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“The Sandman” retrofits a vintage story right into a cautionary fable about opportunistic “male feminists”

“Calliope,” the next story in the 11th bout of “The Sandman,” takes us back again to August 2020 and a reception for novelist Richard Madoc’s acclaimed sophomore effort “. . . And My Love, She Gave Me Light.”

Madoc breezily retrieves a cocktail and eavesdrops on the guests’ appraisals of his latest, which range from envious to gushing. He then sits down on his couch and hands the drink to a besotted woman.

“I was saying just how much I loved your characterization of Eileen,” she tells him. “There aren’t enough strong female characters in fiction, not fiction compiled by women.”

“I agree,” Richard says. “And I understand it’s fashionable right now to state that only women can write authentically concerning the female experience, but uh . . . well, I really do have a tendency to regard myself as a feminist writer.”

“And where does that voice result from in you, the feminine voice?” his guest asks.

He replies, “From the ladies in my own life.”

It’s fun to assume Catherine Smyth-McMullen, the episode’s writer, concocting this exchange while wearing a wry grin, spurred on by knowing which kind of man announces himself as a feminist unbidden, especially in 2020. At that time we were well in to the post-#MeToo era and understood the word to function as verbal exact carbon copy of Rohypnol, something con men put on conversation hoping of breaching a woman’s defenses.

Then, after he treats her like trash, maybe she’ll question her judgment or, worse, her worthiness to call herself a feminist. If he’s got power, as several infamous entertainers did (but still do) he is able to destroy her career. And supposedly wiser people, mainly men, only will tell her she must have known better.

All this informs Smyth-McMullen’s undertake “Calliope,” a much-changed version because it was initially published in 1990 within an accumulation of “Sandman” issues titled “Dream Country.” (That collection also contains “A Imagine one thousand Cats,” an animated adaptation that opens the episode.)

In Netflix’s take, Richard Madoc (Arthur Darvill) authors a blockbuster (and changes his nom de plume to the highly pretentious Ric) by mimicking the feminine gaze. Just like the guest at his reception, his women readers adore just how he gets them.

The SandmanMelissanthu Mahut as Calliope in “The Sandman” (THANKS TO Netflix)

Do not require understand that literary voice belongs to a mythological Muse who he’s got imprisoned in his home, and from whom he compels divine inspiration by abusing her, including rape.

This “Sandman” story transforms from only a sexist savior’s tale right into a story of mass violation.

Neil Gaiman originally wrote Calliope as a tool enabling Dream to play the hero by punishing a crime no good man would countenance. Dream and Calliope was previously married and had a son, Orpheus, whose tragic death inspired another myth along with precipitating their breakup.

His choice to save lots of her demonstrates a proven way that his imprisonment makes him more understanding than he was previously. This lent a flattened clarity to his role and Calliope’s, also to Richard’s, who does not have any qualms about assaulting Calliope provided that it gets him what he wants.

None of the would play well in virtually any modern adaptation of the story, irrespective of who took on the duty. Nonetheless it absolutely matters that Gaiman tapped Smyth-McMullen to create this updated version and Louise Hooper to direct it. Through them, this “Sandman” story transforms from only a sexist savior’s tale right into a story of violation on an enormous scale.

Richard is introduced as a reasonably decent man who degrades his soul, and a goddess, out of desperation: he’s long overdue to provide his second novel to his publisher and stalled out by writer’s block.

Still, he recognizes the offer that brings him Calliope (played by Melissanthu Mahut) is criminally exploitative. Richard trades a bezoar created from a clump of hair to acquire Calliope from acclaimed author Erasmus Fry (Derek Jacobi), who captured Calliope in 1927.

Fry reaches the finish of his life and contains stripped all of the wealth and fame he wants from Calliope’s powers, and hands her over as though she were a bit of used-up livestock. “They state one must woo her kind, but I have to say I came across force most efficacious,” Fry says before adding, as though to soothe Richard, “Oh avoid being fooled she’s not human. She’s a large number of yrs . old. She was made for this. That is her purpose: to inspire men like us.”

Nevertheless, Richard tries the kinder way first, showering Calliope with flowers, chocolates, perfume, along with other luxuries to wrest the tiniest thread of a concept from her. But she insists she won’t comply until he frees her and offer supplication. He still refuses, then attempts his version of a prayer: “I’m drowning, Calliope. Please. I’m begging you.”

“Ask me again when I’m free,” she replies gently.

Every written and visual update to the story reflects the perspective of women who’ve their version of a Richard Madoc encounter to inform, or many, whether experienced first or second-hand, whether physical or emotional.

Casting Arthur Darvill as Richard further augments the horror of the character’s crimes: Darvill is most beneficial known for playing the “Doctor Who” companion Rory Williams, the person who loved his fiance enough to stand guard over her for just two 2,000 years. Rory may be the ideal man: devoted, smart, courageous and loving.

Richard resembles a particular TV series creator-turned-director who built his career on a reputation for writing supernaturally strong women.

Richard, however, stares at a blank screen following this painful talk before arriving at a choice. Hooper keeps the camera trained on the empty digital page once we hear Richard knock on Calliope’s door and say her name . . . prior to the scene cuts to black and silence. Once the story resumes, “Ric” is tapping his computer’s keyboard with wild satisfaction. His shirt is unbuttoned past his sternum and on his cheek is really a fresh, still-bloody scratch.

Whether intentional or not for Smyth-McMullen, Richard resembles a particular TV series creator-turned-movie-director who built his career on a reputation for writing supernaturally strong women.

You might recognize the outline of his features in Richard’s party banter or perhaps a subsequent phone conversation along with his agent where he demands that his film production’s cast and crew consist of at the very least 50% women and folks of color. Then he tells him to be certain to publicize that, because he wants his fans to learn just what a fantastic guy he could be. Especially women.

He also offers a lot in keeping with the comic who made a public show of his allyship with female comedians, and then be outed for his habit of forcing other women to view him masturbate when he got them alone. Really, though, Richard could possibly be a variety of famous men who crow about their feminism in magazine profiles and red carpet interviews while abusing ladies in their private lives.

Learning the reality of who these men are takes its bone-deep betrayal for a few fans who believed in the false image they cultivated. This is also true of the people who, as Richard tells Calliope, designed their art to inspire people women, specifically rather than simply entertaining the general public.

The SandmanArthur Darvill as Richard Madoc, Melissanthu Mahut as Calliope and Derek Jacobi as Erasmus Fry in “The Sandman” (THANKS TO Netflix)

“Writers are liars, my dear,” Fry pompously tells Calliope after she reminds him he decided to free her by the end of his life. Richard repeats it to her later, when he’s long at night point of needing her to survive and contains simply decided he wants more of everything fame, wealth, and worship.

Smyth-McMullen reshapes Calliope right into a goddess who was simply trapped however, not resigned to her exploitation. She takes every step possible to free herself from Richard until, finally, Dream (Tom Sturridge) answers her call.

Then “Calliope” becomes a vengeance story: Dream castigates Richard for holding Calliope captive and orders him to free her. He whines he needs her. “Hold your tongue,” Dream growls. “She’s been held captive for a lot more than 60 years. Demeaned. Abused. Defiled. And you may not set her free as you need ideas?”

In response, Dream gives Richard Madoc what he wants, also it ruins him even with he frees the imprisoned Muse.

Several social media marketing posts questioned whether a tale devoted to a woman’s violent sexual exploitation ought to be featured in “The Sandman” at all, no matter its changed context.

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But this episode is precisely what “Games of Thrones” alongside almost every other show that treats rape as a narrative device made to stir up a man’s rage or add complexity to a woman’s story isn’t. Hooper doesn’t show her physical suffering. She doesn’t have to. No director ever did. If we appreciate Calliope’s fortitude, rage and, ultimately, her grace in the aftermath of her ghastly confinement, for the reason that of her dignified righteously angry way she carries herself when Richard isn’t in her presence. Mahut and her writer never why don’t we forget that she’s a full time income goddess, not just a possession.

It is also clear that Dream react to Calliope’s entreaty from the host to empathy, that is a new concept for an Endless. But none of his siblings spent decades in a box, having been swindled by way of a cheap man whose talent level may be described at best, as middling. Neither did they arrived at his aid. He knows Calliope’s plight because he lived it. Helping someone he used to love makes him much better than those that failed him.

In this manner, “Calliope” indicts men like Richard Madoc while granting benediction to everyone who feels swindled by those like him, figures who owe whatever image burnishing they gain to pilfered power. Some writers, comics, along with other artists, may indeed be liars. But “The Sandman” defeats this trickery having an inspired view of a woman’s truth . . . even though that tale began as a flawed product of a man’s imagination.

All episodes of “The Sandman” are streaming on Netflix.

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