Netflix’s show about teens fighting demons with magical keys is back, but Locke and Key’s second season makes some big changes. The pace is faster, the tone is darker, and with that, it loses some of the magic that made the show so interesting in the first place.
Things don’t start out so dark, though. At the outset of Locke and Key’s second season, things are going well for the Locke family. After dealing with the death of their father and surviving a fight with a demon in season 1, they’re able to spend the summer relaxing with friends and their keys. It’s one of the rare times in the series we see magic used for having fun; Kinsey (Emilia Jones) is relaxing inside her own head (literally), and younger brother Bodie (Jackson Robert Scott) is using a new super-strength key to rearrange old furniture.
It’s playful and surreal — but it doesn’t last for long. Eventually, the demon makes its return, and the rest of the season feels like a race as the Locke kids try to defeat it. The new season is certainly darker than its predecessor, and it delves a little more into the history of magic in this world. But it also moves too fast for its own good. Whereas season 1 was about introducing mystery, the sophomore effort is more like a drawn-out superhero battle.
For those just catching up, Locke and Key is a live-action adaptation of a comic series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, which follows the Locke family as they move back into their ancestral home, called Keyhouse, in New England. It’s a sprawling mansion with an extremely cool secret: it’s full of hidden magical keys, each with strange powers. One makes it possible to enter someone’s mind as if it were a real, physical place; another lets you open a door to anywhere you can picture.
The Locke children — which include Kinsey, Bodie, and older brother Tyler (Connor Jessup) — hear these keys whisper to them and steadily accumulate an arsenal of supernatural abilities. The keys themselves are made from a strange metal that comes from a hidden portal (stay with me here), which also happens to be home to demons that can occasionally crossover to our world. The first season mostly involved one such creature, named Dodge, trying to get the keys from the Lockes for all kinds of nefarious purposes.
At the outset of season 2, everyone thinks Dodge has been defeated, but — as the twist at the end of the first season revealed — it’s actually just in a different body, thanks to one of those helpful keys. In the first season, Dodge was primarily depicted as a terrifying woman (Laysla De Oliveira) but also occasionally took on the role of an unassuming high school boy Gabe (Griffin Gluck), who also happens to be Kinsey’s boyfriend. While everyone thinks Dodge is gone, Gabe is hatching a plan to create an army of demons.
While the basic premise is the same — i.e., the kids need to defeat Dodge — the two seasons play out very differently. The first felt like a mashup of the teen drama of Riverdale and the dark, family mysteries from something like The Haunting of Hill House. You slowly learned the secrets of the keys and how they impacted the Lockes and their closest friends. Season 2 gets into that a little bit, particularly with some flashbacks that shed light on the early days of Keyhouse and details on how, exactly, the keys were made. But mostly, it feels like a race: Gabe rushing to create his army and the kids trying to stop him. It’s chaotic. And the fast pace means the show gets away from the best parts of the story, namely all of the deep, dark secrets involving the keys and the portal to the demon world.
Even the newly introduced keys seem off. Instead of opening up new possibilities for storytelling — like the key that turns you into a ghost so you can talk to dead relatives — they feel more like superpowers. One gives you super strength; another is essentially a living chain that can be used as a weapon. Quite handy for dealing with demon teens but not as interesting as delving into someone’s subconscious. It also doesn’t help that the new villain is nowhere near as intimidating as the original. De Oliveira’s take on Dodge was ruthless and menacing, an impeccably dressed monster you definitely didn’t want to mess with. But Gabe has a very different vibe: less scary, more a pompous jerk you want to punch.
There are some cool ideas here. As the kids get older, they start reckoning with the reality that they’ll forget about magic as soon as they turn 18. And then are some very dark, horror-like moments that are reminiscent of the books; one particularly terrifying scene involves living mannequins inside of a demon’s mind, and there’s at least one shockingly grisly murder. But most of these moments are fleeting or frustratingly underdeveloped, like a story thread involving a history teacher who knows a little too much about the Lockes that never really goes anywhere. For the most part, all of these interesting moments are reduced to clear and obvious steps leading to the final confrontation at the end.
It’s disappointing to see the show shift away from its most intriguing elements, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like things will change. Season 3 of Locke and Key has already wrapped filming, and based on the way the current season ends, there’s going to be yet another big bad to fight. Hopefully, it brings some secrets along for the ride.
Locke and Key season 2 streams on Netflix on October 22nd.