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‘The Sandman’ Calliope Episode Ending Explained: Who is Orpheus?

How's your head?

Sandman and Calliope Netflix

Netflix’s The Sandman proved that dreams really can come true. When done right, a studio can make a beloved, sprawling, and complicated comic book series come to life on a television screen. In addition to the original 10-episode series, Netflix quietly released a bonus episode telling two more Sandman-related stories. “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is an animated tale of a cat who dreams of world domination (or reclaiming their rightful place as feline overlords). The second part, called “Calliope” focuses on an Ancient Greek muse who was taken by force to be the personal inspiration for two disgusting men.

Calliope (Melissanthi Mahut) called out to Dream/Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) to help her escape imprisonment. We find Calliope isn’t just your average, eternal muse, she is also the ex-wife of Dream. The relationship fell apart with the apparent death of their only child—Orpheus. They only hint at the tragic story of Orpheus, so we must look to the comic books and also to Greek mythology to find out what happened.

Orpheus the Bard

Orpheus' head and Morpheus/Dream in a Sandman comic panel

Orpheus is the mortal son of the muse Calliope and Dream of the Endless (I’m not sure why someone born of two immortal beings is mortal, but it happened). He played the lyre, sang, and crafted songs. Dream, Calliope, and all the Endless gathered in ancient Greece to celebrate Orpheus’s marriage to his love, Eurydice (inspired by a legend in Greek mythology). As nothing ends in a happily ever after, a poisonous snake bit Eurydice, killing her immediately.

Deciding death wasn’t the final answer, Orpheus asked Dream to help him retrieve Eurydice from the underworld. When Dream wouldn’t help, Orpheus went to his father’s siblings to see if they could give him what he wanted. Finally, he talked Death into allowing him to enter to the realm of Hades where he would beg for Eurydice’s life. Death tried warning him that mortals could not leave the underworld, but Orpheus focused only on the positives.

After a long journey, Orpheus implored Hades and Persephone into freeing Eurydice (this also tracks with the famous Greek myth). His plea even made the Fates cry. Hades made a deal with Orpheus that could take Eurydice but he had to leave the realm without looking behind him. Instead of trusting Hades—and Eurydice—as he was about to enter the land of the living, Orpheus turned around. Right behind him was Eurydice, as promised, but his mistrust pulled her right back down into the underworld. Now, alone and super emo, Orpheus found he couldn’t take his own life as he had changed his mortal status upon leaving the land of the dead.

He had a good head on his shoulders.

Orpheus The Sandman DC comic

Instead of doing anything with his life, Orpheus moped around until he encountered the bacchanal (the frenzied female followers of the god Dionysus). The bacchanal wanted him to celebrate with them (you know, drink, fornicate, and eat raw flesh—the usual), but when he declined their invitation they ate him, leaving only his head. Since he couldn’t die, it left his head aware and alive for the rest of eternity. This is a significant deviation from the Greek myth, wherein he was killed by Maenads and definitely stayed dead.

In the Sandman comics, eventually, Dream tried to make good with Orpheus. He created safe havens for Orpheus to be taken care of by a priesthood. For a time Orpheus became lost until Dream had Johanna Constantine find him and bring him to safety once again. Orpheus’s talent for music and soothing songs didn’t change when his head was removed. He even became a bit of an oracle. He offered to help Dream if Dream would finally release him from life. After all the wrong turns in life, Dream couldn’t refuse his son this simple task.

As of now, The Sandman has not been renewed for a second season, though considering its popularity we have high hopes. If they make new episodes, it will be interesting if they continue the story of Orpheus. Many parts of The Sandman are tragically beautiful, so this tale would fit right in.

(feature image: Netflix)

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D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.