How you feel about "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" will likely depend on how you feel about what’s been done to the occultist formerly known as John Constantine. No, we’re not talking about the gender flip or name change – here to Johanna, played by Jenna Coleman – but the fact that this version of the character is rocking a cockney accent. Constantine’s scouse! That’s important!
In fairness, this is hardly the first time the character’s background has shifted for the screen – remember 2005’s Constantine, which starred the famously Canadian Keanu Reeves? – and Coleman does a decent job of selling the character’s laconic humor and bruised heart. The Sandman episode acts as a deep dive into her world and the perils of life as an occultist for hire. At night she’s plagued by nightmares from her past, while her waking hours are filled with exorcisms, exploding torsos, and annoying business calls from the royal family.
Enter Morpheus. The Lord of Dreams is here to find his totems of power following a tip-off from the Three. He immediately butts heads with Johanna but they eventually strike a bargain – Dream will take away the nightmares that plague her every night if Johanna will help him find his pouch of sand. She was the last person to see it, having bought it in an estate sale without really knowing what it was, but it's long gone now, left in the flat of ex-girlfriend Rachel (Eleanor Fanyinka), who she walked out on some time ago.
The scenes between Sturridge and Coleman crackle with energy. Something about Constantine seems to bring out both Morpheus's dry sense of humor and a reflective streak. When Johanna reveals that she fled her relationship with Rachel because love "never ends well" and he replies, "No, I suppose it doesn't," it's clear that he's talking from personal experience.
These scenes also provide some necessary exposition. One of my issues with the previous episode was that the motivations for Dream's quest were too vague to be dramatically satisfying. Here we get a concrete explanation for why all of this is important - if he doesn't get his vestments back then the Dreaming "will cease to exist and if dreams disappear, then so will reality". Cool. Got it.
Meanwhile, back in Buffalo New York, Ethel is talking with her son John (David Thewlis). She's come to pass on her amulet of protection and to warn him that Dream is coming for his stolen possessions. Thewlis is terrific in the role of John Dee, radiating menace. At the same time, there's a gentleness and naivety there that makes the character sympathetic as well as scary. Hey, it's not his fault that those guards exploded – they shot first!
The episode closes on a bittersweet note. Rachel has wasted away, consumed by the sand in Dream's pouch. Morpheus is at least able to give her a peaceful end, granting her a blissful dream of a happy ending with Johanna as she passes away, but Johanna is left heartbroken.
This is a big improvement over "Imperfect Hosts", largely thanks to its strong focus on both Morpheus and Constantine. Finally, we’re getting a sense of who Morpheus is as a protagonist and how his perspective is often quite different from our own. He has to be convinced to grant Rachel a peaceful end and it's clear that his view of humanity, following his imprisonment, is still rather jaundiced. Constantine, though, manages to change his mind, even if just a little. There's more to us mortals, he finally realizes, than Roderick Burgess.
Analysis: How it compares to the comics
The way that Rachel obtains the pouch is slightly different. In the comic, she’s a junkie who habitually steals from Constantine. She takes the sand and is eventually consumed by its power, but it's clearly not Constantine’s fault. The TV show blurs those lines interestingly. Johanna didn’t know the power of the sand, but Rachel’s death is – at least in part – down to her simply taking off and abandoning her. That's bound to haunt her a little.
Matthew (voiced by Patton Oswalt) doesn't appear in the comics until The Sandman #11. We get to see much more of him in the next episode.
The scenes between Ethel and John have been greatly expanded, adding some nice character beats, like John coming to terms with his heritage. Both Joely Richardson and David Thewlis are acting their socks off, fully selling this weird mother and son relationship.
Finally – and for the third episode in a row – the Corinthian shows up to try and manipulate events. This time by, er, giving John a coat.
Fables and reflections
Dream says to Johanna, "I’ve known your family for centuries." And indeed we will meet another Johanna Constantine, also played by Jenna Coleman, very soon…
The episode opens at the Casanova Club, originally reference in Hellblazer #11. In the comics this was a punk venue where John Constantine’s band, Mucous Membrane, once played a show. Now, as far as we can tell, Johanna Constantine doesn’t have a band – at least not any more – but keep an eye on the posters on the walls. One advertises a gig by the similarly-named Muchas Membrane, while other posters say Occult Circles, Birth of a Nightmare, and Run, Now!
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.