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How Netflix Broke the LOCKE & KEY Curse

The following article discusses the issue of sexual assault.

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez’s Locke & Key faced a long and arduous road to the screen. From failed film adaptations to two failed TV pilots, fans of the tale of the Locke children who move back to their ancestral home after their father’s murder and the magic keys they find and then have to defend have been waiting over a decade to see the story adapted on the screen. Finally, Netflix’s adaptation is out for everyone to judge and fight over. Yes, it’s different. No, not every change is for the better, but a few of them actually make the comics even better.

When Locke & Key was released in 2008, it presented a story of grief and legacy told through a horror lens with some pretty horrific imagery. The comic had plenty of graphic violence, including against children, as well as outright dark and disturbing imagery. For better or worse, the Netflix show tones down the horror and instead focuses on the character drama and the fantasy elements, resulting in a show that’s more Harry Potter or Narnia than IT. This was a deliberate choice by executive producers Meredith Averill and Carlton Cuse, the latter of whom worked on the Hulu version of the show that didn’t make it past the pilot stage.

“The Hulu adaptation was more on the horror axis,” Cuse told Nerdist over the phone ahead of the Los Angeles premiere of the show’s first episode. “I really came out of that pilot feeling strongly that the best version of the show would be one that would lean more on the fantasy axis. Fortunately, that lined up with exactly what Meredith was thinking as well.”

But the change in focus expands beyond just tone. Like HBO’s Watchmen, Locke & Key feels like a “remix” of the comic instead of a straight adaptation, which was a mistake the Fox pilot did back in the day as it felt like an imitation of the page rather than an actual adaptation. Because of the extended runtime of the TV show compared to the compact structure of the comic, events are extended and shifted around, while some characters are mixed together, and others become more prominent. 

Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, and Sherri Shaum in Locke & Key
When it comes to the characters, the show’s biggest changes have to do with Nina Locke and Ellie Whedon. In the comic, Nina is raped at the beginning of the story by the accomplice of her husband’s murderer. Following this, Nina struggles with  alcoholism, which leads to tension between her and her daughter Kinsey. Nina mostly stays in the periphery in the comics, as adults are unable to sense magic and because her alcoholism makes her unfocused and absent in her parenting. Likewise, Ellie Whedon was a relatively minor character in the comics that mostly served to do the bidding of the evil Dodge. She was also slowly going mad due to a fragment of Dodge’s essence being inserted into her mind. Her memories altered, Ellie has no idea what’s going on around her.

In the show, Nina is never raped. Additionally, it is she who manages to incapacitate Sam Lesser after he murders Rendell, while his accomplice is retconned. The show also makes her already six years sober, so her kids know what it’s like to see her suffer through the addiction, which makes her relapse towards the end of the season more emotional. The writers also make Nina more proactive in the story as the show provides her with a mystery to solve: what happened in Rendell’s past that made him hide everything to do with Keyhouse from his family? Nina starts to investigate how Rendell’s high school friends tragically died, as well as how Sam Lesser related to Keyhouse and the omega symbol.

Connor Jessup and Darby Stanchfield in Locke & Key

Christos Kalohoridis

Ellie Whedon also takes a step forward, as does her son Rufus, who still has an unspecified mental disorder but can communicate more easily with others in the show than he can in the comic. The biggest change comes in Ellie’s motivation. In the comic we see her manipulated, abused and sexually assaulted by Dodge, posing as Ellie’s high school boyfriend Lucas. Meanwhile, in the show, Ellie accidentally sets Dodge free out of grief, but is quick to realize the damage she caused. She decides to turn on Dodge and help the Locke kids fight back, even if it results in her death.

According to Meredith Averill, Ellie’s increased role was one of the things they wanted to explore when they began to think about how to expand on the story of the comic: “We wanted to be able to tell that story from her perspective and dig a little deeper,” Averill told us. “Why she felt compelled to follow Dodge and it’s such a heartbreaking story. That’s why we were excited about going back and reveal what she’s been doing this season in episode nine, it’s a great payoff for the audience, not just on a mystery level, but also emotionally.”

Sherri Shaum as Ellie Whedon in Locke & Key

Ian Watson/Netflix

In addition to the characters, Netflix’s Locke & Key also remixes the plot by moving at a much faster pace than the comic and also moving events to much earlier in the timelines. Honestly, this change only serves to improve the show. Not only does it take less time to get to the meat of the story—you could argue that the comic takes a while to present character motivations—but it also guarantees that even fans of the comic still have some surprises waiting for them.

The Black Door, which serves as the last stand for the characters, and the place where all the magic (and the demons) come from, isn’t shown until the second-to-last volume of the comic. By comparison, the show visits the Black Door twice in the first season, even opening it in the last episode to kill Dodge—something that never happens in the original. Of course, the show pulls a great twist by revealing that Dodge changed places with Ellie, and it is her who died by being pushed into the dark dimension on the other side of the door. This is a surprising twist that fits perfectly with what we see in the show, and gives Ellie a tragic end to her story.

Emilia Jones and Griffin Gluck

Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

The changes don’t end there. Instead of turning into Zack Wells and fooling everyone for a while, Dodge remains as herself for most of the show. That is, until the season one finale when she turns herself into Gabe, the new boy in town. Cuse revealed that they took some time deciding on this change, but it was ultimately one that they were excited to tell.

We love the fundamental idea that Dodge can assume and does assume different identities” he told us. “We decided to not do the twist in the comic, but we wanted to do something that was fresh and different so that it would truly be surprising for the television show and that you wouldn’t be able to kind of go to the comic and learn what the twist was. And we just felt that having people recognize Lucas and then having Lucas kill them in the comic wouldn’t translate well. But we liked the basic idea from the comic, so we came up with our own variation of it.”

The twist is definitely an intriguing one, as it essentially leaves the show on the same place the comic was, with Dodge having infiltrated the family, only it got there very differently. Cuse seemed excited about its potential for future stories, however, “The thing about television is that it’s this kind of organic entity and we started down the road and developing the story for the season and realized, Oh, this is a great way to spin the show into season two.”

So hopefully we’ll get more of Gabe, and of demon Eden(!) in the already-confirmed season two.

Header Image: Netflix