YouTube essayist Maggie Mae Smith is in the middle of a teardown of Joseph Campbell and the Heroes’ Journey. For those who have never taken a comp-lit course, Campbell hypothesized that there is really only one story we tell and that is one lonely guy. This guy is called to adventure by circumstances, is supervised and trains, to finally have to face his demons alone. He succeeds and returns home changed. End of the monomyth. It should be obvious that there is more than this story to tell. And yet much of the media industry is obsessed with this single narrative and the idea that if you really want to satisfy an audience, you have to follow this plan.
Well, Dream just completed a monomyth cycle, and it feels like crap. It’s up to you, Joseph Campbell.
After punishing those who captured him, reclaiming all of his tools, and becoming more powerful than he has been in centuries, Morpheus finds himself empty now that he has no more quests to occupy his mind. He needs a loving kick in the dick, and who better to do that than his big sister Death? Played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Death is a cutie and moreover a darling. She is a source of infinite compassion; in his line of work the shed must be.
Sand sellerDeath is one of the most beloved personifications of this particular life changing that has ever been written. Stupid and racist corners of the internet erupted when it was announced that a black woman would be playing everyone’s favorite goth girl. This reaction wasn’t just ugly, it was wrong, as Howell-Baptiste kills her as Mort. She has a knowing smile that’s so reassuring and kind, and she’s had it ever since. The right place, so everyone really should have known better.
Death takes Dream on her tours, showing how she handles her incredibly fulfilling job. She’s here to help people through life and death, like one of those whimsical death doulas I see on TikTok. I have always found this personification of death extremely comforting. She’s like a football mom, kicking you out of the game and saying she’s proud of you for trying. Every end-of-life vignette we see in this episode is beautiful in its own way. When the first living being existed, I was there, she says. When the last living being dies, I put the chairs on the table, turn off the lights, and lock the universe behind me when I leave. Who better than Death to teach you how to live?
Sturridge gives a good brother performance in this segment. There is a very real affection between him and Howell-Baptiste. His micro-expressions reveal that he cares for his sister and enjoys her company, despite Dreams’ general veneer of boredom. You can tell he likes being needled by her and she has good reason to be needled. When the Endless get existential, they’ve been known to get screwed, as hinted here. Death doesn’t want another brother missing.
Death argues that Dream doesn’t need a purpose beyond their function, that what they do is important enough to be their purpose. But the Dreams realm is about everything out of reach, so being dissatisfied and nostalgic, it is sort of complete the mission. At the start of the episode, Death says that this phase of Gloomy Gus isn’t like Dream, but is it? Almost as if to prove my point, the rest of the episode focuses on another one of Dreams’ little quirks.
This episode is an adaptation of two different comic book issues, and boy does it show. The Sound of Her Wings and Men of Good Fortune aren’t even in the same paperbacks; it is how disconnected they are. I wonder how this episode plays for someone who hasn’t delved deep into Sand seller lore (and who doesn’t have the tramp stamp to prove it). Would the bifurcated nature of the stories seem even stranger, or does the fact that both plays involve death marry them well enough?
Dream meets Hob Gadling in 1389, in the middle of another of Deaths’ pep talks. It seems to need it every millennium or so. She took him to the White Horse pub, just outside London. There he meets Hob a guy who has decided that dying is a game of cups. The dream and death make a little She is all thatstyle bet. Death will refrain from taking him, unless he really wants to die. And Dream will check it every 100 years.
We get a real overview of English history through these centuries-old discussions, with cameos from William Caxton, Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe, Johanna Constantine I and William Shakespeare. I hope we can see his other Sand seller stories one day. We also get a full history of menswear, via Hob and Dreams fits. Sturridge looks great in her Elizabethan attire. Rococo less.
Eventually, Hob says he suspects Dream really wants a friend. Like all those reality TV shows that claimed to be social experiments, Morpheus’ true motivation was entertainment. Dream can’t fight the charge of friendship, but boy is he trying. It gets so bloated! What does it say about Dream who the hell still associates with a slave trade guy but is outraged at being seen as vulnerable?
Poor Hob thinks Dream dumped him for good when he didn’t show up in 1989. But we the audience know he’s still all bubbling. And when gentrification arrives for the White Horse, it seems our buddies will never reconcile. But, aw, it looks like Hob has opened a new pub right next to the old one. And after being sorted by his sister, Dream searches for his one true friend.
The opening of this episode references the Feed the Birds scene from Mary Poppins, and there is a depressing story about it! Do you want to read it? The music for Mary Poppins was written by the Sherman Bros., as depicted in Save Mr. Banks and the documentary The boys. After Mary Poppins created, and for the rest of his life, Walt Disney occasionally visited the office of Sherman Bros. and said, Play it. That meant they were supposed to play Feed the Birds, one of the most melancholic songs in the entire Disney catalog, about the rarity and specialness of caring for something smaller than yourself. Walt also had to get a PT massage and take a Scotch before going home every day, because he was injured playing polo and suffered horribly every day for the rest of his life. Anyway, nice song.
Another trivia: What Hob says about Shakespeare (acts a little, wrote a play) is a reference to the infamous Fred Astaires screen test review: can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.
The parallel pub talks in 1389 and 1989 during the Hob Gadling section of the episodes are therefore a choice. My dad loves to point out that one of the earliest correspondences in existence is of two old people in ancient Egypt who sympathize with the fact that today’s children wear clothes that are too revealing and have no respect. In a time of perpetual apocalypse, it’s somewhat comforting to know that people thought the world was ending a long time ago.
We get some more muahahahaha acting from Desire, who claims to be behind Roderick Burgess’ little scheme. Will they be the invisible hand of fortune in the last four episodes? The answer is yes, of course.
I wish death had it signature eyeliner.
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