THE SANDMAN, Chapter 7. The Doll’s House

Posted on August 07, 2022

Dream’s imprisonment, quest, recovery, and reconnection with family and friends all behind him, it’s time to embark on a new story. It might have been to the show’s benefit if it had made this a little more clear, especially since this episode is pretty much all setup for the story to come. The sudden introduction of Rose Walker and her family difficulties is jarring, although we’re used to being introduced to a new cast with each episode by this point.

To make clear that we’re onto the next story, Dream literally cracks open the next volume, labeled “Rose Walker,” and starts reading up on her story. In 2015, in  Cape Kennedy, Rose (Vanesu Samunyai) reacts to the news that she will be separated from her younger brother Jed because of custody issues. She says her tearful goodbyes, not knowing when she’ll see him next.  In Desire’s realm, which is one gigantic monument to Desire themselves, Death and Dream’s younger sibling walks the corridors of its own heart and calls upon their twin sister Despair to come visit. “You seek to snare him in your machinations again,” Despair rightly observes. “It’s time he learned that dreams are merely echoes of desire and despair.” It’s pure jealousy and sibling rivalry, a tale as old as, well as Cain and Abel, in fact. Desire excitedly tells Despair of their latest plan to torture their brother Dream, admitting that Nada (the woman in hell who begged for Dream’s forgiveness) was a mistake and Roderick Burgess was a diversion. The Nada story happened ten thousand years ago, so Desire has been nurturing grudges and launching schemes against their brother for a very long time. Despair is doubtful that their newest one will be any more successful than the previous ones until Desire tells her that there’s a “dream vortex,” adding with no small amount of excitement, “and it’s a woman!” Despair wears a hooked ring, which she digs into the flesh of her face excitedly upon hearing the news. Desire tells her that she’s already started manifesting her powers as a vortex and that her name is Rose Walker. Suddenly, she’s the girl on half the Endless’s minds. Mason Alexander Park is flawless as Desire, oozing deliciousness and menace, serving as a living reminder that desire is a double-edged sword. Donna Preston is fine as Despair, although we found her design to be pretty uninspired. There was never a chance that Netflix was going to for a comics-accurate version, a naked, Venus of Willendorf type of figure. It’s clear that all of the Endless depicted so far have been stripped of most of their other-worldly, inhuman aspects for the show, but turning Despair into just some lady who looks like she lost her job and got dumped by her boyfriend feels a little unimaginative.

In the real world of 2021, an older Rose is trying to locate her long-lost brother, having lost both her parents, which subjected him to the whims and whirlwinds of the foster care system. She is also planning on reluctantly leaving for England to answer the invitation of a mysterious foundation who’s willing to pay her fairly well to come out and participate in “family research.” She doesn’t want to go but she could use the money and she knows it was important to her mother. On the flight over, her friend and traveling companion Lyta has an unusually candid conversation with the man in the next seat about her own life story and the grief she feels as a widow before revealing that she’s holding this conversation with her dead husband in a dream. There’s powerful dream energy swirling around Rose already and it’s affecting the people closest to her.

It’s here where we have to press pause and note as diplomatically as possible that when you stack the first story arc of your season with Charles Dance, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, Gwendoline Christie, and Sarah Niles, the relative scarcity of actors working on that level for the second arc of the season is going to become glaringly noticeable really quickly. This second arc simply isn’t as good as the first one for a bunch of reasons, but casting was definitely a factor. The directing must be considered as well, since it felt like the intensity of everything got dialed way down in the season’s second half. And since we’re making these sorts of observations, it should be noted that this is the first time the series was forced to veer wildly from the source for reasons that are necessary, but almost not worth explaining. Suffice it to say that the original story had much deeper and more obvious ties to the DC Comics universe of superheroes and if you thought that Razane Jammal, the actress playing Lyta Hall, looks like she could’ve played Wonder Woman, well, you’re closer than you realize. Lyta and her husband Hector have ties to iconic superheroes and their story is vitally, centrally important to the overall Sandman storyline for reasons that won’t become clear for a while to come. They needed to stay, this story arc needed to put certain things into motion, and the superhero affiliations needed to be stripped out of it completely. Overall, we think the writing does a good job of getting certain characters exactly where they need to wind up and the story hangs together just fine, but we’ll have some further issues with creative decisions as this all unfolds.

Back in the Dreaming, Lucienne is taking a census of the entire realm and is currently tallying the residents of the House of Secrets (Abel, the House of Secrets itself, the bottle imp, Goldie the Gargoyle, and something unspeakably nasty in the basement, in case you were wondering). Abel tells Lucienne of rumors throughout the Dreaming regarding the existence of a dream vortex. Lucienne assures him that Lord Morpheus has no time for hedge-gossip and silliness.

 

In Morpheus’s throne room, she delivers her report to a suddenly much lighter and more animated Dream. Everything in the realm looks to be in spit-spot shape and the Lord of the Dreaming is at full power. She informs him that over 11,000 residents have been accounted for, but that “three of the major arcana are missing.” She names them as Gault, a shape-changer, who she never trusted. Dream responds that it is not in a shape-changer’s nature to be trustworthy. Next is the Corinthian, the nightmare-turned-serial killer, and finally Fiddler’s Green, whose absence from the realm Dream finds “passing strange” because he was “vavasor of his own dominion,” and as we noted earlier, Tom may or may not have clapped at this inclusion of Gaiman’s occasionally hilariously pretentious dialogue. There’s a really cute device here where the stained glass windows of the throne room shift to display each of the beings discussed, just as in the comics. Lucienne tells Dream of the rumors of a vortex and he tells her (with odd delight) that the rumors are true. “A true annulet” exists, the first of this era, he tells her. She counsels Dream that he must immediately hunt it and control it. He tells her that the vortex is a she and shows her the somewhat awful digital effects on his throne room ceiling. He tells her that the Endless are prevented from taking action against any mortal who isn’t an active threat. He further explains that he will take action against her should she become a threat, but in the meantime, she’ll serve as a solution to his other problem, since a vortex will draw dream energy toward her. Rose Walker is on a collision course with no less than three escapees from the Dreaming and Morpheus intends to let it play out for his own benefit. Lucienne notes that she could eventually destroy the Dreaming if left unchecked and suggests that someone keep an eye on her. Dream doesn’t think he should leave his realm at the moment. This isn’t cowardice, it’s duty. We’ve already seen that the Dreaming is considerably weakened without his presence and with a vortex forming, it would be reckless for him to leave it. It’s decided that Matthew will travel to the waking world and keep tabs on Rose, reporting back to Lucienne.

In England, the “foundation” that paid for Rose and Lyta’s trip turns out to be a fancy private care home for the elderly. Rose’s benefactor turns out to be Unity Kinkaid, the young girl who fell asleep back in 1916 when Dream was first captured by Roderick Burgess. She spent most of her life asleep and only recently woke up again, to a world she didn’t recognize. In one of her many decades-long dreams, she met a man with golden eyes and had a child with him. When she woke up, she discovered it was true. Someone had impregnated Unity while she was sleeping and the baby she had was Rose’s grandmother, making Unity her great-grandmother.

 

In America, three colleagues come together in a diner to plan their upcoming annual convention. This diner visit is slightly less horrifying than the last one – only one waitperson loses their eyes this time – because these three colleagues are serial killers discussing the vexing problem of not having a keynote speaker for the annual serial killer get-together. The Corinthian’s name comes up and they all turn out to be not only huge fans, but a little scared of him. They’re all in agreement that the current holder of the name couldn’t possibly be the original. They agree to commit a bunch of copycat crimes to get his attention so they can ask him to be the speaker at their convention. Later, the man on every serial killer’s lips stops by Rose’s apartment and hooks up with her cute – and extremely lucky to have survived the encounter – gay housesitting friend. He discovers the news that he’s got copycat killers and leaves before he gets a chance to eat the guy’s eyes.

The Fates beckon Rose and she has a meeting with them in a utility closet that’s also a grand ballroom. They speak in riddles and make sinister warnings, reminding her that she’s lucky to have received them as a trinity rather than the Kindly Ones. They warn her about dreams and houses, but berate her for asking the wrong questions and missing the opportunity to learn about Jed or prepare for the Corinthian. Rose is rather annoyingly low-key about the whole thing but at this point, she hasn’t figured out that her dreams are real. Unity offers to pay Rose and Lyta to continue their search for Jed because she’s got loads of money, she wants to meet her grandson, and she feels all three of them have interrupted lives in common.

In the Dreaming, Lucienne is looking for Jed Walker and Mervyn Pumpkinhead is finally introduced. Lorenzo did NOT know how to react to the talking pumpkin, but Mark Hamill is hilarious and the character is much loved by the fandom. Besides, it’s good to remember now and then that dreams aren’t realistic at all and occasionally get very silly. Mervyn asks for an update to which he’s not remotely entitled and Lucienne informs him that Matthew is keeping his raven eyes on the situation and reporting back. Both Matthew and Mervyn agree that he should report his findings to Lucienne first. The scene of Matthew flying through the library’s muraled ceiling and landing on a birdshit-covered roof in Florida was really beautifully done. Rose and Lyta have checked into Hal’s boarding house. Hal (a welcome John Cameron Mitchell) and Rose talk like old friends, but they’ve only spoken once on the phone. They know each other’s life stories already and the other occupants of the boarding house — a married couple named Barbie and Ken who look like their namesakes and two goth brides named Chantal and Zelda — are fully versed on the details of Rose’s and Lyta’s lives. “No secrets in this house. We’re just one big odd happy family.” Rose and Lyta go to visit the woman at the incredibly sketchy foster agency. She does nothing to help her and clearly doesn’t think Jed needs to be reunited with her. He tells her that he’s being raised by friends of his father’s. Back at the boarding house, Rose’s new housemates take her out to see Hal’s drag show, which is why you cast John Cameron  Mitchell. This scene was a lot of fun and just the hit of lightness the story needed before getting too depressing or worse, too dull. Rose goes outside to take a phone call from Unity and winds up fighting off three attackers with some help from the one housemate she hasn’t yet met, Gilbert, played by the also very welcome Stephen Fry. He is flamboyantly polite and charming. He’s also G.K. Chesterton, more or less.

 

Back in America, at the other hellish diner, the three copycat serial killers come face to face with their hero, who threatens to kill them, but is so flattered by their worship that he agrees to come to their convention. Never forget that the Corinthian, for all his swagger and hotness, is small. He claims to be bringing a guest named The Vortex.

In Dream’s throne room (note just how much this episode is bouncing around from location to location, doing extensive setup work for the story to come) Lucienne and Morpheus discuss the missing Jed Walker, his impossible absence from the Dreaming, and the possibility that the shape-shifting nightmare Gault may be responsible for all of it. Rose hears them in her dreams and manages the impossible. She walks right into the Dream King’s throne room uninvited. Back in the waking world, a terrorized Jed Walker is desperately trying to escape an abusive home life. All the pieces are in place for everything to get much worse.

Next: Playing House

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