TV Review: “Locke & Key”

While “Locke and Key’s” visuals hypnotize, it struggles to present interesting characters and thoughtful storylines.

Inspired by the dark fantasy graphic novel series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, “Locke and Key” chronicles the adventures of Locke siblings Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) at Key House, their father’s ancestral home. Moving from Seattle to a small town in the middle of nowhere proves difficult for the Locke siblings, whose emotionally absent mother (Darby Stanchfield) is unable to help them nurse their insecurities and fears in the aftermath of their father’s murder. As Tyler and Kinsey navigate the tumultuous waters of high school social circles, the young Bode explores his new home, finding a series of mystical skeleton keys and an evil demon (Laysla de Oliveira) who will stop at nothing to steal the keys for herself. 

While the fantasy elements and world building of “Locke and Key” entertain, the show suffers from a lack of  decisive tone and engagement with its core themes. For one, the series draws on some of the dark horror elements of its graphic novel inspiration, but it unnecessarily waters these elements down to the point that viewers are unsure of how to react to horrifying events. When witnessing cold-blooded murder and terrorizing demons, a specific feeling of panic or alarm would be expected, but the audience is more stunned than scared by onscreen gore treated like a bedtime story gone wrong. Balancing this childlike interpretation of the comics’ magic and the Lockes’ gruesome tale of loss involves approaching death and horror light-handedly, which at times feels inappropriate. This disjointed tone, as a result, suggests showrunners were confused about who their audience was. 

Another part of the show’s unrealized potential remains locked in what it avoids discussing. The themes of death, grief, and guilt are full of potential for character development but remain mostly untouched. Instead, much of the screen time and plot progression in Season 1 devotes itself to laughable character choices and lackluster teen drama.While Tyler, stewing in torment, does well as a stand-in father for his siblings, he risks all credibility in a drunken hookup with the villain that is best described as “cringe.” Kinsey’s relationships feel forced and occupy much screen time with their blandness. Disappointingly, these focuses portray the main characters as archetypal in a world of unique fantasy. The show serves washed-up, semi-recognizable clichés as its protagonists, leaving viewers detached from the heroes they are supposed to root for. Instead, the only option is to tolerate them for the sake of their mesmerizing world. Furthermore, the screen-time wasted on drama would have been better spent either investigating the villain, who is still an enigma by the season’s end, or exploring the series’ biggest strength — the Locke siblings finding magic. 

Despite tonal inconsistencies and some filler plot, the show’s enchanting universe and visuals provide a quarantine-binge-worthy adventure. The discovery of each skeleton key’s powers is a gratifying experience that contributes to the show’s addictive nature. Some of the most satisfying scenes include Bode flying around the manor as a ghost and meeting his many-greats-grandfather, Kinsey exploring a psychedelic mall that represents her mind, and the siblings’ humorous interaction with a music box that controls human behavior. On top of this, the visual effects used to portray magic are executed exceptionally well. Fluid cinematography skillfully shows off the sprawling expanse of the Locke estate and establishes Matheson’s small-town charm. As for the visual design, the whimsical black and cream illustrations of the opening credits — likely an homage to its graphic novel origins — , surreal sets, and quirkily-designed skeleton keys leave viewers eagerly anticipating the next episode.  

While “Locke and Key” is certainly not without faults, the allure of spell-binding magic is enough to transfix viewers through its ten episodes. As Season 2’s production has already been confirmed, viewers can hope to get some much-needed resolution on the more elusive elements of Season 1. Until then, Narnia fans, Potterheads, and magic enthusiasts galore will find “Locke and Key” a visual treat, but would be best advised to take this show with a grain of salt.

Grade: B
Creator: Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, Aron Eli Coleite
Starring: Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, Darby Stanchfield, Laysla de Oliveira
Release Date: Feb 7, 2020
Rated: Rated TV-14

Image courtesy of Variety.