Saturday, August 6, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Sandman' - Morpheus' Imprisonment Creates Chaos Throughout the World for a Century in 'Sleep of the Just'

Netflix's The Sandman - Episode 1.01 "Sleep of the Just"

While searching for an escaped nightmare in the waking world, Morpheus falls prey to Roderick Burgess, an occultist looking to summon and imprison Death.

"Sleep of the Just" was written by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer & Allan Heinberg and directed by Mike Barker

The world is thrown into chaos for over a century because one man wanted to resurrect his son. Morpheus aka Dream was imprisoned by Roderick Burgess and his son, Alex, during that time. They frequently pleaded with him to simply bestow upon them powers that will lift them above the rest of humanity. Dream doesn't believe any human deserves such glory. And so, he sat in silence. He was contained within a glass sphere naked for a century. He was always aware of the world around him. He was always waiting for his chance to strike. He is given that opportunity. It still comes as a result of the grace and dignity of someone choosing to break the cycle. Burgess and Alex were too stubborn to ever change. Dream largely responded the same way. He came to the waking world in order to hunt down a nightmare. The Corinthian roams the world killing people for his own nefarious purpose. When armed with his abilities and artifacts, Dream can quickly reduce the Corinthian to nothing. However, that's not the fate that awaits him. Instead, Burgess messes up a spell in the hopes of trapping Death. She remains elusive. In fact, the Endless largely prove themselves to be removed from the waking world. This isn't an environment Morpheus wants to be in for very long. He's even warned of the potential dangers before he makes the journey. It's still something he had to do. That mission isn't done either. The Corinthian remains a threat. So much more went wrong because Morpheus was removed from his kingdom. His servants lost their faith in him. The Dreaming became a decrepit version of itself. Of course, the audience only gets to see the realm in all of its glory briefly. That's the whole purpose of the opening sequence. Through narration, Morpheus informs the viewer that his realm is where all the power truly lies. Humans insist their world is the real one. And yet, Morpheus informs their actions through his abilities. His powers allow the waking world to function. Without sleep and dreams, life is aimless. Morpheus understands all of these responsibilities. He still refuses to give Burgess and Alex what they desire. Burgess is simply a man upset that his favorite son was killed. He took out his vengeance on Alex, who could never quite measure up. Alex was tortured with the belief that Morpheus' escape would result in his death. As such, he always tried to make a deal. That never occurred. Instead, it was only through Alex's partner Paul that the seal was broken. That gifted Morpheus with the ability to break free and exact his punishment on his captor. Death isn't the consequence that awaits Alex at the end of this ordeal. Instead, it's a lifetime of dreams that he can never wake up from. That's the torture that's fitting for Morpheus.

Of course, all of this is informed by Alex killing Morpheus' raven. That creature proved to be very resourceful. It broke into the mansion, created a distraction and tried to break Morpheus free. The focus was firmly on the glass. Burgess only knew to build that structure because the Corinthian needed Morpheus imprisoned for as long as possible. That was the only way he could advance his mission without any interruption. When Morpheus eventually mounts his escape, the Corinthian knows right away. As such, he has to adjust his plans to account for the adversary coming his way. However, Morpheus isn't as powerful as he once was. He's in a weakened state. He returns to the Dreaming to witness how his kingdom has fallen. He expected people to remain loyal to him after a century of no contact. No one was willing to take their chances on his devotion to the cause. He is loyal to the very essence of dreaming. He asserts that he can rebuild his kingdom once more. He is only starting to realize the scope of the consequences from his imprisonment. He was more than willing to inflict those on the innocent throughout the world. People would fall asleep and never wake up. That was a crisis that grabbed headlines throughout society. No solutions could ever be found. People grew more desperate to find a way to fall asleep and wake up with certainty. That predictability could no longer be offered. And so, chaos consumed the world. Morpheus was selfish in his actions. He refused to agree to any of the terms Burgess and Alex wanted to lay out. Burgess was so accustomed to getting his way no matter what. He failed in capturing Death though. He never achieved his ultimate ambition of restoring his family to its former greatness. He still rose to an enviable position in society. That was achieved through the items he took from Morpheus. As such, Morpheus had nothing more to give his captors. They could already exert the power that was at the essence of his being. He couldn't do more. Of course, that makes him an incredibly passive character throughout this story. Nothing is meant to showcase Morpheus at the height of his power. Instead, it's all about the journey to rebuild what was once taken for granted. That provides him with agency and purpose moving forward. This isn't exactly a compelling introduction for him. Morpheus sits in silence. He observes. He gets his revenge eventually. Burgess and Alex are simply one small part of this ordeal. This conflict informs their entire lives. That showcases the limitations and brevity of human existence. So many plot threads are introduced that will more than likely come to fruition in some important way. Those are a little too obvious - like the existence of Ethel and her son, Johnny. But it's also striking how little the creative team wants to ease the audience into this world. It's all about the destruction and disaster caused by the actions of a select few. Those ramifications are real. However, Morpheus doesn't come across as immediately trustworthy to solve the problems that were created. It has to be more than his simple presence restoring balance after all.