‘Locke & Key’: Irresponsibility and Consequences

[Editors note: this article contains minor spoilers for Locke & Key Season 1 and the comic book series]

Coming-of-age stories have an almost universal appeal. It’s easy to connect with characters struggling through adolescence when you yourself have dealt with similar growing pains. So why is it that the first season of Netflix’s coming-of-age fantasy drama Locke & Key is such a frustrating watch?  

The plot follows the Locke family who return to their ancestral family home, only to find it holds mysterious keys which grant the user supernatural powers. The narrative is primarily focused around the three Locke children; Tyler, Kinsey and Bode. Tyler (Connor Jessup) is the brooding eldest brother, Kinsey (Emilia Jones) the impulsive middle sister and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) the innocent youngest brother. Similar to Netflix’s other teen horror series Stranger Things, the youngest characters are our gateway into the more fantastical elements of the show. It’s a common storytelling technique and works as a metaphor for growing up. As the Locke siblings discover the keys and their abilities, they are understanding something about themselves; whether it’s learning to be careful who you can trust or the perils of first dates. 

After setting up the backstory and characters the series settles into a formula; one of the children finds a key and discovers its ability. This is where my frustrations with the series began, as each time a key is discovered the Locke siblings would use it irresponsibly, lose it then discover another key and the cycle starts again. The keys have powers ranging from whimsical to destructive. In the Locke House you could just as easily find a key that lets you view forgotten memories in multi-coloured glowing jars, as one with the ability to imprison people in a mirror dimension. To quote a famous phrase ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ and the Locke children repeatedly misuse the keys for personal and petty means. There’s a particular subplot where Kinsey uses a key to go inside her own mind and remove her fear. Her fear manifests itself as a monster and viciously attacks people, meanwhile Kinsey is happier and more confident than ever. Now you would assume this would be a storyline about the necessity of fear and how without fear, bravery means nothing. Kinsey would have to come to this realisation, confront this aspect of herself and return the fear monster to her mind. Instead the show would rather have Kinsey act recklessly while other characters call her out on it, showing no consequences for her actions. In fact, by the end of the season Kinsey’s fear monster is still roaming around the town potentially attacking people at random. While I would normally praise a show for not taking the obvious route with storylines, the alternative is that Kinsey doesn’t learn anything. Perhaps the creators intentionally wanted to explore the irresponsibility of youth by having the characters develop across multiple seasons, coming to terms with their mistakes, learning that they have consequences and changing for the better. The already announced second season could address these criticisms but that makes the debut season a very unsatisfying and frustrating watch.   

In the closing moments of the final episode we are shown the Locke family living blissfully with the keys now hidden in a jewellery box. The scene wants you to think the Locke children have embraced their roles as guardians of the keys, but it also suggests they have not learned how dangerous the keys can be in their hands, let alone in the wrong ones. The closest we get to an acknowledgement of the Locke’s responsibility of the keys is in a montage voiceover from Bode; “At first these keys were fun but now we know they’re more than that, they’re important, they’re a part of our family and we need to protect them. We are the new Keepers of the Keys.” It’s a nice sentiment that the family has come together through their struggles and taken on the role of protectors of these powerful artefacts, but it rings false. Season one of Locke & Key succeeds in making you interested in the series mythology and invested in the characters. It falters in its attempts to deal with the ramifications of its characters decisions and sets up a second season with many dangling plot threads which need to be addressed. Here’s hoping the show’s creators have a plan in mind and they can show that actions, even in fiction, have consequences.   

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