An Endless Nightmare – Review of “The Sandman” Episode One “Sleep of the Just”

To say that I’ve been waiting impatiently for Netflix’s The Sandman to drop would be an understatement. Back in the early 1990s, when I was still obsessively reading comic books, I came across Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which was my first exposure to the often dark, often whimsical, but never dull storytelling abilities of Gaiman. The first episode of The Sandman, titled “Sleep of the Just” drops us as an audience into a vibrant and often terrifying world of the series, while establishing the first main arc of the series.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched “Sleep of the Just”, the first episode of Netflix’s The Sandman.

Right out of the gate, we’re given a breathy narration by Dream (portrayed by Tom Sturridge), one of the Endless. The Endless are a family of beings older than the gods of our world, each representing a core aspect of life. The family consists of six members (seven if you count The Prodigal): Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, and Delirium. Dream is the lord of dreams and nightmares and the ruler of The Dreaming, the realm where all humans go when they sleep. As Dream puts it, the waking world is influenced by our dreams and nightmares and it is Dream’s responsibility to craft our dreams, often to inspire or terrify us.

Dream departs his realm to capture a wayward nightmare called the Corinthian (portrayed by Boyd Holbrook). The Corinthian is a piece of work in the short time shown on screen. Holbrook is one of my favorite actors (after seeing him in the first season of Narcos and Logan). He brings a swaggering, devil-may-care attitude to The Corinthian, which fits a nightmare made manifest. To capture The Corinthian, Dream brings with him is relics, the symbols of his power. In this case, they are his Ruby, his Sands, and his Mask (which looks like a heavy metal plague mask worn by doctors during the Black Plague). Dream travels to 1916 England, where he almost has The Corinthian in his grasp before something unexpected happens.

Unbeknownst to Dream, another party is about to make things dramatically worse. Roderick Burgess (played by the incomparable Charles Dance) is an English aristocrat (who seems to fit the same vein of character as Sir Aleister Crowley) wants to summon and imprison Death to bring back his son who died in the Gallipoli Campaign of World War One. Instead of summoning and imprisoning Death, Burgess captures Dream, who is quickly stripped of all his relics and bound inside a containment circle. The Corinthian soon arrives at Burgess’ mansion and provides further instructions on how to contain Dream, which results in Dream sitting in a glass prison.

The interactions between Roderick, his son Alex, and Dream are fraught with tension, largely because Roderick is an abusive bastard wallowing in the grief of losing his oldest son. Alex initially starts off as a more sympathetic character until he kills Dream’s raven Jessamy, who was trying to free her master from his imprisonment. There is a solid amount of satisfaction watching Roderick die in an argument with Alex and it becomes quickly apparent that none of his staff care for him as they quickly help to dispose of Roderick’s body and defer to Alex. Unfortunately for Alex and his lover Paul, Dream remains silent, even when Alex offers to free Dream in return for a promise to not harm himself or Paul.

The imprisonment of Dream has severe effects on the world, specifically in the sleeping sickness that afflicts a million people around the world. Without Dream to guide people in The Dreaming, some people are unable to wake up. And those that do find sleep are unable to experience the full breadth of what the Dreaming can offer them. Eventually, once Alex is an old and largely infirm man, Dream is able to escape his imprisonment (with the help of Paul, who uses the wheels on Alex’s wheelchair to break the containment field surrounding Dream’s prison). Once Dream escapes, he finds his way into Alex Burgess’ dreams, condemning the man to an endless sleep where he will fall from one nightmare to the next and never wake up. I found that to be a particularly apt punishment for someone who spent decades imprisoning a being simply out of fear for the consequences of their actions.

Dream finds his way back to his realm, with the librarian Lucienne waiting for him. But all is not well in The Dreaming. In the absence of its master, the Dreaming (which was a vibrant and colorful realm in the episode’s opening sequence) has fallen to disrepair and calamity. Where once there were streaming rivers and all manner of fantastical creatures (including dragons and unicorns) around, there is now only a desiccated wasteland and a crumbling castle. The absence of Dream has caused his world to crumble to nearly nothing, which begs the question how much of an ill-effect has this had on the waking world.

From start to finish, I was enraptured by this episode. The visuals alone were worth the wait, not to mention the performances by the actors. Tom Sturridge brings a melancholy to his performance of Dream, which fits rather nicely with the character I first encountered in Gaiman’s The Sandman comics. One of the hallmarks of that comic series was the due to Dream’s immortal nature and control over dreams, there were no set boundaries for the kinds of stories Gaiman could tell. My hope is that the series takes a cue from the comic books and finds ways to incorporate those fantastical elements to full effect. I highly recommend checking out The Sandman on Netflix if you enjoy high fantasy with a gothic twist.

My book series The Atalante Chronicles is now live on Amazon for Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover Print-On-Demand. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Blood And Stone, Book One in my series, is also available on Smashwords (Affiliate Link)
The Crone and The Curse, Book Two in my series, is also available on Smashwords (Affiliate Link)

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