‘The Sandman’ Character: Roderick Burgess, Explained: Is Burgess Dead Or Alive?


Neil Gaiman’s epic masterpiece “The Sandman” has been brought to the screen by Netflix. Warner Bros.’s massive production and David Buckley’s composition have made Sandman a ten-episode long TV series that can be served as a perfect weekend brunch. The world of Sandman is filled with just the right amount of magic and supernatural events to make comic geeks feel nostalgic. At the same time, “The Sandman’s” gripping storytelling makes it a unique experience for people who don’t read comics.

Just like the experience of surreal visual effects and thoughtful explanation of life in Sandman, there’s to be a twisted but effective storyline as well, which introduces the viewers to the craziest characters in DC’s history. Some of them would make you think, make you furrow your eyebrows, or give you a snarky smile on your face. Among them is a significant character, Mr. Roderick Burgess, who mainly initiates the story and makes a massive contribution to the spread of evil through his existence. On the surface, Burgess appears to be quite evil and filthily powerful, but he is just another ordinary greedy man like everyone else in the business.

Spoilers Ahead

The Origin of Roderick Burgess

Roderick Burgess is gifted with evoking powers and performing black magic. While Burgess in the comic novel is completely bald, in the series, he is portrayed as a white-haired old man, played by Charles Dance. From the origin story, Roderick Burgess was a child of a wealthy and aristocratic family who later founded The Order of the Ancient Mysteries at a young age. He earned the name Lord Magus and bought a huge mansion or a Sussex manor named Fawney Rig. He intentionally added Gothic interior sculptural designs to the palace for the practice of his occult. Being a very wealthy and prestigious person, the number of members in his cult was not small. Ruthven Sykes was his right hand. Burgess believed that through his occult abilities and other achievements, he would become a world-famous magician of the time. And as we have seen in the series as well, the story moves forward from Burgess’s desperate need to bring his dead son back to life.

The Lust of Prestige, Paternal Love, and The Endless

The story begins with the sudden appearance of the senior curator of the royal museum, Mr. John Hathway, in the Fawney Rig of Roderick Burgess. When Hathway arrived at this luxurious mansion, he saw some strange rituals taking place in the hall, which sent chills down his spine. But when Burgess himself approaches him, we learn of Hathaway’s purpose. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Alex, Burgess’s young son, whose plight the story unfolds gradually. Burgess was quite pleased with Hathaway’s arrival, and his eyes showed the joy of accomplishment. Although the arrival of Hathaway was triggered by the death of his son Edmund, it’s hard to tell exactly how sensitive Burgess is to that. Burgess thinks just in time. He blends into the situation and tells Hathaway that they both suffer from the same pain. He shows him a picture of a young man and tells him that his dead son Randal, who lost his life at Gallipoli, is the true purpose of Burgess’s doing what he’s about to do. Hathway sees Burgess expressing pain towards his son and asks if Randal is not his only child, but completely ignoring Alex’s presence, Burgess identifies Randal as his only legacy. The reason for this ignorance towards his young son, Alex, is very unclear here. Hathway pulls a book named “Magdalene Grimoire” out of his box and hands it to Burgess, which he actually needs. As this book is rare, no one but a curator of the museum could have brought it to him; hence he’s associated with Hathway. Finally, their conversation captures what their future activities are going to be, and we get to know that Burgess, being a cult leader, is going to summon the angel of death through the methods and spells mentioned in this book so that they can bring their dead sons back to life. Thus, we see each member of the cult unite to worship Death, with Burgess himself driving the process in terrible darkness by offering up his own blood. But when a great commotion begins to appear, raging around them like a storm, we see a strange masked man dressed in black emerge amid their pentagram. Burgess takes the glittering ruby, the small pouch of sand, and the strange mask from the man and sets them apart to keep them for himself. Only a raven named Jessamy, covered under the black cape, manages to fly away and survive. But even if she can escape, she keeps a close eye on her master’s captors. This prisoner is actually one of the Endless, known as the Dream Lord. This dream lord, named Morpheus or Sandman, comes to Earth instead of “Death” as a result of his mistakenly performing evocation during his encounter with Corinthian. Most likely, when Burgess begins to recite the spell, he realizes its horror, but he cannot stop himself, even if he wants to. Because then his greed and paternal love chant the spells. So the Dreamlord gets caught by mortals due to some subtle mistake. But the question is, did Burgess not know who this Endless was?

Talking about the Endless, it can be said that human life revolves around all the emotional elements; dreams, desire, death, destiny, despair, destruction, and delirium, which have their own eternal form; they are known as the Endless. Desire is the only one that can be complicated and evil, so it can be expected that the occultist Burgess may have caused the death of Hathway’s son by summoning Desire, thereby getting help to summon Death. Or, Desire may be the root cause of Randal’s death. Burgess’s son, by swinging this faucet, might prompt him to summon death. Desire’s demeanor and actions do not make him a minor antagonist in this series, but rather give a great possibility that the consequences of his actions will make the dream lord suffer in the future.

The Corinthian is, in fact, a creation of this endless, which later frustrates the Dreamlord, as Corinthian’s original passion was murder. He misdirected the power he had gained. He has two faces instead of eyes, which gives his character a sinister look, and he uses dark glasses to cover up that look to walk among people like a cold-blooded killer. In this series, we see Corinthian being punished by Morpheus. Burgess’ invocation makes Morpheus arrive instead of Death, which allows Corinthian to do more evil things. So, in the captivity of the Dream, we see the Corinthian appearing in the circle of Burgess. Then, for his own convenience, he tells Burgess the real identity of his prisoner and the importance of this ruby and mask. He even warns Burgess that if there is such a small gap in security, Morpheus will break free through a dream. So he asks the guards to take medicine called “forced march” so that they don’t fall asleep. At the Corinthian admonition, stricter security was issued to contain the Dream Lord in an impenetrable glass sphere. Alex is even forced to kill the Dream Lord’s beloved Raven Jessamy, who made the last attempt to rescue her Lord from the sphere.

We see Alex grow up, but with the help of Ruby, Burgess gains money and youth. But the imprisoned and destitute Dream Lord neither opens his mouth nor ages as time passes. Besides the Corinthian’s admonition, there was another reason for withholding the Dream Lord: he was not only satisfied with Ruby, but he started demanding to bring back his dead son. Greedy Burgess even constantly asks Morpheus to talk, to gift him something like never-ending prosperity, power, or immortality, but Morpheus remains silent. As a result of Dream’s captivity, sleep weakness spreads like an epidemic throughout the city. But no one can bring any harm to The Burgess.

But the pleasure of sin does not last long. Meanwhile, Burgess’s mistress, Ethel Cripps, sees his terrible shadow in her life. When Burgess wants to abort her unborn child, she runs away from Burgess’s palace on a dark night. But along with a large amount of money, she takes the precious ruby, the pouch of sand, and the mask with her. After this loss, Burges regains his old age and ill health. But despite this, year after year, he keeps asking the imprisoned Morpheus to give him something. When an agitated Burgess gets into a fight with his younger son Alex one day, he is accidentally pushed and dies. But Alex doesn’t free Morpheus either. Greed and lust do not mercy, Alex. Even if he grows older, his legs grow tired, yet in no way does Alex release Morpheus. Finally, decades later, Morpheus emerges from the sphere by entering a guardian’s dream, at a safe distance. And it destroys the last Burgess legacy.

Improvisations of Roderick Burgess From The Origin

Although the Sandman series is entirely comic-based, many improvisations have been performed in the show, such as Roderick Burgess’ dead son Randal, who did not exist in the comics. Rather, in the comics, this complete evocation is in terms of enhancing Burgess’ own prestige. However, the somber paternalism towards Randal in the series may reveal some twists later on. Burgess’s negligence towards Alex is the invention of the cinematic presentation and leads meticulously to Burgess’s cause of death. Besides, the presence of Corinthian gives a distinct significance to the series. Corinthian’s tendency to arrive prematurely everywhere makes the drama more of a thriller. The escape of Ethel Cripps instead of Ruthven Sykes gives enough darkness to this show. And the twist of Ethel’s son John Dee, whose real father is Roderick Burgess, brilliantly ties the plot-holes together that could be explored in more detail in later seasons. But all these improvisations that have been changed from the comics to the series do not reduce the surprise of the story in any way, but make it more complicated, and darker, and the answers that both comic readers and non-readers will eagerly want to know in the next season.

The End of Roderick Burgess and the Beginning of John Dee

Whether it is comics or cinematic presentation, in both, Roderik Burgess is an important character whose lust for prestige enables the mighty Dream Lord to be captured and leads the evil particles of dreams to play with mankind. Thus, Unity becomes pregnant in her dream and makes her granddaughter the vortex.

But the hatred towards Burgess grows in the series, primarily because of his unsympathetic attitude toward his young son Alex and his cruelty to Cripps, whereas in the comics, Burgess was rather betrayed by his friend and his mistress. Finally, the legacy of Burgess ended with Alex in the comics, but the existence of John Dee in the series could give a hint that Burgess’ name could be mentioned again in the next seasons. There’s also to see if Desire had really decided on the path of summoning Dream through Roderick. There will be much speculation about such possibilities, which may actually happen next season or may just remain a theory. We are willing to wait eagerly until next season to find out all that.

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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami is an artist and an aspiring screenwriter both by profession and passion. Apart from writing stories, poems and songs, studying cinema is her obsession. She is also a freelance painter yet it is the world of cinema that fascinates her the most.

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