I’ll start off by admitting that I didn’t know much going into Netflix’s Godless, except that it was a mini-series that was tackling the Western genre. I didn’t know about the marketing and how female-centric it was in comparison to the reality of the show (there have been complaints about the marketing team using feminism as a marketing ploy, which is why I bring this up.
All I knew was that I was going to go in with minimal expectations and try not to attempt to use my knowledge of the Old West against the show. You see, I am obsessed with history. The American West i.e. the Old West is a particular source of interest for me and, as historians have started to dive into more of the female perspective living out in the Old West, Godless drew my attention specifically because of the fact that they included a woman-centric town as the general setting for the story. That is not something I had recalled being tackled story-wise in previous Western films (and please do send me any Western films that do something similar if you find them.) So I tried to go in with an open eye and neutral position while watching the series.
As you should all expect, there will possibly be spoilers. If you are not interested in those, please don’t read any further. Now that I have gotten that long-winded introduction done, let’s dive right in.
The general premise of the series is Frank Griffin, an outlaw terrorizing the 1880s American West, hunts down Roy Goode, his partner turned enemy. Roy hides out at a ranch as Frank’s chase leads him to La Belle, New Mexico – a town mysteriously made up almost entirely of women. I will say, though, that there is nothing too mysterious about a town being made almost entirely of women. As was explained, there was a mining accident that almost completely eradicated La Belle’s male populace. This actually was a fairly common occurrence as mining became more of a thing in the Old West because safety wasn’t really a thing back then. So I can definitely appreciate Scott Frank and Steven Soderberg tackling this particular untouched (in terms of Hollywood) subject matter.
However, given the premise, they had to figure out a way to introduce all the band of characters and there are quiet a few. In the first episode, though, we are primarily introduced to four main characters through three story arcs. The style is kind of similar to Game of Thrones, but that series opened the way for other show creators to explore how to successfully focus on character vignettes without taking away from others. So, for convenience’s sake, I’m going to break down the remaining recap into the three story arcs.
I’m going to start with this character first because, despite all other character interactions during this episode, the premiere spends most of its time setting up the infamy of Jeff Daniels’ one-armed villain. We are introduced to the devastation Griffin and his gang can wrought in the opening scene when Marshall John Cook (played by a wonderfully moustached Sam Waterston) and his men come to investigate Creede and find an initially quiet town. They are lured by the sound of a woman’s voice, which leads them to discover the destruction of a train and its occupants. They then find the citizens of Creede killed, but the horror of the situation truly hits them when Cook finds a child lynched. Women and children are generally a no-go, so finding a murdered child signifies to let us know that Griffin is a baddie.
The first time we physically meet Frank, however, is in a moment of weakness. He’s been shot in the arm during his shootout with Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) and it’s been rendered virtually useless. That doesn’t seem to matter to him though because we see him get on his horse after surgery rocking that one-armed look. This man means business and those in the surrounding areas of Creede find this out the hard way when Frank enters a local church and rides his horse up to the pulpit to deliver a message. Basically, anyone who protects Roy Goode from him will suffer immeasurably.
Now we could have dismissed this threat as just words and nothing else, but then we are treated to a flashback of the shit that happened in Creede and it is a doozy. Even after sustaining a gunshot wound to the arm and after losing a bunch of blood, upon seeing that the town of Creede was defending his turncoat adopted son after his gang’s attempted train robbery, he screams out to the crowd telling them they’ll get the lynching they desire prior to the gang decimating the town.
When we leave Griffin at the end of the episode, he and the gang have resumed the search for Roy and are pursuing whatever trail he may left behind. The man doesn’t take betrayal lightly and he is coming for Roy. Damn anyone who tries to stand in the man’s way.
Sheriff Bill McNue
We first meet the Sheriff of La Belle (played sympathetically by Scoot McNairy) with a mud concotion on his eyes in a poor attempt to cure his failing eyesight. Yep. The good ol’ Sheriff is going blind, which does not bode too well for the ladies of La Belle. However, if his sister has anything to do with it, the ladies won’t need him anymore. Given that the entire town seems to hate him, it shouldn’t take too long for the women to figure out how to throw him to the curb.
Life hasn’t been kind to the Sheriff. It is revealed when he goes to visit a grave that he lost his life several years ago and the loss of her and now his eyesight makes it difficult for him to stay connected to the world. Without his eyesight, he can’t protect his town and so there is a sense that he has lost his purpose. However, his sister Mary Agnes (Merrit Wever) doesn’t really have time for his moping. As the widow of La Belle’s mayor, she has taken it upon herself to act as the mayor and she has stuff that needs to be taken care of in order to keep the town thriving. As such, she sends the Sheriff to go ask the town outcast, Alice Fletcher, for some horses. It’s the least he can do since the town, including his sister, see him as a coward.
The Sheriff eventually meets the Marshall John Cook from the beginning of the episode, where we get a whole load of exposition behind the events surrounding the incident in Creede, Frank Griffin, and Roy Goode. This gets the hamster wheel of motivation rolling in the Sheriff, especially when he discovers that Alice Fletcher is keeping an injured Roy Goode in her home. Roy Goode explains to the Sheriff the truth about what happened at Creede. He was trying to protect the town by stealing the money that Griffin and his boys were going after. Unfortunately, after the shootout between Roy and Griffin, the gang retreated back to the town and slaughtered everyone before taking care of the wounded leader.
With this knowledge, the severity of the situation hits the Sheriff. They are not only harboring a dangerous man, but they are inviting an arguably worse danger to their doorstep by harboring an enemy of Griffin. However, Roy Goode ends up turning himself into the Sheriff, possibly presenting a solution to the Sheriff’s problem. We’ll see though.
Alice Fletcher & Roy Goode
It’s clear from the get go that the mysterious Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) is being set up to be the hero of the story. I mean, his last name is Goode i.e. good vs. evil. Did anyone else catch that lack of subtlety? Anyway, we are introduced to Roy when he ends up riding up to Alice Fletcher’s house after running away from Frank Griffin. However, because he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with a response when Alice (played by Michelle Dockery) questioned him, she ends up shooting him in the neck. Good for her. I’d have done the same if I was in that boat. She begrudgingly nurses him back to health with the help of her son Truckee (Samuel Marty) and mother-in-law (Tantoo Cardinal). However, once she learns the truth about his criminal history and his background, she wants him to get out as soon as he is healed. Again, perfectly reasonable in my eyes.
Most of the episode’s focus on Alice is on her day-to-day life living on the outskirts of town. Because of the town’s discrimination of her family, she has undertaken the process of teaching Truckee how to read. We also get a bit of expansion of Roy’s character. He is in possession of a letter written by another Goode, but he can’t seem to read it. He is also immensely good with horses, appearing to subdue the majority of the horses in Alice’s flock. We also learn that he is a God with a gun when a woman from La Belle brings her baby to Alice and her mother-in-law to help with a cough the child has. While the baby is left on the floor, a rattlesnake sneaks into the home and is about to attack the child. Roy shoots the snake and saves the child while also earning some semblance of respect from Alice, Truckee, and Alice’s mother-in-law.
As time passes, we eventually learn more about Alice’s history and part of how she came to New Mexico. When she was 17, she was sent out to New Mexico to be married off to her father’s business partner’s son. She saw a dark, foreboding cloud in the horizon while they were looking at property. Anyone familiar with desert storms knows that a lone, dark cloud could indicate potential future flash floods and cloud bursts. That sidenote aside, Alice tells Roy that they were suddenly met with a “six foot tall of water” crashed down on them and swept her first husband away. She wandered alone for eight days until she was found, but doesn’t go past that. That’s a story for another time.
We get further insight into her position in the town of La Belle when the Sheriff comes to her to plead for some horses on behalf of the town. She refuses and it is revealed that she thinks the women are connected to the death of her second husband, who was found dead in the street after being shot in the back. Her husband was native, which was an issue for people back then and still is an issue to this day.
At the end of the episode, we are left to believe that Alice is indeed a tough woman due to circumstances, but she is over burdened. Roy came at the right time while she is dealing with the overwhelming responsibilities of single motherhood in the Godless Old West. Roy being carted off to jail though presents her with a problem because he may be the only one to help her get her ranch into any semblance of shape.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND RAMBLINGS
- So far, this all seems to be a good start. I’m not too keen on having hour and a half episodes because it does drag a bit, but there is a lot of exposition to be had in this premiere episode.
- Alice Fletcher is probably going to be my most favorite character this season due to her sheer stubborness.
- Jeff Daniels is already getting me on edge with his portrayal of Griffin. I can hear my mind mentally step away as I watch him onscreen as a protective mechanism.