The Sandman S1E4 TV REVIEW: A masterclass in dramatic tension.

Because who doesn't love a recurring Dream?

Last episode, on the world's number 1 show, Dream went searching for some sand, and along the way ran into London's least dependable resident, Johanna Constantine. Whenever you're dealing with Constantine, you flip a coin: heads, you'll get everything you've ever wanted; tails, you get dragged into hell. Thankfully, Dream got what he was after. . . that said, this week, Dream gets dragged into hell.

This episode is PACKED with Dramatic Tension. And just a smidge of sexual tension

Dream's search for his tools continues. Armed with a pouch of magic sand, the next step in his master plan is "retrieve helm of office". Thankfully, this one should be pretty easy. All he has to do is descend into the pits of hell and match wits with a being who is probably the second most powerful entity in existence. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, John Dee, now free from his internment in a not-as-secure-as-it-first-looked psychological facility, needs to get to Mayhew. Now if only a nice person would stop and give him a lift. I'm sure that will end really well for everyone involved.

Look at him. Doesn't he look so trustworthy?

The Sandman episode 4 is a masterclass in dramatic tension. I know I've already said that, but it needs to be said again. Because, seriously, this episode is a freakin MASTERCLASS.

Here's the thing: When I heard The Sandman was getting a television adaptation, there was one scene I was most excited and worried about, in this first arc. The scene in question was Dream playing 'The Oldest Game' against Choronzon. It's one of my absolute favourite scenes in the comic, and I couldn't wait to see how it would transfer to the screen.

And I wasn't disappointed. . . to start.

Having Dream play against Lucifer instead of Choronzon makes total sense, and Gwendoline Christie is utter perfection, as The Morning Star. Managing to somehow look purely angelic yet absolutely terrifying at the same time, she is the perfect counter to Dream and all his sulky, gothy glory.

Then the game starts, and it's everything I could have hoped for. The way the moves are visualised, the wounds appearing on the players, as they each take their chances. Stunningly good. And as the gambits become larger and increasingly more risky, the scale of the injuries increases to match. Wonderful!

But, that's when we hit a snag. In the penultimate move of the game, Lucifer drops Dream to the floor, slowly growing more pale, barely able to breathe. . . Is this really it? Is this the end of the Dreamlord?

No. Of course it isn't. We're barely half way through the first season, which is an adaptation of the first book of an eleven part series. Of COURSE Dream isn't going to be condemned to eternity in hell before the first season even finishes.

They try to really amp up the tension, really make you fear for Morpheus, but it just doesn't work. Although it DOES allow Patton Oswalt to deliver my favourite 'So bad it's good' line from this episode "Dreams don't fucking die. Not if you believe in them." so I guess the scene wasn't TOO bad.

And then, in a perfect counterpoint to the forced tension of The Oldest Game, we have John and Rosie's wild ride.

There are some really brilliant casting choices in this show. Tom Porridge is brilliant as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste IS Death ( but more on her, soon ;) ), and as I said last time, Jenna Coleman delivered a Constantine we weren't expecting, but couldn't help but enjoy.

But for me, there was only one choice for casting which hit me like a bolt of lightning, in its absolute perfection. David Thewlis as John Dee is SO good, that I'm actually glad that they expanded his role, because it gives us more time to enjoy his note perfect performance.

And, while he's somewhat more present in the next episode, his scene stealing begins in episode 4, when he delivers one of the most uncomfortably tense performances I've ever sat through. His journey starts relatively normally: some small talk, simple 'getting to know you' chatter, that you'd expect from two strangers sharing a car.

But as the journey continues, and as Rosie (played brilliantly by Sarah Niles, who you instantly want only good things for) slowly begins to realise she's sharing her car with an absolute madman, the tension begins to build and just does NOT let up. The scene works so brilliantly, because unlike other parts of this episode, you genuinely have no idea how this is going to end. Dee is so unhinged, that despite remaining totally calm, you can never tell what he'll do next. Is he going to say thanks for the lift, or snap his fingers and pop her head? You just don't know, and you can never guess because David's performance is so subtle, that it could honestly go either way. It makes for a remarkable journey, that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Speaking of, don't forget to stick around and watch the credits, they're great this week!

The Sandman Season 1 is available now on Netflix. And if you can't wait for the rest of the epic tale of Morpheus, you can read ahead at your Local Comic Shop.


For Season 1, check out:

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Noctures (1989, By Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcom Jones III )

The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House (1989, By Neil Gaiman, Kelley Shawn, Jones McManus, Mike Dringenberg, and Colleen Doran)


Taheg Gloder is a Freelance Copywriter from England. Obsessed with comics and Manga since his teens, he now splits his time between writing comic reviews and retrospectives for POP, and doing reactions on his YouTube Channel, The Dragon & The Hound. He lives alone, because he’s a hermit.

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