Locke & Key season one premiere recap: Welcome to Matheson

The long-awaited adaptation of Locke & Key finally lands on Netflix. What adventures and horrors await the residents of Key House?

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s graphic novel series, Locke & Key, has finally been adapted for screen. This is the second attempted adaptation of Locke & Key, following a failed pilot in 2010, and it seems the wait was well worth it for fans.

The premiere episode showcases excellent visuals and high production values. The acting may not be ground-breaking but is believable enough for the audience to become invested in the characters.

Who are the denizens of Key House and what mysteries lie ahead for viewers of the show?

A Fiery Start

‘Welcome to Matheson’—changed from the first volume of Locke & Key, ‘Welcome to Lovecraft’—opens on an unnamed man receiving a phone call from a woman just as he is entering his home. The man is informed that Rendell Locke is dead and he immediately lays aside whatever plans he had for the evening and goes about putting together maps, photographs, and documents. One of these photographs is of a group of six young people, taken a few decades ago, and features a young Rendell Locke. A copy of the same picture is seen in Key House later in the episode. How is this man connected to Rendell? Was he also in the picture?

Once his documents are gathered, the man opens a hidden safe and retrieves a key which he stabs into his chest, immolating himself and burning his house to the ground. We do not know who this man is or why he took such a fatal action, but we will definitely find out as the series wears on.

Enter Key House

Following Rendell’s death, the remainder of the Locke family—matriarch Nina (Darby Stanchfield), eldest son, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones), and Bode (Jackson Robert Scott)—move to Matheson. They have left their life in Seattle behind but not everyone in the family is happy about it.

Nina seems determined to start a new life away from the prying eyes of the people of Seattle—but Matheson isn’t bringing them much joy. The Locke reputation precedes them and everyone, from the boy at the ice cream parlor to the children at school, knows about the Locke family tragedy. Some people are kinder about it than others.

The Lockes’ plan is to move into Rendell’s ancestral home—Key House. It’s massive and daunting, and not a bit ramshackle. Rendell’s brother, Duncan (Aaron Ashmore), is the caretaker, but he lives in Boston and doesn’t care much for the house. But Nina is happy to take on a project, even if it means freezing for a few nights. Duncan can’t wait to get out of there. What did Key House do to the Locke family?

Trauma Past

Before Key House can get its claws into the new Locke family, Nina, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode need to work through the trauma of Rendell’s death.

On an otherwise nondescript day three months ago, Nina and Rendell (Bill Heck), were interrupted by Sam Lesser (Thomas Mitchell Barnet), a boy Rendell knew. Sam insisted on speaking to Rendell about Key House, but when Rendell asked to meet later, Sam pulled out a gun.

To make his point, Sam shot Nina in the leg—Rendell charged him, just as Tyler returned home, in time to see his father shot and killed by Sam.

Though this is clearly the source of Nina and Tyler’s trauma, Kinsey and Bode were also terrorized that day. At a viewing party with supposed new friends, Kinsey relives the moment she and Bode hid from Sam, not knowing whether they would survive his rampage.

Rendell’s murder and the aftermath are close to the source material, though we have yet to find out whether the series will confirm the sexual assault that Nina suffers. One hopes that it is left out—it was handled very poorly in the graphic novel series and the screen adaptation would be better off without it.

The Well-house

If anyone was wondering why people stayed away from Key House, the locked well-house on the grounds is reason enough.

While exploring his new home, Bode comes across the well-house. He’s the only one small enough to slip through the bars—the key for the door was lost ages ago, says Duncan. But Bode is soon going to wish he’d stayed outside.

Bode drops a polaroid into the well, thus awakening a kind of spirit, who calls herself Bode’s echo. In reality, her name is Dodge, and she is kindly and almost playful with Bode—she tells him about Key House being full of keys and urges Bode to find them all by listening to the voices. She is particularly interested in a key that can take one anywhere they want. Bode goes off on his mission.

Finding the Keys

Bode accidentally comes across the first key—the voices are strongest near Kinsey’s beloved bracelet, gifted to her by their father. But Bode manages to take the bracelet apart to reveal his first key—the Anywhere Key—which he promptly uses to transport himself to the ice cream parlor.

Kinsey doesn’t believe Bode about the key, of course—nor does the family believe Bode can talk to a woman living in the well.

But Bode soldiers on and manages to find another key, rather disgustingly hidden in the sink drain. When he asks Dodge about it, she explains that the key can show you a person you loved, even if they’re dead. Bode can’t wait to try it—he wants to see his father, and he wants his family with him for the joyous moment.

The Mirror Key

An excited Bode uses the Mirror Key but all he can see is himself, or rather, another version of himself beckoning him into the mirror. He doesn’t want to go but Nina joins him and when she sees her other self, she is mesmerized and quickly follows herself into the mirror. Once inside, she reaches out to touch her other self but encounters another mirror which cracks, trapping her inside.

Bode asks Dodge for help, but none is forthcoming. Not only has Dodge managed to get out of the well, but she has no intention of helping Bode. She promises to save Nina in exchange for the Anywhere Key—but the moment Bode hands it to her, Dodge leaves, and a distraught Bode races home to get more help.

Fortunately, Kinsey and Tyler return home from their aborted evenings out—past trauma and unfeeling acquaintances can really ruin your evening. The trio uses a rope to keep Tyler tethered to the real world as he searches for Nina inside the Mirror World. With some difficulty, they find each other and return.

But while the children mull over the experience within the mirror, Nina seems to immediately forget any of it happened, which leaves the children even more confused. Nina was inside the mirror for longer than Tyler—did something happen to her inside. Is this even the real Nina?

As the Lockes try to gather themselves, in prison, Sam Lesser has a visitor—none other than Dodge, who had promised she would come to see him.

Final Thoughts

The premiere episode of Locke & Key was paced well and kept the flashbacks to a minimum. The production design was strong and there were a sufficient number of keys introduced here to keep viewers excited and guessing.

Dodge isn’t nearly as terrifying as she should be in live-action. The graphic novel series painted the character—especially when she was in the well-house—as eerie and downright scary. She is neither of those things here, which is a disappointment. The close-ups of Dodge should have been left till the end of the episode—this would have let the imaginations of viewers run wild.

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As an opener, this is otherwise a strong episode. We have met the principal characters as well as their larger circle. We also got a glimpse of Rufus, and probably Ellie Whedon, major characters from the book series who will likely play a large role in the coming episodes.

Though the primary cast is white, a number of secondary characters of people of color which gives the show a more well-rounded and diverse feel than the graphic novels.

There’s plenty more in store for viewers of Locke & Key, so strap in for a rollercoaster ride.

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