We’ve come to the serial killer convention, or grain convention, as they call it. Good cover, guys – no one will see through your incredible cunning. It’s a good time to remember that most serial killers are able to increase their body count not because they’re so weirdly smart, but because the police are incredibly bad at their jobs. The Corinthian took Jed to the Grain Convention in order to kill two birds with one stone: meet Rose Walker and bask in the glory of his fellow murderers.
The Corinthian seems to have inspired the modern day serial killer, something that is often considered a 20th century phenomenon. The comparative levels of peace mean that some people who in centuries past would have found a more socially acceptable vent for their sociopathy in the military have had to… er… become independent. This story worked best in the 90s, considered the end of the “golden age of serial killers” (what a weird thing to have a golden age). Criminologists identify the 1970s as the start of this peak era of serial murders, and they cite a number of things as the reason numbers have declined in the 21st century. Among them: Lower lead levels in water have decreased violence across America, it’s harder to kill under the radar in the age of social media, and people have stopped doing hitchhiking. Also, as we discussed in Episode Seven, the New American Nightmare doesn’t kill itself in series. He kills himself en masse.
Seeing the serial killer ring, attending panels, and flirting was one of the things I was most excited to see on this show. And while I think most of the plot/structural changes Netflix writers made to the story were helpful and tension-building, I don’t like the scout. They chose a very airy and almost white lotus–y hotel for Cereal Con, which takes away a lot of atmosphere from this episode. The comic version of this story is like half-black ink; it’s claustrophobic, it’s depressing, it’s disgusting. As Carl Carlson said, “The dank! The best!” The lack of yuck and/or excellent is what keeps this episode out of five-star territory.
With Jed safely hidden away in a hotel room (or so he thinks), the Corinthian is free to mingle with his fellow killers. Each uses a nickname (probably given by the press) rather than their own name, emphasizing that these cultural scarecrows are actually a marriage between the murderer and the media. The con is hosted by Nimrod, the Good Doctor and Fun Land, whose off-brand Mickey ears are designed to make him the Big Bad Wolf. Love that Fun Land was my first introduction to the toxic adults of Disney. Other participants in the con include Hey Little Girl, the Grass Widow, Dog Soup, the Crooner and the Bogeyman. When Rose and Gilbert sneak into the convention, they steal the identities of the babysitter and the Dutch uncle, the latter looking more like a fictitious sex act than a serial killer, but leaves.
But before we talk about Gilbert and Rose at the convention, we need to talk about the shenanigans Rose gets into along the way. Bored by Gilbert’s endless discussion of paradoxes, Rose drifts off to Lyta and Hector’s little acre, the Dreaming. Unfortunately, Lyta’s dream house suffered damage from an earthquake (caused by Vortex). But the good (?) news is that she is more pregnant than ever.
As Lyta shows off the ugly house of her dreams, Morpheus is alerted to the cracks Rose is already putting in the Dreaming. Whether she likes it or not, Rose destroys the Dream. She impregnated Lyta with the ghost, she smashed the windows of Dream Castle, and she lured both the Corinthian and the Fiddler’s Green (now revealed to be Gilbert) into her orbit. Lucienne was right, Dream was wrong, and he’s actually changed enough to admit it. As Gilbert says, it was almost an apology. But as the next scene shows, Morpheus still has to work on his bedside manner.
Dream is going to break up the happy family of ghosts, mostly because he destroys the Dreaming, but also because he thinks it’s corny for a ghost to cling to that plane. Again, Dream’s inability to see people as people and not as statistics really fucks him up. The casualness with which he forces Lyta to watch her husband die in front of her Again is surpassed in cruelty only by his flippant assertion that he will come for his baby one day. Don’t talk bullshit like that, Dream. It’s psycho! Rose says the same, telling Dream that if he doesn’t want the shit of reality shaken, he’ll leave her and her loved ones alone.
Back to the serial killers: There’s a rat in the tavern. A blogger snuck in posing as the Croquemitaine, who Corinthian knows drowned three years ago. Again, a queer man is drawn to Boyd Holbrook’s smile. Sigh. All scammers except Fun Land protect their investment by getting rid of the blogger. Fun Land is busy.
Jed, the resilient little runaway that he is, escapes from his hotel room and sets off to explore the hotel. He happens to stumble upon the murder of the fake Bogeyman and flees into the arms of Fun Land. Luckily, before Fun Land can “play with” Jed, Rose finds him. The siblings’ reunion is nearly interrupted by Fun Land, only for a bigger monster to save them. The Corinthian has finally met Rose, and… now what?
No, for real, what’s his plan? Will he try to manipulate her into eliminating Dream? Intimidate him? Threaten Jed? The Corinthian thinks he can use Rose to his advantage, but she’s almost certainly more powerful than him. Pride rises from this character like steam. Looks like the next episode will have at least some arrogance between Dream and the nightmare he created.
• Is it weird that I sincerely believe that the Corinthian wouldn’t hurt Jed because he sees himself in the little runaway? Even a nightmare must sometimes tell the truth.
• How funny that Dream is one of those stubborn sitcom characters who, until recently, could never admit they were wrong or apologize. Morpheus, David of Schitt’s Creek, and the Fonz — one of those things is not like the others.
• Most of the dialogue in this episode is either taken verbatim from the comic or made up. One exception: when Fun Land describes his hunting ground (which is obviously Disneyland or Walt Disney World), the Netflix version seriously abbreviates his monologue. Struck from the adaptation is the line implying that Disney covers deaths on the property. Someone didn’t want to be sued by Bob Chapek, and it shows.
• Hector and Lyta’s stuff is some of the most divergent from the source material, as this adaptation cannot use them as legacy superhero characters. Hector and Lyta had been in the Silver Age DC comics, fighting in Infinite, Inc. like the Silver Scarab and Fury. Hector had recently died in the main DC continuity, freeing his ghost to The Sand seller. He ended up “living” inside Jed’s head with his living pregnant wife, Lyta. Hector’s ghostly existence being a product of Rose’s Vortex powers works well enough, but, again, the way the mystical world of The Sand seller clashed with more traditional superheroes in the comic book series. This helped create a folksy tone where every story is true that this show lacks.