The Sandman Episodes 7 -10

Still loving Neil Gaiman’s responses to some of the more absurd criticisms of the series on Twitter. After one person slagged off a particular casting, Gaiman responded by saying they’d cast that actor specifically because that person didn’t like them! So its with respect that I open this post about the last four episodes by saying I’m not sure this show is really for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t have impressive moments but something is not connecting. Perhaps betraying that I’d not been paying enough attention to literally everything in this series I found myself a little disorientated by part seven `The Doll’s House`. I had to check I’d not accidentally skipped an episode because matters seemed to have moved on and there’s a lot happening, 


Concepts and ideas aplenty are fizzing about and at different points a talking pumpkin and Stephen Fry turn up. Ostensibly it appears to be about a girl called Rose Walker looking for her missing brother Jed after the death of both her parents but Rose is also a dream vortex. This is a once in a generation thing that is extremely dangerous. Morpheus is hoping she will draw missing nightmares to her and assigns raven Matthew to keep an eye on her. We also meet Desire and Despair, a couple who could not be more different yet whose shared aim seems to be to bring down Dream. His century of imprisonment was engineered by them and they’re up to no good again.  

Rose’s quest takes her to London and then to Florida where she shares a boarding house with a couple called Ken and Barbie! This is where Stephen Fry also lives- he plays Gilbert who on the basis of his one scene in this episode is basically just Stephen Fry but dressed in Victorian clothes as we imagine he does at his actual home anyway. Oh and there’s a sub plot involving one of the missing nightmares Corinthian being sought for serial killer’s convention!

Its bonkers and clever making some strong speeches about loss and moving on but I found the whole somewhat uninvolving. There is a touch of the Tim Burton macabre about some of the characters (especially the pumpkin) and an even more likeable Morpheus than earlier on. The episode ends with Jed being  kidnapped and bundled into a car boot. There is absolutely too much skated over in the episode despite exposition aplenty which fails to actually explain the basics like for example what the jiggins is a dream vortex and how does someone become one? Its one of those narratives that feels like it might be trying to tell you something or explore a topic but is so cluttered the message just doesn’t get through to anyone but the most devoted fans. Maybe this one’s for them.

Part 8, `Playing House` treads a more comprehensible path as the search for Jed Walker continues. As Rose closes in on him via dreams, so does Corinthian. Because Rose is a dream vortex this draws other dreams to her so she starts to appear in them though there also seems to be a suggestion that her presence makes the dreams stronger. Its at this point you realise there aren’t really too many rules- dreams are whatever the writer wants them to be to fit the story. There’s nothing wrong in that all writers bend shapes in that way but usually it’s for some McGuffin or other. When it’s the entire backdrop to the story, it starts to become too convenient a prop.

Jed, meanwhile, in the episode’s more interesting side is under the influence of a nightmare called Gault who appears to be having some job doubts. She is supposed to be terrorising the lad but instead appears to him as his mother and dresses him up in a superhero costume. He becomes the Sandman! The idea of this supposedly terrifying creation aiding a child’s dream play from inside a wonderful retro Fifties futurist control room adds a quirky touch to proceedings. It contrasts well, too, with the violent reality of a child shut in a basement by abusive parents. Plus Ann Ogbodo is excellent.

At the end Morpheus punishes her for not doing her job a somewhat harsh decision that seems to reverse the gradual thawing of the character in recent episodes. Many viewers – like myself- will find this a disappointingly establishment sort of reaction. I suppose it does emphasise that this is one of those drama with an anti-hero at its somewhat cold heart. Still you can’t accuse the programme of being conventional.

Episode nine, `Collectors` manages to inject some tension into what has been a somewhat drawn out plot as Rose arranges to meet her brother who has been taken to a `Cereal` convention. She’s driven there by- yes- Stephen Fry who turns out to be Fiddler’s Green one of the missing nightmares Morpheus has been searching for. Whatever his character name this is quintessential Fry musing on life and humanity so much he sends Rose to sleep. In her dreams she witnesses what she sees as the crueller side of Morpheus. The convention meanwhile turns out to be a serial killer convention though does the front of being a cereal convention mean there are really gatherings devoted to breakfast delights in the US?

This plays well in the confines of the plush hotel deadly deeds are discussed at various panels and we follow Fiddlers Green as he eavesdrops on several of these and is increasingly shocked. The ideas here are dark and disturbing though played with just about enough humour for the production to get away with it. I suspect though that some people may decide this is the episode where they stop watching. The ending is genuinely terrifying though.

Its interesting how Morpheus plays an almost background role in this storyline though Tom Sturridge and Vivienne Acheampong have some great scenes. Boyd Holbrook remains as chilling as ever even at his most charming which says something when you think we can’t see his eyes which are enclosed in wraparound shades all the time. I do feel this plot would sit better in a second season as it’s removed some of the urgency from episode four to six which were comparatively straightforward. Still some momentum has now been gathered for the last episode.

Yet `Lost Hearts` by and large ends in more of a contemplative manner eschewing the big special effects miasma you’d expect from a show like this. What effects there are remind me of expensive pop videos as landscapes shift while the only nod to action is a spinning hole sucking people in though they are only dreaming. The series’ focus on dreams and imagination does mean that its not always clear who, if anyone, is in actual danger. There is a lot of talk of the end of the world if the walls of dreams collapse but somehow this sense of imminent peril doesn’t quite come across as powerfully as it should. Still there Iies a dilemma for the viewer in whom to support. On the one had poor Rose Walker is an innocent child who somehow has become a dream vortex posing a mortal threat to everyone. Morpheus has to destroy her and as he is nominally the protagonist of this story we should be cheering him on but it’s a tricky one.

The solution is unexpected though neatly done managing to avoid having Morpheus needing to see through the dilemma and it has a taste of the obligatory “No, wait…” scenario beloved of fantasy shows everywhere. Corinthian’s confrontation with Morpheus is also a cerebral one though I’m not sure I can still get my head around who the latter created the former in the first place. Stephen Fry does turn into a forest though and there’s also an appearance from a talking ox so you can’t say theres no variety

The series is deliberately knotty of course, the idea being you’ll watch it more than once to knit together all those strands. I wonder how many people will do that? Despite a strong, enigmatic start and three absorbing episodes mid way the series as a whole did not grab me as it might. I can appreciate the artistry that went into the creation and production but it’s hard not to shake off the feeling that this is a story that probably works much better on the comic book page than it does on screen.


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