If “The Sandman”, based on the comic book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, was developed for Netflix by Gaiman. The series centers on Lord Morpheus of the Endless (Tom Sturridge), the King of Dreams, but many refer to him simply as “Dream” or “The Sandman”.
The season begins in 1916, with Morpheus, one of the seven Endless, captured by an occult ritual that sought death (one of the Endless). But instead captures Dream who is imprisoned for 106 years. He eventually escapes and sets out to recover his stolen equipment and restore his kingdom to its former glory.
During the first season of “The Sandman,” we follow Dream through his endeavors. To search for his tools stolen by Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) and traded over the years. It feels like the season is unnecessarily split in two, with the early episodes focusing on Dream getting its tools.
In these early episodes, Tom Sturridge consistently shows off his acting range. During the first episode, Sturridge rarely speaks, but the actor does so much with his body language that we feel what he feels or thinks without him having to communicate.
Sturridge brings an emotional depth to Dream that could not have been accomplished by many others. From his despair at being without his tools and feeling weak to the final scene of the show where he shows why he is considered a god.
In the first part of the season, we get to see a variety of characters, some of whom get lost over the course of the season. The star, aside from Sturridge, should be the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook), a nightmare who had escaped the Dream and wishes to unleash the nightmares in the real world, also known as the waking world.
A criticism of the series is that there aren’t enough scenes with Holbrook’s character. It’s a joy to watch when Corinthian and Dream have scenes together, especially towards the end of the season. There’s no need to over-drama with confrontations in this series and it’s perfectly executed with Sturridge and Holbrook’s script and acting. But sadly, there aren’t many scenes with the two together and the show suffered a bit for that.
“The Sandman” is more than just a comic adaptation. He addresses the themes of loss and mourning but also of identity, all perfectly embodied within Dream but also in his creations, both dreams and nightmares. It also highlights the value of hope and how everyone has the right to dream and the consequences when those dreams lean too far into reality and the limits of dreams.
One of the main problems with “The Sandman” is its lack of rhythm and identity. It feels like the season is split in two, with the first half focusing on Dream finding its tools, but the second half introduces new villains and a new problem for Dream in the form of a Vortex.
In truth, it would have been better had the first season focused on Dream gathering his tools and tending to his crumbling kingdom. The first part of the season really underutilizes its villains, like Corinthian, while devoting an entire episode to Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman) which has little to no impact outside of her episode.
Overall, “The Sandman” is an interesting watch, especially when it brings more human elements into the series. From the question of immortality and the value of the human experience perfectly illustrated by Hob Gadding (Ferdinand Kingsley) to the poignant scenes with Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). The Sandman suffers from pacing, underutilization of villains, and having too much content for the first season.
Overall score: 8.5 out of 10
Daniel Fortin is a reviewer. Follow him on Twitter: @Daniel_Fortin_.