Well, here we are. The last episode of The Sandman‘s first season. Y’know, not counting the DLC episode we’re covering next week. This is the finale of the main body of Netflix’s The Sandman‘s first (and, likely, only) season and last week I found myself back in the dumps as the show reverted to form as a bland, unimaginative and uncaring show that just cycles through a series of paint-by-numbers scenes to fill a forty minute slot in Netflix’s binge algorithm. How did they manage to wrap that all up? Well… poorly. But let’s save the details for now and dive in.
This is The Sandman‘s finale to its first season, “Lost Hearts,” in Five Thoughts. As always, spoilers below.
1. The Dark Mirror
It’s kind of darkly funny to me that The Corinthian is dispatched within ten minutes of this final episode. I was honestly half expecting the show to veer away from his comic book ending seeing as almost nothing else that the show has written for him has even remotely resembled who he was or the journey he took through this arc in the comics, but it’s somehow funnier that this is what they tried to remain faithful here. Here is the nightmare that the show has positioned from the very first moments of the show as the primary antagonist who has been working behind the scenes this entire time to orchestrate Dream’s downfall only for the show to kick him to the curb in the first time minutes of the finale in order to pivot and introduce another secret antagonist who has been working behind the scenes this entire time to orchestrate Dream’s downfall. It’s ludicrous writing that belies the fact that the show never cared about elevating The Corinthian’s position in the story, it just needed someone to be vaguely antagonistic in the grand scheme of things so that they could cut to them explaining what the mortal antagonistic figures have to do next. So many of his scenes throughout the show have been him shoehorned into a plotline so that Roderick Burgess or Ethel Cripps or John Dee or, now, Rose Walker could have someone explain the plot to them.
Which is a crying shame because Boyd Holbrook certainly seemed to be having fun with the role. If I wasn’t so sick of how much he’d been shoehorned unnecessarily into the first half of this season, I’d maybe have some fun with what he was doing here, but I felt like there was still something missing from his overall performance by the time if got to his keynote speech. See, they’ve been going for this rather dapper, sort of affable charm with The Corinthian which I guess is supposed to keep people guessing as to his true nature before it’s revealed that he’s a nightmare and, arguably, the worst nightmare. The problem is there’s no bite beneath that charm. Even last week when we saw him circle around and inevitably kill the Chaste editor, there was no sense of the nightmare lurking beneath the surface. There was no interest in contrasting that charm with the predatory darkness that is supposed to be at the very core of the character. Instead, here, he gives his speech about how the serial killers at the convention are the true American Dreamers before Morpheus shows up and just… he just turns him to dust. Well, okay, there’s a brief period where he and Dream sort of have an ideological battle trying to convince Rose to side with either of them that really just goes nowhere and then Dream turns him to do. And that’s that. No more Corinthian. I have no idea what he ever really wanted beyond a vague notion of being “free” and I don’t think he ever really understood the ramifications of that idea, but I guess that doesn’t matter now.
2. Collector’s End
Like I said, there was an extremely brief attempt at pitching an ideological battle between Dream and the Corinthian over the fate of Rose Walker that, ultimately, went nowhere. I was almost excited by the prospect of Rose being trapped in the collective dreams of an entire convention full of serial killers, but that went nowhere either. We just get three vaguely spooky looking renditions of Nimrod tanning some human leather and the Good Doctor performing an autopsy, but they’re so immediately sidelined and forgotten about that they’re barely even worth mentioning. Which got me thinking: what was the honest point of any of this? This show clearly does not care about the serial killer convention that backgrounded this arc. It spent half of one episode kind of setting it up, but really only used that as an excuse to try and bring Corinthian and Rose together. Last episode was apparently dedicated to the convention and most of it was spent on the one-note joke of having boring convention panels be about the logistics of serial killing. When it actually came to the shows depictions of these killers, they were nothing more than goofball oddities with silly names. The actual violence of their lives, both the violence they inflict and the violence that has been inflicted upon them, was never once respected.Continued below
Which is what makes the way this show wraps up this whole convention plotline so sickening to me. Rose decides that she can just control the vortex now so tells both Dream and Corinthian to stick it and wakes up leaving the two goth idiots to have another verbal spat in the keynote hall which ends with Dream dusting Corinthian. He then turns to the crowd of gathered serial killers and hits them with a monologue about how they’re all monsters and are all irredeemably evil and how he’s burdened them with the guilt and shame they should feel as well as the pain their victims felt. Cue the convention shuffling out in a daze and a wave of them turning themselves in or killing themselves. This show never gave a shit about these people. It is not interested in what makes someone a serial killer. They’re there to be a quirky backdrop that they can use to say that The Corinthian is great and terrible because all these idiots worship him. Then when the show is bored and ready to move on, they’ll drop them like a stone and never look back or think twice about them. When the show wraps up with Stephen Fry and Dream both giving speeches about the importance of human dreams, it rings just a bit hollow when it starts the episode off by firmly saying that these dreams are abominable because the only thing that could make someone a serial killer is the influence of an evil nightmare like the Corinthian. It’s just incredible so see a show that’s rated 18 in the UK for violence and horror have the most tame, most childish take on serial killers imaginable.
3. Child Of Dreams & Desire
With the serial killer convention wrapped up and with the show just breezing past the fact that that whole sequence ends with Rose and Jed being one car away from someone shooting themselves in the head, it’s time to nip down to the hospital and turn into a godawful, saccharine shitshow! The tonal whiplashes of this show have been routinely awful, but this is one of the worst. All of a sudden, Lyta is giving birth and the show decides to turn into a bad soap opera for a bit. We get the return of the B&B crew for a bit because the show just remembered that they exist before a completely lifeless scene between Rose and Lyta about how Rose is somehow afraid for her life because she knows Dream will kill her as soon as she falls asleep, but is delivered without any ounce of emotion like she’s already just accepted that as an inevitability. Which, I guess, it is because she doesn’t even fight falling asleep and we’re treated to my favourite thing these shows can possibly do: throw out any attempt at meaningful character writing in favour of empty, emotionless CGI nonsense! Rose manages to pull all of the B&B crew into her dream – because we had to be treated to yet another drag number by Hal because I guess you gotta get your money’s worth out of John Cameron Mitchell – and immediately the show descends into its worst self. A big CGI vortex begins and a big hole opens in the ground that swallows them all up while Rose watches helplessly as if any of this means anything before Dream interrupts the whole deal.
What follows is the most The Sandman shit I can possibly imagine. Dream and Rose stand stock still on their marks about five metres from one another and talk in bland monotone about how Rose has to die, but it’s fine because she can stay in the dreaming. Cue Stephen Fry running up to his mark to deliver a terribly written speech about how human dreams are important that ends with him just… turning back into Fiddler’s Green. Which didn’t really help Rose in any way. Then Unity and Lucienne show up to reveal the Big Twist of the episode. Y’know, in the comic, Unity sacrifices herself to save Rose through a sense of familial duty. She knows she should have been the vortex and can’t allow Rose to take her place. It’s woven into the fantastical fabric bleeding into the otherwise very normal life of Rose that we see in the beginning of the arc. Here, it’s really just an opportunity to reveal to Dream that Desire is the one who fathered Unity’s child in her sleep and that this, all of this, was a plot to get him to kill a family member. This is something that happens in the comic, but it’s not spelled out in nearly this much detail and certainly isn’t revealed here. To reveal it here, as it does, robs Unity’s decision of any distinction. It’s just a stepping stone to move on to the next scene where the show needs to drive home that all of this was actually Desire’s doing, just to mess with their big brother. Which makes me again think about how this show simply does not care about any of the characters that inhabit it.Continued below
4. A Family Dispute
Y’know, this is almost what I wanted from this show. There’s something, there’s some glimmer, right at the very end of the show, of what this whole thing could have been, but wasn’t. Pity it’s just one scene right at the end of the season. Desire played but a cameo role in the two arcs of the comic that have been thrown into a blender to make this wet fart of an adaptation, so it’s just so strange to me that their bit part which hinted at larger and more diabolical motivations has ended up as this bastardised twist villain reveal right at the very end. I guess it’s because these arcs were apparently in wont for a villain after the show decided that Roderick Burgess, Ethel Cripps, Lucifer, John Dee and the very nature of time and entropy itself wouldn’t do. They needed a single capper on the whole thing so that these ten episodes would be seen not as a random collection of stuff happening to some poor goth and instead would be the first stage in the epic, masterminded plot of Desire to dismantle Dream.
That’s not how this goes. That’s not the story this is. Dream is only the protagonist of “The Sandman” so far as he is the centrepoint around which all of these stories, whether they involve him or not, revolve. Desire’s desire to undercut their big brother and bring them down a peg is nothing but petty sibling rivalry that gets out of hand. It’s a series of pranks and games that add up, over the millennia, to not just Dream’s downfall, but his fundamental change and, therefore, his incompatibility with his own role. That’s the show. That’s the story. This final scene between Dream and Desire almost hits that level of familial drama, but is so undercut by the immediate revelation that Desire planned the whole thing with Unity and Rose that it becomes laughable if you think about it for more than a few seconds. All of this. This entire show, going back to Dream being captured by Roderick, was secretly Desire’s masterplan. God, I don’t know why I even bother.
5. New Dreams
It’s almost admirable that they tried to end this show on a note of new beginnings. As if slogging through this quagmire of underwritten narratives, uninteresting characters, non-existent themes and dreadful production would leave me wanting more. As if I ever want to see Tom Sturridge’s bloody mug ever again. It really sucks because, despite myself, I can honestly see something worth delving into in Sturridge’s performance through the season and how he’s found an interesting and more well rounded take on Dream as a character by the end of this. I just could not bear to sit through another season of this even if you paid me to. This dreadfully saccharine ending note where Dream remakes Gault and gives her butterfly wings and espouses about how he’s learned to appreciate humanity and their dreams because it’s because of them that he exists just rings so hollow when twenty minutes prior he was inducing mass suicide in a room full of serial killers because he thinks they’re scum. Despite the fact that we’ve also been told that they were simply caught in the wake of The Corinthian’s presence on Earth which, again, was Dream’s fault in the first place. There’s no cohesion to anything this show is trying to say and, in the very end, comes off saying incredibly little.
Oh, and then we get a last teaser with Lucifer in a bougie red housecoat to tease them doing ‘Season Of Mists’ in the next season of the show which is absolutely not happening. Frankly, I’m glad, because this intolerably long and entirely pointless capper shows just so much of the problems with this show right in its last moments. Gwendoline Christie feels like she barely wants to be here and delivers her lines with such monotonous boredom against a floating CGI cartoon demon before. Hell, they couldn’t even be bothered to try and get Mazikeen’s messed up speech right. Her whole point is having half her face melted off, making her slur her words through a half formed gullet, and here she just speaks normal. Because we can’t give our audience too much of challenge, right? We can’t make them sit forward and invest themselves and try and parse her speech. We have to hand it all to them on a silver platter, sanded of all edges and interest, in case they have to think to hard about the content they have to consume on mass to please the algorithm. Cut to the least convincing crowd of demons outside of Lucifer’s tower all doing generic cheering animations and… that’s it. That’s your show. That’s The Sandman. Ending on an empty, emotionless and hollow note because instead of investing in the material it is presenting in the here and now, it is promising that whatever is coming next is surely better than whatever you just sat through. I can’t believe I still have the DLC to sit through after this.