Based on a series of graphic novels and overseen by Lost’s Carlton Cuse, Netflix’s Locke & Key is an ideal horror-ish series for tweens and their parents. With more solid scares than a Disney Channel movie, but falling short of Stranger Things, the series nestles into the Halloween month sweet spot between comforting and unsettling.
Season two upholds the high bar set by the series’ debut, in which the grieving Locke family—mother Nina (Darby Stanchfield), older son Tyler (Connor Jessup), daughter Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and young Bode (Jackson Robert Scott)—move to a small town in Massachusetts after the death of the family patriarch. The kids discover a series of magical keys in their giant new ancestral home, the appropriately named Keyhouse. Unfortunately, those keys come with an evil Big Bad named Dodge, who was once their dad’s friend, but has now been infected by the magical underground force that’s now guarded by the Omega Door. (Yes, that sentence sounds like a mad-lib for “horror-fantasy kids’ series.”)
So much happened in the first season, in fact, that the second takes some reconnecting and settling into, as the viewer slowly remembers what the “anywhere key” and the “ghost key” are. When we last left them, the Lockes and their friends thought they were expelling Dodge into the land beyond the Omega Door, but ended up getting rid of their dad’s old friend Ellie instead. As season two dawns, Dodge has taken the form of Kinsey’s boyfriend Gabe (Griffin Gluck), who has former mean girl Eden (Hallea Jones), now possessed by a demon, as a sidekick. Meanwhile, the kids’ beloved uncle Duncan (Aaron Ashmore) is having strange memory problems, and there’s a giant rat skull in the attic.
Locke & Key’s excellent cast established credible sibling chemistry in season one. The new season benefits greatly from Griffin Gluck’s performance as Gabe/Dodge, the new, duplicitous Big Bad, who can switch from besotted teenager to cold, calculating evil incarnate in a heartbeat. Part of the stoked suspense of the season is just watching the Lockes unknowingly hang around with such a monster, who is savvy enough to use their own keys against them. Hallea Jones’ Eden is a bit less thoughtful, a bit more bloodthirsty, which makes her demon responsible for some of the season’s most gruesome scenes. But there’s a sly sense of humor in recasting Eden as a demon; she wasn’t exactly the nicest person pre-transformation, so no one really notices much of a difference in her new demonic behavior.
Thanks to this pair of treasonous teenagers, Locke & Key deftly avoids the sophomore season slump, and actually builds on the suspense attached to the potential and menace in Keyhouse. The season only falters when it swerves into two unfortunate subplots. One involves the creation of the Omega Door itself, flashing back to the Lockes’ colonial blacksmithing ancestors (a fortunate talent to have if you’re looking to make magical keys).
Turns out the mystical force was first discovered in a showdown between the Lockes and the British Redcoats, to indicate how this good vs. evil clash first kicked off. It’s likely that the story would work just as well without this backstory explanation (it did in season one), so while these flashbacks to the 1770s aren’t jarring, exactly, they’re just not as compelling as the main narrative.
Much worse is the series’ decision to create a love interest for the Lockes’ now widowed mom, Nina. Darby Stanchfield did an admirable job last season as Nina wrestled with a drinking problem, understandable as her husband had been murdered and her kids had discovered a strange magical treasure trove. (This season underlines a premise that adults are destined to forget all about the magic, which is both convenient and clumsy.)
But in season two, Nina has a bickering meet-uncute with Josh (Brendan Hines), the new professor at the local high school, so it’s painfully obvious that the two are destined to get together. Unfortunately, their chemistry is mawkish at best, so the series’ impressive energy screeches to a halt whenever it wastes valuable screen time on the Nina-Josh relationship. The will-they/won’t-they pull between high-schoolers Kinsey and aspiring director Scot (Petrice Jones) is much more effective.
The best thing about Josh (outside of him having a cute daughter friend for Bode) is that he happens to possess a dollhouse-sized version of Keyhouse itself. Thanks to a miniature key that Bode finds, what happens in the dollhouse version also happens in the supersized real-life version of the house—which is great if you add a gummy bear to a dollhouse bedroom, not so great if a spider shows up. These kind of inspired action sequences show off what Locke & Key does so well, as you’re not likely to find them in most other tween series. And the show’s strong foundation of young actors and their burgeoning relationships maintain interest even when demons aren’t flooding the screen.
Locke & Key’s second season proves the show can reach greater, spookier heights as long it keeps the focus where it belongs: on the kids.