Netflix's 'Locke & Key' Season 2 Is Best When It's Telling Its Own Story
The moments where the fantasy series breaks off from its source material are the most exciting in Season 2.
The second season of Locke & Key fixes a lot of the issues plaguing Season 1, like bringing back the inherent dark tone of the story and the horror elements, while expanding on the graphic novel it adapts to tell a fresh new story that fits within its world but explores ideas and themes only hinted at in the source material. But when it remembers to go back to adapting the graphic novel in the second half of the season, it rushes through it like it was an afterthought.
The show is based on the comic of the same name by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez about three siblings living in a house full of magical keys while being constantly attacked by a demon bent on destroying the world. Season 2 of Locke & Key, which came to Netflix in late October and remains steady in the service's Top 10, picks up a couple of months after the end of the previous season, with the demon Dodge tricking the Locke family into a false sense of security, thinking they'd gotten rid of her for good, before it was revealed that Dodge had in fact switched into the body of the kids' friend Gabe while an ally took her place in being sent to the demon dimension.
That ending paved the way for some wild deviations from the source material. For one, Dodge is not the lone demon in this version since Eden, another kid from the Lockes' school, got infected in the season finale and now they are working together. The dynamic between Dodge/Gabe and Eden is fun to watch, with Eden's goofier, more naive personality rubbing off against Dodge's cold and calculating demeanor. The show spends enough time with them that we get more insight into Dodge than we get in the comics, at least in terms of how she reacts and relates to others.
Likewise, it is through Dodge and Eden's story that the Netflix adaptation takes the opportunity to flesh out the mythology around the titular keys, their origins, and how they are made. Though we did explore some of it in the comics, the live-action Locke & Key runs away with its own version, making the relationship between the Lockes and the whispering iron that gives the keys their magic much stronger and essential to the lore of the show, as well as Gabe's story of trying to make a key of his own, and whether a demon can make a key made out of other demons.
While evil is plotting, the Locke kids spend the first half of the season concerned with a different problem in the fact that they are growing up and once they turn 18, they will forget all about the magical keys in Keyhouse. Though the show doesn't explicitly connect the idea to the "Riffel Rule" from the comic, which was created so that adults can't abuse the keys and use them for war, this season gets a lot of mileage out of the trauma growing up brings. We see that in Tyler's girlfriend Jackie who starts forgetting on the spot about the magical things she witnessed just minutes earlier, and in Tyler's desperation over stopping the process so they can remember together.
The best part of the season involves this theme of forgetting, and how it is applied to the kids' uncle Duncan, who had all his memories of the keys forcefully removed by his brother and his friends after he made a key for them—the incident that kickstarted the events of the show. Duncan trying to make sense of his past while seeing magic in the present, just before his brain rewires and makes him forget, is painful to watch, especially when the show brings in Erin Voss, a friend of Duncan's brother, Rendell. Erin is the only living member of Rendell's group of friends, and the only one that knows what they did to Duncan, so the show explores the extent of his trauma through her guilt. It helps that Duncan becomes a mentor figure to the Locke kids, an unexpected ally that knows far more about Keyhouse than our protagonists and helps them to not just run around clueless for 10 episodes.
In the comic, Duncan was never forced to make a key, and he didn't have his memories removed; he just forgot like any other adult, while Erin—who spent decades in a catatonic state after getting her mind wiped out—only appears briefly and toward the very end of the story. Season 2 of Locke & Key grabs promising elements from the source material and remixes them into a new story that fits within the world of the original, while still feeling like they could only be told in this format.
The show also adds new faces, like Josh Bennett, a new history teacher with a connection to Keyhouse and its colonial history. Turns out, he is the descendant of the person responsible for the opening of the black door from whence the demons came, so there is a possibility he can also manipulate the whispering iron and make keys like the Lockes. The comic was always interested in the ripple effects the past has on the present, and through Josh, we have another avenue to explore the history of Keyhouse and the origin of the keys.
But, of course, this is still based on an existing story, and the plot eventually has to get back to the kids stopping Dodge. The latter half of the season adapts moments from the comic, like Sam Lesser attacking Dodge as a ghost, Dodge infecting a bunch of kids at the school with demons to build an army, and Tyler finally defeating Dodge by making a key that kills the demons. The problem is that, having significantly diverged from the source material even last season, when the show remembers to go back to the main plot and adapt the entire final arc so late in the game (and in just two episodes), it comes off as rushed and forced.
The moment Kinsey discovers Gabe is actually Dodge marks a huge moment of shock and trauma for her, but the show barely gives her time to grieve before she has to fight back. Yet when Dodge infects the other kids and threatens to kill the Lockes once and for all, we get long moments of downtime as the kids go about their regular routine like nothing is happening, creating a mismatch of tones and deflating the tension and urgency.
In the comic, Dodge's moment of triumph is prolonged, painful to see, and very emotional, as she takes characters we've grown to care for, like Scot, Jackie and Jordan, and either kills them or infects them with demons that robbed them of their souls. In the show, we see familiar characters turn into demons, but the Lockes barely react. They certainly are worried about the implication of not being able to trust anyone, but they don't seem to care about their classmates being doomed for eternity the way Lucas was when he turned into Dodge. The comic's ending, then, becomes bittersweet, as Tyler manages to free Scot and Jackie from the demons by crafting a key of his own, but the process ends up killing them—and dozens of other school kids, too. That emotional gut-punch gets replaced in the Netflix version by having only Tyler care about freeing the kids—well, technically only his girlfriend Jackie. However, even if the key's side effect of killing the person it is freeing from the demons is replicated in the show, we are never given a reason why, and Tyler never struggles with his role in it. Sure, he mourns Jackie's death, but there is zero sense of guilt on his part, no reasoning that he both helped and killed her.
Dodge is defeated mostly in the same way as the comic, but rather than a moment of relief, triumph, and horror, it plays out like the villain of the week being momentarily defeated in a cartoon and afterward everyone just goes on about their day. Dodge had been tormenting the Locke family for decades, but her defeat felt empty and inconsequential, like the Netflix show took the bare pencil sketch from the main parts of the comic and forgot about the colorful backgrounds that made the image so impactful in the first place.
By the time Season 2 ends, we get a new and original villain, one that seems menacing enough and with some intriguing connections to Keyhouse's past and the new family, plus some new allies (including, apparently, Lucas himself, somehow still alive and kicking). But something was lost when the show decided to be done with the original story of the Locke & Key comic, a story that still resonates with readers nearly a decade after it ended.