A nightmare with toothy grins where his eyes should be, the Corinthian is the chief antagonist of The Sandman season 1. He is also one of the most popular characters in the series, possessing a certain devilish charm many find oddly endearing. Everyone loves a villain, as the song says, and the Corinthian is certainly a great villain.
Played by Boyd Holbrook, the Corinthian's name is as much a mystery as he is. The name refers to a specific grade of leather, an infamously vice-filled Roman city and a book of the Bible. It is also, according to Corinthian and The Sandman creator Neil Gaiman, an archaic term for a scoundrel, rake or ne'er-do-well. By any name, however, the Corinthian is a menace.
The Netflix's adaptation of the classic graphic novel series has expanded the Corinthian's role from The Sandman books, making him a more active participant in the overall story. Despite this, the Corinthian remains a mysterious figure, whose motivations are obscured throughout the season. Here is the rundown on the Corinthian, his history and his abilities.
The Corinthian is a nightmare, whose purpose was to act as a dark mirror to humanity, reflecting the bitter truths people prefer not to acknowledge about themselves. His primary duties as a nightmare are scaring wicked people into behaving properly and helping the virtuous to overcome their fears. He was reportedly one of the most powerful nightmares the many named and titled Dream of the Endless ever fashioned and very good at his job.
As a Nightmare, the Corinthian is all but invincible in the Waking World. He is stronger, more durable and faster than the average human, capable of traveling short distances so quickly as to almost seem to teleport, as shown by his meeting with Ethel Cripps in The Sandman episode "Imperfect Hosts." This encounter also showed that the Corinthian can reform himself in the Dreaming in the event that something destroys his physical form, as he did when Ethel Cripps' protective medallion reacted violently to his attempt to kill her. The Corinthian also has a talent for tracking people that seems to go beyond simple deductive prowess and can travel between the Waking World and the Dreaming at will.
The Corinthian's most impressive power is also his most disturbing. When he holds the eyes of a human using the mouths in his eye sockets, he can see the last thing that person saw before they died. Consuming the eye gives him full knowledge of everything that person ever saw during their life. While he prefers the eyes of young men, the Corinthian can use this ability with the eyes of any sentient creature, including full-fledged gods.
After untold centuries of inspiring mortals to dark deeds in their dreams, the Corinthian grew bored and ventured out into the Waking World to enjoy the sensation of killing mortals for real. Precisely when he started making his unauthorized hunting trips in the reality of Netflix's The Sandman is unclear, but one of The Sandman comics suggested he first started rebelling against Dream of the Endless in the 17th century. In any event, Dream discovered his killings in 1916 and was ready to unmake the Corinthian as punishment before he was captured and bound by Roderick Burgess in The Sandman episode 1. A similar confrontation between Dream and the Corinthian occurred in The Sandman: Overture prequel comic.
The Corinthian kills for the good and simple reason that he enjoys killing and the feelings of power that come from claiming a life. He conveys this sick joy to his fellow collectors and it is implied throughout The Sandman that he was responsible for inspiring countless killers (like the attendees of The Sandman episode 9's cereal convention) long before he first ventured into the Waking World in the 20th century. It is also suggested that he gets a sick sexual thrill from taking the eyes of young men and enjoys the sensation of seeing the lives of his victims play out whenever he devours a fresh pair of eyes.
The Corinthian has never had normal eyes yet somehow, despite all logic, is able to see through the mouths in his eye sockets as if he did have eyes. He can also place intact eyes into his eye mouths for those rare occasions on which he must pass for human without using his trademark sunglasses to obscure his true terrifying appearance. As actor Boyd Holbrook noted in a exclusive interview with Screen Rant, the Corinthian's apparent lack of eyes is one of the most worrying aspects of the character, given that "a lot of acting is done through the eyes. The soul is lying in your eyes." This added another level of challenge to Holbrook's portrayal of the murderous nightmare, as he had to find other ways to convey the character's emotions while keeping his eyes hidden.
Dream of the Endless is the one being the Corinthian fears, as he has the power to unmake him completely. This leads the Corinthian to lend his aid to those who seek to bind or battle Dream over the course of The Sandman season 1, from Roderick Burgess to John Dee. Once Morpheus has recovered his helm, ruby and sand pouch, the Corinthian switches tactics and starts trying to endear himself to the Dream Vortex, Rose Walker, hoping to convince her that Dream is the true villain in her life and that together they can build a better Dreaming. All of this is part of the Corinthian's larger plan to change the world by using the shared dream he inspired in his army of followers. While this idea is not explained fully over the course of The Sandman season 1, it seems to be evoking the idea behind The Sandman comic story "A Dream of a Thousand Cats," in which it is suggested that cats ruled the universe until a group of humans dreamed their way into dominance. The Corinthian hopes to exploit Rose Walker to the same end, destroying the Dreaming and the source of Dream's power, if not actively creating the Waking World he wants.
The Sandman season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.