“You said that a Vortex can create universes, or destroy them. So I suggest you leave my universe the fuck alone. This dream is over.”
The penultimate (or so we thought) episode of The Sandman’s first season is also the penultimate episode of the original Doll’s House storyline, as the various plot threads finally converge. Rose, the missing dreams, Lyta’s dream-based pregnancy, and the serial killer convention all come together and come to a head here, awaiting the next ep’s resolution., just as in the comics.
Having read the comics years ago, I must admit I’d taken it for granted, but the concept of a convention for serial killers is actually a really creepy one. For a start, it assumes that there are enough of them active at any one time to fill a convention hotel – and if that doesn’t send chills down your spine, nothing will.
This ep preserves the little vignettes from the original comics that give a horrifying insight into the minds of the people who do these things. Particularly chilling was the chat with the killer whose habit of shredding porn mags after masturbating grew into shredding actual women after sex; and Fun Land, the one with a fondness for very small children, who recounts his favourite hunting ground – which, while not stated outright, is clearly Disneyland. Those ears on his hat might not be precisely Mickey Mouse ears, but there’s no doubt about what he’s saying, which is just nonspecific enough to avoid the attention of Disney’s lawyers.
What was new – and arguably less hard-hitting than the comic – was the assertion that this epidemic of gruesome murders was solely due to the presence of the Corinthian in the real world. It’s an interesting idea, but it rather lets humanity off the hook. In the comics, the Corinthian is a reflection of humanity’s worst instincts; here, he’s their inspiration. It’s a subtle distinction, but a less pessimistic view of our species than the original.
The Corinthian is, of course, front and centre here. It was a smart decision for the show to make him a main antagonist (though not the main antagonist) from the beginning, while in the comics we don’t meet him until this storyline. Boyd Holbrook has been great throughout, clearly really relishing the part and chewing up the scenery. He’s also disturbingly attractive – a bit like an even scarier Ted Bundy – and oddly likeable, with that charismatic smile and drawling voice.
If you’ve ever been to a real convention – I have, mostly Doctor Who ones – the format is instantly recognisable, if perverted into far more disturbing subject matter. The snapshots of individual panels (taken, again, verbatim from the comics) were twisted fun, dancing around the real point by describing the killers as “collectors” (shades of the John Fowles novel). Stephen Fry’s face, as the avuncular Gilbert, was a picture as he popped his head into room after room, finally realising exactly what this “cereal convention” was really about, and who its star guest was.
And of course Gilbert know all about the Corinthian, because Gilbert himself is an escaped dream – the previously mentioned Fiddler’s Green. This is one of those instances where knowing the comic rather takes away from any suspense or revelations; of course I knew that all along. I do wonder how much of a revelation it must have been for those coming to the series fresh, and in that sense, I rather envy them.
But this feeds into the ep’s other major thread – arguably the more important one, given its potential repercussions – of Rose’s status as a “Vortex” breaking down the boundaries between the Dreaming and humanity’s waking life. After the first half of the season, where Morpheus comes across as aloof but basically benevolent, this is part of the ongoing portrayal of him as a being so far removed from humanity as to have little empathy (or sympathy) at all.
His curt dismissal of Lyta’s grief, and dispersal of her ghostly dead husband, is only part of it; even earlier, we see a similarly dismissive attitude to Lucienne’s, as it turns out, entirely germane warnings of danger to come. Lucienne here is given far more agency than the Lucien of the comics, who rarely if ever challenged the Dream Lord, and Vivienne Acheampong continues to be superb in the part. As does Mark Hamill, when even the usually cynical Merv Pumpkinhead tells Dream that Lucienne might have a point.
It’s left to Gilbert to point out that Morpheus was always like that, and if anything, his time spent imprisoned on Earth may have given him more humility and empathy than before. It would have been unthinkable for the Dream Lord of old to admit he was wrong, much less actually apologise for it. Here, he does both, and Tom Sturridge nicely captures his awkwardness in doing so. It’s a nice development from seeing his inflexibility challenged by Death in ep6.
Actually though, Dream takes rather a back seat in this story (so far), though his influence is plainly felt when he steps in to actually take action. The curt command, “this dream is over” (nicely turned back on him by Rose) is a new thing, and an inspired one. Still, though, his dismissal of Lyta’s grief and rage, and his Merlin-esque claim to her baby conceived in the Dreaming, is a massive misjudgment stemming from a fundamental lack of understanding of human emotions and what drives them. If the show sticks true to the comics (and it has, in the basics, throughout), this is laying the groundwork for some very big trouble further down the line.
Only one more ep left of the Doll’s House storyline (though in a surprise twist, not of the season as a whole), and the stakes are pretty high. Rose and Jed might be cornered by the Corinthian, but thanks to Gilbert we now know that Dream, to contain the Vortex, may actually have to kill Rose. And based on the development of his character since the first half of the season, it feels really possible that he might do so – for the greater good, of course. I’d be far more worried about that than the Corinthian – and he’s terrifying enough. Let’s see what the show does next time with the conclusion of The Doll’s House.