This is the sort of issue that I found really frustrating back when I was re-reading Season of Mists last year. Where most of the previous issues have involved in depth scenes exploring a couple of characters hailing from different corners of the Sandman universe and how they’re coping with the impending crisis, this issue is simply filled with a bunch of little scenes that mostly serve to move characters in place for plot reasons. Rose visits the ailing Zelda, who was visually called back to in the previous issue with the Gorgon sisters (they’re still talking with Lyta here, but she eventually rejects their offer for her to become their new third; Lyta’s dead set on revenge at this point, and there’s really no stopping her), and she gets a dream message via Zelda that she should fly back to her grandmother’s estate in England. Carla investigates the detectives Pinkerton and Fellowes, but finds that there’s no real record of their investigation before Loki shows up and kills her while making fun of the fact that she’s a tertiary character who doesn’t get to see how the story plays out. Dream fills the Corinthian in on his mission to find and retrieve Daniel, and assigns Matthew the raven to be his partner. Nuala, now back in Faerie, meets with Queen Titania, avoids telling her that Dream’s granted Nuala a boon, then makes a cuckold joke about Auberon because Titania is so obviously into Dream (I dislike this scene particularly, since it revolves around Nuala and Titania’s desire for Dream and negatively portrays Titania’s sexuality as an insult to Auberon; the entire sequence is about how women are terrible to each other over men). Lyta, after leaving the Gorgon sisters, who have caused her hair to partially turn into snakes, encounters two reflections of herself that begin to bring her in closer alignment with the Fates/Furies.
It’s a lot of little bits that are all set up without much else.
Now, in a story like The Kindly Ones which is pretty ambitious to span a year’s worth of issues you can expect that there’s going to have to be a little bit of plot arrangement. Gaiman’s working with a bunch of threads that he’s been setting up for years, and a lot of that’s been called up in the first third of the story, particularly with the way the fallout from Season of Mists and The Doll’s House are gathering steam. Nonetheless, there are still things that have to be arranged. Rose can’t simply already be in England because Gaiman wanted her to be Daniels’ babysitter, a link that helps involve her in the main plot without having to stretch plausibility too much (beyond the already stretched plausibility that all of the mortals who appear in The Sandman are interconnected through acquaintance and relationship), for example. What all this means is that there are unfortunately issues like this one on occasion. The characters examined get a relatively shallow treatment in the short term (and Carla, whose usefulness as a plot device to get Lyta out of the house–the man who almost hired Lyta is Carla’s cousin–so the kidnapping can happen, gets discarded, never mind she’s the only woman of color in this whole story) so there can be a stronger payoff later.
Still, I feel the frustration here. Tangential interludes like the ones with Remiel and Lucifer or Hob Gadling in the last couple issues offer some new insight into those characters while also touching on the import of the plot; this issue, which is entirely devoted to characters who will figure in significantly as the story approaches its climax, doesn’t seem to have the same care taken, and besides that as a reader I’m left feeling unresolved on most of the scenes here. Carla dying at the end is good for ratcheting up suspense until the next issue, but nothing else feels imminently consequential; I already knew that Nuala and Titania were in love with Dream in their own way, and that Nuala wasn’t happy about going back to Faerie; I already knew that Lyta Hall was slipping further into madness while trying to find a way to avenge Daniel; I already knew that Rose Walker is connected to what’s going on, but she’s been aimless since Unity Kincaid saved her from being the Dream Vortex. What I didn’t know until this issue was Loki’s motivation for plotting against Dream: he can’t stand that he owes someone something, and that’s only explained in the last panel of the issue. It strikes me as something of a problem when an entire issue goes by filled with set up, and the only interesting new information about anyone’s motivations comes at the end in a single panel.
I’m hoping that the next issue will explore some more meaty stuff than this one.