broadwick as in Frame 1 and rather assumes the cab will take Warwick to Wardour street (Frame 2). The purple dot in frame 2 presumably indicates Sherlock’s intended point of intersection.
Running and jumping ensues. I have no idea exactly where they are, but probably on someone’s roof who lives near the intersection of Broadwick and Poland Street (not shown). Poor bastards. Sherlock and Watson arrive on D’Abblay St, but oh no, they’ve missed them. Frame 3 clearly shows that the green line overlaps with the red, and we’re left to assume that they did not intersect at the same time. Sherlock picks a new intersection point (see purple dot), and instead of following the cab by turning Left along Poland Street, he turns right. The combination of the physical actors prancing off in the wrong direction and the clear graphic helps the audience understand what is going on, and thereby CARE about all the action.
Running and trampling of nicely landscaped gardens ensues. Frame 4 is the final graphic we are given. It shows only slight progress over frame 3. This is the least informative frame. More running, and then, BAM, sherlock has his man, thus demonstrating that logic, deduction, an unnatural amount of cartographical memory coupled with obscene amounts of mundane municipal construction knowledge will triumph over cab drivers (who don’t even know they’re being chased).
Success: These map frames definitely help the viewer understand the logic and agency in Sherlocks’s pursuit. Without it, it would appear to be gratuitous running and jumping and a fortunate and inexplicable interception of his target. We see glimpses of why Shelock assumes the cab will take one route over another. We also see two different instances of where Sherlock wants to intercept his target. This makes the running and jumping over buildings meaningful. We also see, in sort-of real time, the progress he’s making whilst running and jumping, thus making it more suspenseful.