We have arrived at the serial-killers convention, or Cereal Convention, as they’re calling it. Good cover, guys — no one will see through your incredible ruse. Feels like a good time to remember that most serial killers are able to up their body count not because they are so freakishly clever but because police are incredibly bad at their jobs. The Corinthian has taken Jed to the Cereal Convention in order to kill two birds with one stone: meet up with Rose Walker and bask in the glory of his fellow murderers.
The Corinthian appears to have inspired the modern-day serial killer, something that is often looked at as a 20th-century phenomenon. Comparative levels of peace means that some people who, in centuries past, would have found a more socially acceptable vent for their sociopathy in the army had to … um … go freelance. This story worked better in the ’90s, considered the end of the “golden age of serial killers” (what a weird thing to have a golden age of). Criminologists identify the ’70s as the beginning of this peak serial-killing era, and they cite any number of things as the reason the numbers have gone down in the 21st century. Among them: Lower lead levels in the water have decreased violence in America overall, it’s harder to kill under the radar in the age of social media, and people stopped hitchhiking. Also, as we discussed in episode seven, the new American nightmare isn’t getting serial-killed. It’s getting mass-killed.
Seeing the serial killers network, attend panels, and flirt has been one of the things I was most excited about seeing in this show. And though I think most of the plot/structural changes the Netflix writers have done to the story were useful and tension-building, I do resent the location scout. They picked a very airy and almost White Lotus–y hotel for the Cereal Con, which robs this episode of a lot of atmosphere. The comic version of this story is like half black ink; it’s claustrophobic, it’s depressing, it’s yucky. In the words of Carl Carlson, “The dank! The dank!” The lack of yuck and/or dank is what’s keeping this episode out of five-star territory.
With Jed safely tucked away in a hotel room (or so he thinks), the Corinthian is free to mingle with his fellow killers. Each one uses a (likely press-given) sobriquet rather than their own name, highlighting that these cultural bogeymen are really a marriage between the murderer and the media. The con is organized by Nimrod, the Good Doctor, and Fun Land, whose off-brand Mickey ears are designed to make him into the Big Bad Wolf. Love that Fun Land was my first introduction to toxic Disney adults. Other con attendees include Hey Little Girl, the Grass Widow, Dog Soup, the Crooner, and the Bogeyman. When Rose and Gilbert sneak into the convention, they steal the identities of the Babysitter and the Dutch Uncle, the latter of which sounds more like a fictional sex act than a serial killer, but go off.
But before we talk about Gilbert and Rose at the convention, we have to talk about the shenanigans Rose gets up to on the way there. Bored by Gilbert’s endless discussion of paradoxes, Rose drifts off to Lyta and Hector’s little acre of the Dreaming. Unfortunately, there has been (Vortex-caused) earthquake damage to Lyta’s dream home. But good (?) news is she’s more pregnant than ever.
While Lyta is showing off the ugly home of her dreams, Morpheus is alerted to the cracks that Rose is already putting in the Dreaming. Whether she wants to or not, Rose is destroying the Dreaming. She got Lyta ghost-pregnant, she broke windows in Dream’s castle, and she has attracted both the Corinthian and Fiddler’s Green (now revealed to be Gilbert) into her orbit. Lucienne was right, Dream was wrong, and he’s actually changed enough to admit it. As Gilbert says, it was almost an apology. But as the next scene shows, Morpheus still has to work on his bedside manner.
Dream goes to break up the happy ghost family, mainly because it is destroying the Dreaming but also because he thinks it’s tacky for a ghost to cling to this plane. Once again, Dream’s inability to see people as people and not statistics really fucks him over. The casualness with which he makes Lyta watch her husband die in front of her again is outmatched in cruelty only by his offhand assertion that he’s gonna come for her baby one day. Don’t be saying shit like that, Dream. That’s psycho! Rose says as much, telling Dream that if he doesn’t want reality’s shit to get rocked, he’ll leave her and her loved ones alone.
Back to serial killers: There’s a rat at the con. A blogger has snuck in posing as the Bogeyman, who the Corinthian knows for a fact drowned three years ago. Yet again, a queer man is lured in by Boyd Holbrook’s smile. Sigh. All the con organizers, save Fun Land, protect their investment by disposing of the blogger. Fun Land is busy.
Jed, resilient little runaway that he is, escapes his hotel room and goes exploring the hotel. He just so happens to stumble upon the killing of the faux Bogeyman and flees into the arms of Fun Land. Luckily, before Fun Land can “play with” Jed, Rose finds him. The siblings’ reunion is almost cut short by Fun Land, only for a bigger monster to save them. The Corinthian finally has met Rose, and … now what?
No, for real, what is his plan? Is he going to try and manipulate her into taking down Dream? Intimidate her? Threaten Jed? The Corinthian thinks he can use Rose to his advantage, but she is almost certainly more powerful than him. Hubris is rising off this character like steam. Looks like the next episode will have at least one arrogance-off between Dream and the nightmare he created.
Fables and Reflections
• Is it weird that I genuinely believe the Corinthian wouldn’t hurt Jed because he sees himself in the little runaway? Even a nightmare has to be telling the truth sometimes.
• How funny is it that Dream is one of those obstinate characters from a sitcom who, until recently, could never admit they were wrong or say sorry. Morpheus, David from Schitt’s Creek, and the Fonz — one of these things is not like the others.
• Most of the dialogue in this episode is either lifted verbatim from the comic or invented whole cloth. One exception: When Fun Land describes his hunting ground (which is obviously Disneyland or Walt Disney World), the Netflix version seriously abridges his monologue. Struck from the adaptation is the line implying that Disney covers up deaths on-property. Someone didn’t want to get sued by Bob Chapek, and it shows.
• The Hector and Lyta stuff is some of the most divergent from the source material, as this adaptation can’t use them as legacy superhero characters. Hector and Lyta had been in Silver Age DC comics, fighting in Infinity, Inc. as the Silver Scarab and Fury. Hector had recently died in DC’s main continuity, freeing his ghost up for The Sandman. He wound up “living” inside Jed’s head with his living, pregnant wife, Lyta. Hector’s ghostly existence being a product of Rose’s Vortex powers works well enough, but, once again, I miss the way the mystical world of The Sandman bumped up against more mainstream superheroics in the comic series. It helped create a folkloric every-story-is-true tone that this show misses.