After decades of imprisonment at the hands of humans, Dream (Tom Sturridge) – the Endless being who controls The Dreaming – sets out on a quest to reclaim his lost belongings and fix the chaos his absence has caused. Before we begin, here’s some context – Not only had I not read Neil Gaiman’s original comic book, I had never even heard of The Sandman before deciding to give this a go. In other words – I went in to this as fresh as you possibly could.
Right off the bat, The Sandman made a strong statement for why it may turn out to be one of my favourite shows of the year. This is hands-down one of the best pilot episodes for a series that I’ve ever seen. Most of the time, it takes a TV series a couple of episodes to really find its footing and establish its tone – but not The Sandman. The opening episode is riveting from beginning to end – introducing us to interesting characters and a deeply engaging world, while putting all the pieces in place for where the story will go. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement – I was stunned at how much lore and history is packed into this one episode, but also how it was all conveyed in an easy-to-understand manner. Even as someone who went into this knowing absolutely nothing, I walked away from this episode with the urge to learn even more. My next concern was “what if it’s all downhill from here?“… thankfully, it’s not.
The next five episodes each focus on furthering a very specific corner of the story and building up a single element of this world. Each of these episodes tells a story that is both isolated and connected to the wider narrative at the same time – they each have a beginning, middle and end, making them feel like mini movies. Having not read the comic series, I don’t know if the following is true – but the way this series is structured feels like it’s adapting different issues of the comic in each episode. The way the tone and focus shifts slightly from episode to episode, all while still furthering the overarching plot, is very comic book-like. I think it’s a genius method of storytelling as it effectively depicts the scope of this world by revealing just how many sprawling narratives and characters are existing off-screen while the focus is somewhere else. It honestly feels like, after just one season, we could have a number of spin-offs focusing on characters who show up in here for no more than a single episode.
Episodes one through six are the ones made to feel somewhat isolated in scope and unique in tone – these are by far favourite episodes. Whether it be episode four, which feels like a bit of a noir detective film, or episode five, which is an isolated horror film, or episode six, which is more of a deep character study, there really is something magnificent to gain from each one. From episode seven to the finale it takes a bit more of a ‘straightforward TV series’ approach, which was honestly a little disappointing. Episodes seven and eight mark a slight lull in the season, slowing things down a little to ‘recalibrate’ the story, but then it picks up once again as it delivers a strong finale. If the storytelling quality held up right to the end, this could have made a strong case to be my #1 show of the year.
Now, where I absolutely love this approach to the storytelling, I have a feeling many will complain about it… or at least just lose interest. As someone who loves and appreciates many sub-genres, this was great for me, but a lot of people don’t. So, when one episode shifts to the next and the story and tone feels slightly different, it may throw off a lot of people. A small price to pay for some brilliant art.
When it comes to the casting, I can’t speak on accuracy to the comics, but what I can say I loved every single actor in their respective roles. Every actor just fit the character they were playing so perfectly to where there was never a moment of being taken out of a scene because of a distracting performance. Everything fit and everything worked, and it all began with Tom Sturridge as Dream. His deep, monotone voice made the perfect vessel for telling this story, setting the tone for a narrative that is drenched in darkness from the very first episode. It’s his interactions with those who have a bit more of a lively personality that bring out the best in the series, such as the moments he interacts with Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) and Matthew (Patton Oswalt). Other standouts include Jenna Coleman, who is incredible as Johanna Constantine, Gwendoline Christie, who is menacing in her brief appearance as Lucifer Morningstar, and Boyd Holbrook, who is the perfect choice to play someone like The Corinthian. I could list even more, but to put it simply, there’s not a performance in here that I didn’t like.
In the end, The Sandman is a visually stunning and deeply captivating series that I couldn’t get enough of. It’s slightly disappointing that the strength of the narrative waned a little in the final few episodes, but the quality of the rest of the season really makes up for it. With stunning visuals, fantastic performances and riveting tension that grips you through the length of entire episodes, this series is perfect for anyone looking for a blend of fantasy of horror. The world is set up so phenomenally well, that I can’t wait to delve even deeper into the stories and characters we only got a glimpse of in these ten episodes.