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‘The Sandman’ Season 1 Finale Explained & Reviewed: Morpheus on Unstable Ground

It’s true, dreams don’t die, especially Netflix’s dreams of making The Sandman a sci-fi/fantasy franchise for years to come, ideal for rivaling Stranger Things when the latter comes to an end next season. But part of what has transformed Stranger Things into such a titan of the streaming landscape is the main ensemble chemistry, a charm that The Sandman’s central protagonist, Dream (Tom Sturridge), lacks by design. It’s not that the anthropomorphic realization of all our sleeping hours can’t be charming; it is that he is not convinced that charm befits a lord, a ruler, a keeper of all consciousness. Except for the moments when he’s convinced, and his emo kid act disappears into something akin to wisdom. As such, Dream’s listless will-they will-they relationship with humanity (literally and figuratively) means The Sandman is ending its first season on an intriguing but unstable basis.

The finale opens with The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) trying to convince Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), a human dream vortex, that he’s the only one who can keep her alive. This is somewhat true: The Sandman’s mythology surrounding dream vortexes is obscure at best, but they apparently have the ability to weaken “the walls between the realms” of the real world and the dreams. The inevitable collapse would create a “single waking dream” that would eventually lead to the destruction of the universe. And so Morpheus, an all-powerful eternal being, has no choice but to kill Rose; it is his duty as ruler of dreams. The alternative is that the Corinthian Rose protects, but everyone she loves and cares about perishes. This seems like an obvious drawback, but Rose leans back to think a bit anyway.

The Corinthian stands up for his highly anticipated keynote speech at the Cereal Convention (“grain”, of course, a brutal replacement for “serial”, as in “serial killer”), and he asks the mob of killers to close their eyes and see themselves as gladiators. And so they begin to daydream about chopping, slashing, and clubbing their way to glory. Rose, who is dosing with her little brother, Jed (Eddie Karanja), in The Corinthian’s room, finds herself seemingly trapped in these daydreams, where they all merge into each other until she – finally – realizes she’s the power to rebuild the walls. At this point, Dream has stepped on the scene and a cautionary tale unfolds about another instance where a universe under its protection died, thanks to a dream vortex. But Rose refuses to accept the limited options that Dream and The Corinthian offer. “If I’m as powerful as you say, then I’ll find my own way,” she instructs, an occasional poet. That wakes her up.

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tom sturridge as dream, mason alexander park as desire in episode 110 of the sandman

Tom Sturridge as Dream and Mason Alexander Park as Desire.


Back on the keynote stage, The Corinthian takes off his glasses to reveal his creepy teeth-to-eyes. “You don’t care about humanity,” he accuses Dream. “You only care about yourself and your empire and your rules.” It doesn’t matter that the nightmare is absolutely right. Dream undoes it anyway, leaving nothing but a small Hamlet-like skull with wide eye sockets. “The next time I make you, you won’t be so flawed and petty, little Dream,” says Morpheus, a bit of foreshadowing so obvious it stings.

On the drive home to Florida, Rose and Jed discover that Rose’s best friend, Lyta (Razane Jammal), is in labor. Her bouncing little dream baby had an alarmingly fast gestation period — less than 24 hours is a huge rush to get all those cells in place — but her delivery is apparently normal. By the time Rose and Jed arrive, Lyta is only three centimeters dilated, so she is calm and comfortable enough to convince Rose that tonight, in her dreams, she will face the Sandman herself. Rose herself can rule the Dreaming! Rose doesn’t pause to consider Lyta’s personal vendettas here; after all, the aforementioned Sandman killed her already deceased husband again.

That night, as Rose traverses between the dreams of her eccentric roommates, she accidentally causes a storm at the collide of their imagination, and each friend is subsequently sucked into a dream tornado. When Jed herself is lost in the swirling ether, Dream arrives as planned and reminds her that none of her friends are safe until the vortex is dead. Even Gilbert (Stephen Fry), aka Fiddler’s Green, can’t save her, bless his aggressive Old English heart! But he gives a nugget of wisdom before exploding into lush foliage: “The miracle of humanity itself should always be more alive to us than any miracle of power.” Wink, wink, push, push there, dream.

Fortunately, a deus ex machina reveals itself elsewhere in The Dreaming, where Dream’s librarian and assistant, Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), meets a sleeping Unity Kincaid (Sandra James-Young), Rose’s living great-grandmother. A few episodes ago, Unity told Rose that she gave birth while still in the grip of “sleeping sickness,” the years-long coma that engulfed millions during Dream’s captivity. At the time, her comment that the father had “golden eyes” meant little, although in retrospect it is disturbing. Dream puts the pieces together in real time: Desire (Mason Alexander Park), Dream’s younger sibling, has golden eyes. Desire must have appeared to Unity in her sleep and impregnated her (somehow), making Rose Desire’s great-granddaughter and Dream her great-granduncle. His cousin, twice removed? Forget the terminology – the point is that Dream can’t kill his own family. Unity was meant to be the vortex of her time, but her long nap meant she never had a chance to use her slumbering powers. And so the power was passed on to Rose.

As such, Rose is able to bring her vortex back to Unity – a handy bit of narrative clearing explained by the fact that, in The Dreaming, “anything is possible” – and Unity falls on the sword of his power. Dream is visibly moved by this act of sacrifice, but not moved enough to linger on its, uh, humanity. He still has Desire to deal with.

While Rose, Jed, Lyta and the others celebrate the healthy birth of Lyta’s baby boy, Dream returns to his castle and summons his sibling’s sigil and enters Desire’s rooms with it. He’s understandably upset that Desire tried to unleash a dream vortex in the world by impregnating Unity, which – in theory – would have required Dream to “shed family blood, with all that that would entail.” But Desire shows joy instead of regret. “My sibling, we of the Endless are servants of the living, not their masters,” Dream tells them, a lesson he would do well to heed himself. Desire is not convinced. “Next time,” they hiss as Dream sneaks away, “I’ll draw blood.”

And so the finale stumbles toward a solution, in which Dream recreates the nightmare Gault as a dream and orders Lucienne to protect The Corinthian’s skull. But the good mood probably won’t last long. In Hell, Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie) has a tender conversation with Lord Azazel about the paramilitary efforts of their assembled demon brood. They plan to march on the Dreams, then the waking world, and finally the Silver City, Heaven itself. Why now? That has yet to be explained, and it probably will be, given Netflix’s intense — forgive me — craving for a multi-season arc.

But the problem of Dream’s personality remains. He is Endless; it makes sense that he would appear distant. And yet part of what made the comics so beloved by thousands of fans was writer Neil Gaiman’s uncanny ability to make Morpheus a complicated and nuanced protagonist who balanced his brooding self-obsession with genuine concern for humanity. The Sandman has yet to find this balance, often swinging Dream into nice guys territory long enough to crack a smile, only to jerk him too far back, into monotonous platitudes about power and consciousness. That instability cannot sustain a franchise; the crucial balance between dream and reality is what made Gaiman’s story soar.

Sturridge’s Dream has great potential, as does the entire creative engine of the series. The finale is arguably one of the weakest episodes of the first season, and yet it’s clear that a lot of care has gone into lifting the story from page to screen. But the Sandman still remains the most important cog in this machine. There must be a more honest conviction behind his status as ruler and servant, protector and tyrant, brother and loner. Only with a better understanding of that balance will Netflix’s The Sandman live up to its lofty ambitions.

Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers news and culture.

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