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The Sandman: Playing House

"Take a moment. Find your own path."

Rose's search for her brother Jed heats up, while multiple destinies begin to converge around her.

The House of Mysteries

That's the thing about titles, isn't it, friends? Sometimes they don't leave much in the way of Mystery.

Playing House. Welllllll, it's obvious, isn't it? Everyone in this story is going through an elaborate show of pretending to be a happy family. 'Playing House' indeed. I personally would have preferred a title with a little sass in its sashay, like 'Facade', but then that one was already taken by a much shorter Sandman story which I very much hope we'll see in these self same halls one of these seasons.

Oh dear, now look what you've done, you nincompoop, you got me off topic

(But brother... I didn't even say anything y-y-y-yet)

Quiet! It's not your portion of the review yet! Sauced-brained slugbait. Where was I. Ah yes. Playing houses.

Much like the titular 'Dolls House' of last episode, 'Playing House' is an occupation usually reserved for children who are indulging in a little make believe and pretending to do the things they think adults do. It's as much a performance for themselves as it is an attempt to appear to be something that they aren't. I can't think why that might be a relevant theme for this episode. It's not as if every single character we see isn't engaged in some elaborate facade of being a normal, happy family.

(Not the Corinthian.)

Still not your turn yet!

Now, the most obvious example of this is the story of poor little Jed and the two very different pretend families he's involved in. On the one hand, during the daylight hours he's forced to pretend to be happily in the foster care of Uncle Barnaby and Aunt Clarice, so that they can continue to receive $800 a month from the state for his care. But in his sleeping hours he's part of a very different family dynamic. Just as much a facade, but one that's working for his benefit instead of against it.

And here's where the various destinies of our dramatis personae begin to intertwine, as Jed, brother of the current dream vortex, has been taken in by Gault, escaped nightmare currently being sought by our beloved dream king. She's pretending to be his mother and filling his dreaming hours with ridiculous, candy coated nonsense about his being 'The Sandman, protector of dreams!' and giving him lovely adventures in which he always gets to be the hero. Two different families for little, lost Jed. Neither real. Both just playing.

And it's not just there where we see the motif. Lyta, spending as much time as she can in the dream world with her dead husband, play acting a life together that they'll never get to have now. Ken and Barbie, the perfect facade of the perfect couple, perpetually house shopping, never buying. Hal and his houseful of 'found family', whom he admits he would cheerfully abandon in a heartbeat if Broadway called. Even Unity and Kincaid and Rose Walker are really just an echo of the family they could have been if she hadn't hit the snooze button for a century.

(That still leaves the Corinthian!)

I...Am... Getting... To the Corinthian!

Ahem. I can't even think where I picked up this hatchet. Do forgive the blood spray.

As I was saying, the only real exception to the rule this week is The Corinthian, our nominal villain of the season. When given the opportunity to claim a connection to Rose that he hasn't earned in the final moments of the episode he flatly, and honestly, denies even having met her yet. This act, setting him apart from the play-world we've been trudging through, closes the episode as it subtly reinforces him as an oppositional force to everything else we've seen. He doesn't play house. He tears playhouses down.

That's what makes him dangerous. And now he has Jed.

The House of Secrets

Has been cancelled this week, on account of Abel having been murdered early, in the previous section. Maybe that will teach him to keep quiet.

A whisper in the dark from Dead Hank

Hello? Can anyone hear me? I just wanted to state clearly that it's weird that I still exist in the dreaming, even when Lyta is awake. She's not dreaming me. I'm a ghost that's trapped in the dreaming, That's weird, right? Hello? Anybody ther...

Dream Skerries

-- There's a really nicely handled misdirect in this one in which we think we're about to see the social worker find Jed's note, only to get the double rug pull that The Corinthian is in her office waiting for her, and Barnaby found the note. Lovely double peril surprise.

-- In fact, there's something elegantly clockwork about this entire script. Character paths and motivations mesh, intersect, and gracefully affect one another in a skillful pattern. Consider, for example, the way Rose talking to Matthew dissuades the Corinthian from talking to her directly, which causes him to meet Hal, which leads him to find Jed and free him from the 'bad' pretend family just after Morpheus has stolen away from him the 'good'. Everything interlinks in a lovely way.

-- OK, a moment of silence for poor Ms. Rubio, the foster care agent. She didn't deserve to have her eyeballs eaten. Still, she maybe should've checked in on Jed once or twice.

-- I'd have to go back and check, but I believe that back in 1990 when this was first published Barnaby and Clarice were still receiving $800 a month to keep Jed. I like that they didn't adjust that for inflation. $800 in today's value makes them seem so much more unbelievably petty.

-- Jed's version of 'The Sandman' was a nod to the Silver Age Sandman - one Hector Hall. They've split that subplot up a bit for this adaptation, and honestly it works better here than it does in the comics. Gault, for example, is so much more interesting that Brute and Glob, who filled her function in the original telling.

-- A huge shout out to Ann Ogbomo, whose performance as Gault is just riveting. The way they use the obvious parallels between her story and that of the Corinthian echo through the entire piece, and her relationship with Morpheus go a long way toward exploring this season's theme of personal change. Just wonderful.

In a world of Corinthians, be Gault.

On Waking

this is basically a perfect episode of television. It contains the very satisfying self contained story of Gault, the nightmare who didn't want to frighten children anymore, and also moved forward the overarching story in immensely satisfying ways.

Probably better than we deserve. If we only dreamed this episode into existence, it's a dream worth not waking up from.

Cain is the first murderer from the First Story. Keeper of the House of Mysteries, he enjoys ten pin bowling, is a scratch golfer, and once competed in the Miss Ecuador pageant, 1974. Abel, his brother, is caretaker of the House of Secrets and should really know better.

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

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