Something funny happened as I watched "Collectors", the penultimate episode of The Sandman's first season. I started to like the Corinthian. After spending most of the season being vaguely annoyed by Boyd Holbrook's unthreatening performance as the living nightmare, it finally clicked into place for me. He just needs some mates!
As he pals around with Jed (with whom he seems to have forged a genuine connection, two runaways on the lam) and wanders about the convention center chatting and flirting with fans, it’s clear that he's enjoying himself – and good for him. One of the themes of this back half of the season has been Dream's creations breaking free of their constraints and finding fulfillment elsewhere. OK, so the Corinthian does this by murdering people and that's not optimal, but at least he's having a nice time.
In many ways, this episode is the lynchpin of the season. Rose and Jed are finally reunited for real in the waking world. Gilbert is unmasked as Fiddler's Green, the other missing dream entity – and we get an explanation for Lyta's mysterious pregnancy. As Matthew blurts out at one point, Rose did it! Her powers as a vortex have broken down the walls of reality and the two worlds are starting to merge. In this case, that means a woman having a baby with her dead husband's ghost.
Unfortunately, it's also an episode that suffers from some frustrating creative choices. The bulk of the action takes place at the Collector's convention in Georgia with Jed, Rose, and Gilbert wandering blithely around a hotel full of serial killers. Like a few other moments this season, it's an idea that makes sense within the context of a gloomy, gothic 1990 comic, but doesn’t translate well to the screen, at least not here. Mike Dringenberg drew the hotel as shadowy, sparsely populated, and only ever seen at night. In contrast, The Royal Empire is brightly lit and bustling with lots of civilian traffic. Not only is it far less atmospheric and spooky, it immediately raises the question of how exactly this killer con is happening under everyone’s noses.
Now, The Sandman – even in the waking world scenes – is clearly not going for a naturalistic tone. It exists in a heightened version of reality and plays pretty fast and loose with things that require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. That’s fine, but it takes away from the sense of threat and it's hard to believe that Jed is ever truly in danger given how crowded these scenes are.
It doesn’t help that the collectors themselves are all incredibly broadly drawn, particularly child molester Fun Land. Again, a sequence like the montage of murderers talking amongst themselves – "The drive was a killer," "I wouldn't be caught dead," "He slays me," and so on – works on the page. It’s a smart tease that explains what these people are without directly spelling it out. Here, it's redundant as we already know who the collectors are and what they want, and sticks out as fairly clumsy dialogue.
For me, the best parts of the episode are elsewhere as the show continues its late-season exploration of Morpheus being kind of a dick, actually. After a meeting with a nervous Mervyn, he learns that seismic activity is starting to break the Dreaming apart – a consequence of Rose's continued existence. Morph tracks down Lucienne in the library and offers a half-hearted apology for chewing her out previously. He eventually acknowledges that yes, she was right all along about the dangers posed by the vortex. Unfortunately, the only way to heal the fractures is by shutting down the anomalies that are causing the damage – and that means confronting Rose, Lyta, and Hector.
Perhaps he's doing it for the greater good, but Dream's cold dispatching of Hector Hall and his declaration that Lyta's child is "his" by right of having been conceived in the Dreaming is chilling. As ever, the Endless have laws and concepts of morality that are not our own, but you're fully with Rose when she stalks him back to his palace – something that surprises even Morpheus – and threatens him. Clearly, her powers are growing and a final confrontation between the pair can't be too far off.
Analysis: How it compares to the comics
It’s Morpheus that saves Rose from Fun Land, rather than the Corinthian, who is far less affable.
Several key scenes, including Morpheus’s confrontation with the Corinthian, are missing. Fear not – they've just been shunted into the next episode.
Fables and reflections
It’s a small thing, but what exactly do Gilbert and Jed think is going to happen at a cereal convention? People dressing up as cornflakes? I also laughed out loud at Rose saying that cereal was Jed’s second favorite thing. What are the chances!
Lyta has been in the Dreaming for several months from her point of view, but just hours in the waking world. As she points out, time moves differently there.
Unity appears, confirming that she survived her encounter with the Corinthian. We can’t help but think that her plans to adopt Rose and Jed are a little premature – and doomed.
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.