Did Netflix Do Right by These Three Major Characters?
For the third and final installment of our breakdown of the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman, we’re talking about three of the most important characters in the entire saga: Lyta Hall, Rose Walker, and the Sandman himself, Dream of the Endless. How were these characters altered when they crossed from comics to live action, and what does it mean for future stories?
The Comic: Hippolyta “Lyta” Hall and her husband Hector Hall are former superheroes who, in the wake of Hector’s death from all that superheroing, have taken up residence inside the false Dreaming created by Brute and Glob inside Jed Walker’s mind. The pregnant, lonely Lyta loses track of reality within this false dream-world, some part of her aware that her husband is dead and that she really should have had the baby by now. But she clings to the false reality until Morpheus arrives on the scene. The Dream King banishes Brute and Glob to the Darkness, sends Hector back to the land of the dead, and boots Lyta out into the waking world. Before he goes, Dream casually informs Lyta that since her baby spent so much time gestating in the dream-realm, it now belongs to him and he will one day arrive to take possession of it. A furious, grieving Lyta vows to keep that from ever happening.
The Change: The Sandman show goes out of its way to give the female characters (including those gender-swapped from male characters in the comics) just a bit more agency than they originally had, letting them be a bit more assertive and in control of their own fate.
Except for Lyta (Razane Jammal).
The show ignores all the superhero backstory from the comics and instead, Lyta is now just a nice, normal woman who is friends with Rose Walker and is grieving the recent loss of her beloved husband Hector (Lloyd Everitt). When Rose begins unwittingly manifesting as the new dream vortex, she inadvertently brings Lyta’s dream-memory of Hector back to life within the Dreaming. In the comic, Gaiman suggested that Lyta was fully aware of how unnatural her arrangement with the deceased Hector was, but she carried on out of willful delusion. Lyta on the show, however, is truly blameless for the situation she finds herself embroiled in and the magically-accelerated pregnancy that follows.
But Hector’s presence as a restored soul causes rampant chaos within the Dreaming, and so, as in the comics, Dream destroys the resurrected Hector and casts Lyta out. Later, Lyta encourages Rose to use her abilities as the dream vortex to displace and destroy Morpheus, demonstrating a cold-blooded ruthlessness that visibly surprises Rose.
What It Means Going Forward: For my money, Lyta Hall has always been one of the least successful elements of The Sandman. The living arrangement we see in “The Doll’s House” is so transparently gross and miserable that Lyta’s ongoing hatred towards Dream for knocking it down never has the appropriate dramatic weight. Admittedly, Morpheus did announce he was going to steal her baby some day and, look, I think we can all agree that baby-thieving is not a productive use of anyone’s time. But it’s hard to actually take Lyta’s side or view her as the wronged party in this particular feud. And Dream has a lot of feuds in which you’re sorta rooting for the other side, so it speaks to how weak a claim Lyta’s grudge is built on.
The show’s alterations to this story neatly solves that problem. Show-Lyta is a tremendously sympathetic creation, and this in turn makes Morpheus seem so much more heartless and cruel when he dissolves Hector and stakes his claim on the unborn child. If the show does make it as far as “The Kindly Ones,” Lyta’s wrath will be all the more terrifying because of how much more justified she is in her fury against this man and all that he has stolen from her.
There’s another major leap that the show makes involving Lyta, but it has less to do with her specifically than it does with…
The Comic: An aimless twenty-something American girl searching for her missing brother, Rose is entirely oblivious to the supernatural goings on around her until the final moments of “The Doll’s House,” when she begins to manifest as the Dream Vortex. Rose has only a brief interaction with Morpheus, in which he apologizes for being obligated to murder her. But Rose survives that encounter, waking up with only vague memories of what happened in her dream. She retains enough, and is disturbed enough by it, that she enters into a period of agoraphobic depression when she gets home. Rose eventually decides to dismiss her dream as just a dream and begins to emerge back into her life.
The Change: Like many (but not all) of Neil Gaiman’s protagonists, Rose spends most of her story as a passive observer moving around and amongst more captivating, colorful supporting characters, only becoming an active player in the final moments of the story. Show-Rose is, right from the jump, more assertive and proactive than she was in the comic, and as such, she meets and engages with Morpheus (and the other dream folk) much earlier than previously scheduled. Whereas the Rose of the comics ultimately dismisses her dream as being just a dream, show-Rose retains all memory of what happened to her, even writing an entire book about it.
But the biggest, most potentially seismic change to Rose is her relationship with Lyta. In the comics, Rose and Lyta do eventually meet and have an amiable enough relationship, but they are nowhere near as close as they are in the show, with Rose going so far as to say that Lyta informally adopted her after her mother passed (which never happened in any form in the comics, as Rose’s mother was very much alive). Rose is now present when Morpheus disintegrates Hector and stakes a claim on Lyta’s unborn child, a proclamation that a horrified Rose vows to oppose.
What It Means Going Forward: After being spared her ordained death as the Dream Vortex, Rose never again plays a major narrative role in the life of The Sandman. That being said, as Dream’s niece (kind of) and a former vortex, she does have a knack for being close to hand whenever wonky Dreaming shit starts impacting the waking world. Rose’s slow journey towards maturity and finding an adult identity for herself mirrors and parallels the similar growing pains that Morpheus experiences over the life of the series, though these connections are more thematic than practical.
The show seems to have very different things in store for Rose, especially if she makes good on her promise to be “Auntie Rose” to a child that comic readers know will eventually be named Daniel. Having Rose on hand with knowledge of the cosmic stakes of this world, and also with a personal stake in the lives of her friend and her friend’s child—that’s a juicy piece of drama that could pay off major dividends further down the road.
Until then, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Rose remains our point-of-view character through the earthbound portions of Sandman, the eyes and ears through which we experience the various consequences to the games that Morpheus and his peers and rivals play against each other. Her deceased, deadbeat father could be one of the evacuees of Hell in “Season of Mist,” or she could be one of the ladies who ventures into the battle against the Cuckoo in “Game of You,” or her connection to both the Endless and the human-world could prove useful during Dream’s quest in “Brief Lives.”
When Rose runs off at the end of the “Doll’s House” volume, the character’s story feels fully told. But as with Johanna Constantine, the show’s version of Rose feels incomplete, with so many dangling possibilities left to explore that it would be a shame for her to be sidelined the way she was on the page.
The Comic: One of the best, most complex, least-likable protagonists in all of comics, Dream of the Endless has more names than anyone could ever list and a new face for everyone who encounters him. Though he is generally depicted as a tall, thin young man with chalk-white skin and infinite pools of inky shadow instead of eyes, Dream’s appearance is subject to change depending on who’s looking on him. The same is true of his personality, depending on what story is being told and who’s doing the telling. By turns, Dream can be a beatific font of wisdom or a petulant child; a being of infinite patience and mercy or a temperamental, impulsive brat; an upright and caring monarch, or a sullen, capricious god. He is totally alien, yet somehow simultaneously achingly human. While his is the most nebulous and impermanent of domains, Dream himself is utterly rigid in his behaviors and duties, consumed by his responsibilities to a degree that even his siblings find off-putting. Dream’s relationship with humanity is equally complex: sometimes he delights in our follies and imaginings, while other times he seems to regard individual human lives as scum he might pick from between his toes.
By the conclusion of the first two volumes of The Sandman, Dream has recovered enough from his long captivity and the resultant destruction of his realm that he thinks it possible to slip back into his old life. But the consequences of his captivity, his actions upon escaping captivity, and the various sins of his past will only continue to manifest as the saga proceeds.
The Change: Well, for starters, he has eyes. And Tom Sturridge is pale like human beings are pale, not like a phantasm haunting the rest of the cast, which would be a more comic-accurate rendering of Morpheus. Hashtag not my Sandman.
Sturridge capably inhabits the many shades of Morpheus. Just by the way he holds his head or quirks his mouth, he can go from an unearthly, regal bearing to seeming like a prissy little shit you just can’t wait to smack. The show radically downplays the most unpleasant aspects of Morpheus, with an added layer of vulnerability inherent to Sturridge being a human being and not a spectral visitor from beyond the grave. This Morpheus cries when he’s upset, laughs and smiles much more freely than he ever did on the page, and is rather shockingly quick to apologize and offer contrition when he’s in the wrong.
After reading hundreds of pages of Sandman stories, Dream remains endlessly (wink) out of focus, forever unknowable no matter how much we learn about him. By the end of these ten episodes, audiences have a pretty comprehensive idea of who this guy is and what makes him tick.
What It Means Going Forward: Morpheus needed to be softened up exponentially if Sandman was ever going to work in live action, and for the most part, the show’s writers and Sturridge’s performance walk the delicate line of maintaining how mysterious and off-putting Dream can be while also making sure he remains human enough to be an engaging lead of a TV show.
Even so, when the season ends with Dream apologizing to Lucienne and letting Gault go free, it feels like we are seeing an entirely different character from the one Gaiman wrote for so long. The ending raises questions about how the show will tackle stories that revolve around Dream making his life, and the lives of those around him, infinitely harder because he is stubborn, proud, and obsessed with following rules and protocols. After seeing how the show softened Dream’s worst moments from the first two volumes, how will it handle the stories in which Dream is truly, unforgivably monstrous, stories that are intrinsic to the larger arc of The Sandman?
It leaves a gaping question mark right at the center of the show, but Sandman is so successful in so many areas that I’m left feeling more curiosity than concern. I want to see this creative team and cast run the full gamut. I want to see them try to grapple with the sprawling short stories, and all the major arcs, and the tangents and the side-quests and the weird detours that Gaiman loved to indulge.
They did it. They actually made a Sandman show and it is funny and scary and wondrous and odd and beautiful and gross and, and, and…
It’s a dream come true. Here’s hoping we none of us wake up for a good long while.