The Sandman E06 "The Sound of Her Wings": Comics-to-Screen Changes
The sixth episode of Netflix's The Sandman finally arrives at the most anticipated story in the whole series, the most family story in the saga, "The Sound of Her Wings," the story that introduces Dream's (Tom Sturridge) wiser, nicer older sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).
The changes from the comic are interesting. Instead of Washington Square Park in New York City, Dream and Death meet on a bench in Richmond Park in London, which is notable for its ordinariness instead of the more glamourous and touristy vibe of the former. The most interesting and subtle change is in Death's casting. Instead of a chirpy 19-year-old as in the comic, Howell-Baptiste's Death is a woman in her 30s and carries the emotional authority of that life experience. Seeing a grown woman with an air of kind patience at the end of one's life feels more reassuring than a cheerful goth teenager. Death is also a Londoner.
The two key scenes of Death meeting people at their end are intact: a retired concert violinist playing an unfinished Schubert composition in his final moments, adding layers of Art, history, remembrance, and legacy to the scene. The scene is richer from the unspoken backstory that Death had visited the dying composer 200 years ago before he could finish writing the piece. Death takes a baby whose time is up, but we leave the scene before the mother's reaction because the makers of the show know that it would have been unbearable to watch. Gone is the semi-comedic scene with the stand-up comedienne nonplussed that her career is abruptly ended by electrocution from a shorted microphone. There's a new scene of Death meeting a swimmer by the river who doesn't know yet that he's drowned.
All of Death's key speeches from the comic are here, along with her monologue from the short story from the Vertigo anthology Winter's Edge about her personal crisis before she reconciled herself to her mission. Sturridge and Howell-Baptiste subtly convey siblings who adore each other with quiet gestures and expressions where he enjoys her ribbing. Hall-Baptiste has split seconds of sadness at each death she collects, which is usually only hinted at in the comics. Series music composer David Buckley even wrote a whole theme for her, "A Kind Word and a Friendly Face," which stands out more than any other score in the soundtrack.
"The Sound of Her Wings" is only the first half of the episode. The original comic, as dense as it is, only accounts for about half an hour of material. That's right, each issue of The Sandman from the 1990s was the equivalent of about 25 minutes of screentime. These days, comics are more decompressed, with larger panels, slower pacing, and often gratuitous splash pages that would only cover the equivalent of 10 to 13 minutes of screentime. The second half of this episode adapts The Sandman #13, "Gentlemen of Good Fortune."
The Sandman Goes from Death to a Deathless Man
This is the most faithful adaptation of the original comic story out of the whole series. Virtually nothing is changed. The dialogue is almost verbatim from the comic, and it didn't need to change much for television. Dream meets a young Shakespeare trying to write a good play and makes him a deal, setting up Shakespeare's future appearances if the show gets renewed. Lady Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), all aristocratic hauteur, tries to capture Dream and Gadling to learn the secrets of their immortality before Dream cruelly subdues her but sets up her future (and only other) appearance in the series beyond this season. Gadling has a bit of action beating up her henchmen to break up the continuous scenes of people just sitting and talking to each other. Dream's tantrum when Gadling calls out his loneliness and Dream's return a hundred years later is a sign that Dream is also changing. His sister shows him how lonely he is, and he decides he needs to see his friend.
Dream's apology to Hob and acknowledging their friendship is another sign that he's changing as part of his long-term arc. Hob Gadling's story is Dream's long-term story in microcosm, embodying how much a man can change over time, learning from his mistakes and making new ones to learn from along the way. Dream's dilemma is whether he can change enough and in time. These first six episodes of The Sandman have been a showcase for a lot of major British "thesping," and the little-known Ferdinand Kingsley gives one of the most subtle and layered performances in just half an hour, showing Gadling's initial drunken brashness that changes to arrogance, then gradual humbling and growing wisdom over centuries. Live acting has subtleties that comics can't always show, like the split-second micro-expressions where sadness crosses Death's face right before a demise she knows is coming or Gadling's quick flash of shame when Dream makes him realise the horror of trading slaves.
The one big change from the comic is that Dream misses his 1989 rendezvous with Gadling because he was still in captivity at the time. After his afternoon with his sister, he goes seeking his friend, only to find the old inn has closed, but then Gadling has bought up the property to build a new inn nearby to wait for him. After all, what are friends for? Friends wait for each other, no matter how long it takes.
It makes thematic sense to make "Gentlemen of Good Fortune" a companion piece to "The Sound of Her Wings." Dream goes from hearing Death give him a pep talk about accepting the finality of life to meeting the man who won't die, one of the few human friends he has. Both Death and Hob Gadling see through Dream's loneliness and a desperate yearning for connection, which an emo goth boy like him is very defensive about. The episode begins with Dream sitting alone and brooding and ends with him sitting down for a drink with a friend.
The episode ends with the prologue from issue #10, introducing Desire (Mason Alexander Park) and Despair (Donna Preston) as the former talks about their scheme against Dream, preparing us for the rest of the season's arc, "The Doll's House."
The Sandman is streaming on Netflix.