Warning: This review contains some spoilers for The Sandman: Season 1, Episode 11! If you haven’t already, be sure to check it out IGN’s Complete Season 1 Review and learn how you can continue the sandman story in the graphic novels.
Netflix has yet to confirm if The Sandman is renewed for a second season, but at least fans got some unexpected treatment in the form of a bonus eleventh episode from Season 1. Episode 11 is actually two episodes. in one, and makes for a very enjoyable coda to an already strong first season.
Even though The Sandman is all about telling long, fantastical stories about Dream and his siblings, the comic book series is often at its best when it focuses on smaller, standalone stories. The main story arcs are often interrupted by these interlude tales. Dream itself often fades into the background, with the common thread being that these stories explore the intersection between mortal dreamers and the dream world.
The Netflix series has 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 separate chapters rather than two parts of a whole. This seems the right approach. While Dream and Death’s reunion naturally transitioned 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 episode. Unfortunately, it’s also the weakest of the pair in terms of 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 appearance as the Vulture).
But faithful or not, there’s a certain whimsy in the original comic that doesn’t quite survive live-action translation. Part of that is just the animation style. The rotoscoped animation applies an extra layer of paint to reality, rather than trying to channel the brooding, surreal quality of artist Kelley Jones’ work. It also doesn’t allow for additional emotional expression of the various feline characters. The voice cast here is solid, but there’s a disconnect between the voice performances and the characters we see onscreen.
Don’t get me wrong, the story still retains a lot of its power in this new form. “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” addresses one of the show’s most fundamental themes – the impermanence of reality and the unifying power of shared stories. But that segment ultimately feels too short for its own good. In particular, the protagonist’s journey through the Dream and the palavers with the feline Morpheus could have benefited from more screen time. It’s hard not to wonder what might have happened if the animators had used a different style and the source material had been stretched to fill an entire hour on its own.
Fortunately, “Calliope” does not face the same difficulties. This segment is also a fairly straight-forward adaptation (in this case, of The Sandman #17), but some elements have been changed and expanded to better suit the live-action format. Unlike “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, “Calliope” feels as long as it needs to be.
This segment relies heavily on the performance of Arthur Darvill, who makes a welcome return to the DC realm following the recently canceled Legends of Tomorrow. Darvill deftly shifts his approach over the course of the episode, going from restless, frustrated novelist to arrogant celebrity to unhinged lunatic with ease. Richard Madoc is both one of the show’s most despicable and fascinating minor characters, and Darvill captures those qualities well.
SDCC Sandman Official Trailer Images
We also see a lot more of Tom Sturridge’s Morpheus here. It helps this episode become a thematically fitting epilogue to Season 1 rather than just an intriguing side story. As Morpheus wages a subtle war against Madoc’s mind, we see the evolution the character has undergone over 11 episodes. His imprisonment has clearly changed him and made him more sensitive to the suffering of others, but he is still plagued by arrogance and cruel vindictiveness. As always, 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 has been tormented for several years. Mahut is at her best towards the end, as she is freed from her decades of bondage and reminisces about her tragic history with Morpheus (which we hope to see first-hand in a future season). Thankfully, this segment of Calliope’s repeated rape by Madoc as delicately as possible, implying rather than dwelling on the act itself. This all speaks to the series’ appeal as an adaptation. It’s not this different from the comics, but it usually knows when it needs to change the formula and make adjustments for a more contemporary audience.