Why the Portrayal of Grief and PTSD in ‘Locke & Key’ Matters

The first show I watched when self-isolation began in March was the Netflix original series
Locke & Key. I had never heard of it before, or knew at the time it was an already popular comic series, but was drawn in by the trailer promising what seemed like Alice in Wonderland meets Pan’s Labyrinth meets Coraline.

The show starts with the Locke family moving from Seattle to a small town in Massachusetts to live in their late-father’s childhood home. The family has just survived a shooting at the hands of an unstable student their father was treating who ambushes their home, killing their father, and attempting to gun down the rest of them as he demands answers around the Locke family house and the keys.

Hoping for a fresh start, the Locke family moves across the country to an incredible family mansion that turns out to also be magical, as the youngest son, Bode, begins discovering magic keys around the house. But not all magic is good and as Bode attempts to find more, he unleashes a dark spirit that has been trapped in the family’s well house and is determined to destroy the world. With supernatural forces at play, the Locke kids — Tyler, Kinsey, and Body — must investigate the mysterious circumstances around their father’s death in order to find the answers and discover nothing is what it seems, including the hero they thought they knew.

It’s an amazing show, but what really stood out to me as a viewer was how Locke & Key digs into the intertwining of grief, PTSD, and trauma — an intertwining that has deeply impacted my own life, but I have rarely seen represented on television.

I’ve talked about this briefly on here before, but I had a close family member who was murdered when I was 17. His murder was an experience that redefined everything for and about me, and rarely have I meet others in my personal life who have experienced the same complex mixture of grief and anxiety and PTSD. Even more rarely have I ever seen it portrayed accurately on television so when I began to watch Locke & Key I immediately found myself mesmerized.

The kids’ flashbacks, their desire to prove everything is fine despite being triggered frequently by flashbacks. Numb feelings then too many feelings. The family’s attempts to navigate grief, often pushing each other away before being pulled back together by their shared experience of surviving. Learning their loved one was a human who also made mistakes. The impact of their PTSD on how they formulate personal relationships. This show mattered so much to me because it actually showed what happens to a family after murder instead of focusing solely on the victory of detectives figuring out yet another murder case.

Crime and detective shows are some of the most popular shows on the air. We’re fascinated by mystery, myself included, and that is the reason shows like C.S.I. have thrived for what feels like decades. But what these shows fail to do is show the rippling waves of tragedy associated with each murder victim — the family left behind, the years long trial, and the long lasting emotional and mental impacts. What Locke & Key provides is a humanizing reminder that a murder victim isn’t just a nameless side character, like most shows will portray, but a person interconnected in a community that is affected by their death.

Uniquely, Locke & Key provides an accurate look at how losing someone to violence is an experience of grief, PTSD, and anxiety all mixed together. Because not only did you lose someone you love, you also lost a sense of security, your sense of trust, and bits of your naivety about the world around you. When television doesn’t portray these experiences accurately, it detracts from the gravity of these situations happening in real life, and confuses survivors into thinking what they’re feeling or how they’re coping, or how long they’re allowed to be affected, is wrong.

My favorite show of all time, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is another show that brings to light how a family copes after losing someone to murder. The long-term storyline of the show is Miss Fisher investigating and bringing to justice the man who murdered her sister when they were young. Though the case is finally resolved after the first season, Miss Fisher makes mention of her sister’s death frequently throughout all three seasons, quoting it often as her reason for seeking justice for others. When watching this show, I often feel both heard in how it shows someone forever remembering and missing their loved one, and hopeful as it depicts the possibility of a full life even after great loss.

With media representation being such an influential force on human perspective, having these stories that remind viewers of the life-altering impact violence and murder has on communities is vital. Through both of these shows, I have felt empowered seeing versions of my own story being respectfully portrayed on screen and hopeful that for those watching who have not experienced this type of loss, they are taking this as the opportunity to become more aware of the long-lasting effects trauma, PTSD, and grief has on families — some of which they might know personally within their own communities.


Like this blog? Throw your email into the subscription box in the right corner and receive a weekly email letting you know when a new post goes up. Thanks for reading! 

2 thoughts on “Why the Portrayal of Grief and PTSD in ‘Locke & Key’ Matters

  1. La Donna Readmond April 28, 2020 / 8:52 pm

    Wonderful writing Carly. I understand a it more. Thank you.


Comments are closed.