Warning: this review contains some spoilers for The Sandman: Season 1, Episode 11! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out IGN’s full Season 1 review and learn how you can continue the Sandman storyline in the graphic novels.
Netflix has yet to confirm whether The Sandman is being renewed for a second season, but at least fans have gotten an unexpected treat in the form of a bonus eleventh installment of Season 1. Episode 11 is effectively two episodes in one, and makes for a very enjoyable coda to an already strong debut season.
As much as The Sandman is about telling long, sweeping fantasy stories about Dream and his siblings, the comic book series is often at its best when it focuses on smaller, standalone stories. The major story arcs are often broken up by these interlude tales. Dream himself often fades into the background, with the one common thread being that these stories explore the intersection between mortal dreamers and the world of dreams.
The Netflix series already captured that magic through the stellar “The Sound of Her Wings,” which faithfully adapts two early standalone stories from the comic. Episode 11 continues the trend, though in this case the two tales in question are treated as distinct chapters rather than two parts of a whole. That seems the right approach. Whereas Dream and Death’s reunion transitioned naturally into the story of Dream’s 600-year friendship with Hob Gadling in Episode 6, there’s no real point of connection between these two tales.
“A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is the more stylistically interesting of the two, given that it’s the series’ first animated installment. Unfortunately, it’s also the weaker of the pair in terms of its execution. This segment is certainly faithful to the source material from The Sandman #18. It’s more or less a direct adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s original script (with Gaiman himself making a neat vocal cameo as the vulture).
But faithful or not, there’s a certain whimsy to the original comic that doesn’t quite survive the translation to live-action. Part of that is simply the animation style. The rotoscoped animation applies an extra coat of paint to reality, rather than trying to channel the brooding, surreal quality of artist Kelley Jones’ work. Nor does it allow for any added emotional expression from the various feline characters. The voice cast here is solid, but there’s a disconnect between the vocal performances and the characters we see onscreen.
Make no mistake, the story still retains much of its power in this new form. “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” dabbles in one of the series’ most fundamental themes – the impermanence of reality and the unifying power of shared stories. But this segment ultimately feels too short for its own good. In particular, the protagonist’s journey through the Dreaming and palaver with the feline Morpheus could have benefitted from more screen time. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been had the animators employed a different style and if the source material were expanded to fill an entire hour on its own.
Thankfully, “Calliope” doesn’t face the same struggles. This segment is also a pretty direct adaptation (in this case, of The Sandman #17), but certain elements have been tweaked and expanded upon to better fit the live-action format. Unlike “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” “Calliope” feels exactly as long as it needs to be.
This segment hinges largely on the performance of Arthur Darvill, who makes a welcome return to the DC realm in the wake of the recently canceled Legends of Tomorrow. Darvill expertly shifts his approach over the course of the episode, evolving from agitated, frustrated novelist to arrogant celebrity to unhinged madman with ease. Richard Madoc is both one of the series’ most despicable and most fascinating minor characters, and Darvill captures those qualities well.
The Sandman Official SDCC Trailer Images
We also see a great deal more of Tom Sturridge’s Morpheus here. That helps this episode become a thematically fitting epilogue to Season 1 rather than simply an intriguing side-story. As Morpheus wages a subtle war on Madoc’s mind, we see the evolution the character has undergone over the course of 11 episodes. His imprisonment has clearly changed him and made him more attuned to the suffering of others, yet he’s still plagued by arrogance and cruel vindictiveness. As ever, Sturridge’s quietly intense portrayal of the Dream King is a joy to watch.
Melissanthi Mahut also shines as Calliope, with a certain defiance that shines through even as her character is tormented over the course of several years. Mahut is at her best near the end, as she’s freed from her decades of bondage and reminisces about her tragic history with Morpheus (which we’ll hopefully see firsthand in a future season). Thankfully, this segment Madoc’s repeated rape of Calliope as delicately as possible, implying rather than lingering on the act itself. All of this speaks to the show’s appeal as an adaptation. It’s not that different from the comic, but it generally knows when it needs to alter the formula and make adjustments for a more contemporary audience.
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