Apart from the occasional reference here and there, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is a stand-alone story, with no higher stakes for the tragedy of Morpheus. This is not the case with the other story adapted in episode 11, “Calliope”. Originally published in the 1990s The sand man #17, “Calliope” feels like another morality tale about humans meddling in a realm not meant for them. It follows writer Richard Madoc, whose writer’s block prevents him from following up on his first bestselling novel. In an act of desperation, Madoc acquires from an older writer Calliope, the youngest of the muses of Greek mythology. Ignoring her protests, Madoc abuses Calliope and reaps the benefits of the inspiration she provides – until Morpheus hears her cries.
For this adaptation, Gaiman types again Doctor Who alum and cast Arthur Darvill as Madoc. Far from his adorable Rory Williams, or even his slightly more deceitful Rip Hunter of Legends of tomorrow, Darvill has the unenviable task of making the craven Madoc seem understandable, if not exactly likeable. Companion Doctor Who actor Derek Jacobi will play Erasmus Fry, the author who originally enslaved Calliope, while Greek actor Melissanthi Mahut will play the titular muse. Audiences will know Mahut best as the voice of Kassandra in the Assassin’s Creed video game series or like Mita Xenakis in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. As a Calliope, Mahut must bear the brunt of years of captivity after centuries of inspiring humanity’s greatest storytellers.
On the surface, “Calliope” seems to be a standard Sand seller tale, with another mindless human like Roderick Burgess or John Dee, in motivation or punishment. But “Calliope” tells us more about Dream’s relationships and personal failures, both of which become major driving forces in later parts of its story. Calliope is captured during Morpheus’ imprisonment by Burgess and therefore cannot help him when she calls him.
But that’s not the only reason he doesn’t come to her aid. Calliope and Dream were once lovers, and the two had a son together, Orpheus. If you know your Greek mythology (or Broadway musicals), you know that Orpheus doesn’t exactly have the greatest life, which leads to Morpheus turning his back on his son. The conflict between the two allows entry for Dream’s jealous siblings, twins Desire and Despair, who use Morpheus’ mix of kindness and cruelty to act against their sibling, leading to the Dreaming’s destruction and re-creation. .
Beyond her setup for Dream’s story ending, Calliope also expands on the themes and plot points already at work in the Netflix series. We’ve seen signs of Dream’s arrogance and ruthlessness before, including when he destroys Lyta Hall’s lost husband, Hector, right in front of her and takes down the wayward nightmare Gault for trying to help Jed Walker. We also saw indications of Dream’s ability to be cruel to former lovers, as he meets his former partner Nada in episode 4 “A Hope in Hell”. There we learn that Dream sentenced Nadu to an eternity in hell for breaking his heart, and still refuses to break free.