Fans of Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have been waiting so long for a TV adaptation of the beloved comic series that you can’t exactly blame them if it’s been a while since they’ve done a re-read. Locke & Key’s road to the screen was pretty bumpy and at times downright demoralizing, as announcements came and went and pilots repeatedly failed to be picked up. After Hulu’s pass in 2018, Netflix swooped in to save the day (or rather, the content) and finally delivered the adaptation for which we’ve waited an entire decade.
Luckily, fans and newcomers alike need not delve into the six-volume long comic series in order to enjoy the Netflix series because the show almost instantly untethers itself from its roots and grows into its own delightful monster. Like the comic, the show begins with the Locke children — hockey star Tyler (Connor Jessup), artist Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and adventurer Bode (IT’s Jackson Robert Scott) — as they move across country with their mother, Nina (Darby Stanchfield), to the ancestral Massachusetts home of their father, Rendell (Bill Heck), after Rendell is murdered. That home has a name — Keyhouse — and a mysterious and magical legacy that Bode quickly uncovers after discovering a woman-like echo named Dodge (Laysla de Oliveira) who is trapped in the well house and wants the Lockes’ very special keys to achieve her ends.
The setup is immediately gripping, in no small part due to Joe Hill’s pilot script and and showrunners Carlton Cuse, Aron Eli Coleite and Meredith Averill’s keen understanding of what makes Locke & Key so good to begin with. The blending of familial trauma, haunted pasts and magic is nothing new (especially not in the Stephen King / Joe Hill family), but the show manages to make it feel fresh without leaning too heavily on similar stories. The discovery of every new key and subsequent exploration of that key’s abilities could easily feel rote and Potter-esque in the wrong hands. Thankfully, it never does, and with each tinkle of the piano keys accompanying an illustration of the newest key at the opening of every episode, you truly can’t wait to see where the show goes next.
And again, part of the reason Locke & Key stands out so immediately is because it doesn’t lean too heavily on the source material. The show is a much more streamlined version of the comic, with pivotal moments reordered and remixed to better suit the medium and less-pivotal details changed to help the whole thing feel less hokey. (Example? In the comic, the Locke family home is in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. The show wisely renames the town to Matheson.)
Even better, the show sheds a lot of the shaggier writing that was fairly typical of a comic series in the mid-2000s, with its overabundance of ugly slurs and misogyny to signal “Hey, this person’s evil. Can’t you tell how EVIL they are?” and its throwaway treatment of sexual assault. The end result is an adaptation that is much less unpleasant to consume and, in a lot of ways, much more creative than its source material. Dodge, in particular, stands out as a more compelling villain in the show. With the verbal bigotry of the comic gone, there’s room for her to be as alluring as she is terrifying and an utter delight to watch as she wreaks havoc on the lives of the Lockes.
Shows based on comics also live or die based on casting. The Umbrella Academy, with its disappointingly retrograde writing and direction, would be unwatchable without its excellent cast; Netflix must have some magic of its own when it comes to casting because everyone in Locke & Key is perfect, from the main cast on down. Maybe it’s because no single actor is too famous, and so none of them sticks out like sore thumbs (besides an Ashmore twin, though which one I could not tell you because IMDb doesn’t have him listed on Locke & Key’s page as of this writing), but together the entire cast fits together like…. well, like keys in a lock.
All told, Locke & Key is a worthy binge on Netflix this weekend. Fans of the comic will be pleasantly surprised at the changes the show has made to the material and will also find their hearts racing at certain points even though they generally know what’s coming. Meanwhile, newcomers will surely be on the edge of their seats as the world of Locke & Key totally takes them in.
Oh, and not for nothing, but just wait till you get to the demonically perfect needle-drop at the end of episode 9. Reader, I screamed.
Locke & Key: Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix this Friday, February 7.