Hello, Small Screen fans and welcome to the House of Macleod’s TV review and episode guide corner!
Today we are going to take an episode-by-episode look at Warner Brother’s and Netflix’s long-gestating adaption of The Sandman (2022, R) starring Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Vivienne Acheampong and Patton Oswalt and co-starring David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, Gwendoline Christie, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Ferdinand Kingsley, Sandra James-Young, Kyo Ra, Razane Jammal, Charles Dance and Eddie Karanja. The Series is based on the comic books of the same name written by Neil Gaiman and was developed by Gaiman, David S Goyer and Allan Heinberg. Now, I’ll be straight up with you guys, I haven’t read the books. That being said this review comes from a purely unbiased point of view. I won’t complain about how this or that wasn’t accurate to the books because I honestly don’t know. I will get round to reading The Sandman but for now, it's on the list. What I’m going to give you kind ladies and gentlemen is an honest, episode-by-episode rundown of what I liked and didn’t like about each episode and a brief description. WARNING this is going to be spoiler heavy so if you ignored the spoiler label on the link for this post, now is your last chance to turn back. I’ve suitably warned you now so at this point, you are more to blame than I am. Anyway, on with the review…..
EPISODE 1: SLEEP OF THE JUST Directed by Mike Barker
The first episode introduces us to Dream (Sturridge) otherwise known as Lord Morpheus (not that one Neo). While out and about trying to catch one of the nightmares he created called Corinthian (Holbrook) Dream manages to get himself captured by some very nasty chaps trying to capture and blackmail Death himself. Let's stop right there. Capture death himself. What? If I lost my son in a war, the lesson would be not to let my kids go to war. However, part-time demon summoner and full-time asshole Roderick Burgess (Dance) doesn’t see it that way and thinks “Fuck it, I’m going to ask death himself what his problem is.” Now, Burgess being the aristocrat that he is, cares far more about the end product than the steps to get there and screws up the spell, capturing Dream instead. Seeing this not as a total loss, he imprisons him and steals all of his stuff including a nice and creepy face mask, a ruby and a pouch of sand. Turns out these items are totems of power that are over time stolen again by Roderick’s side chick Ethel who is pregnant with his son. While imprisoned an epidemic breaks out called “sleep sickness” which has varying results like going to sleep and never waking up or walking about like you haven’t had your morning coffee yet. 106 years later in 2021, Roderick's other son Alex is continuing to imprison Dream. Fearing for his life, he has become an old and frail man who has been under the care of his partner Paul for quite some time. During a visit to ask for mercy one last time, Paul scuffs part of the binding line that is keeping dream prisoner and releases him. Suffice to say, Dream is not a happy fellow and punishes Alex with eternal sleep. I personally, wouldn’t mind. I’m lucky if I get six hours. This was a pretty solid opener, it left me wanting more so I went through to the kitchen, grabbed a box of crackers and put on…
EPISODE 2: IMPERFECT HOSTS Directed by Jamie Childs
Having escaped his prison of 106 years, Dream thinks the best thing to do would be to head back to his kingdom, known to all as The Dreaming. Unfortunately for him, you can’t just bugger off for over a hundred years and expect it to still be as pristine as it was when you left it. His Librarian and now only subject Luciennne tells him his kingdom is in ruins and his subjects have scattered from his realm and if he wants to put it back together he’s going to have to accept the help of a raven advisor named Matthew. Bummer. In order to retrieve a little of his power, he has to take back something that was given, so he visits the brothers Cain and Abel who are wonderfully played by Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry. After his visit with the brothers, Dream has enough power to summon the three for the price of one sister, The Fates, who promptly informs him of the whereabouts of his pouch of sand. Turns out that exorcist and pal to the church Johanna Constantine has it, she left it at her exes house with a bunch of her stuff. Nice. The Fates also inform Dream of the location of his helm and his ruby and to be completely honest that’s what this episode is. It's a set-up episode, it sets up the events of the next three episodes and tells you a bit more about the characters and the worlds they inhabit. That’s not a bad thing though and the episode plays out like an introduction with a tasty little stinger at the end as all good second episodes should.
EPISODE 3: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME Directed by Jamie Childs
The third episode introduces us to Johanna Constantine who although it's never alluded to in this series is a distant relative of the famed John Constantine. They play it off like she is a gender-swapped John though and I’m not sure what they were going for, having said that it works and Johanna is a likeable character who fits well into the episode. As I said previously she’s left her stuff at her ex's house and that includes Dreams pouch of sand. (Anakin Skywalker would not have liked this man at all) Turning up Just after Johanna has performed an exorcism on one of the royal princesses' boyfriends, The Lord of dreams asks her for his pouch. Remembering where it is the two head off to retrieve it, only to find that her exes house has been overcome by its power and left her ex a shell of herself corrupted by the sand. Having seen “Old Yeller” Dream does what has to be done and retrieves the pouch of sand. Next stop Buffalo to get some wings… I mean the Ruby. Speaking of Buffalo, the action then shifts there where we find Ethel, Roderick’s side chick, whose life has been extended by using a protection amulet. She is visiting her’s and Roderick’s son John Dee (Thewlis) who has developed a nice little obsession with Dream’s ruby and the power it could give him. Racked with guilt over her treatment of her son, she passes the protection amulet to him and then promptly snuffs it leaving John a little bit more empowered which he uses to escape the hospital he’s been secured in. Although not much happened to move along the plot that doesn’t take away from the quality of the episode. A solid third entry.
EPISODE 4: A HOPE IN HELL Directed by Jamie Childs
As I mentioned earlier, Dream has a really creepy face mask, this is referred to as his “Helm” and as bad luck would have it, it's in possession of a demon who resides in the holiday destination known as Hell. Now, nipping down to hell and getting the helm back is an easy task right? Wrong.
The demon in question challenges Dream to a battle of wits and chooses none other than Lucifer Morningstar (Christie) as his champion. You can almost hear Dream think “shit” when he chooses her. Luckily Dream is a smart cookie and wins the battle retrieving the helm. Lucifer is obviously not amused by this and promises to one day put an end to Dream’s adventures in life. Meanwhile in Buffalo, John hitches a lift with a very nice woman whom out of the kindness of her heart offers to take him to where he’s stashed the ruby. This is coincidentally nearby. After a super tense car journey where John gets all kinds of scary. He retrieves the Ruby but not before Dream confronts him, having used the helm to discover its location. He discovers that John has altered the gemstone and cannot take it into possession leaving him unconscious, while John escapes. The scenes in the car with John and the good samaritan are a masterclass in tension and are wonderfully acted all round, while the scenes in hell although visually were very well realised, the exception was Gwendoline Christie, whom I felt could have put a little more effort into her performance.
EPISODE 5: 24/7 Directed by Jamie Childs
Episode five is a fantastic episode and takes a look at humanity and what happens to us when our ability to lie is taken away. It turns out we devolve into a bunch of murderous heathens with an insatiable lust for sex, murder and cheeseburgers. This is what happens when John sets up shop in a local diner and decides to use the ruby to begin changing the world to his will. It’s a great character-based episode that takes seeming random patrons and staff of a small eatery and turns them into the monsters we all apparently are. John himself grabs a big bucket of ice cream and watches the chaos unfold. Classic John. Having recovered from his bout of unconsciousness Dream turns up and whisks John off to The Dreaming where John gets the upper hand and apparently defeats The Lord of Dreams. Yeah right, like it would be that easy. Celebrating his win he crushes the ruby in his hand, unbeknownst to him releasing all of the power back to Dream who then takes pity on the man because after all he really was a victim of other people's greed cursing him to an endless sleep as is Dream’s M.O when dispatching bad guys. As I said before this is an excellent bit of televisual gold and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
EPISODE 6: THE SOUND OF HER WINGS Directed by Mairzee Almas
You know that feeling you get when you beat the main story in a video game and then you’re all like “What do I do now?” That’s where death is at the start of this episode. He’s hanging around in parks wondering what to do next. Luckily for him, his sister Death is kicking about too and decides to have a “Bring your brother to work” day. Because I don’t know about you guys but escorting people to the afterlife when they cash in their chips cheers me right up. This episode is about life and death and all the fun little things in-between and offers a bittersweet and heartfelt look at the subject. At about fifteen minutes into the episode, the action flashes back to the middle ages where Death and Dream are off for a pint in their local pub. They overhear one of the drunken patrons wishing to never die, a man called Hob Gadling. Death in conversation with her brother wonders what such a man would do with immortality and bets Dream that after a hundred years Gadling will be begging for the sweet release of her gaze. After a chat with Gadling, Dream agrees to meet with him every 100 years to see how he is handling immortality. What follows is a lesson in eternity and friendship and how this affects the two most unlikely of people. I really liked this episode, it was warm and touching and at times really drove home what it means to be alive. For some, life lasts minutes, for others, it lasts forever.
EPISODE 7: THE DOLLS HOUSE Directed by Andres Baiz
This episode introduces us to hair dye enthusiast and broken home specialist Rose Walker and her brother Jed. They get split up when Jed gets put into foster care after both parents bite it. Roe does her best to find Jed but you know how the legal system is with this stuff, they ain't telling her shit. While out trying to get him back, Rose and her best friend Lyta get a call from a mysterious woman called Unity Kincaid, a super rich victim of the sleeping sickness caused by Dream’s disappearance in the first episode. It turns out that she is directly related to Rose and wants to help find Jed so furnishes Rose and Lyta with all of the accommodations and expenses needed to make her dream of having a family come true. Rose at this time discovers she is more than a regular human, she is what is known as a “Vortex” naturally occurring phenomenon that has the ability to travel between the real world and The Dreaming. Holy shit right? As she can’t find her brother in either world she seeks out Dream for his help in finding Jed, if anyone can find him you would think it would be the King of Dreams right? Meanwhile, The Corinthian, out causing chaos for shits and giggles gets himself invited to a serial killers convention as the keynote speaker, as he has already been hunting down Rose and has travelled the world looking for her he thinks “why not? it's got to be better than last year's SDCC right? right?…”
EPISODE 8: PLAYING HOUSE Directed by Andres Baiz
Having been surprised by Rose just turning up randomly before him in his court and asking for his help, Dream decides to help her find her brother Jed. Who it turns out is in double the danger. In his waking life, he is being held captive by his abusive foster father who has a penchant for giving Jed lifts in the boot of the car and tying him to radiators and other mean shit and while at night while Jed dreams, he is being manipulated by renegade nightmare Gault who is providing an emotional escape for him in the disguise of superhero fantasy. This, by the way, is all kinds of fucked up.
Rose, with the help of some seriously interesting characters from the Guest house they are living in put up a bunch of missing kid flyers. The Corinthian see’s these and thinks it would be the perfect way to get his hands on Rose and use her to destroy Dream. Heading to Jed’s foster parent's house, he off’s both of them and kidnaps Jed, makes the call to Rose and seeks to trap her at a convention full of the most dangerous people in America. Yikes. Meanwhile, Lyta is having some very interesting dreams of her own. She dreams that she is reunited with her recently deceased husband and that they have the perfect house that he built for her, it's a pretty cool house, I’ll give him that. Anyway, she dreams of her perfect life with him and he tells her that he wants her to stay in The Dreaming and have a baby with him. Normal so far right? Wrong. Lyta wakes up from her dream actually pregnant in real life. Yowzers!
EPISODE 9: COLLECTORS Directed by Coralie Fargeat
The Corinthian utilises the power of mobile technology and gives Rose a ring, informing her that he can reunite her with her brother at a “Cereal Convention” which in my opinion is probably the worst pun-based title for anything I’ve ever heard. She agrees and travels to the convention with a guest from the guest house named Gilbert. Because bringing one stranger to meet another stranger to pick up her kid brother can’t be dangerous at all…right? Anyway, when they get to the hotel, The Corinthian recognises him so Gilbert makes like a banana and splits. It turns out that Gilbert has a secret, he is one of the rogue dreams that abandoned The Dreaming when their King went missing. What a stroke of luck for Rose and Jed though as he makes his way back home and spills his guts to Dream who makes a beeline for the convention to confront The Corinthian. I’m not however going to tell you what happens with Lyta’s dream boyfriend though as I found that scene quite moving and I don’t really want to spoil it for you. My review, My choice. As this is the penultimate it's seen of course as a two-parter with the finale complete with all the tropes such as a cliffhanger ending and more questions than answers but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the episode. Given the subject matter and the characters involved, I found this particular episode to be quite disturbing but in an enjoyable kind of way if you know what I mean.
EPISODE 10: LOST HEARTS Directed by Louise Cooper
The Corinthian is no Steve Jobs but man can he deliver a keynote! It gets interrupted unfortunately by Dream who seeks to destroy his creation. The Corinthian however has other plans and reveals that Rose’s influence and presence allow him to hurt his creator. Dream reasons with Rose who decides to temporarily lift the danger she has put on The Dreaming allowing Dream to “unmake” The Corinthian. Weird eye teeth and all... In a spectacular show of power, Dream shows the convention attendees what their actions really are prompting them to feel the pain and suffering they have really created. Later, in her dreams, Rose confronts Dream and says that she is willing to give up her existence to save her brother and the rest of humanity. Dream accepts this offer but before Rose gets the chance to fall on her sword they are joined by Unity who informs them that she was supposed to be the vortex but due to Dream’s imprisonment it skipped a generation and moved on to Rose instead. Rose then transfers the power of the Vortex to Unity and her life is ended peacefully, allowing Rose to live and restore harmony to the Dreaming. There is a whole subplot featuring Desire and their machinations but to be honest, it felt shoehorned in. This is a shame because the character of Desire looked like they could have been really interesting if given more screen time.
EPISODE 11: A DREAM OF A THOUSAND CATS/CALLIOPE Directed by Hisko Hulsing and Louise Hooper
This surprise episode opens with an animated segment that has been wonderfully created using the integration of oil paintings animated together to make each frame. It tells the story of a Siamese cat who travels the world holding meetings with other cats and spreading the word of her personal tragedy and what they must do, as cats to save themselves from her pain. The tale is beautifully adapted from the pages of The Sandman #18 and is a heart-wrenching look at how far one cat will go for justice. The segment stars Sandra Oh, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, James McAvoy, Joe Lyceum, Nonso Anonzie and Neil Gaiman. The second part features the live-action tale of a writer who is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block. To combat this he trades a mystical item with an older washed-up writer for a real live muse that the elderly penman had captured and imprisoned 60 years previously. What follows is a study on fame and creation and how far one man will go to be a famed and beloved wordsmith. Both parts see the return of Tom Sturridge as the Dream King Morpheus, with the second featuring such acting talents as Melissanthi Mahut, Arthur Darvill, Kevin Harvey, and the legendary Derek Jacobi. This episode is available from today (Friday 19th, August)
SUMMARY: 8 OUT OF 10
The Sandman is a great little eleven-parter and definitely worth the watch. It's got a good story, some absolutely gorgeous art direction and is well acted by all that take part. I feel it suffers from the weight of what it is though, one of the most beloved comic series of the nineties. Although it has lots to offer and lots I liked, I felt that some of the characters could have been a bit more fleshed out or given better dialogue. These are things that can easily be fixed in a second season which I have no doubt in my mind this will get. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this thoroughly epic review, I hoped you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
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