The Sandman’s first episode introduces us to our protagonist and kicks off the overall plot of the series, and The Imperfect Master is the Sandman’s first “regular” episode. It also makes one thing clear: there is absolutely no regular episode like Sandman.
Morpheus returns to the dream, only to find his kingdom in ruins after a century of captivity. He tried to restore it, but his powers were exhausted, and without his tools—rubies, helmet, and sandbags taken from him—he was more or less useless. Despite what Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) said, a break doesn’t solve the problem. He needs to recover his stolen property, which means visiting some old friends.
First, he visits a dream pair of Cain (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and Abel (Asim Chaudhry) representing “the first murderer and the first victim”. Morpheus needed to absorb what he had created himself, so he sacrificed their pet gargoyle, Gregory. Cain disapproved and murdered his brother in a fit of rage – although we quickly learn that this isn’t particularly unusual. Cain murders Abel several times in this episode, but never fails to hold on to the hapless brother’s sullen resurrection.
With Gregory reduced to sand, Dream now has all the powers he needs to enter another dimension of the dream, where he is for the three goddesses (Nina Wadia, Suad Fares and Dinita Gohir) collects offerings, and the three goddesses can help him trace his vestments down. The hints they gave him were cryptic, but he had at least one solid clue: an occultist named Johanna Constantine once owned his sandbag.
Meanwhile, in the waking world, we meet Roderick Burgess’ ex-lover Ethel Cripps (Jolly Richardson), who now lives in the world under the pseudonym Mrs Doddt. Life as an art dealer in New York. At this point, she looks very good for someone who is over 100 years old. That’s thanks to a magical amulet that comes in handy when Collins (Boyd Holbrook) calls. He’s still looking for Dream’s tools, which she brought from Burgess. Ethel revealed that she no longer had them, and that her son John took the rubies. When Collins tried to threaten her, she used her amulet to kick him back into his dreams and screamed before heading to see John in the maximum security psychiatric ward where he is currently being held.
“The Imperfect Master” is a quirky story that acts as a bridge between the pilot and the mission narrative that forms the next few episodes. Like Sleep of Justice, it’s largely faithful to the comics, touching all the plot beats of Sandman #2, while also incorporating the Corinthians’ ongoing vendetta against dreams. It’s not bad, but without believable human characters (Ethel, being a largely immortal magician, hardly counts!), it’s not the basis of the finale, and it’s nowhere near as compelling .
Cain and Abel are interesting.There are some nice images and weird stuff throughout, but the exact problem why Morpheus needs to rebuild Dreaming too vague at this point. We know it’s important because he’s the main character and because Tom Sturridge does a great job in the opening credits, but the drama is that for most of the episode it’s pretty inert, just A chain of characters meeting to discuss obscure magical rules we don’t know” still doesn’t get it.
I didn’t mention the visuals too much in the first episode because there were so many other things going on, and frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. Some of the pieces are beautiful—the opening scene of Dream’s Ruined Castle is lovely—but others, like Lucienne and Corinthian on the Dreaming Coast, have some weird depth-of-field issues that make everything seem pretty flat. It’s a big imaginative show, but it feels like there are places where the effects budget is allotted too little.
Analysis: How does it compare to the manga
The biggest change here is, again, the presence of Corinth. He’s doing exactly the same thing as the first episode: encountering someone and trying to use them against his former owner. His scene with Ethel spoils his unfortunate effect almost immediately. He appeared, threatened her, and she banished him back to the dream. It’s the big villain of the season and we’ve seen him play spectacularly.
Another major shift is John Dee’s character. The character is more or less the same, as is the connection to Ethel, but his history is very different. Here, he is a mentally ill incarcerated in a high-security mental hospital. In the comics, he’s a full-blown supervillain, Doctor Fate, struggling in Arkham Asylum after multiple clashes with the Justice League. The change makes sense, though, and enough has happened with the show that we don’t know if we’ll ever see Batman or Wonder Woman walk by.
Finally, in the comics, Morpheus doesn’t need to sacrifice Gregory – he’s able to draw the needed power from the letters to Cain and Abel. Yes, the cute gargoyle is alive!
Allegory and Reflection
At just under 38 minutes in the shadows, this is by some measure the shortest episode of the season.
The trio is one of the most powerful characters in the Sandman pantheon. They also go by other names, including the Three Sisters, Destiny, Nemesis, and most ominously, Kind People.
Sandman is now streaming on Netflix. For more streaming options, check out our list of the best Netflix shows available right now.