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The Sandman: Dream of a Thousand Cats/Calliope

“But the audience is safe. As long as the author keeps reading.”

The Sandman serves up a bonus episode of two standalone stories.

The House of Mysteries

This episode opens in the most adorable way: a little striped tabby kitten, being spoiled in the kitchen. Like so many things about The Sandman, though, this is just a veneer. Soon the fancy house becomes a trap our ardent little furry hero has to escape... then a distant memory as we hunt for another, apparently famous, furry leader. Who tells a terrible story about loss, and a journey of her own: a journey taken in memory of children she has lost. A journey for revelation, made in the land of dreams. Dreams, which have a price.

One of the thrills of this episode is how Neil Gaiman applies his storytelling spells to the world of cats; he never becomes too cute about it, as some writers do. And there’s some absolute cat lover moments – like two cats blinking at each other before cat passion ensues. How they managed to make cat expressions effective with animation is a guess I’m not equipped for, but they did, and the animation has become one of my favorite things about this episode.

So what did the little night-walker want in dreams? A dream, perhaps, of her own? A world where no cat is harmed, no kitten is killed?

Oh, of course, but here is where it gets, for this storyteller at least, a little problematic. Revelation, after all, is the end of mystery. For one reason or other, however, Lord Morpheus saw fit to reveal a fundamental principle of the world with this episode: dreams rise, and people rise and fall with them, like boats do with tides.

If you dream hard enough, it becomes true.

If enough people dream it, they win.

It might be true. It might even be real. But as they say in the modern day classroom: is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it another form of might makes right? Is there no world where cats and children play, and no cats die, no children die? Or would that mean there’d have to be a world where everything dies?

But maybe that’s the mystery. Maybe I’m an old cranky showman, and I’m missing the point. Maybe it’s not about the power or control. Maybe it’s not even really about living or dying.

Maybe it’s about the dreams we have that let us live from day to day.

Like a little kitten squirming, dreaming in their basket.

Was there really a world where giant cats walked around and treated little humans like pets?

All I can tell you is: if there wasn’t before, there is one, now.

The House of Secrets

W-w-well, wasn’t that a treat? Just when we thought the Lord Morpheus was gone from our TV screens until season two, we get a little bonus.

‘Calliope,’ the story, is in a difficult position. If we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room, this is a big one. Specifically, this is a story that almost entirely pivots around a woman being sexually assaulted over an extended period of time but, as originally told, the story isn’t really about her. It’s about how her trauma affects the (by implication) more important man in her life.

I don’t want to excuse it with the standard ‘it was a different time’ justification, That was a trope that hung around (and if we’re being honest, still hangs around) for far, far too long. All I can say is that they clearly took a number of steps to rectify things in this, the televisual adaptation.

M’Lord Morpheus’ ex-lover, Calliope the actual Muse, has been captured by an evil magician, nicely mirroring Morpheus’ own situation at the exact same time. But in this telling, instead of putting focus on how this made Dream feel, they focus on how Calliope dealt with the situation. Which was a very good choice.

In hindsight, of course, this story exists in order to set up a lot of very significant things that happen later on in the bigger story. But that doesn’t really matter as far as the experience of being told this story on its own. Which, for the record, is a good one. This is Calliope’s story, as it should be. And in it they say a lot about the nature of inspiration, what drives or inspires those who tell stories, and the desperate addiction of fame.

Arthur Darville, of course, is wonderful. He always is. The way that he’s initially presented as the ‘nice’ alternative to Derek Jacobi’s cruel master archetype, with him initially trying to woo the muse with gifts and surface level kindness before he gives in at the first moment of difficulty and becomes the self-involved rapist that he really is is expertly handled.

And the ultimate punishment that Ric Madoc receives might just be the greatest embodiment ever shown of ‘Be careful what you wish for’.

All in all, an excellent slice of Sandman, untethered from the larger story. At least as far as we know at the time.

A public service announcement from Mikey

It doesn’t escape my attention that both of the stories told in this episode contain some upsetting and potentially triggering content. For that reason, this seemed like a good moment to give a mention of the website doesthedogdie.com.

If you’re unaware of the site, it’s a fairly comprehensive resource for pre-checking any potentially triggering content in movies, TV shows, books, and more. For example, in the entry for this episode of The Sandman it very clearly and helpfully gives the timecodes to skip over in order to avoid the scenes of animal cruelty in 'Dream of a Thousand Cats.'

Dream Skerries

The best single issue story that Sandman ever did was ‘Facade,’ a heartbreaking story about Element Girl and her struggle with depression. I hope the TV show adapts it one day.

- I can’t imagine how bad the trichinobezoar must smell.

- 'Dream of a Thousand Cats' rewards a game of 'identify the famous British Actor's voice.'

- The choice to present 'Dream of a Thousand Cats' in animation was a good one, and the style of animation was kind of gorgeous. Particularly all of the detail in the cemetery.

- One has to wonder what Derek Jacobi wanted the bezoar for. On the other hand, maybe it's emotionally healthier not to speculate.

On Waking

This unexpected two story bonus, coming on the tail end of a wildly successful first season of The Sandman, has a lot to recommend it as well as a couple of problematic moments which might make them difficult to enjoy for some.

The primary complaint now is, of course, how long do we have to wait until season two?

Cain is the first murderer from the First Story. Keeper of the House of Mysteries, he knows when you're sleeping, but chooses not to do anything with that information. Abel, his brother, is caretaker of the House of Secrets, in which he runs PR for several successful skiffle bands.

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

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