Where do you go when you fall asleep? Do you dream of life similar to yours or a whole other world? For humanity in The Sandman, Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comics of the same name, there’s a whole realm of dreams called “the Dreaming.”
Lord Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) resides in this place and is also simply called “Dream.” One fateful night, a man named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) does an occult ritual to entrap Death herself, aiming to get her to bring back his dead son. Instead of Death, he accidentally captures Dream, plucking from him his three “tools”–a bag of sand, a helm, and a ruby–he uses to preside over the dream realm. The family keeps Dream trapped in a glass box for a hundred years, and when he finally escapes, he discovers his absence has caused chaos in the Dreaming, and he must work to repair the damage and retrieve his stolen tools.
The first six episodes of the series are primarily episodic. The first sets the stage with Dream’s capture and escape. Episode 2 explores The Dreaming. Episode 3 introduces famed exorcist Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman). Episode 4 takes us to hell to meet Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie). Episode 5 expands on the ruby’s powers by studying a microcosm of people at a diner who are all affected by it. And episode 6 spans hundreds of years to tell the story of an immortal man’s bond with Dream. Each of these six episodes is distinct and complete even as they all build Dream as a character and show him trying to regain his power.
Episode 7 shifts, however, to make the show far more serial. It introduces a kind young woman named Rose Walker (Kyo Ra), whose existence threatens dire consequences for Dream and his realm. The remainder of the season tells her story, which feels like a sudden change since she isn’t mentioned at all in the previous episodes. Although Rose is a likable character whose story is worth telling, it would have been good to introduce her earlier so the change of gears from episodic narratives wouldn’t feel so sudden. Her story is also quite complicated, so laying the groundwork earlier, rather than trying to contain it in four episodes, would have helped it from feeling quite so rushed.
A word of caution is for those seeking a Good Omens-like Gaiman piece: this one is, in many places, very violent. There’s plenty of self-harm and blood and even a serial killer who prefers murdering children. This is definitely a “dark” fantasy compared to the lighter-hearted Good Omens.
The series is more idea-driven than character-driven, and despite some of its pacing issues, the season is still solid and enjoyable. The sketches we get of characters like Constantine and Lucifer feel compelling and left me wanting more from those characters in a second season. Dream is also a commanding protagonist, and Sturridge’s performance is full of a fun-to-watch gravitas.
Although I haven’t read The Sandman comics and therefore can’t speak to the adaptation choices, I can say, as someone new to this world, that I very much enjoyed the approach of the show in telling these stories.
The Sandman premiered on Netflix on August 5
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter