The Sandman season 1, episode 4 review, recap, and analysis: A Hope In Hell

“A Hope In Hell” follows Morpheus and Matthew the raven as they travel to the underworld in search of the helm. We know from the last episode that it’s in the possession of a demon – but which one? To find out, they must seek an audience with Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie). Meanwhile, in the waking world, John Dee is free, on the run, and searching for Dream’s ruby. If he can get to it first then he will become the most powerful man on Earth. 

Dream’s journey through the skeletal forests of Hell is evocatively realized and gives us a chance to get to know Matthew (Patton Oswalt) a little better. Pairing the taciturn Morpheus with a wise-cracking bird felt like a risky decision, but it works, largely because Oswalt has found the right balance of sass and fear in his character. He’s there to ask the questions that the audience needs answering, while the dream lord remains distant and fundamentally unknowable.

That’s certainly demonstrated by Dream’s encounter with Nada (Deborah Oyelade), his former lover. Finding her rotting in an infernal prison visibly shakes Morpheus, though we quickly learn that he was the one who put her there 10,000 years ago. She wonders if he has come to free him, but he coldly states that while he still loves her, he hasn’t forgiven her yet for defying him. Talk about a bad breakup… You should let that one go mate. 

Eventually, Dream and Matthew reach the palace. Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer was, famously, based on David Bowie and while Gwendoline Christie may not seem like an immediately obvious match for that, she inhabits the role perfectly. There’s a sardonic glee and a delight in her own wickedness that’s as far away from the cheeky, loveable Tom Ellis Lucifer as it’s possible to get. 

While Morpheus’s beef is with the demon Chroronzon (played by comedian Munya Chawawa), she manipulates events so that he must duel with her instead. Their battle of wits starts with Lucifer invoking a wolf and escalates to the destruction of the entire universe. But Dream knows that one thing conquers all, even in Hell: hope. It’s enough to defeat his opponent and he finally wins back the helm. 

These scenes are the heart of the episode, but they’re unfortunately undermined by some iffy visual effects. Hell is a combination of sets and CGI and sometimes the two very visibly do not gel. Something about the lighting and compositing in Lucifer’s palace, especially, gives everything a distractingly stagey look. That’s a bit of a shame.

Meanwhile, in the waking world, John Dee is on a journey of his own. A good samaritan named Rosemary (Sarah Niles) has stopped to offer him a lift. As they drive through the night, however, she begins to realize that she’s made a terrible mistake – especially when she asks a gas station attendant for help and he is gruesomely annihilated by John’s amulet of protection. 

Despite all of this, Rosemary eventually builds a strange bond with her deadly passenger. She feels sympathy for him and empathizes with his difficult upbringing. She doesn’t judge him and, when the opportunity comes for her to escape unharmed, her instinct is to offer him further help instead. 

It’s a touching moment, beautifully performed by both Niles and Thewlis and it helps humanize Dee more. He’s a terribly broken man but not, perhaps, an entirely evil one. He lets Rosemary go, even giving her the amulet. It will keep her safe from harm and, besides, now that he has Dream’s ruby – obtained in the episode’s closing moments – there’s nothing standing in the way of his plan to remake the world in his own image.

Analysis: How it compares to the comics

The Sandman

(Image credit: Netflix)

This episode is a smart mash-up of two issues of the comic: #4 (A Hope In Hell) and #5 (Passengers). Both are pretty faithful to the source material, though once again the DC universe elements have been removed – in the original version Dream meets the Martian Manhunter! Rosemary also doesn’t make it out alive in the original, with John shooting her dead. 

The other big change here is the duel. In the comic, Dream is simply battling Choronzon for the helm. It’s understandable that the showrunners would want to use Christie more, but her defeat here does slightly undermine the character. We also don’t get to meet Beelzebub and Azazel – the two co-monarchs of Hell who rule alongside Lucifer in the comics.

Fables and reflections

The Endless appear in different forms to different people. From Nada’s point of view, Morpheus is a handsome black man named Kai’ckul (played by Ernest Kingsley Jnr). This is not the first time that we’ve seen Dream look different, however. In episode one he briefly took the form of a cat.

The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.

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