The story of Locke & Key as a comic series very much revered. It takes the simple concept of “a magic mansion and keys” and turned it into one of the most trippy, scary, and beloved comic series ever made. This is a series that’s tried for YEARS to get into the live-action market with various networks and streaming services giving it a chance and then passing on it. Eventually, Netflix got it, and the first season is live now for you to watch. But should you? As my Locke & Key Review will hopefully let you know…you can…but be ready for eye-rolling tropes.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Let’s get the element out of the room, shall we? One of the biggest things about Locke & Key was the horror element and the darkness within the storylines. Even its visuals were creepy, and they were NEVER afraid to go dark with the characters, from the kids, to the parents, to the villains, and more, it was meant to be a Lovecraftian horror story. In this version of Locke & Key? Not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some horrifying things here, and some scenes are definitely played like a horror movie (including a kid dying by a train that is blink and he’s gone kind of thing) but overall? It doesn’t come close to the comics, and many have noted that.
Instead, Netflix has decided to play it more into the realm of “family drama” or sitcom mixed with supernatural elements and fantasy. Oh, and there are mysteries in here too. Does that sound like a lot to do? Good, cause it is.
The focus of the story is the Locke family. After the loss of their Patriarch Rendell, they move to Manchester from Seattle in order to be in the “family home” known as the Keyhouse. But as the three children of the family (Bode, Kinsey and Tyler) find out, the house has special keys in them. And if you find the right key and the right lock, you can do incredible things.
The “Anywhere Key” will take you to anywhere in the world so long as there is a door. The “Matchstick Key” will set anything on fire, and the “Head Key” will let you look into someone’s mind and even relive their memories.
When the show focuses on the keys? It’s honestly a really cool show. The Head Key especially gets a lot of use as we get to see the minds of the kids (and others) and look upon how they view their headspace. Bode’s is in a toy chest because he’s a kid. Kinsey has a shopping mall. Whereas Tyler has his be their old home in Seattle.
And these are just a few of the keys they find, there are more with interesting and fantastic powers that really nail down why this series was such a good comic. It was a simple concept, but they took it to extreme and often time extraordinary levels.
But…when the keys AREN’T the focus…that’s where things get odd or cringe…
As noted earlier in my Locke & Key Review, the series focuses more on the “family drama” element, and since two of the kids are teenagers, of COURSE we have to go to their school and witness all the drama they have to deal with. Now yes, the comics did do similar things, but this is something else.
If you can think of a trope of a teen drama, it’s in here. Lovestruck teen? Got it. Love triangle? Got it. Kegger? Got it. Gratuitous love-making of teens who are underage? They do that in the first episode! And on and on and on.
Which is sad, because not only does it distract from the better storylines, they come up a LOT and it makes the kids feel shallow or weak or dumb as a result. And that’s terrible in my mind because they honestly try and do better than other sitcoms by having Tyler and Kinsey have a much stronger bond and not the typical “brother/sister rivalry”. They start out great, then revert to tropes, and then only come back together in tropey fashion when their lives are on the line.
It’s very annoying and very much what the books weren’t about in many ways.
Then, there is the villain of the first season, Dodge. Dodge’s actress is very impressive at points, and proves to be a very imposing and frightening villain willing to use any means to get her way, and the keys. The problem is that a lot about her is left unsaid…and that’s the ONLY thing left unsaid in the whole season!
Seriously, when we first meet her, she’s a well, then she goes on a shopping/robbery spree, sleeps with a guy and then kills him, and then just continues to wander around the world before deciding she wants the keys again. Why? We don’t know. Then we find out that she was transforming her identities into guys to get closer to Kinsey and Ellie and other characters. Which is scary, but confusing. Because why did she do all those things as a girl and then shift to the guy to do her/his main mission? And how does one of their forms have so much clout if they’re clearly not around all the time? No one knows.
Whereas EVERYTHING else in the show is explained in a LOT of detail. The deaths of certain characters, the motivations behind Dodge and how he/she came to be, and more. Sure, it’s nice to get some explanations, but you almost have to wonder if they did all the explaining just to cover their bases in case the second season didn’t come.
Two more things before I go. One, I do want to give props to the actress of Nina, the mother of the Locke family. Her arc of sobriety and trying to keep her family sane was a touching one, only faltering at the end when they randomly through her a love interest. Yes, this is VASTLY different from Nina in the comics (who is MUCH worse and VERY broken inside) but for this, it was appropriate.
Second, and lastly, the ending of the first season is VERY heavy-handed in that we KNOW something is wrong from the get-go. The Locke kids (and allies) think they killed Dodge, but the moment we find out another character is “missing” it’s clear that it’s not the case. What’s more, they spend like 10 minutes “assuring” all the characters that everything is fine, and then the twist comes around and you basically go, “Yep, there it is.”
I know that it sounds like this Locke & Key Review is bashing the show. But that’s honestly not true. I did like the series, and there were some FANTASTIC moments and set design pieces and more that makes it shine, and I’ll totally watch a second season. But when you compare it to things on Netflix like “The Crown” or “Lost In Space” or the Marvel series that dared to go dark and beyond? You can clearly see that they wanted another “family” show even if the source material would’ve made a better horror series.