The Sandman episode 3 sees Morpheus return to the waking world to search for the first of his missing tools, a task which requires assistance from both Johanna Constantine and Dream’s unwanted new raven Matthew. Read on for our in-depth discussion of The Sandman episode 3, “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”
Welcome back to week three of The Sandman in conversation, in which Subjectify’s Natalie and Brittany refuse to acknowledge the binge model when it comes to Netflix’s full-season release of The Sandman, which adapts the first two books of Neil Gaiman’s game-changing comic masterpiece.
Caveat: Please stream all eleven episodes of The Sandman as quickly as possible. Whether you binge and then re-watch more slowly, or just leave it running on your TV or tablet on mute while you’re asleep, so you can watch later at your own pace, Netflix will be counting the speed of completion rate in order to decide on a season 2 renewal. Our coverage of The Sandman as week-to-week here is not an endorsement of letting the episodes sit unplayed.
Read our previous episode reviews:
‘The Sandman’ episode 1 in conversation: ‘Sleep of the Just’
‘The Sandman’ episode 2 in conversation: ‘Imperfect Hosts’
The Sandman episode 3 “Dream a Little Dream of Me” is adapted from the identically titled issue #3 of the Sandman comic, which introduced the existing DC character John Constantine into the world of Sandman. In this story, Morpheus chases after the first of his missing power items a pouch of dream sand, with the help of both Johanna Constantine, the current “Constantine life force” in the Netflix adaptation’s version of the Sandman timeline, and his new raven Matthew, sent to him by Lucienne. Meanwhile, expanding on the comics, Ethel and John have some complicated mother-son bonding time in the psychiatric hospital before John finally escapes.
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” features Tom Sturridge as Dream, Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, Patton Oswalt as Matthew, Claire Higgins as Mad Hettie, Meera Syal as Ric the Vic, Eleanor Fanyinka as Rachel, Nina Galano as Astra, Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps, and David Thewlis as John Dee.
‘The Sandman’ episode 3 review in conversation
Natalie: The Sandman episode 3, “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Part one of the quest for Dream’s tools. I must say, for me, all these familiar pacing beats — even leaving aside the episode contents, just the sort of issue by issue-ness of the stories — has been one of the most exciting things for me. Taking the time to do each bit properly, especially in the set-up stages. I dunno, man. The episode titles corresponding to the issue titles gets me all heated up in a good way.
Brittany: I’m still a little bitter about a Netflix-style release. It serves the story better to go bit by bit and really let the issue play out on screen. But maybe there are some viewers who didn’t binge it, and found these natural breaking points a better long watch experience.
Natalie: Or those who blasted through it and then went back to take their time. This is definitely one of the most famous issues and one of the most anticipated and dare I say debated, as it is the introduction of the Constantine character as a human ally of Dream.
A small bit of background: John Constantine first appeared in Swamp Thing, in 1985, and was created by Alan Moore and Stephen Bissette, who then wrote his headlining title Hellblazer. He’s rocked around the DC universe ever since then, and he is involved in the underground world of the occult. He’s a bisexual warlock from Liverpool — an exorcist, manipulator, con artist, fighter, and detective. He’s incredibly popular, and has been played by Keanu Reeves in a movie, had his own TV show starring Matt Ryan, who then took his portrayal over to the CW Arrowverse too, and Taron Egerton played him in The Sandman on Audible.
The screen rights to him are also currently held by JJ Abrams, who is developing a rebooted John Constantine series. Which is one of the reasons why we instead are meeting Johanna Constantine, a 2022 present-day member of the Constantine bloodline, as their family legacy goes back a fair way and Constantines have crossed paths with Dream before. She fulfills the same role as John, in Preludes and Nocturnes, as the person Dream goes to about the sand, but is not meant to be a direct replacement. Perhaps a new generation? But great all the same. What was your impression of Constantine from the opening on her nightmare?
Brittany: First-first impression: where can I get that jacket? Second first impression: the nightmare is giving us a lot without giving us anything at all. We know right from the gate that this character is going to be carrying around a lot of baggage, compensating for it with her confidence and comforting smile on the surface. But that first peek inside her buried emotions was quite sad. Almost a mirror of what Dream is walking around with. Letting people down because of the nature of your work and seeing the results of that mistake play out in another plane. Lots of parallels for our two lead players here.
Natalie: There’s certainly a reason why Jo is the first mortal that Dream bonds with in his return to freedom and the waking world. They are somewhat of a matched pair in their coats. And feelings.
Brittany: Not enough pockets in those jackets to carry all your baggage, friends.
Natalie: The sequence of how they meet is totally new and hilarious, I was very very very amused and going “what the fuck” the whole time, but an excellent way to show people what kind of world Constantine deals in.
Brittany: One who is tired of the Royal Family and expects her invoices to be paid on time? I bet she has an accountant. Seems so much more put together.
Natalie: Just because she’s good at admin doesn’t mean she’s not got a messy brain. She’s meant to take after her ancestor, Lady Johanna, who also did this kind of work and mixed in upper society. We meet her down the line. Mad Hettie was very much one of those *nods, checks box* “yep, that’s Sandman moments,” but Jenna Coleman, honestly, from the first second I saw her in Doctor Who, has always been a magnetic person to watch for me. I really, really love her on screen, and the accent here and all… I was done for. Dream lurking like a weirdo and getting brushed off is good for him, I think. Constantine is excellent at putting Dream in his place.
But the whole wedding thing — Look I’ll say, right from the top. Do I want Dream and Jo to kiss? Yes. Would I still want this if Jo was still John? Definitely. However, I would like Jo to kiss Ric the Vic more than I want her to kiss Dream. I probably want Johanna to kiss Dream more than I want Dream to kiss Lucienne though. If you’re keeping track, the hierarchy of kissing is: Jo/Vic, Jo/Dream, Lucienne/Dream. Please, stop me.
Brittany: Please. Stop. Though I don’t disagree about Jo and Ric.
Natalie: What were your thoughts watching Jo and the wedding?
Brittany: “I wish I didn’t have many seasons of Supernatural in my brain.”
Natalie: Supernatural, it has to be said, stole often and openly from Neil Gaiman, especially Good Omens, American Gods, and The Sandman. That’s not a secret and Eric Kripke once did try to develop Sandman. The mythology definitely had some origins here in so many ways. And Castiel’s image is based on the original Constantine too. An understandable leap.
Brittany: I liked the bit of mystery trying to decipher what was going on in the arrangement. And seeing Jo come to the realization as she is performing the exorcism. Her glances, slight smile. Also love to see a woman in a collar as an accepted appointment. What a novelty for a person raised Catholic. She does genuinely enjoy this life, when the demons are fit bodies.
Natalie: The princess and the footballer were great. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for Jenna Coleman to tell a priest to take her top off. But I was into it. I am all in on Jo Constantine. And her unfortunate royal exorcisms.
Brittany: I also enjoyed how Dream is already, 10 minutes into this first mission, being so inpatient that he interrupts her exorcism to gather some info. “While I have you here, would mind completing this short survey?”
Natalie: Yeah, that was interesting to me, that battle of wills, the demon being like “you can’t disobey him!” Dream trying to stop her sending the demon back, the demon trying to get Dream to protect him. It’s an interesting set of circumstances.
Brittany: But to go back to the nightmare for a moment, versus what we see here. Jo is very good at what she does. Barely breaks a sweat, exorcism in 15 minutes or less. That confidence and ease is masking this emptiness. So her bursts of serotonin gained by inadvertently traumatizing a member of the royal family and sending a demon back to Hell can only do so much.
Natalie: Dream’s face, though, the shocked blinking when she just walks out on him, “I’ve tripled my fee.” Yes. Yes. Good. When they start properly interacting, with Hettie being a little protective of Dream, even better. I think I am allowed to want them to kiss. Ric did, after all. Their chemistry is so funny and good.
Brittany: Ric wants everyone to kiss.
Natalie: His serious earnest face and her just quipping and poking. She’s a lot of fun, if you don’t look too closely at the oozing internal trauma. Being serious, though, in terms of like, your eyes as a TV viewer and interpreter. Whether or not you liked it — do you think it was shot and intended to vibe like flirting and chemistry, in that way? The way they were framing them? How did you actually see it? Only because it seemed very textbook to me, and it was something I was wondering how people would react to. If they thought there was a vibe and liked it, if they felt a vibe was being forced, or what? I am talking first about the scene together up until her pointing out Matthew. And when I say textbook, I mean textbook teasing of romantic energy. Even just getting them nose to nose like that.
Brittany: Maybe I’m out of tune to that feeling of love. Not invested in finding or feeling that vibe so far. For Dream at least.
Natalie: That’s what I am asking, though—not whether you feel it, whether you agree that the show is framing it with that sort of spice, using devices that usually tell us that. Creating that tension. I will say I don’t think either of them feel it in and of themselves. More what the camera is finding. Like it feels set up to make viewers feel “now kiss” vibes Even if you’re like, “no, don’t do that.”
Brittany: I definitely didn’t take a romantic notion away at all, but the camera probably found something with that framing. And maybe I ignored it because it wasn’t what I wanted to see. I’ve seen this about 3 times through before our chat, and never wrote it down. I’m not saying it didn’t happen but it didn’t hit for me. At least romantically.
Natalie: Fair enough! I would like to think that this had been a male Constantine, the vibe that I think they’re going for would still be there. That being said, Neil also said that Dream deals with this Constantine more politely and with more grace because she’s a lady — he is somewhat old fashioned, Morpheus. So the fact that she’s a woman is definitely a change in how Dream sees her.
I also absolutely don’t think either of them were personally vibing. I just think the shots were set up to make the audience vibe. If you know what I mean. Like “Oh these two idiots don’t even know what they could be.” Again, realllly up in each other’s faces. I guess I could go with it if it went there. But it won’t, which is for the best for everyone involved. Just another example of Tom Sturridge’s chemistry with the whole world, despite being so restrained in his performance. And Jenna Coleman could have sexy chemistry with a lamp post.
Brittany: Tom could be confused with one. So thin, that long back coat, bright face, black hair. I see it. But yes, the two of them are well matched screen partners.
Natalie: This is still not the person I want Dream to kiss the most, for the record! But there is definitely some spice, and it is very nice to watch her trample him. But this is also where we meet Matthew — earlier than in the comics. Dream’s new raven. This is such an important relationship for the rest of the series, a really, really fun one and sometimes a very sad one. It happens early here and it happens more tenderly than it does in the comics. As we’ve mentioned, this is part of why Jessamy had to die. So that when Dream meets Matthew, his rejection has more heart. It isn’t callous pride. He’s protecting himself, and protecting the bird. Go home, Matthew. It isn’t safe for you here.
Related: ‘The Sandman’ EPs Neil Gaiman and Allan Heinberg explain Matthew’s early entrance and the show’s ‘very emotional’ new ways to get to know Morpheus
Matthew, in the comics, serves two major purposes. He gives Dream someone to talk to and explain things to, so it isn’t all in Dream’s head. And relatedly, he is a “human” character — a human soul, unaware of this wider world of mysteries — reincarnated as a dream creature. So he becomes an audience stand in, the person who says “Hang on, what the fuck is going on?” And in the book, he isn’t around in Preludes and Nocturnes, this first arc.
Were you surprised to see him show up on Dream’s first quest? I really was, even though after Jessamy, I was absolutely like “Ohhhhh, that’s going to totally weigh on how he feels about Matthew.” I knew that emotional beat was coming for when Matthew eventually arrived, but didn’t think he would be around for the sand, the helm and the ruby.
Brittany: I quite enjoyed having Matthew around for this, and just like with pushing up the Corinthian to fill in some of the details — as that link back to Ethel Cripps, and behind the scenes in the Dreaming with Lucienne — it was a great way to have another narrative device for the audience and a new emotional component for the readers. I will say I have rewatched the scene where Dream is standing at the fountain and off-screen Matthew says “I’m back” over 10 times because it is so funny to see Dream’s face just processing his return after he delivered what was meant to be a demanding “go live a better life” speech. I don’t quite know how Matthew could not be Patton Oswalt either. Sometimes, voice-casting with someone I could see so vividly throws me, but here I loved it
Natalie: First person cast! In Neil’s mind at least. At SDCC he said, “Patton was cast before Allan Heinberg was attached. Patton was cast before we’d even told Patton.” The nice thing about Jo and Matthew is that both of them, in Sandman episode 3, in their own ways, get a few little smiles out of Dream. But the ones Matthew causes are maybe sweeter. He makes Dream feel annoyed, but it isn’t Matthew’s fault. And there are a few little kind, indulgent almost-smiles at this dumb, brand new loyal bird.
Brittany: Dream is a sunshine who wants to be a grumpy so badly. He tries though.
Natalie: Without too many spoilers, that loyalty is sob-worthy later in the run of Sandman and I really enjoyed getting more Matthew here. It’s so cute how Dream responds to him, and doesn’t want to let him into his heart. It also hammers home that constant sense of responsibility Dream has, or needs to have, for his Dreaming creations. But Dream can stand brooding in the rain all he wants; he is not immune to cute little animals.That’s incredibly reductive, but I enjoy his fondness and kindness and patience. The slight amusement and the beginnings of emotional availability.
Brittany: Especially when Matthew is completely blunt with him. He didn’t ask to be a bird! He is just getting used to the wings. Dream has some empathy for his journey even if he doesn’t want a companion at the moment. It’s always the person who didn’t want the pet who loved the pet most.
Natalie: Classic Dad behavior.
Brittany: But this push and pull with Dream on the outset of not wanting another raven, we saw his resistance in episode 2 and Lucienne rejecting that reality and substituting her own here. It’s really a great lens into seeing how much Dream will be shaped in different moments , moments that we are familiar with, by the addition of Matthew. And it starts as early as with the events with Jo here. And I will say, at the end of Dream’s jaunt in London, which we’ll get to I was eager to take Matthew into episode 4.
Natalie: I’ll also say, I now want to put Matthew’s fountain here on the list of TV locations in London to visit. I don’t recognise it! And I do know where most of the other London parts are. All the wedding stuff and the outdoor meeting on the green, that was Greenwich Naval College in London, in the deadest part of the pandemic. It is so empty! The fountain I didn’t recognise. Anyway, Matthew is already proving useful, even if inadvertently, by triggering an idea for Dream. Rather than tracking Jo’s location down while she sleeps, Dream remembers that he can track her IN her sleep. He goes to her via her dreams. Or in this case, nightmares. The recurring nightmare.
This scenario is a big Constantine origin story thing from Hellblazer and thinking back on it, Neil might have really been working closely with Alan Moore to cross this story over because they were published very close together. But the dream is of “the Newcastle incident” — Constantine was caught up in the occult dealings of this nightclub owner, a music venue called The Casanova Club. Clearly an ongoing issue, and the big, awful thing was that the owner’s daughter, Astra, got caught in the mix and the demon that was summoned took her, leaving only her severed arm in Constantine’s hand.
That all happened to the comic Constantine, and then he was in a mental hospital for a couple of years because of it, then he met Dream. I don’t know if Johanna went to a mental ward or not. I don’t think she did. But she’s still very, very traumatized by it. What a serious nightmare.
Brittany: Using the dreams here to get back to Jo really underscores just how on the surface that nightmare is too. It’s going to be there if she simply dozed off in a cab. It’s omnipresent.
Natalie: I would like to give a shout out to the set design and art department again for the Casanova Club, as they have posters for John’s band, Mucous Membrane, stuck up. I wonder if that’s an easter egg or if Jo also fronts a punk band and that’s how she got to know the club. But regardless, it has been a failure of hers that consumes her, and Dream is pretty compassionate about that fact.
Brittany: Like the library that we talked about, where we mentioned how every idea for stories were stored and how authors would kill for that access and others would want to burn it down. Dream has to walk that line so well knowing what he knows, what he could do with that information. It’s truly wild to remember how much he knows about humanity through access to the most unfiltered versions of their dreams.
Natalie: This is an element I have been hyper conscious of since revisiting the comics for the show, watching the show, reading interviews, and talking to the cast. The things Dream knows, and feels, about humanity. How much emotion he channels and contains. He can know the inner dreams and imaginings of anyone he chooses. Not quite psychic, but… something close.
Brittany: That kind of is what stuck with me with Matthew too, this Raven is a literal bird sitting next to him, but he is just removed from his human form. Which as we mentioned Dream feels for his situation. He didn’t ask to be a bird and follow an Endless around anymore than Dream wanted him to arrive. But here we are. Sympathetic to each other’s plight.
Natalie: The emotional range of how those things, knowing all those dreams and feelings, can affect him, is really playing into the level of, I don’t know, depth, or what’s bubbling beneath the still surface. Tom, at SDCC, said to us: “Dream contains the fears and fantasies of every single being in the universe, which means he does understand how other things, creatures, feel, but he has to hold it inside. His burden is this kind of discipline that he has to have and that’s why he seems so enclosed. And I think what he needs to learn is how to open up, so that he can better understand what his responsibilities are.”
Related: ‘The Sandman’ star Tom Sturridge on the show’s storytelling theme: ‘It’s about how the stories we tell each other inflict themselves upon our lives and upon our dreams’
As he was speaking, that really clicked for me, that this was his approach to the role. That if he gave over into feeling everything that everyone who’s ever existed had ever felt it would be too much to cope with. And it made me understand the level of reservation within him, and that closed-offness, in a way that maybe hit harder. I think the choice to ground him in that, his empathy, his attempts to not drown in that, rather than making him “above” it all, is adding a level of richness to seeing a man actually act out this character’s odd behavior and way of engaging with the world.
Brittany: It’s not a power complex, it’s a shield. I totally get that.
Natalie: Exactly. And maybe it always was, but I’m a different person with a different emotional perspective to who I was when I first read it. It isn’t like I haven’t re-read it, and like I said that kindness and depth of feeling in him does come out more vividly later on, but I don’t massively bring a new interpretation to the same text if I’ve already formed it, not without some big perspective shift. Maybe I subconsciously did know this, because I always feel soft and tender about him and his rigidity, like “Oh, darling.” But this actual perspective shift, seeing the story held up to the light and illuminating different facets, even seeing the depth of feeling in a real actor’s eyes… It really makes that unarguable.
Natalie: Dream witnesses the level of trauma in Jo’s dream and knows it is also a memory. It definitely makes him treat her more softly, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of empathy to make him not be him being finicky and judgey about her flat. This comes off the back of Dream trying to make a deal — I will make your nightmares go away if you find my sand — but the savage burn at the end of it took me out.
Brittany: Absolutely savage. Maybe he thinks it will play well.
Natalie: “Finding anything in this place will require more magic than even you can muster.”
Brittany: I think she respects it on some level. This give and take banter.
Natalie: Okay, baby. It’s no fun to poke someone who doesn’t poke back. I have to say, and this is kind of a random segue — I was expecting more music in the show. Contemporary music. The score is great. This episode in particular, well, there’s the title, and then through the comic there’s this running theme of John being kind of stalked by these snippets of dream-songs. In reality, it might have played tacky or something, but I definitely was expecting some real songs in this episode, maybe diegetic music. Even on-the-nose stuff. In the book he wakes to the radio playing this tune, Dream a Little Dream of Me. Then there’s Mr Sandman, Sweet Dreams, Dream Lover. It may have played oddly to recreate that song-omen-stalking. But I did expect one or two songs tucked away.
Brittany: I think if we were focused in one place for an entire episode, let’s say just with Jo and Dream getting the sand, it wouldn’t work well given how it is one night with very few settings. But I agree adding in music, even covers or something as we come back from John Dee or a Matthew conversation could have worked here. I did forget about the dream songs in the comic, but it’s a great point.
Natalie: The book has a lot of panels of music, singers, records, radios, and in general I was anticipating more music in the show that wasn’t score. Here is where it hit me that it was “missing” or absent, because the title is a song and the issue is full of songs. So here is where it started sticking out to me. I don’t know if I mind – it might not have worked, but I noticed it. Johanna’s flat is a lot nicer than John’s but it is still pretty trashed, as Dream side-eyes. Messy flat, messy brain, etc.
Brittany: Why do humans need so much stuff? — I ask myself every time I dust.
Natalie: Look, he’s right, but he shouldn’t say it. Fucking objects.
Brittany: Luckily, we are sentimental creatures and a strip of photos helps us on our journey. Says the man searching for his… objects.
Natalie: This scene in the office was maybe my favorite moment between them, the personal vulnerability. When Jo realizes what happened to Dream and he just stares with those big wet eyes.
Brittany: I love an extended silent moment of realization.
Natalie: This is quite a claim, but I don’t know if I can think of a better non-verbal actor than Tom Sturridge in this role. I am sure I’ve seen excellent performances before, but this is like… maybe because I am invested in the character, but Lord. Oh, how I love it when he cries, or is trying not to cry, or has just cried. There’s something about the shamelessness of it. Both shame and shamelessness, actually. The confessional air of it, as well as the dare to fucking say something. Not just in this moment, but this is a great one.
Tom does something that gives this sense of, I don’t know, “Here it all is, what are you going to do about it?” to his gaze, the way it pins people and causes them to go through their own emotional response. And a real “I dare you to look away from me and the enormity of all that I am, including my pain.” Maybe I am reading too much into it. But…. nah, I’m not.
Brittany: I don’t think you are. It’s a challenge but also he’s giving her the answer as to why Dream is mucking about with humanity. It’s not just to mess up her evening for a team building outing with Matthew. It’s a part of a healing journey for him and one that he is extending a kindness to her as a part of that. He can make her nightmares go away but he won’t get the 100 years in a bubble back.
Natalie: I hope WB paid Tom Sturridge a bonus for every time he slowly and gently lowers his eyelashes and looks down. You could bottle that shit and sell it as party drugs. It is phenomenally gratifying. Will you PLEASE just LOOK at this MAN doing this ACTING, I will say, to random passers by, shaking them by the shoulder. God he’s beautiful. Sad and beautiful and captivating. And nosy.
Brittany: Every scene I’m reassured that no one else could be Dream.
Natalie: Anyway, all the blinking and looking down is what gets him a lead on the sand, so keep it up, lad. Those photos of Jo and Rachel pique his curiosity and that’s where the sand is. And they set off to retrieve it with a new level of understanding of each other, I think. Like you said, Jo knows that Dream isn’t just doing this for kicks. The way things turn around there means Jo is more all-in, more acquiescent. And in return she does a bit of sharing about Rachel and her relationship fuck ups. Turn’s out Dream’s a pretty good listener! The dynamic shift after the moment in the office means that Jo is pretty willing to open up about the mistakes and general failings she’s made, especially about love. Where Dream told his story by just staring—and it did tell a story—Jo is more of a babbler, especially as she’s psyching herself up to meet Rachel again.
And she and Dream find something to connect over—he too knows the misery and wrath that comes with handling an ex. He knows it very, very well. It made me keen to see him engage with some of his past lovers and really get as emotional as he ever does, in those stories that show us how utterly shit he is at relationships. Again, this is a romantically driven character. He’s susceptible to deep, difficult, passionate love. And while that won’t actually be WITH Jo, or Lucienne, or anyone else on my list, LOL, talking to Jo about Rachel, or seeing him react to Jo talking about Rachel, made me eager to get to moments of Dream being a mad, love-struck bastard, basically. Even if most of the time we deal with that, it’s in the destructive wake of a relationship.
Maybe the show will flash back to other parts of his love stories. One lover in particular, I am predicting we might see the “good times” of, in a future season. I know that probably isn’t most people’s most important part of Sandman, and it isn’t mine exactly either, but it is a big driving force for Dream, and does kick off the events of a number of stories. So just his taken-aback yet understanding, pause, when Jo asks “do you have any ex-girlfriends,” made me keen to see Dream, the lover.
Brittany: It’s definitely not something that is sticking out to me vividly at the moment, nor what I’m looking for, but given the context of how we’ve consumed Dream prior to this, it’s easy to apply his whole history to these beautifully captured moments on film. As you say he knows so much about so much and truly a lot of that is not just spewing facts it’s an emotional knowledge that Dream has wells of insight from which to expel perspective.
Natalie: And with all that insight, still, very bad at relationships. That’s always the like, above the fold, funny description of him “He is one of the Endless, he rules the world of dreams, he’s Death’s brother, he’s terrible at relationships.” It is a high factor of his make-up and his drive, maybe the more selfish parts of his drive that have led him to be less of a good king. That’s why it interests me, I do think it is crucial to him, his obsessive romantic love. Plus, he’s kind of a Byronesque hero which is “romantic” in the classical sense. But still. You’d think he’d learn!
Brittany: Maybe it’s just the nature of being a Dreamer. Always looking for the next huge adventure.
Natalie: And yearning for something that will not be as intangibly perfect in the waking world. Speaking of, Jo’s reunion with Rachel is a little too good to be true.
Brittany: Nothing real is ever that nicely lit. TV since 2015 has been shot in the dark. Any time there is light something is amiss
Natalie: Ahahahaha. Great point. It did actually take me a second! I was like, hang on, is there a twist here, another step to it? Because actually, in the comic, Rachel’s fate is what opens the episode, or issue rather.
We see the state of her and we see Dream and Constantine finding the horrible result of the sand, the way it like… melted her father into a living pile of mush. Here it’s all pretty and glowing and romantic and while I did realize that Jo had been sucked into a dream state by the sand, I was a little thrown. You have a mixed relationship with gore. How did you feel about this imagery vs the man on the wall mush? Did you prefer this structure of Jo discovering Rachel than seeing her at the start and the pair walking into it all? I think for viewers it was quite an effective switch.
Brittany: Rachel was sick, I don’t exactly have too bad of a time accepting this visual as fact. There is a worse one coming that shows natural decay that bothered me much more. Because we have Jo dealing with [gestures to everything else we discussed], having this other physical reminder that is almost worse than a nightmare of something she can’t escape and feels guilt over really underscores everything we already learned about her. It’s like an exclamation point. Plus, we get to see her final interaction with Dream in this episode that drives home what they see and appreciate in each other. It’s only one night! So much emotional work!
Natalie: Jo actually getting sucked into the power… Dream does save Constantine both times, and one thing I was anticipating seeing what they’d do for it was Constantine putting Dream in his place about leaving Rachel to die. One thing that stood out to me is that, I guess, in the comics, I don’t know if I thought John loved Rachel deeply — she was one in a string of people and the relationship was more in the past. He definitely cared, but this Jo is still right in it, it’s fresher, she’s clearly still very emotionally involved, if her version of her reunion is accurate to her desires.
I think it’s worth mentioning what Matthew says, kind of being skeptical about Jo’s motives and how Dream can only expect human beings to help themselves. That says more about who Matthew is as a person than general humanity… But when Dream bursts in, do you think it’s because he is heeding Matthew’s point of view, or because he knows something is wrong?
Brittany: I think the latter. He hasn’t put much into anything Matthew says up until that point. But maybe he did listen to him a bit by thinking “Well what if he is right and I did nothing?” I don’t think he wants to believe the worst in people, but I mean 100 years in a bubble will do that to you,
Natalie: That’s fair. I really just wanted to include that point because of the way he says “Matthew, I…” when Matthew is grousing about Jessamy. It is so cute. He’s like “Oh no. Now I have to make this bird feel loved.”
Brittany: Still tries to get rid of him in the end, though. One last shot! But Matthew speaks to Dream’s most inner desire by suggesting that if he stays, they never have to have that conversation again. “That does sound tempting.”
Natalie: I want to talk about that confrontation, the one I was anticipating, because, again, this may just be me not bringing enough mature empathy to the comics 14 years ago, but this felt very different in terms of Dream’s perspective.
In the comic, Constantine’s accusation felt like a fair one. It felt like Dream was kind of above it all, bitter about humanity, and almost like he thought it served John and Rachel right meddling in Endless affairs, even unknowingly, and if not that, then… Not spite, but a sort of different stakes level in life and death and existence for him. His view of existence is so much broader so the one little life who’s dying anyway didn’t really register in his quest. Constantine stops him and makes him be more compassionate and thinking about every individual mattering.
Here, it’s a very similar circumstance and conversation, but it feels to me like every word Jo says to him is a fundamental misread on her part. An unfair accusation, even if I get why that’s how it looks to her, and it taps back into that “Is that what people think of me?” grief from the start of the show. Maybe because Tom’s face is just too sad. But do you know what I mean, about that difference? Dream was still going to walk out, but it felt more resigned and hopeless. Maybe even like he had forgotten there was anything he could do, wasn’t in the state to be thinking up something creative with his power to help ease the passing. Rather than “It doesn’t matter, irrelevant.” Maybe the comic was never meant to be him saying “irrelevant,” but I was much younger and dumber when I first read it.
Brittany: The delivery of “What’s the point of you?” He could already be knocked over with a feather, but she comes at him with a sledgehammer. I think it really drives home what he assumed about his realm, that if he just does what he needs to do, order will restore. It’s that extra step of compassion and potential to do more that he needs to be nudged into a bit.
Natalie: Yeah. He has to act, not just simply be. He has to get creative again. The terrarium is no longer self-sustaining. He’s also a big picture guy, like he knows, sand, helm, ruby, stabilize the Dreaming, stop existence crumbling. Which is all in the line of his grander duty and saving the waking world too. But small-scale caring, about Matthew, about one woman’s painful passing… Those are maybe too hard for his soft underbelly right now. Jo calling him out feels less like it forced him to care at all, and more like forcing him to lower his shield and feel it.
Brittany: For sure. And her direction to Matthew at the end, ignoring Dream entirely, saying to stay with him. She knows that he is better for having been pushed, but still is nowhere near ready to not have some by his side to keep nudging him along
Natalie: And she knows he’s traumatized. That’s really interesting to me, how strongly that feels.
She knows he’s fragile. They both really want to look after each other — his firm affirmation that she is not like Roderick Burgess in terms of ranking the shitty people of humanity. But yes. It was a little bit fun for me to see, so early, someone trying to snuggle the angry cat and be like oh you’re just a big soft baby. Because yes, sorry Neil, this is what I want. Squoosh him, metaphorically. He needs it. He needs looking after.
Brittany: Luckily, he has someone ready to go out on a limb for him, literally. Birds do that.
Natalie: It is a good thing Matthew isn’t easily deterred. Lucienne picked a good one.
Brittany: Although Dream doesn’t exactly have Hawaii as the next stop on his next trip itinerary. Sorry, Matthew.
Natalie: It’s funny, once Dream has finished all the metaphorical Constantine cuddling, it’s like all that vulnerability was too much to deal with, and it causes him to kind of harden up reflexively. He gets a little mean. But being cuddly isn’t exactly going to help him for the next step of his task.
Brittany: Nope. And I love Matthew’s continued shock over things. Throughout the episode he keeps just reiterating the reality that he is, in fact, a bird now. Whether he verbally needs to acknowledge it to keep him from going a bit unhinged, who’s to say. But the mention of Hell, after seeing what Dream does is a little hilarious to me. I think it’s definitely disbelief coupled with fear, but still very amusing to me to see him kind of jump back at the suggestion.
Natalie: I think Dream was also trying to scare Matthew off a little. Like, this is what you get for sticking around. And having Matthew in Hell is definitely an interesting shift in the next episode. But this episode, episode 3, also had a continued John Dee track. You must be in Heaven.
Brittany: Indeed indeed.
Natalie: So much Johnny for you.
Brittany: Not at all what I expected
Natalie: Talk me through that then, the drawn out development of him leaving “Arkham.”
Brittany: The John Dee on the pages prior to the “Passengers” bit, where this episode leaves us, is very limited. We have one page of John Dee and his mother and then what happens in this episode happens via a delivery service. There is this huge shift for Ethel and a lot of background for John Dee built out here.
One of my favorite things about John Dee on the page is how much you need to infer from how his eyes and posture are drawn. I think we get so much from David Thewlis that adds to him. Just a damn delight. Before we get into leaving Arkham, Ethel is still visiting and wants to discuss the ruby which we have to learn more about their history with it and their history with each other as the two are intrinsically tied. But before we get into the details there. What did you think of choosing to expand this portion of the story over a whole episode?
Natalie: I honestly have no idea. It makes sense, in a character development and structural way, I guess. If you’re slowing down the comic issues and taking these first 4 as episode-by-episode and you’re finding the length of the stories shorter, it makes sense to deeply color the, I suppose you could say, semi-antagonist of Preludes more. You have this space, and you can use it to fill in more realism and story regarding how John gets to the diner. I don’t think I was expecting it though? And drawing it out means that we have deeper and more sympathetic characters, which makes things down the line more interesting, like “Passengers.”
Then there’s the delivery of information. Like in episode 1, I wasn’t expecting the Corinthian to teach Roderick a class on Endless studies. I just accepted what Roderick knew. I guess that this information being exchanged about Ethel and John’s past, and John knowing who his father is, is actually worth explaining! Maybe watching him show up all kitted out with information and context would have been weird, and less easy to nod at, on screen. Maybe people would have been like “Hang on, how do we know that?” But I mean above all this is such a great display from the actors. Two really excellent actors, playing something really complicated. Why waste the opportunity?
Brittany: And having John and Ethel locked in a room where they need to have a controlled but highly emotional and charged conversation in hushed tones is executed so well. Granted John Dee is so soft spoken and politely mannered that even in the comic his text bubbles have shakiness to them. Timid, almost. Here we pick up with Ethel visiting to deliver news that the Sandman is coming to collect what is his. Since John is the one who knows where the ruby is stashed, Ethel tries to warn him. But John does not seem to care. It’s another story from a mother who used that excuse to keep them on the run. And Ethel had her reasons for running away from Burgess, but that childhood for John has done some irreparable damage.
I think his whole approach of holding this information over her head to start really sets this interaction in motion for me. He wanted this visit to pass without incident, this information wasn’t on the table when Ethel walked in, but now they are pushing each other to something that finally looks like honesty. In his copious amounts of spare time, John reads up on dear old dad in a book and places his mother into an exchange. The location of the ruby for the truth. It’s not exactly a healthy conversation but one that gets them laying all their cards on the table and slowly stripping Ethel of any upper hand she thought she had in their relationship.
Natalie: She’s a bit scared of him, I think, which is always such a difficult thing to play. But I think she knows that she doesn’t have the upper hand, has always known, just uncertain about whether John knew that too.
Brittany: Yes, at this moment and should he ever be free, she is scared of him. This illusion of locking him up as protection is finally crumbling. She can call a guard, wear the amulet, but it’s all just armor from what she is afraid of — her son.
Natalie: That’s a scenario both unique to Sandman, and a trope that we know from real life dramas about you know, people who have close relationships with monsters in prison — balancing maybe something like unconditional love with the reality of the threat. I like Thewlis in this, but Sheen could have done it too. Might have felt weird for Neil fans to watch though.
Brittany: I don’t think I would have liked that! Sheen is too cuddly.
Natalie: Not with both the baggage of Good Omens and Prodigal Son. But as an actor, without those associations, he could have done it.
Brittany: I can’t place it. I think I would have had to see it.
Natalie: I think Thewlis is better, he’s like a big slumpy old dog. Michael might have been more like a twitchy rat person. What we’ve got here is great, it just got me thinking about that kind of storytelling. The father, son, sister, brother monster in a special prison. And the way their relationships continue. Especially parent and child relationships. Exploring this felt familiar in a way even if it didn’t come from the pages of Sandman, you know? The fear and sorrow of it.
Brittany: Definitely. And it carries through the scenes interspersed here. When we pick back up, Ethel is finishing her story about their past from her point of view. How she got pregnant, the Sandman, selling the tools but keeping the ruby. But it’s quite a shocking moment in that she says she wants to give the ruby back. She doesn’t want the burden of it on her, on her son. John notes that it’s not the ruby they once had, he altered it, made it so it would only respond to him. He wants to use it to dream of a world where there is no Sandman, this idealistic version of what their lives could be in freedom.
It’s such an interesting contrast to me. That he sees his mother asking for forgiveness from the Sandman here but not him. John just wants the Sandman out of his life: that shadow of a threat that kept his mother from him. It was just so much. And then to see Ethel’s face when she listens to him propose it. They cut away here again and it brings us back to John recalling the times that even in spite of the details of the bigger life picture they were close. And she says it wasn’t the two of them, the ruby was there.
Natalie: I had a feeling over the whole birthday wishes thing. I need to know how you reacted to that detail.
Brittany: The birthday wishes in particular was… a lot. The ruby was brought out to make John’s dreams come true for one day: snow in July, a pony in the garden. I just love how much of their relationship even without the pony and the summer snowstorm is rooted in something so familiar. There is one other detail about the lighting I want to note before we move into the fall and rising again of John. In the comic, John is locked away in a pit of darkness. Here he is trapped in the light. The information isn’t hidden away from the viewer so much as it is put on display like he is. Again, something about TV made in bright settings gets me to notice it more.
Do you think that Ethel has a point here? She wants the ruby to return to Dream and I think Constantine’s visit has really done a number on her since we see her picturing him in the apartment. She’s done running. Given what we saw with Dream leaving Jo, would he be receptive to this human’s plea? Or is she too far gone?
Natalie: I think that if she handed it back, if she was like, “I took it from Roderick because he was a prick and then I didn’t know what to do with it… here you go…” I think it would have been fine. She hasn’t used it for acts that were about great power, great damage. And, spoiler alert, with the way he handles John in the end? If they’d just given it back when he came knocking, I think it would have been fine.
Similarly, what we talked about in episode 1, about whether Dream would have just let Alex go if he’d let him out post Roderick’s death — Neil has said before, in regards to the comic, that yeah, if Alex had let him out, then Dream would have showed mercy. So Ethel saying “Here you go sir, sorry,” would have been a great call in my opinion. The right thing to do with a safe outcome.
Brittany: I agree, but we do get glimpses of just what this ruby has done to John and so he would probably riot in his own way. Even locked away he has the knowledge that no one else has it. It is his. With Dream taking it back it would have been a disaster. When John says they’ve been careful to avoid the topic of the ruby prior to this it becomes clear how deep this obsession goes when he says to Ethel that he now sees the lengths his mother went to protect him. And he can protect her now if only he had the ruby. He does not have a good track record with people challenging his ownership of the ruby and the last time people tried to take it — they died. We don’t get more insight into the actual event but death and violence is enough of a clue. Zero remorse. They were wrong and now he is in “Arkham.”
Natalie: With his plants.
Brittany: It’s chilling to see this flip switch so that I was like “oh there’s that John Dee.” I was getting a bit too far removed at times, and I quite enjoyed the slow build of empathy I was having but was quickly shaken out of it.
Natalie: I think all of this was kind of needed in order to stay the path of a somewhat innocent man with mind corruption and addiction to the Dream tool. Just like Rachel and the sand. Rather than a man who is maybe evil in and of himself. In the book, John Dee is Doctor Destiny, a supervillain. Well predating The Sandman. The Sandman comics still empathized with him and his mental state with the ruby’s corruption. But this is a step further, in terms of victimizing him. Still quite murdery though.
Brittany: Quite. Ethel is about to inadvertently make it more so.
Natalie: Yeah, I mean it totally appears like he killed her for starters, which isn’t a great look. So, what else is a man to do?
Brittany: This scene grossed me out entirely for two reasons—the decaying nature of Ethel after she gives John the amulet which has kept her alive all these years, and then seeing what the amulet can actually do. I do think the last thing she wants, a hug from John and to apologize, was a lot.
Natalie: Yes, there’s a lot more real love there, and love of a little boy. I wonder how young John was when his mind started to corrode.
Brittany: Might have been the pony. That’s some trick. So possibly that and the snow which were top of mind recollections.
Natalie: I think it’s interesting to track the difference between his sort of upset reluctance — the amulet is exploding people who try to harm him, he isn’t aiming it, it just acts on itself and he warns them not to. With the stuff he inflicts when he gets the ruby. I’m still kind of sad for him, walking through the wall mush.
Brittany: He is going to carry that vibe for a while. After killing the first guard, Sam, who in my notes I had written down — too hot for this job? We do see that John says “you don’t want to do that” to anyone who takes aim/harms him. He does issue a warning, so he has that going for him, but he does leave quite the job for a cleaning crew on his way out. In the comics we see John pass Scarecrow and tell him that his plan is to go get his ruby and take over the world.
It’s a little less ambitious here as we know he wants to go get the ruby, but we don’t exactly know his end game (on screen at least) without Ethel. Once he clears the building there was another interaction that truly brought me right back to feeling far too many feelings for John Dee Club.
Natalie: Yeah! This man is no supervillain egomaniac at all, just a sad lost soul in need of a coat.
Brittany: Right! And this is where the Corinthian plays his cards sooooo well. Just a kind stranger on the street.
Natalie: I wasn’t expecting him to be there! But I suppose he has been following the scent of the ruby and hoping the bearer will help him take down Dream. Makes sense.
Brittany: When John Dee accepts the coat and looks down at it and says, “May I return it to you when I get to where I am going?” Broken.
Natalie: Such a polite man. Not ready for the outside world. Ethel raised a good boy!!!
Brittany: She did! But Dream’s tools are not meant for this world.
Natalie: What were your thoughts at this point in regard to how his emotional state would play out next?
Brittany: Knowing that we had Passengers right on the heels of this, I think the Corinthian moment really set me off a bit because John is so gentle with him. He is a bit agitated and literally on the run when we see him leave Arkham in the book. What are we going to do with someone who isn’t as on edge having come out of darkness for so many years? What do we do with a character who wasn’t just handed the amulet from a delivery following the death an absent mother, but rather saw her die with love for him? Or will the hunt for the ruby take over and clear all of what we just saw? I like having that mystery going into what is another phenomenal one-on-one for John before the big show.
Natalie: Without giving too much away, the handling of “Passengers,” issue #5, within the confines of The Sandman episode 4, was one of my most favorite parts. I think that expanding John’s journey beyond just the dead mom, eyeball delivery page was crucial in order to make that story, maybe more than the diner, really sing.
Brittany: Yes! I was not anticipating so much John Dee pre-diner. It was truly a shock. I loved it.
Natalie: The show’s interpretation of Passengers was one of the most engaging parts for me, for a number of reasons. But that’s something for next time.
Brittany: Indeed. For that will take us to two different types of hell.
‘The Sandman’ season 1 is out now on Netflix
Read our other episode reviews so far:
‘The Sandman’ episode 4 in conversation: ‘A Hope in Hell’