The Sandman: Season One Review

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The Sandman Season One is a Dream Come True

Main Cast: Tom Sturridge, Patton Oswalt, Vivienne Acheampong, Boyd Holbrook

Created By: Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, Allan Heinberg

Dream:When the waking world leaves you wanting and weary, sleep brings you here to find freedom and adventure. To face your fears and fantasies in Dreams and Nightmares that I create; and which I must control, lest they consume and destroy you. That is my purpose and my function.

The Sleep of the Just” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of the most popular comics ever made. After decades trapped in Development Hell, Netflix has brought it to life as a series. Several A-list actors were cast, a lot of money has been spent, and Neil himself is aboard to supervise the adaptation.

So is The Sandman season one a dream come true or a nightmare made manifest? Let’s find out.

The Good

Return of the King

[Dream enters his ruined castle]
Lucienne: “You’re home, my Lord.
Morpheus: “I am.”
Lucienne: “Forgive me, sir, but … the realm, the palace they are not as you left them.
Morpheus: “What happened here? Who did this?
Lucienne: “My Lord, you are The Dreaming, The Dreaming is you. With you gone as long as you were, the realm began to decay and crumble.” 

The Sleep of the Just” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Where do dreams come from? Are they simply your brain processing what happened that day or does someone weave stories for you to experience when you sleep? Some call him The Sandman, others go for Morpheus, but meet Dream of The Endless.

Dream is a godlike being who rules dreaming. He is captured by a cabal of wizards who want to force Death to make them immortal. Dream is imprisoned for over a century before escaping.

The only way for Morpheus to fix The Dreaming is to find his three symbols of office: a pouch of magic sand, his helmet, and a ruby. He is assisted by Lucienne, his aide-de-camp and Royal Librarian, and Matthew, a wisecracking raven who asks questions for the viewer’s benefit.

Dream is the character most changed in this adaptation of The Sandman. He is less aloof, more willing to help others, and is merciful where his comic counterpart was spiteful. Dream still acts imperious and prickly, but he is more open with his emotions and now cares about the humans whose dreams he controls.

What a Night for a Nightmare

The Corinthian:We are the American dreamers drivin’ down a holy road of true knowledge that’s paved with blood and gold. We cross the length and breadth of this fair county, and we are killing people. We don’t do it for a living. We don’t do it for revenge. We do not murder for profit! We kill… to kill. We are entrepreneurs in an expanding field, but no one sees us except for one weekend a year. Well, I see you.

“Collectors” (Season 1, Episode 9)

Dreams are fun, but they have a price. For every peaceful adventure, there’s a terrifying vision. Every goofy creature is stalked by a horrifying monstrosity. The Sandman season one has nightmares that make Freddy Krueger look like a punk.

The Corinthian is a rogue Nightmare and serial killer. Behind his signature sunglasses, he has mouths that eat his victim’s eyes. He learned that Dream had been imprisoned and spent a century searching for a way to kill him so that he could be free. While The Corinthian enjoys murder, he also uses manipulation, charm, and seduction to get what he wants.

Dream’s ruby was stolen by a thief and passed down to her son, John Dee (David Thewlis). Its power corrupted him and exacerbated his hatred of lies. He spent decades in a mental hospital before escaping and reclaiming the ruby. He plans to kill Dream with the ruby to create a world without lies.

The Collectors round out season one’s major threats. These serial killers were inspired by The Corinthian and host a yearly convention to celebrate their work. The main three Collectors are Nimrod, a middle-aged nebbish hunter, The Good Doctor, who vivisects victims, and Fun Land, who targets children and is an implicit pedophile. 

More Things in Heaven, Earth, and The Sandman Season One

[Matthew has been ordered to find a Dream Vortex]
Merv: [unimpressed] “You’ve been here for five minutes. Do you even know what to watch for?
Matthew: No. Do you wanna go?
Merv:I do not.”
Matthew:Then tell me what to look for.”
Merv:Ugh… any unusual behavior.
Matthew:Said the pumpkin to the talking bird. Can you be a little more specific?

“The Doll’s House” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Dream and the Nightmares he hunts are interesting, but they aren’t the only focus. The rest of The Sandman’s cast draws from mythology, DC Comics’ horror hosts, and religion. Heck, I’m pretty sure there’s a kitchen sink in there somewhere.

Humans remain important despite all the godlike beings. A gender-swapped John Constantine named Johanna (Jenna Coleman) is given a focus episode. A young woman named Rose Walker takes center stage in the fight between Dream and The Corinthian while searching for her abused brother. She is joined by her friend Lyta and a peculiar gentleman named Gilbert (Stephen Fry). 

The Dreaming’s inhabitants are unique. Cain and Abel appear early on to help Dream regain some of his power. Dream’s plans are often called into question by Mervyn Pumpkinhead, a gruff, blue collar scarecrow played by Mark Hamill. Several of The Endless are present, including Death, Desire, and Despair. The latter two are note-perfect despite little screen time while Kirby Howell-Baptiste steals the show as Death.

Dream travels to Hell in one episode. While there, he encounters Lucifer Morningstar and their main enforcer, Mazikeen (Gwendoline Christie and Cassie Clare). Dream outwits the devil, leading Lucifer to swear revenge. 

Netflix may be testing the waters for a spinoff of The Sandman. Season one spends a lot of time showing a normal day in Johanna Constantine’s life and her tragic backstory. Lucifer was also given a bigger role in their story while Dream drew attention to Mazikeen, who originally didn’t appear until much later. Both characters were well received, so Netflix may choose to save that for a rainy day.

The Bad

The Sandman Season One Gets Lost In Adaptation

The Maiden:Morpheus. It’s been a while.
The Mother:You look thin, love. Are you eating? Are you hungry?
The Crone:He is, but not for food. Look at him. He wants something.

“Imperfect Hosts” (Season 1, Episode 2)

The Sandman does a masterful job bringing the story to the screen, but some things fall short. Some were cost-cutting measures, others are the result of fumbling characters and concepts.

Dream invokes the Hecate to get a lead on his stolen items. The goddess, taking the form of three women at different points in life, offers him three questions. While the Maiden and Mother provide helpful hints, The Crone gives a non-answer and screams at Dream when he requests clarification.

In the comics, the Maiden was the one who gave a non-answer to show that she was flighty. The Crone gave Dream a far more informative answer and freely advised him to ask the Justice League for help. The whole point was to show that despite being bitter and sharp-tongued, The Crone helps those who show respect. 

The Collectors were done a disservice when their true nature was revealed early. In the comic, the “Cereal Convention” was foreshadowed for several issues prior to appearing. The Sandman season one botched that suspense by having The Good Doctor call her associates serial killers during their first appearance.

The Sandman season one mostly abandoned DC’s universe for rights issues. John Dee is merely disturbed in the show, but he was an insane supervillain called Doctor Destiny in the comic. Instead of a world without lies, he wanted to wreak havoc for fun and caused worldwide madness with the ruby. Lyta and Hector were retired superheroes called Fury and the Sandman. The Justice League told Dream where his ruby was instead of him finding it alone. The lessened connection with the DC Universe is noticeable sometimes.

Thus Kindly I Scatter

Rose:Enough! If I’m as powerful as you say I am, then I will find my own way. In the meantime, the walls go back up. Because I’m not dreaming anymore. Thanks to you two, I’m wide awake!

“Collectors” (Season 1, Episode 9)

The Sandman adapts the first two volumes of the comic: Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House. The first is handled excellently, but the second suffers from compression.

Rose Walker (Kyo Ra)  becomes a main character in the last few episodes, which focus on her searching for her little brother Jed. Viewers quickly learn that she is a Dream Vortex, a being whose control over The Dreaming rivals Dream’s and whose existence could destroy it

Lyta is able to be with her dead husband in dreams because of her proximity to Rose. Rose has to convince her to remain in the waking world in between searching for Jed, bonding with her supporting cast, and trying to stay a step ahead of Dream and The Corinthian.

The Sandman deepens Rose’s character. She’s kinder, braver, aware of her powers and Dream’s fear, and she is far more proactive in season one. However, the plot is simply too much to cram into four episodes and the lower stakes feel strange when the first half had confrontations with Lucifer and a god-like supervillain.

The Verdict

The Sandman season one is a stunning adaptation of the graphic novels. The characters, story, acting, and special effects are sublime. A few characters were fumbled and the back half of the season is overcrowded, but this is still one of the best and most faithful adaptations I’ve seen.

Neil Gaiman has said that a second season is in question because of the cost of the first. Perhaps Netflix’s tune will change when the Emmys start rolling in, because The Sandman will be a tough act to beat next year. Until then, it is absolutely worth your time.

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