Rated as one of the 10 best TV series of 2017 by Vanity Fair and The Washington Post, Godless is an engaging modern interpretation of a traditional Hollywood western.
Netflix appears to be the home the gritty TV show. Whether it’s a gritty documentary such as TIME: The Kalief Browder Story; Seven Seconds, a gritty and engaging drama series I have reviewed previously, or Flintown, a docu-series that trails the police department in Flint, Michigan for two years, Netflix appears intent on making this genre their own. One their latest offerings, Godless, an unsurprisingly gritty western, falls firmly into this niche.
The plot for this television mini series is pretty standard stuff for a Hollywood western. Notorious criminal Frank Griffin and his gang of outlaws seek revenge on Roy Goode, a former protege who betrayed them. On the run, Roy seeks refuge in isolated mining town La Belle, N.M., where he lives with Alice Fletcher, a hardened widower and outcast. When word reaches La Belle that Griffin is headed there, the residents of the town band together to defend against his murderous gang.
This tried and true storyline is delivered well throughout the seven-episode series. The story is well paced, managing to feel both drawn out and suspenseful, and action packed at the same time. With the exception of the final shoot out, where so many bad guys are shot you are left wondering how Griffin’s band of 30 outlaws suddenly transformed into a hundred men, there is little to dislike about the story line itself. If you like a good western, then you should enjoy this show.
Godless’s unique take on a western comes in the form of La Belle, the town where most of the drama unfolds. La Belle is mining town, and 83 of its men have been killed in a mining accident, leaving the town largely populated by women. The women of La Belle are no shrinking violets and now run the town, fulfilling all of the roles traditionally undertaken by their late husbands. This element of the plot is well handled and adds an interesting twist, without being overplayed at the expense of the larger story. The female characters retain both their femininity and the vulnerability, while also displaying a hard edge and resilience allows them to survive and prosper. This is in no way a "Feminist Western” but the strength of the female characters comes through in droves.
The true strength of this show however is in its characters. This is true character driven drama at its best. Each of the central figures is dealing with their own personal demons, and it is the gradual development of each of these individual storylines that truly makes this show great to watch. Whether it be the wife of the former town mayor fiercely fighting for the town’s independence against an arrogant mining company from the East that wants to take over the mine, the local sheriff, battling failing eyesight and the death of his wife, or the central character, Roy Goode, coming to terms with his own past and trying to forge a different future for himself, it is through the characters that this story comes alive.
Overall, I can highly recommend Godless. The story line is nothing new, but is still well presented and contains enough plot twists to keep the viewer interested. The cinematography is fantastic, effectively capturing the vastness of New Mexico in a time when the most common form of transport was horse back. The acting is for the most part terrific, featuring Jeff Daniels as the notorious Frank Griffin, Emmy award winning actress Merritt Wever as the feisty Mary Agnes and multi award winning actor Sam Waterston as the US Marshall charged with tracking down Griffin and his men. Waterston is best known for his lead role as Jack McCoy in popular TV show, Law and Order.
I give Godless 4 out of 5 stars.