Hello dreamers, day dreamers, and nightmare watchers! It’s Slick Dungeon here and I am back to review the first of The Sandman episodes. This one is titled Sleep of the Just. Before we get too far into this review, it’s my duty to warn you there will be heavy spoilers for the episode and some spoilers for the early issues of The Sandman comics. If you can’t stand spoilers then go watch and read and come back here for the review. I do plan on going pretty deep into the material so tread cautiously if you are not into that sort of thing.
In order for me to go as in-depth into this series as I want to, we need to take a little trip back in time to 1988 when the first issue of The Sandman comic book began. Back then, Neil Gaiman, the author and co-creator of the series was trying to revive a series about a character called The Sandman which was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Neil pitched the idea to his editor Karen Berger but she had one change to it. She wanted the series to be about a brand new character. This decision proved pivotal, allowing Gaiman to take a ton of creative license with how he handled his series.
It’s important to remember that this series, at the beginning especially, was tied to DC comics. While it was printed under a line meant for mature readers called Vertigo, DC characters do walk in these pages. I mention this because in the show, there are some things that absolutely had to be changed from the comics due to licensing issues and copyright problems.
While I may point out adaptive changes in the series, I don’t necessarily think one version is superior to the other. They were made in different times and much like the character Morpheus himself, the world has changed since the comics came out. Each telling of the story is what it needs to be. There are definitely things that would be changed in the comic if it were made now (there truly was not enough diverse representation in the comics) and if the show was made at the time of the comics it would be much different than what we have (and probably not a very good adaptation as Neil Gaiman himself would likely tell you). I’m absolutely not going to dwell on casting choices that certain portions of the internet have raged about. Gender swapping or casting actors who are a different race than what they were in the comics makes absolutely no difference in how well the story is told. And both the comics and the show tell a great story.
Okay, stepping off my soapbox now. After all that setup, let’s talk about the episode itself.
Much like the comic, this first episode is what you might consider the closest to conventional horror. It deals with old men in creepy old houses doing magic to gain power for themselves. If that was all this series was, I could recommend any number of shows exactly like it. It will take some time but both the show and the comic transcend the horror theme eventually.
The episode starts off with a bit of exposition from Morpheus, who declares himself, “the king of dreams” and we see a raven fly over a car and into the world of the dreaming. This is where Morpheus lives and it’s as fantastic as the real world is mundane. This immediately sets up Morpheus as other than ourselves and he seems to know something we don’t as he dismisses our notion as mortals that dreams make no difference in the choices we make.
We really only get the briefest of glimpses into this world of the dreaming but we are introduced to some key characters and the villain of the season is immediately established. The librarian of the dreaming, Lucienne, has a conversation with Dream, while Dream is looking at a stained glass representation of a nightmare of his own creation. This is a character called The Corinthian. In the comics we don’t even get a hint of him for quite a long time. I do think this change was smart because it shows Morpheus will have an adversary. Lucienne also tells Morpheus she has a feeling Morpheus won’t be coming back because in the real world, dreams don’t survive long, but nightmares seem to thrive.
I’d say that’s a rather pessimistic worldview but of course, it might not be wrong either. The story gets going with a group of people who seem to run a cult of some sort and their goal is to trap the angel of death. The time period is 1916 and the location is Wychcross England. In other words, war is breaking out and the world does indeed look bleak at this time. At this point in the show the timeline matches what we see in the comics but it won’t stay that way for long.
In the comic series we don’t find out much about this cult. But in the show we get a little window into what is going on. There’s a man who calls himself the Magus (meaning sorcerer) who will go to any length to bring his eldest son back from the dead. We also see his second born son, Alex, who seems to have a kinder heart than his father.
As Dream is about to confront the Corinthian and bring him back to the dreaming, a spell is performed by the cult. Instead of trapping Death like the Magus hoped, he has Morpheus, also known as Dream. But the Magus really has no idea what it is he’s captured.
There is another interesting change here. In the comics we essentially see the Magus flail about trying to figure out who he has. But in the show, the Corinthian shows up almost immediately to tell the Magus what he has and how to keep Dream from escaping. This gives the Corinthian a whole lot more power and reason to be there than the comic does.
One consequence of Morpheus being locked up is a “sleepy sickness” breaks out. There are a bunch of people who can’t sleep, always sleepwalk, or simply will no longer wake up. One of the most interesting things about this is this incident actually reflects a real illness that did break out at the time. If you ever wonder if Neil Gaiman did his homework for this story, that’s all you need to know.
We are also very briefly introduced to a character suffering from this sleepy sickness named, Unity. She’s an incredibly important character but we won’t know more about her until future episodes.
While the Magus may not have captured who he wanted, he does take what are called Morpheus’ vestments. A ruby, a bag of sand, and what amounts to a gas mask but is referred to as a “helm.” These items are exceedingly powerful so you know there will be trouble with them down the line.
One bit of kudos to the show runners here is the way they make Tom Sturridge look as Morpheus while he is trapped. He’s thin and weakened but also looks otherworldly. I’m guessing there was a good amount of CGI and a lot of messing around with lighting to get the look just right but they nailed it.
Dream is more than a god. He’s one of “The Endless” so Morpheus is able to play the long game against his captors. This allows us to move the story past the Magus and a simple revenge plot. While there are hints of Alex being kind and even potentially letting Morpheus out, he never does, either from fear of his father, or fear of what Dream might do.
Before the Magus dies, a woman named Ethel Cripps who is pregnant with his child absconds with Dream’s vestments and a small fortune in cash. This event is probably the most significant event in this first season. It leaves Morpheus with no knowledge of where his tools are. Ethel does escape the Magus and has the baby. This baby will also be a huge part of the series in episodes to come.
There’s also a moment where it almost seems Dream will escape with the help of his raven but the bird is shot by Alex. This gives Morpheus a strong reason to distrust Alex once the Magus is dead. And Morpheus still has all the time in the world to wait. All he needs is for someone to fall asleep near him.
Things were probably not easy for Alex as an out gay man in the 1920’s but that’s no excuse for keeping someone locked up in your basement. Ultimately, once Alex is old and no longer mobile, it’s his partner Paul who allows for Morpheus to escape. He pushes Alex’s wheelchair across the magic circle which traps Dream. This is all the opportunity one of the Endless needs to escape.
Morpheus is soon able to walk through the guards dreams and right out of his magic cage. Dream confronts Alex and as punishment grants him the gift of, “eternal sleep.” Presumably he’s given Alex the Sleepy Sickness.
If there was a single thing I could change from this episode it would be this adaptive change. In the comics Morpheus also gives Ales a gift. But this gift is the gift of eternal waking. Have you ever had a nightmare and when the worst thing you can imagine is about to strike you wake up and then you feel relief but then another nightmare comes and you realize you haven’t actually woken up? Take that feeling and imagine having it forever. Always a brief moment of relief before being once more terrified in an endless loop. That’s severe punishment.
While I understand why they made the change, I still think the original idea from the comic would have been better. They changed it because as the viewer we do get to know Alex a little bit and understand he has some kindness to him. He really does sympathize with Morpheus, even though he doesn’t allow Morpheus to escape.
My problem with the change is it humanizes Morpheus too much. Morpheus is Endless and in the comic series he certainly does have a character arc but his change is slow. Centuries spanning slow. To have Morpheus show any bit of kindness to his captors shows him identifying with humans too much at this point in the series.
Here is also where the timeline diverges between the comics and the show. In the show we advance all the way to our time. The comic advanced to its present time of 1989. I think there are a lot of reasons for this change, not the least of which would be having to film a period piece with only stuff from the 1980’s and 1990’s would bring the cost up on the whole production and it’s already an expensive show.
The episode ends with a very murder-y Corinthian realizing Morpheus is out of his cage. Morpheus goes back to the Dreaming where Lucienne finds him. But the realm of the king of dreams has changed. It’s a mere shadow of what it had been at the beginning of the episode and it’s clear Morpheus is going to need his stuff back in order to fix anything. Apparently, this disarray and decay is what happens when Morpheus is away for too long. There’s also a very small hint of something having happened to another one of the Endless in the past. If we find out what all that is about, it won’t be until later seasons.
Oddly, the end of the episode is a preview for what’s going to happen this season on The Sandman. It really feels out of place and I’m not exactly sure why they put it there but you can skip it if you’re watching the show because, well, you’re already watching the show.
All in all, this episode is probably the weakest of the series but it’s essential to have it so we can really get into the story. I think it was well told, superbly acted, and brought us into a world full of a lot of complex things going on rather seemlessly.
My biggest regret for the episode is this is the only episode we get to see Charles Dance who plays Roger Buress, aka, the Magus. You’ll likely recognize him as Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. And just like in that show, every minute he is on screen, he is fascinating to watch. But we’ll have lots of other star power and phenomenal performances in future episodes so I can’t complain too much.
Well, that’s my take on the first episode. I’ll have plenty more to say about future episodes (and hopefully future seasons). Until then, did you watch this show or read the comics? If so, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. If you could change anything about the adaptation what would it be? Or do you think it is perfect as is?