The Sandman Has A Lot Of Expectations To Satisfy
As I’m sure is true of many of its viewers, I’ve not read The Sandman comics. The series finished before I was born, so I hope it’s at least a little forgivable. I watched the show because I love Coraline and deeply enjoyed Good Omens and American Gods. Neil Gaiman tends to make stuff I like, and the trailers looked fantastic.
And thankfully, the pattern mostly holds. The Sandman captures that same dark fairy tale tone as those other projects while still feeling unique. Though technically/originally part of the DC universe, this show doesn’t have the usual superhero style. Even when action scenes happen, it’s often muted or quickly lethal. “Moody” is by far the most straightforward word to describe this series.
The Series Has A Striking Aesthetic And Dark Tone
Another word would be “dark.” “Melancholy.” “Brutal.” Those unsure if they want to watch this series be warned: people die a lot. People die messily and suddenly. And the story doesn’t care who it is. Child death isn’t exactly “shown” in the first three episodes, but we see a severed arm. And that’s not even the most graphic thing that happens. People explode into blood paste or get their eyes ripped out. And many of the deaths also play into some unfortunate tropes and story trends. The Sandman has a lot of LGBTQ+ representation and a diverse cast, but that doesn’t mean those characters are safe in the story. Many Black characters die, and the Bury Your Gays trope is blatant and happens more than once. It’s some aggressively tragic instances of the trope, too. Episode three’s scene between two ex-girlfriends nearly made me cry.
And scenes of darkness hit all the harder because the cast is stacked. The plot machinations that bring rise to some of the scenes are regrettable, but the performances are still stellar. Dialog in The Sandman has an appropriately dreamlike quality and doesn’t always sound like everyday speech, but the actors sell it. It comes across as wise, world-weary, whimsical, cuttingly emotional, or sometimes all the above. From Rachel’s (Eleanor Fanyinka) heartbreaking scene with Johanna (Jenna Coleman) to the lighthearted interactions—before someone explodes—with “Rick the Vic” (Meera Syal), the show has so many likable, fascinating, and memorable characters dotting its bigger story. Every scene with John Dee (David Thewlis) or The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) was positively electric. Lucienne’s (Vivienne Acheampong) semi-exasperated mindset with Dream lends much-needed levity to the macabre tone.
All The Characters In The Sandman Are Well-Acted
But I must give notable mention/accolades to the mesmerizing Morpheus, Dream of the Endless. Again, I haven’t read the comics, but Tom Sturridge’s portrayal of the character is precisely what I would expect from an immortal, inhuman god-being in charge of dreams. From the way he walks into scenes to the deep, understated-yet-forceful way he speaks, I was instantly pulled into the story. None of the other Endless showed up in the three episodes I watched, but I’m deeply curious about how the story handles them.
This Is How To Portray Godly Characters In Fiction
The other thing this show does well, though I suppose it’s to be expected, is have wild visuals. The CGI isn’t exceptional, but the framing, shot composition, and even lighting of scenes are a treat. Morpheus gets multiple moments where he’s shrouded in darkness but with his eyes glowing, and it sells you on his godhood. The full-scale dreamworld stuff is fun enough to look at, but where this show takes the cake is these uncanny moments. A glass orb with Morpheus inside. The glowing lights underneath a door. Dark rainy streets and mouths where eyes should be. Everything has an element of noir blended with gothic horror, making every scene, even otherwise standard dialog scenes, into gloomy but enthralling moments.
If you’re the type that likes dark stories and enjoyed Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale, The Sandman will be right up your alley. Though I’m sure the series has Easter Eggs plenty for long-time fans, it’s easy enough to get into its strange, unfolding story. The Sandman is atmospheric, visually gorgeous, and evokes the same wonder as hearing ancient mythological tales for the first time.
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