Remember Rose Walker? It's OK if you don't – actor Kyo Ra has so far only appeared in a brief cameo in episode five, talking to poor, ill-fated Jude from the other end of a video call. Well, now it's time for her to take center stage…
Rose and her family are at the heart of The Sandman's next big arc. She's only 21, but it's clear that she's already lived a turbulent life, losing both her parents and being separated from her younger brother Jed six years ago. Despite this – and perhaps in part because of the kindness shown to her by neighbors Lyta and Hector Hall – she remains brave and optimistic. She's also, we quickly learn, a vortex, a once-in-an-era confluence of energies that’s uniquely threatening to both Morpheus and the Dreaming itself.
Not that he seems too worried. With his realm fully restored, the Sandman (who seems far more at peace than when we last saw him) has commissioned Lucienne to take a census of all the living entities in the realm. She discovers that three beings have disappeared without a trace. They are Gault, a shapeshifting nightmare; Fiddler's Green, a sentient location that Dream always considered to be reliable; and, of course, our old friend the Corinthian. Morpheus sees in Rose an opportunity - vortexes' have the power to pull dreams together and he realizes that, sooner or later, she will draw these absent entities together. He dispatches Matthew to keep a beady eye on her.
In the waking world, Rose begins a globe-trotting adventure. She's been offered the chance to fly to London for a week, all expenses paid, by a mysterious foundation in exchange for a single interview about her family history. When she gets there, however, she discovers that the organization is, in fact, a single lonely old woman named Unity Kincaid (Sandra James-Young).
If that name sounds familiar it's because she appeared – very briefly – all the way back in episode one. As Unity explains to Rose, she fell asleep on her 12th birthday and didn't wake up for decades, a victim of the "sleepy sickness" that spread across the world in Dream's absence. While she was unconscious she dreamed of living a full life, one in which she had a baby with a golden-eye man. When Unity did finally wake she discovered that none of this had been true except for one thing: she really did have a child, Rose's grandmother, who was quickly taken from her. Now, all these decades later, she's trying to reconnect to the scattered members of her family. She’s found Rose and now she wants to meet Jed.
Unity furnishes Rose with the money and accommodation needed to track her little brother down. Rose and Lyta travel to Florida to start the search, moving into a B&B run by Hal (John Cameron Mitchell) and populated by a deeply odd collection of housemates including Ken and Barbie ("It’s terrible." "We know."), stuffed spider-collectors Chantal and Zelda and the mysterious Gilbert (Stephen Fry), who comes to Rose's aide when she's attacked by muggers. We'll get to know her new friends better in the coming episodes.
Meanwhile, the Corinthian is on the move. He's set his sights on Rose, but doesn’t yet know where she is. He pops in to see her flatmate, Carl, posing as a corporate headhunter. After a quick shag (in which the Corinthian keeps his shades on - rude) he is distracted by the news of a series of killings that bear his own, unique, eye-popping MO. Investigating this leads him to the "collectors", a trio of serial killers who want the Corinthian to be a guest of honor at their annual convention. Seeing this as a potential lure for Rose, he agrees and begins to set a trap…
There's a lot going on in this episode, even by this show's standards. The Doll's House arc is more obviously serialized than the quest for Dream's tools and much of this hour is spent introducing us to the new characters we'll follow over the final four episodes of the season. Because of that, there's a hefty amount of necessary info-dumping, from the nature of vortexes to Unity's backstory, Lyta's still recent bereavement, Jed's current plight, and the nature of the Collectors.
Some of this is great fun. The scene between Matthew and Mervyn Pumpkinhead (perfectly voiced by Mark Hamill) is witty and imaginative. We don't spend enough time with the housemates to fully get to grips with everyone, but they're already an amusingly odd bunch. And the final scene, where Rose enters the Dreaming much to Morpheus's surprise is an exciting rug-pull – it's rare to see the unflappable dream lord this, well, flapped.
Other moments are less successful, however. The Corinthian remains an oddly unthreatening villain, partly down to how vaguely he’s been written and partly because of Boyd Holbrook’s sleazy, not scary performance. The Collectors, too, are a little underwhelming. In the comics, they're tragic and pathetic figures, but also deeply frightening. Here they’re played a little too much for laughs and their off-screen killing spree is so consequence-free it’s hard to take it seriously. Perhaps that will be rectified in the coming episodes.
Analysis: How it compares to the comics
Introducing the Collectors early is a smart move. They only appear in one issue of the comic (The Sandman #14), but it makes sense to give them a little more set-up here before we head to the convention itself.
In the comics, there are another two entities that have absconded from the Dreaming. Brute and Glob are a pair of nightmares who have a plan to take on Morpheus by using Jed Walker. That storyline has been folded into another character on the TV show as we’ll see very soon.
Interestingly, the show has skipped over Tales In The Sand (The Sandman #9), which tells the story of Dream and Nada’s doomed romance. It’s such an important part of the overall narrative, however, we’ve got to assume that the show will get round to telling it eventually.
Fables and reflections
Obviously, the implications of how Unity became pregnant are pretty disturbing. If you're thinking that her description of the father sounds familiar, perhaps consider the color of Desire’s eyes. This episode also makes it clear that Dream's younger sibling, played by Mason Alexander Park, was somehow behind both Nada and Roderick Burgess’s tormenting of Dream.
Batman is in this episode! Well, a Batman doll belonging to Jed Walker, anyway.
According to Lucienne’s census, there are 11,062 living entities in the Dreaming presently, including "something nasty in the basement" of the House of Secrets. Wonder if we’ll meet any more of them?
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.