The first time we see the dream lord show much emotion in Netflix’s The Sandman adaptation is for a bird named Jessamy.
[Ed. note: This post contains slight spoilers for the first episode of The Sandman season 1.]
Having already been held captive by humans for many years, he had mostly sat in his bubble prison, brooding and waiting for his release. But when Jessamy shows up he briefly emotes: a flicker of a hopeful smile, then hot, angry tears when she gets shot in front of him.
“The savagery of my captors bespoke a world whose dreams in my absence turned darker still,” Dream’s voice-over tells us. He continues to stare, steely and cold, unresponsive and unwilling to talk at all.
It’s a stance he’ll take throughout much of the series, a cool and sullen goth who walks as lightly as he displays emotions. When his captor’s son takes over Dream’s imprisonment, Dream notes that he could not forgive him for murdering his raven. If you’re new to the series it can be hard to really understand how traumatic the period kicking off The Sandman is for Dream of the Endless — instead, much of his emotion gets translated through those close to him, like Lucienne.
“He’s been captured in such a brutal, inhumane way. And it has altered him,” Vivienne Acheampong, who plays Lucienne, tells Polygon. “There’s a deep bond [between Lucienne and Dream]; they spend the most time with each other forever and ever […] so she really knows the essence of his being. But with what’s happened to him, it’s hardened him.”
That trauma hangs over Dream throughout his adventures, as he works to regain his full power and remind himself why he fulfills his obligations to humans (and the world). Season 1 of The Sandman is really about Dream emotionally pulling himself back together. And he’s forced to lean on everyone else to help get him there — from Matthew and Johanna Constantine to adversaries like John Dee.
“He’s probably the most vulnerable he’s ever been in his existence. And because of his lack of power, he’s probably the closest he will ever be to being human,” Tom Sturridge, who plays Dream, says. “I think that’s why his relationship with Rose is so important, because he continues to start to understand what it is to be human. And she is so alive, and so generous and brave, and I think he’s disarmed by her.”
But while Rose helps remind him of the affection he has for the world at large, it’s Lucienne who keeps him in check, and even challenges him to fulfill his duties with heart. Sometimes that means falling in line, but sometimes, as Acheampong notes, it’s reminding him of how much growth is possible, even for an omnipotent being who maybe doesn’t change a lot.
“He’s seen the worst of humanity, and he’s vengeful,” Acheampong says. “So I think for Lucienne, what she wants to do is bring him back to the being that she knows that he is; she understands that he needs these rules and regulations. And he has to suppress a bit because that’s what keeps the universe intact. But still, she draws out his conscience, and that empathy that he has, and she just wants to remind him of that.
“I think for me, for Lucienne, she believes in the Dreaming; she understands how important it is, and she wants to protect it. And the same with how she feels about Morpheus.” Acheampong continues, “She believes in this work that he does, she understands how important it is. [...] She was never going to leave; she always knew he would return.”
All 10 episodes of The Sandman are now streaming on Netflix.
Additional reporting by Tasha Robinson.