When the Sandman comics came out, they were completely unlike anything I’d ever read. I was hooked from the start. There were amazing ideas and some stunning visuals and concepts I’d think over and debate with friends. One of my favorite issues throughout the several years long run was early on, when Morpheus went to hell to reclaim what was his. That, somewhat adapted, is what we see in “A Hope in Hell.”
The episode goes back and forth between Dream and his raven Matthew in the underworld, and John Dee trying to get back to the ruby he wants in the Waking World. There are unexpected developments in both stories, and, while the details have been altered a bit, it’s some great storytelling. Patton Oswalt was a fantastic choice for the voice of Matthew, and his commentary and questions act a bit like the Companions on Doctor Who, fleshing out details about what’s going on for the viewers.
Morpheus and Matthew arrive in Hell, and Matthew is surprised to see what it’s actually like. He gets more surprises as he hears more about Lucifer’s background and the Ruler of Hell’s relationship with Dream. On the streets of Buffalo, the slightly befuddled John finds the modern world confusing, almost overwhelming, nearly gets himself killed, and then finds a kindly stranger who offers some help. At best, you just know her life isn’t going to be the same.
Morpheus describes the various protocols and rules around two powerful beings like the Lord of Dreams and the Ruler of Hell meeting, and Matthew is bemused by the intricacies of the afterlife. Eventually, they come to an elaborate gate, use a unique sort of doorbell, and contend with a surly gatekeeper. John and his new friend, Rosemary, have a talk as they drive that covers things like lying, mothers, bigamy, theft, and arson, among other things. Rosemary is realizing, possibly a bit too late, that it might not be a great idea to give rides to strangers after all. I hope she at least taught her kids that.
Morpheus and Matthew continue their tour of hell, which includes a truly haunted forest and a reunion of sorts for the Lord of Dreams, although not a good one. John waxes philosophical about his view of people, and it’s a pretty dark one. Rosemary has some thoughts of her own, and I think hers actually makes more sense in general, although it’s a very sad outlook to have. They do a great job of fleshing her out as a complex character, but not giving us a great deal of detail. I’d be curious to learn more about her.
Finally, after a lot more walking than was probably necessary, Morpheus and Matthew meet Lucifer Morningstar, Ruler of Hell, played fantastically by Gwendoline Christie. I know a lot of people complained about this casting, but I think she did a fantastic job of it. After some assorted temptations and a general lack of help, as you’d expect from the Prince of Lies, Morpheus locates his missing helm, and sets about trying to get it back. Once again, there are complicated protocols, and a contest is agreed to, which worries Matthew. We also run across a version of the demon Mazikeen in this scene, and I have to say she was a great deal more attractive on the Lucifer series. Rosemary makes a very understandable mistake when they get to a gas station, but, in her defense, she didn’t really know what she was dealing with. She tries to get some help, and once again, we see the power of the amulet that John has gotten from his mother. At the end of the scene, the body count has increased and John, serenely undisturbed, has Rosemary continue taking him where he wants to go.
My favorite scene that I mentioned earlier finally comes, as Lucifer champions her demon against Morpheus. It’s a fantastic scene and I still adore the concept behind it. The scope of the contest grows ever larger, and there’s even a sort of nod to the DC Universe, one of the few, possibly the only, we’ll get in this series. Dream is very creative, and not only wins, but points out the flaw in Lucifer’s reasoning that allows Dream and Matthew to leave Hell, victorious. The competition was fantastic, but I think it’s that bit at the end that really elevated it to my favorite piece in all Sandman lore. Dream even manages to find his missing ruby, but something John said last episode proves to be true to a scope I have trouble believing, and at the end, Dream doesn’t get what he’s after and John collects what he wants and tells Rosemary he’s going to save the world. Given his general mindset and outlook, that sounds utterly terrifying to me.
What I Liked: Gwendoline Christie did a fantastic job as Lucifer. Patton Oswalt continues to be the prefect voice for Matthew. The contest between Dream and Lucifer was amazing the first time I read it, and this take on it was great. The road trip with John and Rosemary was nicely done, and gave some good insight into both characters. I’m intrigued by the person Dream met from his past in Hell, and wonder if that will come up again.
What I Didn’t: My only real complaint with this is that John managed to do a working of such power that it had a major effect on Dream. I’d think that kind of thing would be beyond his power, but I’ll reserve some judgement until we learn more about what exactly John did, I suppose.
I thought this was possibly the best episode they’ve done yet. I’ll give this a 4.5 out of 5. This is truly an incredible series.