When your world has crumbled around you, the decisions you make can be both necessary and heartbreaking. That is the place Dream finds himself in during the events of the second episode of Netflix’s The Sandman, titled “Imperfect Hosts”. The Dreaming has been torn asunder by the absence of its master and Dream must consult three powerful soothsayers to determine where his relics have gone off to.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the second episode of The Sandman, “Imperfect Hosts”.
Picking up where “Sleep of the Just” ended, Morpheus (otherwise known as Dream of the Endless) has found his realm in shambles, with only Lucienne the librarian to greet them. To see the once majestic Dreaming reduced to a ruinous state is more than a little heartbreaking. It becomes doubly so when Lucienne admits that they tried to maintain the library only for it to vanish over time. I think this library is where all the dreams and nightmares of mankind were stored. It could also be the repository of mankind’s stories as well, since Dream is also the patron lord of storytellers (for what are stories except dreams made manifest).
The trials of his long imprisonment and the loss of his relics makes it so that Dream is unable to reconstruct his realm, so he decides to seek out those relics. To find them, though, he has to make a deal with The Three-in-One, otherwise known as the Hecate. For those not familiar with mythology, Hecate is known as the tryptic goddess (the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden). Hecate is also the goddess of magic and witchcraft. Gaiman’s creation of the Three-in-One follows much the same train as other depictions in media but here Hecate is also known as the Fates, the three sisters who wove the thread of individual lives and were responsible for cutting the cord (which resulted in that individual’s death). It certainly serves as an amalgamation of the Hecate myths into an intriguing (and terrifying) combination.
To pay the Three-in-One for their help, Dream and Lucienne visit Cain and Abel (yes, that Cain and Abel) who also reside in the Dreaming. The brothers live in separate houses, the House of Mystery (Cain) and the House of Secrets (Abel). They also care for Gregory, a gargoyle, who acts like the world’s largest puppy dog (including clumsily trying to land on a roof that clearly isn’t going to support him). As a creature created by Morpheus, Gregory can be reabsorbed, restoring some of Dream’s power to him. Cain and Abel are both distraught over this but Gregory shows a willingness to help his master, even if it means his destruction. Once Dream has reclaimed his power and leaves, we see that Cain and Abel still live up to their reputation, with Cain skewering his brother using a pitchfork.
Abel is okay, though, as we find out later on. The relationship between the two brothers plays out similarly to how it is in the comics. Abel, as the first victim, clearly loves his brother but the toxic aspect of their relationship makes for a deeply co-dependent existence. Cain, for his part, loves his brother as well but as the first murderer seemingly can’t stop himself from killing his brother (who rises again the next morning). I find their relationship to be a microcosm of the dilemma Dream faces in this episode: the pull to restore his realm but the understanding that to do so, he may have to destroy his creations in the process.
I mentioned in my first review (link here) that Dream’s ability to weave back and forth through time would definitely need to be included in the series. We get a brief glimpse of that as Dream enters the waters that grant him access to the dreams of mankind. The waters are turbulent and do not bend to their master’s will easily but Dream is able to obtain the pieces he needs to speak with the Three-in-One. The Hecate agree to answer three questions, one for each of them. Through their cryptic musings, Dream is able to learn the location of each of his items. The Sands were last purchased by Johanna Constantine, a descendant of a mortal Dream knew in the past. The Helm is in Hell, likely after being bartered by someone to a demon lord for a stone of protection. The Ruby was passed from a mother to son. As Lucienne warned earlier in the episode, the Three-in-One do not give direct answers to Dream’s questions but do give him enough of a head start to potentially find them.
The other major plot point in this episode was catching up on Ethel Cripps (portrayed by Joely Richardson), the young woman who stole the Sands, the Helm, and the Ruby from Roderick Burgess in the first episode. When The Corinthian pays Ethel a visit, we see that Cripps has made a significant fortune by brokering deals for priceless occult artifacts. She has obtained a stone of protection by bartering away the Helm, which has slowed her aging considerably. When The Corinthian threatens to remove Cripps’ eyes to learn the location of the relics, she uses the protection stone to send the nightmare back to the Dreaming (which doesn’t stick since The Corinthian leaves as soon as he arrives). We soon learn the fate of the Ruby, which Cripps gave to her son John (portrayed by David Thewlis), the son she conceived with Roderick Burgess. The Ruby has the power to make dreams come true but it also has the power to make nightmares as well. We find John in a prison/hospital where he is given treatment for some unspecified mental illness. There’s an icy demeanor that Richardson brings to the role, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Thewlis is an accomplished actor and there are moments you can see in his performance that John is on the razor’s edge of sanity at all times.
While not as eventful an episode as “Sleep of the Just”, “Imperfect Hosts” settles into a grove relatively quickly and moves the plot along smoothly, setting up the quest Dream must go on to reclaim his relics and where he has to go to get them. It also establishes who the key players are going to be for the duration of the season, with Boyd Holbrook’s Corinthian shaping up to be quite an excellent Big Bad. Overall, I’m enjoying the show immensely and can’t wait to see what else unfolds.
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