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The Sandman: Sleep of the Just

"We begin. In the waking world."





House of Mysteries

Welcome to The Sandman, ladies and gennlemen; I am Cain, lord of outcasts, first murderer: and out there is my brother Abel, cowering in the corner, and there the similarity ends: he guards secrets, I guard mysteries. Nobody knows why.

You can see my rather dashing house pass by, along with my brother’s, in this episode, although you don’t have the fortune of meeting us; most of the story is focused on milord Dream, which is not to say that I don’t agree with you it wouldn’t be improved with the addition of a couple screenshots of my handsome fethers and nethers–but at least if you can’t have that, you can have Dream of the Endless. Although why you wouldn’t want to have both? Now that’s a mystery.

I haven’t really lost it in a long time, friends and neighbors, but I lost it big time when I finally got to see this realization of The Dreaming! It was both faithful and fresh. The introduction following Dream’s raven Jessamy from the real world through the dream world to Dream’s castle had some mind-blowing visuals, and even in the shots of the ‘real world’ we got to see some Handmaid’s Tale-level cinematography (and maybe I’m thinking that because it was an inversion; instead of all the color in the center on Elizabeth Shue, we see all the color around a figure who is starkly black and white.)

I see Tom Sturridge as an excellent personification of an anthropomorphic personification, and I’m thrilled to see how they managed to recreate so many of the scenes from the actual comic books. For someone who basically had almost no lines throughout the episode Sturridge managed to communicate a depth and range of emotion. I cried at one of the major losses in the scene (can you guess which one?) and when two characters held hands (the fact they included I think nearly every mini-arc from the comics – well, how did they include them all?) To make it even better, there were some story amendments that helped streamline a complex visual tale for the film modality. It’s always really tough to introduce comic book worlds to a movie audience, because the kind of context and background you can get differs depending on the format. This episode does an excellent job getting the necessary info to the viewer in a (sometimes cramped with details) introduction that manages to leave nothing out.

The Corinthian seems to be being set up as the Big Bad of this season, and Boyd Holbrook makes a valiant effort to pull off the character, but this was the weakest part of the episode to me, and he came across as a bit of a cheap villain with an even bigger sense of vaudeville than I have. I’m the first murderer, he’s just the latest.

And – something which fills me with thrills and a couple of chills – there’s quite a few mysteries left at the end of this episode.

How will Dream get his gear back?

What will happen to poor unlucky Ethel Cripps, she of the clever tongue, now that she has all of Dream’s gear? Is this going to be a Mighty Thor situation?

And what will be the long-term impact of Alex Burgess being trapped in his own ongoing nightmare, poor sensitive lad?

House of Secrets

Hello, and a VERY good Dreaming to all of you! As my brother mentioned, I am Abel, the first vic... part of the first story. And caretaker of the House of Secrets. I’ve waited ever so long to meet you in this way, and it’s oh so very pleasant to finally be here.

It was a thrill, wasn’t it, to see so many little treats in the opening tracking shot into dream. And that’s something I want to talk about a little. It isn’t really a secret, and so Cain shouldn’t mind my saying so, because really, everyone should know this, and nobody should have to stab anybody over it, but stories are fluid. They adapt to the form in which they’re being told. There can be a thousand different versions of the same story, some of which with great variances and irreconcilable discrepancies, and they’re all the true story.

Like I say, that’s not a secret. But it seems to be a surprise to a lot of Twitter.

Because here’s the thing. 'Sandman, Issue One: Sleep of the Just' (and by that, I mean the original comic published in the late 80s) is a perfect short story. If there hadn’t been any more Sandman series after that, it would still be loved. Because it’s a good story, perfectly using the medium in which it was being told.

Here’s another not-secret (which nobody should be stabbed in the face for bringing up). The medium being used to tell a story affects what works and what doesn’t work for the style of telling. Books rely entirely on words to tell you the story. Film and TV rely almost entirely on visuals to tell the story. Comics are a fluid half-way point between the two. So, when this story was first told in 1989, an omniscient narrator doing a voiceover suited the story perfectly.

In TV, using an omniscient voiceover to do exposition goes wrong very, very easily.

So, it’s nice, isn’t it, that they mostly kept it to a minimum here. They introduced the Dreaming by showing us the dreaming. The sleepy sickness they had no choice but to tell us about in voiceover, but it’s mostly successful just because of how good Tom Sturridge is as my Lord Morpheus.

Of course, they couldn’t just cut out the explanation of the sleepy sickness, because it’s important later, but they do trim out a great deal of details that either aren’t strictly relevant or can be introduced later on when they become important.

Oh dear. That first part was a secret, wasn’t it. I’m sorry, brother.

I think the introduction of the Corinthian here is a really good choice. In the comics, of course, he isn’t introduced until he becomes relevant later, but bringing him in here is a good choice, isn’t it. Because it gives this first season a nice shape. Instead of just being 'Preludes and Nocturnes' and 'Doll’s House' done back-to-back, now it’s one larger story. And that’s an improvement on the source material, because it suits the medium of television in a way that it wouldn’t have suited the medium of comics.

Oh dear, I’m getting muddled. I’m so sorry.

What happens to Jessamy is an addition to the original version of the story, and it adds so much nuance to what happens and the decisions that Lord Morpheus makes, that it’s probably worth the way it made me cry a little, right?

Oh, but I was saying. Omniscient voiceover works in the comics but feels cheap in a visual medium like television. Which is another reason why bringing in the Corinthian right from the start works. He can reveal information that we crucially need to know for this story to work in his dialog, so that they can avoid OmVoi (which is what I’m calling Omniscient Voiceovers now, because Cain doesn’t like it when I repeat things too much.)

I’m going on too long, aren’t I. I’m sorry, brother.

The visuals are sumptuous and amazing. Every change that they make at worst doesn’t hurt the story or improves it immeasurably. And while I wish they’d kept the original punishment for Alex Burgess with Eternal Waking, I get that it’s a little high-concept for a visual medium and what they do instead works just fine.

I do wonder why they changed the involvement level of Ruthvyn Sykes though.

Oh my, was that a secret? I’m so sorry...

A Note from Jessamy the Raven

‘We’re doing a live action Sandman,’ they said. ‘You actually get to appear on screen,’ they said. ‘You get to carry the entire visual introduction to the Dreaming,’ they said. Did they mention the whole ‘and then you get shot in the face’ thing? No. No, they fucking didn’t.

Oh well. The opening visuals of me looked cool. Plus, it looked like I was wearing a little halter top.

Dream Skerries

-There’s a lot of very detailed callouts to the full series in the opening of the episode. We see characters who won’t make an appearance till much later.

-The huge gates at the entrance to the Dreaming are the Gates of Horn, which myths call the gates to true dreams.

-The image of Dream confronting Alex Burgess with stars for eyes very closely matches the original drawings of the comics, to the point where I shivered.

-Lucienne might be the best thing about a show that already has a million best things.

-The decision to begin the story by showing the Dreaming in its glory and then ending it with Morpheus coming home to find it in ruins was a strong choice. And another example of how you tell a story differently in a ten episode streaming series released all at once versus a graphic novel release one issue a month.

-I don’t think we ever actually saw Jessamy in the graphic novels. She was name dropped, but I don’t think we ever actually saw her. I might be wrong on that point.

-Jessamy’s fate kind of cements that Death must have been aware of Dream’s situation, doesn’t it.

-Well, if you think about it, wouldn’t all the Endless specifically named here know? Destiny, Death, Desire (the desire of Roderick Burgess was no inconsiderable thing) and Despair (who lived in that house, I am certain.) The experience touched all their domains.


Dénouement

CAIN: One, two, three… that’s seven secrets you shared today, you quivering bundle of flesh.

ABEL: I tried, Cain—

CAIN: You know what keeps me watching? It’s the unknown. The fear that’s what next might not be next. (Raises pitchfork)

ABEL: No, Cain—

CAIN: But you-you have to give clues. You have to hint. You dither and simper. (The pitchfork comes down. Blood spatters.) Good night, gentle readers. We’re sorry for those of us who disappoint and hope our friendly if classic visage is enough to help you recuperate. Until next episode…

Cain is the first murderer from the First Story. Keeper of the House of Mysteries, he divides his time between the conceptual space shared by the collective dreaming of all mankind and a small home in Duluth, MN. Abel, his brother, is the first victim from that same story, caretaker of the House of Secrets, as well as being a first-class sous chef and the last of the red-hot tabletop clog dancers.

Joseph Santini and Mikey Heinrich are fictional characters and remain the intellectual property of their creators, all rights reserved.

10 comments:

  1. I am trying to be careful, because I don't want to be anything less than constructive in my criticism. Also, I am only speaking for myself so maybe everyone else will drown you with praise, but I have some gripes. First of all, you have a good writing style, you explain things well, you summarize clearly and you typically explain your point concisely. I have read a few of your reviews before and I have not usually had any major complaints about them. I also tend to agree with your opinions about this show. Now, that's the good. The bad is I don't like the Cain and Abel crap. You're writing free reviews on a free website; you're not the next Vonnegut. Please go back to writing clear and concise reviews, because that's where your strength lies. I hope that isn't rude; as I said, I prefer my criticism to be constructive, and I really think your forte is writing your reviews the way you have been in the past. I appreciate you trying something new, but this one isn't working.
    That said, I have not read the Sandman comics, but I do know a little about their existence and their lore. Still, I came into this with complete lack of knowledge about what was coming (I hadn't even seen the trailer for it). I loved this opening episode. From your review, I could tell that my theory that it was a complete story in and of itself was correct. But I am glad that the complete story was also used as a setup for an entire premise going forward. I'm sure that the show will be based on more of the comics, but again, I am going in completely blind. I could sense that there was a lot more to tell, especially with Alex, who I couldn't tell if I liked or not. I'm not sure I am supposed to. He was obviously more understanding than his father, but he still didn't do anything to change things after his father was gone (not to mention the thing with Jessamy). I don't know if they're going to wheel back around to some of the intervening years over the course of the show or if what we've gotten is all we're getting on the lives of Alex and Paul, but I am definitely intrigued and looking forward to more.

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  2. This reviewing format made me cackle with glee! Please continue it! (For a show/comic as obsessed with stories and how they are told as the Sandman, doing a review-style that borders on fanfiction seems a insightful and delightful twist.)

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  3. I'm not a Gaiman fan and don't know the source material, so I feel a bit lost. But I'll defend to the death the right for my writers to experiment with format. :)

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  4. I am a Gaiman and Sandman fan and have read countless reviews of the Netflix show. This is my favorite. Creative and fun. Looking forward to the next one. Thank you!

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  5. My husband binged on 7 episodes last night and has told me to watch it. Thanks for cluing me into it.

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  6. JBA - Sorry it wasn't to your taste. Certainly fair enough. All I can say is that Joseph and I had a lot of fun doing it

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  7. As I said in my original post, I appreciate that you are trying something new and also that those opinions were mine alone. I completely agree with Billie that you have a right to experiment, and I certainly would never want to take that away from you. I have simply found that the world in which we now live seems to care more about sparing peoples' feelings than being honest, and that is an opinion I do not share. I don't say things to make people feel good; I give my honest opinions, good or bad. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for, as you were not doing anything wrong. I simply wanted to give you my own thoughts on the new format, which is that it doesn't work for me. Whether you and Joseph want to keep doing it that way is completely up to you, and I won't say anymore about it, if my opinions are not wanted. But I did try to make it constructive criticism, because I don't dislike it for the sake of disliking it, but because I think your strengths lie in your other writing styles.

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  8. I always vague honest feedback, and I thought you were being very constructive in how you gave it. We're totally good :)

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  9. So I watched the episode and I wanted to add, for those who don't know, at least a million people did fall asleep from 1917 to 1922, with a disease called encephalitis lethargia. It was written up (non fiction) by Oliver Sacks, and then there was a movie, Awakenings (which took some liberties). It's interesting to see this real event being used in this story.

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