The search for Jed Walker comes into focus in an episode that adds some necessary clarity to the previous installment’s tangle of plot threads. Rose is having an unexpected meeting with Morpheus (plus a bemused Lucienne and Matthew) in the Dreaming. He explains to her that while nobody truly understands why vortexes exist, they have extraordinary powers. This includes, helpfully, the ability to locate her younger brother. They strike a bargain – Dream will work with her to find Jed, with Matthew acting as his eyes and ears in the waking world.
Morpheus has an ulterior motive, of course. He's searching for the rogue nightmares that have fled the Dreaming and has rightly intuited that the Walker siblings are the key to tracking them down. While Jed languishes in the rat-filled basement of his aunt and uncle's house, the nightmare Gault (Ann Ogbomo) has attached herself to him in his dreams. But rather than filling his sleeping hours with terror, she appears – disguised as his mother – to be offering him solace from the brutal reality of his waking life. At night he isn't a scared little boy being physically and psychologically abused by his Uncle Barnaby (Sam Hazeldine), he's The Sandman, a crime-fighting superhero with a rogue's gallery of villains that he can fight and overcome.
Meanwhile, the Corinthian is hunting for Rose. He pays a visit to Unity Kincaid – who, look, we know she's been asleep for decades, but blimey she's easily taken in – and learns that Rose is in Florida. Following that lead he quickly tracks her down, but is scared off by Matthew's presence, realizing that wherever he is, Morpheus is never far behind. He’ll need to find another way to get to her…
A glimmer of hope for Jed emerges when a support worker, Miss Rubio (Shelley Williams) is urged by Lyta to check in on him. Uncle Barnaby forces him to put on a smile, but he manages to sneak a note into her bag. Alas, Barnaby retrieves it before Rubio can read it and the kid is tossed back into the basement.
Ironically, salvation comes in the form of the Corinthian, who, having taken their address from Miss Rubio, slaughters Clarice (Lisa O'Hare) and Barnaby. He lures Jed into coming with him and the two set out on the road to find Rose, another piece of his trap in place.
The standout scene in "Playing House" follows Rose as she stumbles through her housemates’ dreams. It's a brilliant display of this show's capacity for invention that also grants us some insights into this fresh crop of characters. Ken seems to deeply fear Barbie leaving him, while his partner yearns for adventures in another land (perhaps we’ll see more of this in future seasons...). Chantal and Zelda, touchingly, seem to think only of each other. Hal dreams of the stage, but there's a loneliness there, too. Lyta, meanwhile, is increasingly consumed with thoughts of her dead husband and of starting a family. When she wakes, we see that she really is pregnant.
Eventually, the sequence leads Rose to Jed in the Dreaming and a showdown between Morpheus and the lil'est Sandman. Tom Sturridge's expression when he sees his pre-teen ‘opponent’ is a delight, somewhere between gobsmacked amusement and arch annoyance. The episode doesn't spend too long on the confrontation, however. Gault gives herself up and agrees to return to the Dreaming to face punishment.
Like "The Doll's House" before it, this is another episode that's largely dedicated to putting the pieces in place for the end of season showdown. It's skilfully done, though, developing the characters and finally, finally, giving us a murderous Corinthian who feels like a plausible threat. Morpheus, too, is seen in a slightly different light. His punishment of Gault (and to a lesser extent Lucienne) is unnecessarily cruel and mainly driven by a slightly petulant anger at her defiance. He may have grown since his imprisonment on Earth, but there's still a lordly arrogance to Dream of the Endless that will likely come back to haunt him.
Analysis: How it compares to the comics
Rose actively working with Morpheus is new – in the comic, she’s more or less unaware of the bigger picture until far later in the story.
There have been some tweaks to the battle between Dream and the other Sandman. In the comic, it’s the ghost of Hector Hall who takes on this role, not Jed, and Gault is replaced by the nightmare duo Brute and Glob, who appear to have been written out of the TV show entirely.
Fables and reflections
A small quibble, but it’s a little weird that Jed’s superhero dreams resemble the kitschy action of the 1960s Batman TV show, with its retro-futurist tech and cartoony rogue’s gallery. That feels like it fits with the comics, but it would have made a little more sense if these scenes were riffing on contemporary depictions of superheroes, like the CW shows, DC movies or, yes, even the MCU.
No, the hilariously-named Track-A-Being.com search engine is not a real website.
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.