It is almost time to lock up Keyhouse forever as the final season of Netflix’s Locke & Key races to an action-packed conclusion. The penultimate episode is a bit of a head-scratcher (pun intended), as the writers seem almost overwhelmed with interesting ways to use their many toys but end up centering two characters who have barely mattered during the run of this show: Sam Lesser and Gordie Shaw.
Of course, one of the main themes of this episode is that even bit players have a major role to play in the theater of life, but what are viewers to make of the saga of Gordie Shaw, a kid who always played second fiddle to his more successful peers and ends up basically being an innocent bystander in the war for humanity? And giving a redemption arc to the man who killed Rendell Locke is admirable, but it’s pretty blandly played out. All that really saves this episode is the high concept at its center regarding what would happen in someone’s head as their life is ending. In the end, it dispatches both Gordie and Sam in a way that’s actually kind of depressing when one looks back on the whole thing. Is the theme here that playing with magic may save lucky ones like the Lockes but end up damaging everyone who gets into their sphere? Is this a show about not considering the impact of your actions on people outside your immediate circle?
The episode opens at Matheson Academy in 1995, complete with a needle-drop of Collective Soul to set the mood. The theater kids, including Ellie and Rendell, are working on a project, and the young Locke draws something with a key that then comes to life. It’s the final key! The Creation Key literally turns drawings into reality. But young Gordie Shaw sees the creature that Rendell has created, and he’s not one of the Scoobs. They try to hide the truth from him, but the lizard-man they created literally bites him. “It would be great to feel like I’m not just a bit player in one of your stories,” says Gordie (and the word bit arguably could be considered a pun there). “One of these days, I’m gonna matter to you.” He’s right!
Back to the present day. Gideon is riding with Ellie in her “horseless carriage.” He pulls a knife and orders her to speed up. It’s a weird scene. They should put Gideon in the next Fast and the Furious movie. Why not? As he’s riding with his head out the window like a dog, Ellie smashes the brakes. She rushes out of the car and into the woods, which makes almost no sense — which can also be said about the grunting, growling Gideon being able to quietly catch up with her. He knocks her down, and the whole scene was kind of a waste of time.
Don’t forget that Sam Lesser is now in Bolton’s body. Bode tells everyone about the good that Sam has done since he died. The scene doesn’t work because it’s not Sam. It has too little weight to hear an emotional beat from an echo. The important thing is that Sam wants the opportunity to help Nina and her family, and right now they need as much help as they can get.
In kind of a cruel writing choice, Gordie is still trying to get acting jobs today that elude him when Gideon and Ellie break into his house. A flashback reveals that young Ellie and her friends went into Gordie’s head to remove the memory about the Creation Key and hid it there. In the present day, Gideon gets rough with Mr. Shaw, who fights back before getting stabbed. What if he dies before they can get the final key out of his head? They have to take that chance and put the Head Key in the dying man while he’s bleeding out. This whole episode makes you feel bad for Gordie.
Back at Keyhouse, Nina has the time for a little “Do you like Josh?” moment with her son before they try to break open the Harlequin Chest to get the Alpha Key to stop Gordie. Drills break against it without making so much as a dent, and the chest even uses magic to put itself out when it’s ablaze.
Kinsey, Tyler, Sam, and Rufus come upon Gordie’s body shortly after Ellie and Gideon have gone into the poor guy’s head. He barely has a pulse. Rufus is going to get bandages, compresses, and call 911. Everyone else has to go help Ellie. They go through the red stage curtain that represents Gordie’s head and find an upgraded memory bank for the guy, looking kind of like a theater version of a theme park’s Main Street.
There’s some pretty awful writing in a scene between Ellie and Gideon about how humans are also bad before things start to really go haywire in Gordie’s head. The lights start to flicker, and Ellie races to Prospero’s cloak to retrieve the final key, only to realize that Erin must have moved it. Things start to break apart as everyone travels through a fun house of memories. Gordie’s life is basically flashing before his eyes, and our heroes are seeing that from the inside — one of the cleverest concepts of the season. They start to hear some whispers, guiding them to a key, while Gideon plays a piano and growls. One of the piano keys doesn’t work because it’s hiding an actual key. As the good guys flee with the Creation Key, Sam fights with Gideon, ending with the bad guy literally throwing a piano on him.
Finally, a short episode climaxes with the cops arriving at Gordie’s house to find a blood-covered, uncertain Rufus. And in the final scene, as Gordie is rushed to the hospital, it would appear that he dies, leaving Kinsey, Tyler, Ellie, Sam, and Gideon stuck inside his head.
• It’s kind of fun to see the theater-kid group’s parallels between Rendell Locke and his daughter, Kinsey, who basically formed a similar unit with the Savinis.
• Playing “Good Morning” in Gordie’s head as he’s dying is a nice touch. The song is from the masterpiece Singin’ in the Rain, which is partially about show business — something that has so long evaded Gordie.
• At one point, young Gordie literally says “What the eff” instead of the actual profanity that a normal kid would say, and it’s a reminder of how strange this show can be in terms of demo, in that swearing seems unallowed but this season has seen a library worker scalped and Eden’s frozen body tossed off a cliff.
• 33 minutes! That’s incredibly short for a Netflix drama, especially one approaching its endgame, a point at which a lot of shows get longer, not shorter.
• Why Prospero’s cloak? The protagonist of The Tempest could be a mirror of Gordie’s isolation, but it also feels connected, in that it’s a story about magic, something that Prospero renounces in the end — which it seems the Lockes will have to do to save the day.