And so we come to the end of this great tale, a fantastical and impossible story, one that could never happen in real life: A micromanaging boss learns how to delegate. Dream, one of the most tight-buttholed characters in fiction, has declenched. And all it took was a near-apocalypse.
We start the episode with the Corinthian filling Rose in on what’s happened to all the other vortices. In short, they got merc’d. The Corinthian is offering Rose protection from Dream, but at the cost of killing everyone she knows. Not a great offer. While Rose mulls over her options, Dream goes to give his keynote speech at the convention.
This monologue from the Corinthian is at the heart of Sandman, I think. Even more than being a story about stories, the subconscious, dreams, Sandman is about self-delusion. For good, or for ill. These killers, ol’ Teeth Eyes included, have self-mythologized to the point they think they’re the only real person in the world. This is something that serial killers really do, as shown in alllllll the true-crime shows that try to give us a peek in their minds. But it’s also what Morpheus has been doing for eons. Dream thinks that he needs the rules because he’s too important to feel things. If I don’t keep everything in check, all of humanity is doomed. Doomed, I say. But the Corinthian counters that he’s just trying to rationalize away from having feelings. Which … fair. If Dream felt the consequences of his actions, the way he forces the killers at Cereal Con to, it could get very bad very quickly. He’d feel guilt about Nada, hurt at being betrayed by Desire, probably some cringe about vowing to steal Lyta’s baby.
At the keynote speech, the Corinthian stages his coup. Using the collective nightmare of the killers, he starts to create an alternate Dreaming with Rose at the center. Doesn’t work! Rather than let humanity’s subconscious be overrun with serial killers, Rose decides to set up good boundaries. Clearly, she’s been to therapy.
Neither the Corinthian nor Dream really counted on Rose having agency in her own story. And to be fair, she doesn’t really in the comics. This is a satisfying change, letting Rose understand what the hell is going on before Dream tries to kill her, and even letting her choose to make the sacrifice willingly. But first the Corinthian has to be unmade. This is where Dream catches his unfeeling-bitch accusations. They stick. The Corinthian claims that he joined the living because he wanted to feel like them, and that Dream only pretends to care about humans because they give him status. And honestly? That rings true. The stink Tom Sturridge puts on the word “humans” earlier in the episode, when he’s shading the conventioneers and their limited imagination, is palpable.
But if Dream doesn’t feel enough, the Corinthian doesn’t think big enough. All he’s done in his century in the waking world is give people another thing to be afraid of. But in Dream’s opinion, nightmares exist to help people overcome their fears, or at the very least hone in on what about those fears actually hits them deep. The Corinthian thought too small because he made people scared of other people, which people really are quite good at already. If Dream had his way, he’d make humans scared of themselves.
While Dream and his nightmare are beefing, Rose and Jed make their getaway. Lyta is having her magic baby, after approximately 18 hours of being pregnant. I know I hit this last recap, but going from zero to delivery in a day would actually be a horror story. This idea is used in a terrifying (and truly disgusting) cold open on Fringe, btw. Now there’s a show not afraid to get yucky.
Rose arrives at the hospital, where the entire boardinghouse is waiting (minus Gilbert, who unbeknownst to anyone has fucked off back to the Dreaming). Rose talks to Lydia about the noble sacrifice she may have to make, and Lyta is all like, “Fuck that noise.” Her suggestion? Kill Dream. In Lyta’s estimation, Dream sucks. He did a Raiders of the Lost Ark–style face melt to her husband and wants to steal her baby. Why shouldn’t Rose replace him? But Rose doesn’t have the rigidity to order the chaos of the Dreaming. As we learn that night, when — as the zoomers say — the Vortex is vortexing.
Rose accidentally lets all the boardinghouse’s dreams blend together. For Chantal and Zelda, this allows them to grow even closer. For Ken and Barbie, it’s the beginning of a divorce. Barbie’s dreams are so elaborate and mythical, while Ken’s are base and boring. He’s a dream cheater, but also the craziest thing his brain can come up with is a cool car and a blowjob. There is zero inner life there.
The Vortex appears to swallow everyone. Ken, Barbie, Chantal, Zelda, Hal, and even Jed get sucked into its maw. Rose decides it’s time to end this, even if it means dying. Meanwhile, multiple people are still trying to save her. Gilbert wants to exchange his life for hers, which makes no sense and wouldn’t work. Unity has a similar idea, and that one holds water.
It turns out that Unity would have been the Vortex, had Dream not gotten bubbled. And then her Vortex powers traveled down her matrilineal line. Why? Because the father of her child is none other than Desire. I think that makes Rose Dream’s niece twice removed? Rose and Jed are descended from the Endless. They’re family. And one of the biggest rules in Dream’s big book of rules is you can’t kill family.
Unity is able to take Rose’s Vortex powers into herself and die in her stead, which is a good outcome for two reasons. First, Unity is pushing 120 and it’s her time to go, tbh. Second, this means that Dream doesn’t need the smoke that would come with killing someone he’s related to by blood. However, he can threaten his family, which he proceeds to do. “We do not manipulate them,” he says, speaking of humanity and internalizing the critiques the Corinthian made of him earlier in the day. “If anything, they manipulate us.” Desire isn’t interested in learning their lesson, though.
And thus the season ends tied up in a little bow. It’s maybe a little too neat, with Dream remaking Gault as a happy dream like she’d always wanted. He still hasn’t released Nada from Hell, so there’s still room for growth in a potential season two.
Boy howdy, does Sandman try to tee a second season up! After Dream has learned his big lessons for the year, we cut to Hell, where the various demons and devils are pushing to go to war with the Dreaming. “My subs have unionized,” Lucifer seems to say. But they have a plan, and it’s a doozy. What plan? Renew the show and we’ll find out.
Fables and Reflections
• Maybe it’s because I’ve been ping-ponging between Sandman and Stranger Things, but I would like to issue a challenge to Netflix: Make a live-action sci-fi/fantasy series that doesn’t revolve around one powerful guy stretching their hand out as the main fulcrum of their power. Even Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had more outstretched-hand work than other incarnations of the character. If the live-action Avatar show (should it ever see the light of day) elides the intricate martial-art staging of the cartoon in favor of more palm power, I will vomit.
• Another good change from the comics: lessening the hardships Jed undergoes. The world of Sandman isn’t child-friendly, but there’s only so much IRL suffering people want to watch. I, for one, am glad Jed was holed up in a hotel room for most of these episodes. Not bound and gagged in the trunk of the Corinthian’s car, as he is in the comics.
• Ken’s dreams don’t seem bad enough to merit Barbie rejecting him. So he got a dream beej, so what? In the comics, his dreams are Reaganomics + the vilest misogyny you could imagine. That’s grounds for divorce.
• Okay, just in case Warner Bros. Discovery decides to abandon the show like it did with Batgirl (or if Netflix pulls a Netflix and cancels a show too soon), the last scene is setting the stage for the events of Season of Mists, the fourth book in the Sandman series. Go to your local comics shop and start getting hyped.