Episode 5 of The Sandman starts with Matthew desperate to awaken Dream, who’s clearly exhausted and passed out from his ordeal in Hell. Meanwhile, John has possession of Dream’s ruby and shows up at a diner, where we spend the entirety of our episode.
John sits and watches the drama before him unfold. A guy called Mark tries chatting to a young woman , Judy, but she interprets this as flirting and immediately replies to his greeting with “I’m gay.” She also rattles off some rhetoric about Big Pharma too, tying into Mark, who is actually going for a job interview at a big company called Vanguard.
Staying ever-watchful, John eventually speaks to Bette, the waitress. She’s actually a writer and consumed by her own lies. At least according to John. With the power of the ruby in hand, John decides to make her a more honest woman and promises that they’ll change the world together.
Part of this change comes from John manipulating everyone in the diner to only tell the truth and reveal exactly how they’re really feeling. A couple on their anniversary end up disagreeing about food and their diet. Judy hasn’t heard from her girlfriend and worries it could be over, given they had a fight over jealous feelings.
With John playing the puppet-master, the puppets all play their parts, with the strings of truth moving and contorting toward knives of justice. He watches everyone play their roles, speaking their harsh and destructive truths. Those truths present themselves in everyone kissing and giving in to lust… as well as fear.
Garry attacks Mark after he sleeps with Kate. Grabbing him round the neck, Mark retaliates by stabbing him. This incident soon sees everyone turn on John and realize that he’s the one responsible for this. He shrugs off their threats, telling them that the truth is “a cleansing fire that burns away the lies we’ve told each other and ourselves.” And this is the result – killing and destroying those inside the diner.
With bloodshed all around, Dream appears and shows John the true nature of dreams and how these inspire people and keep them alive. If humanity is robbed of this and their hope, then man will be completely decimated.
When Johnny suggests he rob the Dream Lord of his power, he ends up facing his nightmares and coming face to face with Dream inside the remnants of his castle. John is not deterred though, and is convinced that the Kingdom belongs to him, dead-set on taking this for himself.
Destroying the ruby and letting the power release, Dream comes back in possession of his trinkets. He decides not to kill John though, given the ruby came to him through no fault of his own. Instead, he places him back to sleep in the psychiatric ward.
Dream remains steadfast on healing the wounds inflicted on this realm and his own rebuilding is about to begin… but he’s being watched by his sibling, Desire.
The Episode Review
As an interesting dissection of the human psyche and character, Sandman actually delivers a pretty compelling bottle episode. The trouble is, it comes at the expense of some questionable and forced dialogue.
However, that minor grumble aside, this episode does a fantastic job capturing the essence of the comics with its deep themes and ideas around life and death. This is really where the show is starting to flex its muscles and expand beyond just a simple sci-fi story. This is partly what made the comics so good; the ability to reflect on one’s own humanity and purpose in life through these big themes.
This episode shows the power of dreams and how important it is to prosperity and the future of humanity in general. It’s great to see that captured on the small screen. The ending hints that things are about to pick up in a big way though, and with the troublesome Desire entering the fold, the door is left wide open for the rest of the show.