Oh John Constantine! Film and television have had some cracks at you, but no one’s been able to fully stick the landing. Rather than even try, Sandman has wisely gone with his distaff counterpart, Johanna Constantine. Originally created as John’s French Revolution–era ancestor, this Johanna is a current-day exorcist and fuckgirl. She broke up with her most recent girlfriend because she “interpreted” Johanna crashing with her for a month as living together. She’s got beef with the royal family, and she has an unspecified tragic backstory. If this was the MCU, I’d swear we were being set up for a spinoff series. Maybe we are.
I, for one, would welcome a Johanna Constantine show. As a former Doctor Who companion, Jenna Coleman is no stranger to saving the world from CGI threats on a weekly basis. And she’s got a fun (and horny) energy in this role, so let’s have her explore it for an eight-episode commitment. Time for a Hellblazer for ladies show. Herblazer, if you will.
Speaking of horny, Johanna and Dream have real chemistry. The vibes are palpable, and according to comic lore, both characters are kind of sluts. (When Johanna asks Dream if he has any exes, I made a very undignified, sort of barky yelp. A literal LOL.) Coleman and Tom Sturridge smolder well at each other. I can hear the fanfic being written as we speak. And Dream is very much in the same place as Johanna, emotionally: untrusting, hiding their surplus of feelings under a façade of not caring, and going through a trenchcoat era. Total enemies-to-lovers fodder.
We meet Johanna as she does some contract exorcism work for the Church of England. Finally, spooky nonsense is no longer the sole purview of the Catholics. Apparently when Henry VIII raided the monasteries, he got the demons too. Johanna’s contact suspects a member of the royal family has been possessed, and what does it say about their current reputation that a possessed princess is honestly an upgrade? Although, if Prince Andrew was possessed, it would explain the “I don’t sweat” thing better than any bullshit he’s pulled. If demons sweat, Hell would be too sticky to even think about.
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” does a lot to open Dream up, get him interacting with people and ravens, forcing him out of his comfort zone. When Johanna disregards a direct order from him, he’s clearly very taken aback. That will undoubtedly have ramifications in the next episode, but that’s future Dream’s problem. Right now, he’s busy having sexual tension with Johanna and non-sexual tension with Patton Oswalt.
Besides Johanna Constantine, we meet two other recurring characters in the Sandman mythos this ep: Mad Hettie and Matthew the Raven. The former is a centuries-old woman who is too obstinate to die and has knowledge of the occult. The latter, voiced by Oswalt, is a guy who one day woke up an immortal raven. Apparently people who die in their sleep become ravens? That’s a lot of ravens. It also helps explain why Dream took Jessamy’s murder so seriously. She had full sentience. Also, she had to die twice, which is unfair. Alex Burgess really shouldn’t have made Jessamy double dip into that sauce.
Dream, Johanna, and Matthew converge at that royal exorcism, and I gotta say I am impressed. I consume a lot of demon/monster-hunting content, and I’ve never seen anyone trick a demon into reciting the banishing Latin phrases itself. Give Johanna a series, I’m begging you! Morpheus interrupts Johanna’s exorcism, and she in turn interrupts his attempt to reclaim his helm. And then Matthew interrupts their meet cute.
Dream and Constantine’s stories intersect and overlap in a way that underscores the episode’s main theme, that you can’t live in a hermetically-sealed bubble. (An ironic theme, given the show’s first episode.) Having other people around can be helpful, like when Matthew lets Dream know that Johanna is trying to make a getaway. And closing yourself off from others won’t protect them, as Johanna learns from her ex Rachel. When Johanna made her French exit from Rachel’s apartment, she’d left Dream’s bag of sand, and the sand promptly decided to consume poor, pining Rachel. The sand appears to work like a drug, keeping your mind in blissful dreams as you let your body rot away. When Morpheus and Johanna finally get to Rachel, she’s already too far gone to do anything but give her a quick, painless death.
It’s a recurring trope in John Constantine literature that his partners are always getting stuffed in the refrigerator, so to speak. Being a magical pain in the arse is dangerous work, and the people who love John often get more of the damage than he himself does. This appears to be the case for Johanna, too, since her recurring nightmare is about the time a kid got sucked into hell on her watch. I wonder if she’s still down there and if we’ll meet her when Dream travels to hell in the next episode. Anyway, Dream’s exes share a similar fate. It would be interesting to see what happens when two girlfriend killers date. It’s like that urban legend about the hitchhiking serial killer getting picked up by the serial killer who targets hitchhikers.
Also learning that man is not an island and that one’s actions have consequences are John and Ethel Cripps. She is still trying to get John to hand over Dream’s ruby so that she can give it back and seek forgiveness from Morpheus. Ask Alex how that works out, Ethel. Oh, right, you can’t, because he will be trapped in a waking nightmare until he dies. Ethel and John have a heart-to-heart, where they try to undo the pain of their past. Ethel apologizes for not taking better care of young John, lying to him about his dad, and putting her own self-preservation ahead of everything else; John says he probably won’t kill anyone with the ruby this time. It’s not the most convincing argument on either side.
John suggests they use the ruby to erase the Sandman from existence, which isn’t a great idea. But he’s in a super-duper high-security insane asylum, so it can be assumed that not all his plans are winners. What’s Ethel’s excuse, though? In order to get John on her side, the “let’s not kill Dream, let’s just give the ruby back” side, she gives up her demonic amulet. The one that explodes anyone who tries to attack her and has been keeping her alive and full of elastin for many years. Her hope is that with a different protective amulet on his side, John will see reason and hand the ruby over to Dream. But c’mon, Ethel. You locked your son up for a reason. And with you gone, there is nothing stopping him from coming after Dream and anyone else who stands between him and whatever he wants to do with a reality-altering ruby. Morpheus isn’t the only one in Sandman who isn’t thinking their plans through. But before we can see what John does with his freedom, we have to make a brief pit stop in Hell.
Fables and Reflections
• I guess people waking up from character-elucidating dreams is going to be a running gag on this show.
• Would Dream have let the demon eat the princess in order to get his helm back? He seemed pretty ready to make a literal deal with the devil. Dream does not think things through, and he never has.
• In a fun reference to the source material, one of the security guards’ innards coats the inside of an elevator when John makes his escape. That’s basically what the sand did to Rachel’s father in the comics. Only he was somehow still alive. Sandman is, above all else, gross.
• Probably a good thing they changed Rachel’s backstory to be less “unreliable junkie” and more “poor girl caught in Constantine’s wake.” Shaming someone for their addictions isn’t cool in 2022.
• Since Rachel died in her sleep, is she a raven now, too?