Squawk Box: The Sandman/House of the Dragon

I have not read the entirety of The Sandman series, but I've read the first volume and the first season of the show is an excellent adaptation of that volume. I know the show has been renewed for a second season (and I guess there was some question about whether or not it would be, but Netflix gave it another go) so beyond that, I don't know what to expect from the source material.
(I know there are many, many people out there who absolutely adore this comic and take it very seriously, the way fandoms are wont to do. I know there are Neil Gaiman superfans out there that attempted to pick this apart at a micro level and from what I've seen Mr. Gaiman was spectacularly unbothered by all of it. Personally, I've enjoyed everything I've ever read by Gaiman, but I too, am not going to let an obsessive love of any given source material ruin an adaptation.)

So, The Sandman:

In the late 19th Century (I want to say 1896 or so) the King of Dreams, also known as Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) is in pursuit of a nightmare known as The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) when he is captured in an occult ritual by Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance) who was attempting to capture Death instead. Roderick steals the sources of Morpheus' power- his helm, a pouch of sand, and ruby but those are eventually stolen by his resentful lover, Ethel Cripps (Niamh Walsh, Joely Richardson). Eventually, 106 years and a bout of sleeping sickness across the world later, Morpheus breaks out and sets off in search of his talismans and begins to bring his realm back to order after a century of neglect and disrepair.

The rest of the season tracks his attempts to retrieve his talismans and restore his power and, by season's end, he largely does so-- but not before retrieving his sand from Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), finding his helm in the depths of Hell, confronting his sibling Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) and getting his ruby back from Ethel's son, John Dee (David Thewlis) who has an obsession with the truth endangers the entire world. We meet Morpheus' other siblings as well: Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Desire (Mason Alexander Park), and Despair (Donna Preston) who are revealed to be plotting against Morpheus with a longer-term agenda in mind.

The season winds up with an arc covering the final confrontation with The Corinthian--Rose Walker (Kyo Ra) is separated from her brother Jed following the divorce of her parents and sets out to find him, but that leads to the revelation of her true identity and one, final confrontation between Morpheus and The Corinthian. 

(Then, there's a bonus animated episode and an 11th episode that got tacked on at the end of the season that don't appear to fit into the overall arc of the season but are adapted from the comic.)

This show is remarkably hard to summarize effectively without giving an uncomfortable amount of the plot away, so if that precis seems vague, I apologize- but it's for a reason. This is a show that's worth watching. The cast is incredibly strong. In addition to an incredibly strong performance from Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, you get Joely Richardson, Boyd Holbrook, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Fry, and Arthur Darvill and that is just amongst others. The narrative structure can seem a little abstract overall-- there's a sort of story arc of Morpheus' capture and then the arc at the end about Rose Walker and Jed, but in the middle, you've got episodes like 'The Sound of Her Wings' is really good and might be my favorite of the season but doesn't fit comfortably in the overall narrative arc. Same with 'Dream of A Thousand Cats' and 'Calliope.' Excellent episodes, both of them, but they sort of feel more stand-alone than anything else. That's not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but these episodes sort of stick out and feel like they don't fit that well. 

Overall: I'll be interested to see what the second season of this is like if for no other reason than my familiarity with the source material stops here. But, that being said, this is a really excellent and really faithful adaptation of the source material with an excellent cast to bring it all to life. My Grade: *** out of **** 

True story: I've seen maybe two episodes of Game of Thrones, due to a long-standing determination to read the books first, but only when Martin finishes writing them. (Obviously, Robert Jordan couldn't help his illness nor his death, but if your fantasy series goes on long enough that people have to seriously worry about you dying before you finish, I'm going to hold off. Despite the excellent work of Brandon Sanderson in finishing The Wheel of Time, I have been burned once before and I will not be burned again.) 

Obviously, that all being said, at some point, I'm sure I'm going to break down and watch the show, but for now, I'm holding strong.

House of the Dragon, on the other hand, was all over my TikTok feed to the point where watching it became inevitable. (It's really not a bad marketing tactic either: I finally saw enough clips of Hidden Figures that I spooled it up on Disney+ one afternoon and watched it. Sully is also on my list for this self-same reason.) The nice thing about not having seen Game of Thrones, however, is that I could come into House of the Dragon free of any baggage from Thrones

Set one hundred and seventy-two years prior to the birth of Daenerys Targaryen (or, the Game of Thrones era), the show begins with a success problem for the Targaryen family. The old king, Jaehaerys lost both his sons and convened a grand council to name an heir, and eventually, Viserys is named over Princess Rhaenys. The show jumps forward (it does that a few times, so buckle up), to nine years into King Viserys's (Paddy Considine) reign. He doesn't have a male heir yet- but he's got a brother, Daemon (Matt Smith) who's ambitious. He's got a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy, Milly Alcock) and when he loses his wife (and a last chance at a male heir) to a c-section gone wrong, he ends up marrying Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), the daughter of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans.)

Viserys ends up naming Rhaenyra as his heir, but when he has male children with Alicent, the question of the succession is thrown open once more- a fact complicated still further by the fact that Daemon ends up marrying his niece, Rhaenyra, and strengthened his claim to the throne. The whole arc of the season with its multiple time jumps and various marriages, traumas, deaths, and other dark and nefarious dealings but it's all building to an inevitable conclusion: the death of King Viserys and the beginning of a Civil War between two factions- the Greens, lead by Alicent Hightower and the Blacks, lead by Rhaenyra.

I enjoyed this- but with some caveats: the internet and the world, in general, is 100% correct. This show is too damn dark. Not in a content sense, but in a lighting sense. I've never seen a contemporary television production that was just plain so damn hard to see. Second, the time jumps are probably necessary elements of the overall story, but they seem haphazard. It's not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but they just sort of happen. Like one episode you're rolling along and in the next one, ten years have passed. Finally, I know the whole incest of it all is a canonically Targaryen thing, but there's a touch of grooming between Daemon and Rhaenyra from the very start and I'm sorry, but... her own Uncle? Despite both Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith turning in excellent performances, there's an ick factor there that's hard to get past.

However, despite these caveats, there is one performance and one character that stands out from the crowd and that's Princess Rhaenys. 'The Queen That Wasn't'- Eve Best's performance is an absolute standout in a cast full of genuinely heavy hitters. She alternates between an absolute disdain for politics and wanting nothing to do with it and, very quietly nursing ambitions and maybe even an agenda of her own. I love every minute she's on-screen and in the last episode when she's confronted for not killing Alicent and company before fleeing, she tells Rhaenyra that the war 'was not hers to start' and it's... ugh. Just so goddamn good. Love the character, love the portrayal and I'm hoping this show if it doesn't give her a happy ending, at least gives her an ending worthy of her character and Eve Best's performance.

Overall: I'm on board for Season 2, though still maintain my embargo on Game of Thrones (for now.) Hopefully, they can fix the lighting issue for next season and I'm rooting for more Rhaenys. My Grade: *** out of ****


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