Locke & Key
The best episode of Locke & Key so far works because it feels like it has some thematic consistency, which was lacking in the first two, and because the cast, especially the young actors, are really starting to settle into their roles. The ensemble has been a strength to start the season, but Emilia Jones really gets a chance to shine here, finding nuance and subtlety in a role that could have been just a sullen teenager. She’s done a lot with relatively little so far, making Kinsey Locke the most fully realized, complex character to start the series. She’s not only playing the trauma of losing her father but the standard emotional roller coaster of being a teenage girl in a new city, too. She’s really quite good.
But “Head Games” isn’t just about her. In fact, it opens with a journey into her brother Bode’s mind, which is imagined as an arcade full of wonderful sights and sounds. While the Locke kids are exploring, they suddenly witness a memory of Rendell Locke telling Bode a story. The “story” arc of “Head Games” is the most successful thing Locke & Key has done so far in terms of writing. It turns out that the three Locke kids all have different memories of this story, and we see all three. Bode remembers the first half before he fell asleep, Kinsey remembers the second half, and Tyler remembers a dark ending his siblings never heard. For the full picture to come together, all three Locke kids have to access something in their memories and hearts. This idea that each person holds a piece of the puzzle will clearly be a through line this season, and it’s really well realized here with three kids remembering their lost father.
After playing around in Bode’s mind, Tyler takes control of the Mirror Key and the Head Key, and baby bro reveals that the Scary Well Lady ran off with what could be the most powerful key of all. She’s still jumping around the world and makes it to the burned-out house from the prologue of the series, where she finds an empty safe. In a truly incredible bit of luck, the kid who took the key out of the safe just happens to be out front. Echo steals the key from around his neck and uses the Anywhere Key to shove the poor kid in front of a train. Again, dark stuff in the Echo arc that could startle some younger audiences, but it’s meant to affirm that this is not a force to be underestimated.
Meanwhile, a hockey bro hits on Kinsey, and Tyler loses his mind. He pummels the guy in the street, revealing some deep anger issues he has yet to reconcile. We learn a bit about why Tyler blames himself so much and why he was scared when he saw Sam Lesser at his house: He offhandedly told Sam that if he ever decided to kill his father, he should kill Tyler’s dad, too. Of course, he couldn’t have known, but the self-blame for even thinking something like that and then watching it happen could send someone into a violent spiral.
When Kinsey wants to play around inside her brain as well, Tyler insists on going with her, probably because he’s protective, but he’s also likely curious about what haunts her. The female Locke child’s brain is imagined as a “weird-ass mall,” where Kinsey finds memories of her father that transition into a recent memory of Tyler going off on the hockey bro, even more violent than it was in real life. This is a clever move, making the memory a little different than reality, which is often the case, especially when you’re a teenager. Then they spot a dark version of Kinsey and things get a little Freddy Krueger. The feral Kinsey even attacks Tyler, and his sister has to save him, although big bro notes it was something in her mind that started the attack in the first place.
Meanwhile, Bode is drawn to a painting in which he discovers one of the most iconic keys from Hill and Rodriguez’s book, the Ghost Key. It allows him to walk through a certain door and leave his body like a ghost, able to fly around the grounds of Key House unseen and unheard. He flies to a cemetery, where he meets Chamberlain Locke, his great-great-grandfather, who explains that Rendell and his brother used to visit him when they were kids. Dad really had a lot of secrets.
When Nina says something to Rendell’s old girlfriend Ellie (Sherri Saum) about Bode exploring the well house, it looks like someone walked over Ellie’s grave. All the other adults seem to have forgotten the trauma of years ago, so why does Ellie remember? She goes to the well and calls down to Lucas, one of the boys from the photo that Nina found. Was this where the trauma happened that sent Rendell to the other side of the country so long ago? Bode sees Ellie at the well and then returns to his body just in time to scare the hell out of his brother.
Finally, Kinsey starts to go on a date with Scot to see the cleverly named Cover Band (of Horses), but she bails, going to the woods and using the Head Key again. As mom seems to have a flash of memories about the day Rendell was shot, it’s revealed why Kinsey has gone into her head: She has captured the dark version of herself, dragging it into the woods, stabbing it, and burying it. It’s time to kill the demons of the past. Echo is watching.
• The different settings for Bode’s and Kinsey’s heads feel appropriate in that the arcade represents the playfulness of carefree youth while the mall captures the more segmented mental existence of being a teenager.
• Bill Heck can read sea-monster stories on my TV shows all damn day. If you’re unfamiliar, go watch The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, in which he does phenomenal work alongside Zoe Kazan. He’s also very good in an episode of the excellent Little America on Apple TV+. It feels like he’s mere moments from breaking through as a major star.
• For character names, it’s easiest to watch shows with the subtitles on, which leads to the revelation that the opening credits of Locke & Key are captioned as “[lively instrumentals].” For some reason, I found that kind of funny. Who decides what’s lively and what isn’t?
• Again, the tonal changes for those of us who love the book are jarring, but I’m starting to get used to them, leaving my version of the Lockes behind for the ones that most will come to know. It helps that the three Locke children have been perfectly cast. This would have been disastrous if they weren’t. And with the way the show has sort of shuffled off parts of the first three books, it’s almost suspenseful to see where the program will go next.