In 1916, Roderick Burgess traps the Sandman, AKA Dream of the Endless, AKA Morpheus, in a failed attempt to capture his sister Death. Over a hundred years later, Morpheus seizes on a crack in the magick containing him and a sleeping guard to escape. When the King of Dreams finally returns to the Dreaming, he finds his realm in ruin and only Lucienne, the librarian, remains.
Normally I try to review lesser known, or small press authors. However, I squealed with glee when I first heard the Sandman series was coming out, and am an unabashed fangirl. I did meet Neil Gaiman at a book signing (he won’t remember me). It was when the Graveyard Book came out, and I had brought my copy of the Midsummer Night’s Dream Sandman story for him to sign. Unfortunately, Gaiman had broken his finger so all books were pre-signed. After he spoke, people made their purchases and the crowd cleared, a small group stayed behind. He came to greet all of us personally. I was so excited I said “I can’t believe you came to the Twin Cities!”
I later found out he at that time lived in Menomonie. Ooops. But I will never forget how kind and gracious and down to earth he was, and I am grateful for the chance to have met him.
As Dream, I do like Tom Sturridge’s performance, but think his hair should be darker and spikier. Desire is perfect casting, in the comics Desire takes both male and female forms, so a non-binary actor is actually truer to the comic. Lucifer is both beautiful and powerful. There were some gender and race changes from the comic in casting the show, but they all work. Complaints about the casting of anthropomorphic and divine beings that are beyond race and gender make no sense. Dream has three forms in season one, he just stays most of the show in the Sturridge form. Black people die too, so Death is free to take the form of a black woman. When the comics were originally written in the 90’s, there wasn’t as much push for diversity as now, and many comic book artists didn’t know how to draw people of color accurately.
This going to be a spoiler filled review of the first half of the show. Go and watch the show and come back to read the rest.
Spoiler Review: Part I
The first arc of episodes 1-5 is Dream retrieving his tools: his helm, pouch of sand, and ruby. There are some details that are changed from the comic—the length of his imprisonment for one—but it’s the same overall plot. I wonder how difficult it was for Tom Sturridge to film the first episode, being that he is naked through most of it in carefully framed shots. The expanded role of the Corinthian, in helping Burgress keep Morpheus trapped, makes sense. It does still strain credulity that a group of mortals could trap an Endless—a being beyond even gods—and I feel an easy fix to that would have been dropping hints that someone else was helping them trap Dream. It wouldn’t even need to reveal who it was, just a shadowy figure or a voice we don’t see who is talking would be enough.
Ethel Cripps, Burgress’s girlfriend, steals Dream’s tools and a wad of cash when she runs off while pregnant with Burgress’s son. Trading Dream’s helm for an amulet of protection allows Ethel to live her best life as a successful long lived thief. When she learns of Dream’s escape from the Corinthian, Ethel sacrifices her life by giving the amulet to her son John. A move I question—she clearly knows John has murdered before using Dream’s ruby and has kept him in a psych hospital. I understand she wanted to protect him, but she knew him gaining the amulet meant people were going to die. A thief isn’t a murderer after all.
Dream summons the Hecate to ask where his tools are. They give the usual cryptic prophecy answers. I admit I don’t work with Hecate, but this is one place I wonder about the mythos which is actually pretty well done in the series. If the goddess Dream summoned was called the three in one I wouldn’t mind it, but my understanding is the Hecate isn’t the mother/maiden/crone triple goddess.
Finding himself in London, Dream confronts Joanna Constantine, a noted exorcist who last bought his sand. I suspect we have Joanna instead of John because of movie and TV rights being separate from the Sandman series rights, but that doesn’t change the quality of the story. If anything it is better to see a character with no history on screen. Dream is aided by Mathew, Dream’s raven who can travel between the dreaming and waking world, and one of my favorite characters.
The sand Is with Constantine’s abandoned ex-girlfriend, who unfortunately falls prey to its power of dreams. After finding her emaciated to the point of near death, Joanna brow beats Dream into giving her the gift of a peaceful passing. This strikes me though as the start of Dream learning compassion for mortals, although he still does plenty of emo jerk things in the series.
Next stop: Hell. (Mathew’s protests is my favorite line of the series.) The Hell, to get back Dream’s helm from the demon who traded for it. The imagery of Hell and the damned is quietly disturbing, but grand at the same time. Dream finds Lucifer, and has to enter a duel to get his helm back. I am 100% certain Lucifer knew which demon had his helm and was playing him when she summoned all the demons (probably as a show of power). When I rewatched the scene what struck me was how carefully their conversation was phrased. Dream must win a contest of shapeshifting against Lucifer herself. I personally see this battle as one of not just strength but cunning. Yes, in a battle of pure strength Lucifer would have won. Dream is still weak trying to find his tools. But Dream wins by becoming the one thing that can’t be beat: hope. But once Morpheus finds his ruby he discovers it has been altered and harms him.
Episode 5 I knew was going to be a lot after reading the comic. I personally consider it the most horrifying and grisly of the series. John takes the ruby to an all night diner, where he uses it to slowly remove all inhibitions of the 6 regulars, and reveal their darkest desires and deepest secrets. Then he forces them to kill themselves in grisly ways. The show makes much more sense than the comic, which I found confusing. The comic is technically more violent, but the show is more horrifying because it is far too logical.
Dream though recovers in the nick of drama time after the deaths of people who never deserved to be caught up in the ruby’s power and John’s insanity. He wins a fight where the ruby is destroyed, allowing Dream to take back its power.
The 6 episode is an in-betweeny-sode. It has a self contained arc before the second arc of season 1 starts. Dream, being mopey emo boy, is confronted by his older sister Death, and joins her as she performs her duties. I always thought Death was the most compassionate of the Endless, and the one who understood humans the most. When a baby dies I was balling. Then is the story of Hob—the man who Death allowed to live. Dream meets with once every one hundred years. Of course, not being able to die doesn’t explain why he doesn’t age or how he is able to heal, but we’ll just hand wave that one away. The relationship does show Dream’s growth after his imprisonment, as he is finally able to acknowledge being friends with a human.
The second arc of the series is regarding a dream vortex and renegade dreams, which veers farther away from the source material. It is still excellent, and I will go over it at length in a future post. Now I must jump up and down with glee finding out second season has been green lit.