Locke & Key
The best episode so far of the first season of Locke & Key pulses with actual stakes and refined, focused storytelling. With a few key flashbacks excepted, “Dissection” takes place entirely on the night Sam Lesser finally gets to Key House, a journey that he’s been on for months, ever since the evil entity known as Dodge reached out to him through an etching in Rendell Locke’s office. Parts of the episode are still a little clunky, but this feels more like a season finale than a part seven, closing the loop on the Sam saga while offering Tyler Locke some much-needed closure, and a reason for Nina Locke to jump off the wagon in its final scene.
“Dissection” opens with a flashback: Sam Lesser playing with a fetal pig corpse and going way too far. He’s going to get three weeks detention, and he has to talk to Rendell Locke, the school guidance counselor. Rendell seems to be honestly helpful, but Dodge sees an opportunity to infect a weakened mind. She speaks to Sam through the etching in his office, putting in play the events that will lead to the shooting of Rendell and Sam’s quest to get to Key House.
And now he’s in front of it with a gun. He breaks a window and gets into the house, cutting his hand before wandering the first floor, eating a banana and playing with a phone. He doesn’t have much urgency, slowly climbing the stairs in a shot that looks like it could have been pulled directly from a Bates Motel storyboard.
Nina is on her bed looking through the box from Joe’s house as Sam skulks the halls and creepy music plays. Just as Kinsey is noticing the broken window, Nina and Sam are finally face to face, and he has a gun on her. Kinsey tells Bode to hide, but he has a better idea. He uses the Ghost Key and spies on the showdown between the boy who killed his father and his mother. Sam says he needs the Head Key, and Nina has no idea what he’s talking about, but Kinsey does. She hides the key while Bode gives Sam a fake key, suggesting he tries it. (This raises an interesting question: is it possible to stick any key in the back of your head? And what if you put the wrong one in?) As mom gets increasingly confused, tension rises in Key House, and Kinsey says that Tyler has the real Head Key.
Tyler happens to be a little busy playing “You Drink, I Drink” and hooking up with a supernatural entity in a liquor store parking lot. It allows for a bit of flashback material to fill in Sam’s background — his father was an abusive monster — and for Nina to notice that Sam has an Omega tattoo on his arm. Nina senses that Sam Lesser has some of the answers that she’s been looking for about her dead husband. Most importantly, Dodge’s endgame is revealed: she wants into that Black Door that Kinsey found in the cave, and the Head Key is the way to figure out how to open it. What’s behind that door?
Meanwhile, Tyler suddenly realizes that Dodge is the Well Lady when he notices the Anywhere Key, which he picks up and Dodge can’t take back from him. She literally can’t grab keys from the Lockes. He uses it to get home, thinking he’s safe, only to see Sam in the kitchen. He jumps him, beating on him, choking him — he might kill him. And then Sam grabs the Fire Key and uses it on the floor before getting to the gun and aiming it at Nina. Kinsey claims she buried the Head Key in the woods, but it’s a trap.
Remember how Kinsey buried the knife she used to kill her fear monster? Her plan is to use it to stab Sam. It doesn’t quite go down like that, though, after everyone is startled to see that the fear monster is still alive and it attacks Sam. Sam shoots the monster away and rushes back in to find out that Nina and Tyler have escaped.
An action-heavy episode so far gets even more intense as it incorporates the keys into its energy, when Tyler puts the Head Key in Sam’s neck. The realization that the magic of Key House is real offers a bit of a break in Sam’s façade. Imagine thinking you might be crazy, hearing voices, and then going to prison for a crime you never intended to commit — it makes for a nice beat when Sam realizes the Head Key isn’t just a figment of his imagination. Something makes sense. And then this nuanced beat is topped by a great moment with Connor Jessup, when Tyler learns that his father’s death had nothing to do with the offhand comment that he made to Sam about wanting his dad dead. You can almost see the weight coming off his heart.
While these emotional beats are allowed to register in ways that the exposition-heavy Locke & Key would be wise to do more often, Nina is super confused about, well, everything. And then Sam takes out his own Head Key and Dodge comes in, throwing karate chops. She takes down Tyler and Nina, and everyone learns that Dodge most definitely can take keys from anyone but the Lockes. She snatches the Head Key from Sam, and then stabs him, sending her victim through the Ghost Door. As he looks back at his lifeless body, someone closes the door. Uh oh.
Time for some logistical questions. A later shot reveals that closing the door doesn’t just dissipate Sam’s ghost. He’s still floating, looking sad. Can’t he just wait by the door for someone else to open it? If he goes back through then, would he just re-enter his body, which could be underground by that time, right? Creepy. And what if he’s cremated? Would he just disintegrate?
After all of this chaos, a stressed-out and confused Nina takes out the gin that Ellie bought her and pours it into the Ray of F**king Sunshine mug. After all, it’s hard to stay sober when nothing makes sense.
• Would any of this had happened if Rendell Locke didn’t have an etching of a place that he knows has supernatural powers in his office? The message of the story is leave your dark past behind — in every possible way.
• Bode describes his body after using the Ghost Key as being “Like a sock without a foot in it,” and it’s a line taken almost directly from the second issue of the source. The adaptation has gone so far afield in terms of tone and blended narrative points from all over the run of the book, that it was almost jarring to hear something pulled so distinctly. It reminds you that the writers are clearly referring back to the source, even as they make this show very much its own thing.
• So now what? Sam is dead. Dodge has the Head Key. While this closes one arc, it likely pushes the end of the first season into a showdown in the caves. The question now is will Nina Locke be too drunk to help save her kids?