Within the first six minutes of the third episode of Netflix’s The Sandman, I absolutely fell in love with Jenna Coleman all over again. The episode, titled “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, was heartbreaking in more than one way but also set in motion events that will unfold in future episodes. Morpheus recovers the first of his relics and in the process learns a bit more about how to differentiate between the good and bad of humanity.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched Episode Three of The Sandman.
As a dedicated Whovian, Jenna Coleman (then working under the name Jenna Louise-Coleman) was one of the better Companions of the New Who era as Clara Oswald. I enjoyed her time on the show, starting with Matt Smith’s final season (as well as the 50th Anniversary special) as well as her run with Peter Capaldi. There were a few times during her tenure as Clara that we got to see a darker side to her character. In “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, we get an entirely different performance as Johanna Constantine II, a cynical magic-user and exorcist who is more than a little foul-mouthed yet still roguishly charming.
It is worth noting here that Johanna Constantine is supposed to be John Constantine, the warlock from DC Comics, who made an appearance in the issue this episode draws its name and inspiration from. Unfortunately, the character of John Constantine is tied up with an upcoming series, so instead, we get an in-name-only different character with the same backstory and motivations. This doesn’t detract from the experience, in my opinion, largely because of Jenna Coleman’s outstanding performance in the role. This version of Constantine is still the cynical rapscallion that will work nearly any job, so long as the money is right. The tragedy that drives Constantine’s cynicism is the loss of Astra, a young girl that Constantine was rather fond of. The dream sequence where we see Astra being ripped apart by an open gateway to Hell is harrowing to say the least. Everything that drives the hard-bitten Johanna Constantine in the present day can be seen on Coleman’s face as she realizes what she lost in that moment.
Constantine finds herself face to face with Morpheus right before a job involving a suspected exorcism involving a member of the British Royal Family. The quips and saucy asides from Constantine are quite fun, showing off that while this character cares a great deal about money, they aren’t above being charming (even to a female Vicker). Soon enough, Morpheus is able to enlist Constantine’s help in recovering his Sands, which it turns out were left by Constantine at the apartment of one of her previous partners. I like that they kept Constantine’s canon bisexuality in play (which gets mentioned during the scenes between Johanna and Rachel). It’s clear during the lead-up to the meeting with Rachel that Johanna feels quite badly about leaving Rachel, referring to her as one of the few good people that she knew. There are also moments between Johanna and Morpheus where Johanna realizes just who she is dealing with and why the Endless’ distaste for humans runs so deep.
The tragedy that awaits though is heartbreaking. Rachel, despondent over Johanna leaving, began to use the Sands to dream of her lost lover. Withering away to nearly nothing, Rachel is bed-ridden, the Sands being the only thing keeping her alive. When Johanna and Morpheus finally reach Rachel, she’s too far gone to even survive without the Sands. It’s here that the core humanity of Constantine (which was always prevalent in the comics, despite the character’s status as an anti-hero) appears. Calling out Morpheus for his disregard of the condition Rachel is in (which is also partly out of guilt for leaving her in the first place), Johanna demands that Morpheus do something to help Rachel. In his own way, Morpheus does help, allowing Rachel to die peacefully in her sleep, her last thoughts being a sunlight afternoon with Johanna. In return for her help, Morpheus promises that the recurring nightmare of Astra’s death will no longer haunt Johanna, which is small comfort for the warlock.
In addition to the adventure with Johanna, Morpheus reluctantly accepts the arrival of a new raven, Matthew (voiced with cheerful albeit cynical aplomb by Patton Oswalt). Patton is one of my favorite comedians, so getting a chance to hear him voice the new raven is a treat for me. Matthew clearly doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into, being a recently deceased human who has been turned into Dream’s raven. But it’s clear from the outset that Morpheus needs someone with him, mainly to keep him from becoming as cold and detached as an Endless is prone to being.
The other major development in this episode was the chat between Ethel Cripps and her son, John Burgess. David Thewlis and Joely Richardson played well off each other, with neither of their characters really meshing well during the initial scenes before reaching an understanding as Ethel revealed the truth about John’s upbringing and the mistakes she made. John makes the curious proclamation that he’s altered Morpheus’ Ruby so that only he can wield it. If that is true, it means something truly dire for the Dream if he attempts to reclaim his relic. I will say that Ethel’s death following her giving John the Amulet of Protection did strike a nerve for me. While the previous two episodes established that Ethel was capable of ruthlessness, she is a mother at the end of the day and every mother wants to protect their child as best as possible. Her sudden death after giving up the amulet is followed by scenes of outright carnage as John escapes the hospital/prison he’d been confined in. This shows that underneath it all, John really is his father’s son, incapable of feeling the slightest bit of empathy for other people (aside from Ethel). The fact that The Corinthian shows up after the escape to give John encouragement along his quest to reclaim the Ruby leads me to believe these two will interact even more in future episodes.
Overall, a solid episode that was filled with heartbreaking moments. So far, I’ve been enjoying The Sandman series and it’s renewed my love for Neil Gaiman as a storyteller. If you’re reading this review and this is your first exposure to Gaiman’s work, you should really check out his written work, as well as his other creative endeavors (Amazon’s Good Omens would be a wonderful place to start). Gaiman’s strength as a storyteller lies in his ability to capture both the whimsical and darkness inherent within fantasy. The Sandman is a brilliant mix of both.
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