Dream of the Endless (Tom Sturridge) descends into Hell in The Sandman episode 4, and his confrontation with Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie) will have a seismic effect on Morpheus' future. The version of Lucifer in The Sandman was introduced by series creator and executive producer Neil Gaiman in the 4th issue of The Sandman DC Comics series. It's actually Gaiman's Lucifer that was adapted and then changed to suit the Lucifer TV series on FOX and Netflix that starred Tom Ellis. Gwendoline Christie's Lucifer restores the Devil to Gaiman's original vision, although Netflix's The Sandman also makes a significant change to how Dream's Hell challenge plays out in the comics.
The Sandman goes to Hell in episode 4 to regain his lost helmet. When Dream was captured and imprisoned for over a century by the British warlock Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), his symbols of office - Dream's ruby, his helmet, and his pouch of magical sand - were taken from him. All of Morpheus' tools were then stolen by Burgess' mistress, Ethel Cripps (Joely Richardson), and subsequently fell into other hands. When Dream escaped his prison and returned to find his realm, the Dreaming, broken, he underwent a quest to regain his magical totems to restore his lost power. First, Dream took back his lost bag of sand with the help of Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman). But that was just a prelude to Morpheus' incredibly dangerous journey to regain his helmet, which Ethel pawned to a demon in exchange for a magical amulet of protection. With his loyal raven Matthew (Patton Oswalt) accompanying him, Dream descended into Hell for an inevitable face-to-face with its ruler, Lucifer Morningstar.
Interestingly, Netflix's The Sandman made a major change to the comics. In Netflix's version, Dream finds Lucifer as Hell's sole ruler, although he is aided by his loyal demon, Mazikeen (Cassie Clare). However, in the comics, Dream is shocked to find that Hell is ruled by a triumvirate, with Lucifer sharing power with two other Dukes of Hell, Azazel and Beelzebub. This was a result of an event called the Great Darkness in the "American Gothic" storyline involving John Constantine in the Swamp Thing comics, which upended the balance of power in Hell. However, Netflix's The Sandman comes in with a clean slate and it's simpler to present Lucifer as Hell's singular ruler and as Dream's adversary.
In the comics and in Netflix's The Sandman, a demon named Choronzon (Munya Chawawa) took possession of Dream's helmet. To get it back, Morpheus agreed to play "The Oldest Game." In the comics, Dream played against Choronzon but, in Netflix's The Sandman, he faced Lucifer Morningstar himself. This is a key change building the animosity between Dream and the Devil.
The Oldest Game is a battle of wits fought with supernatural powers. A player begins by introducing a concept and the opponent counters with an opposing and more powerful concept until one player is ultimately outsmarted and bested. Dream agreed to Choronzon's terms that if he loses, he would remain in Hell for eternity as a slave. However, Netflix's The Sandman raises the stakes even further than the comics so that each player in The Oldest Game suffers the physical manifestations of his opponent's metaphysical attacks.
Dream outsmarts Lucifer by preying on the Devil's greatest weakness; an eternity in Hell left him blinded to the idea of hope. When The Oldest Game begins, both Dream and Lucifer match wits as different animals (Lucifer turning himself into a dire wolf is a savvy in-joke about Gwendoline Christie starring in Game of Thrones). The Devil then changes tactics and becomes bacteria, which Dream counters by becoming a world, and Lucifer then upends by becoming anti-life.
When all seemed lost, the mortally wounded Dream played his trump card by declaring, "I am Hope." Lucifer was left flabbergasted and without a suitable counter because the Devil could not conceive of anything that could best Hope. Taking back his helmet, the victorious Sandman rubbed salt in the wound by reminding Lucifer that Hell has no power if the damned cannot dream of Heaven. This cut Lucifer deep because the Devil's greatest wish is for God to forgive him and allow him back into the Silver City. Although Lucifer allowed Dream to leave Hell unscathed, he declared the lord of the Dreaming his enemy and pledged to destroy Morpheus.
Although The Sandman is derived from a comic book, the characters don't resolve their conflicts with fistfights and displays of their superpowers like superheroes do. Therefore, Dream and Lucifer do not have a traditional kind of fight in The Sandman. Instead, like playing The Oldest Game, Lucifer resorts to more insidious means to strike back at Dream. As it will hopefully be seen in upcoming seasons of The Sandman, Lucifer's revenge on Morpheus is surprising: In The Season of Mists story arc, Lucifer abandons Hell and leaves the realm to Dream to do with as he wishes. What Dream does with the Key to Hell and the infernal underworld itself is the result of Lucifer's surprising and sinister act of vengeance.
The Sandman Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.