Not gonna lie, I’m getting a little impatient with this show already. The Sandman appears to be going at an adaptation rate of one issue per episode, and we do not have time for this. Netflix cancels shows too fast — get to hell already, please.
Dream is back in his kingdom, but shit’s all fucked up. The Dreaming is a fish kingdom: If Dream is sad, it rains. If he’s happy, little cartoon animals frolic about. And if he’s missing, the world starts to fade away. Dream needs to get his tools back, the ones Ethel Cripps stole when she escaped from Roderick Burgess. And to do that, he needs to get stronger by absorbing something he has created. Much in the same way as he was trying to do to the Corinthian in episode one, Dream needs to do the Infinity War Snap on something to reabsorb it into himself. And, alas, the only thing still around is a cute little gargoyle named Gregory.
Hats off to the VFX department for Gregory. Not since The The Twilight Saga I have seen such emotional CGI animal acting. And, yes, I’m including the “live action” The Lion King in that assessment. I wept for Gregory. If The Sandman were on Does the Dog Die?, the answer would be “yes.” Technically gargoyles aren’t dogs, sure, but then why does this one come when called and play fetch, huh? Plus, Gregory seems to understand what’s going to happen to him, which is hugely upsetting. Thank you, li’l gargoyle friend, for your sacrifice and the stakes you added to this otherwise very place-setting episode.
Gregory is owned by Cain and Abel. You know, from the Bible. I am so happy to see these two freaks. Both Cain and Abel are legacy DC characters, having hosted horror comics from the ’50s to the ’80s. Neil Gaiman added them to his story as a little nod to the past, the same way that Jordan Peele cast Keith David in Nope. In The Sandman, Cain and Abel together represent the first story. They have to reenact that first murder over and over and over. Peep all the crosses by the House of Secrets; each one is Abel’s grave. Asim Chaudhry plays Abel with all the pathos and softboy energy it requires, but I could use more malevolence from Sanjeev Bhaskar’s Cain. That guy should be in full Joker mode 24/7.
Having dispatched Gregory, Morpheus is strong enough to swim through the world’s dreams to find the things he needs for bribing the Fates (and to find a replacement gargoyle for Cain and Abel). This is one example in which the TV show definitely outperforms the comics: Seeing a big ol’ Morpheus arm grab a crossroads from someone’s dream rules. Overall, the CGI has been getting in the way of how yucky The Sandman could be texturally. But doing big set pieces like this pays off.
Properly bribed with archetypal imagery, the Fates set Dream up for what the video-games industry calls a fetch quest. You know the kind: An NPC needs three items, you run around the map getting them, then maybe you get a cool sword or something at the end. Dream finds out that his sand was bought by someone named Constantine, his helmet got taken by a demon, and his ruby was passed from mother to son. So that’s the next few episodes sorted, then. In games, fetch quests are often filler, a way to pad the gameplay hour count in reviews and make the player character explore more of the setting. I fear this is what we as viewers are being set up for in this episode. In The Simpsons parlance, The Sandman needs to get to the fireworks factory already.
Speaking of that mother and son, we get more of a sense of what Ethel Cripps has been doing with her absurdly long life span. In the 90 years or so since she left England, Ethel has become an art thief, or perhaps just a fence, and has taken the time to learn all sorts of languages and get an amulet that can explode her enemies. Good for her. Because they hate to see a girl boss winning, the Corinthian pays a visit to Ethel’s hideout. He doles out some vague threats, they both do some good object work with some cocktails, and he tries to intimidate her into revealing where Dream’s stuff has gone. It doesn’t work. (Thanks, amulet!) Joely Richardson plays Ethel with nerves of steel, and you believe she can go toe-to-toe with an immortal serial killer.
After dispatching the Corinthian, Ethel visits her son, John, in his mental hospital-prison. Played by David Thewlis (aka Remus Lupin), John is a stroppy teen in a middle-aged body. Of course, he should be like 70 by now. Maybe the ruby is holding his brain’s development back in the same way it’s delaying his aging. The small amount of time given to Ethel and John, two complex characters that have a lot of stuff going on, only sets in starker relief what a blah protagonist Morpheus is. This is no shade to Tom Sturridge, who can emote like a motherfucker when he needs to, like in Irma Vep. This is intrinsic to the character. Dream is unflappable, and the essence of story is flapping. His whole thing is underemoting, which works great as a drawing but can sometimes feel lifeless IRL. It’s why a live-action Daria has never gone past the fan-trailer stage. John Dee is the fireworks factory, and we gotta see him explode.
• Underused-British-character-actor spotlight this ep goes to Chaudhry. Watch his season of Taskmaster to see how against type this role is for him. Also watch every season of Taskmaster. That show rules.
• Okay, one problem with the Corinthian: His eye-teeth are never shiny enough. I need them chompers glistening like he’s got tiny Joe Bidens in his skull.
• One moment in which Dream shows some real conflict and emotion is when he tells Lucienne that his family almost certainly knew he was trapped and did nothing to help him. He is salty about it.
• Excited to see Johanna Constantine next episode, although I am curious why they chose her instead of John for this adaptation. Is it because Warner Bros. has bigger plans for the blonde bisexual Brit? Or is it because Alan Moore created the character and he can be quite churlish when his toys get played with? I could see Gaiman using the distaff counterpart he created, rather than Moore’s, as a kindness to an old bud.
• It’s an LOL that Cain and Abel, two characters that predate Jesus (both in Christian writing and because in Sandman lore, they’ve existed since the first time a one-celled organism killed another one), use crosses in their giant cemetery. Also, why does Cain dig a new grave every time? Just keep one and reuse it, like that one open grave in LA that is recycled in every TV show and movie. Work smarter, not harder, Cain.
• Vivienne Acheampong is doing her best with Lucienne, but she is little more than an exposition supply device at the moment.