This Ain’t No Petticoat Junction (Series Review: “Godless”)

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A captivating period Western that promises a bewitching blend of brutality and beauty, with dry banter that soars into the poetic and a musical score that stirs the soul, Godless weaves a mythic spell. It’s a limited series not to be missed.

 

SnapShot Plot

Godless may take some settling into but once you do, the story and characters are so richly multilayered as to make this 7-part series an unforgettable experience. A pre-screening of the show’s trailer is advised so as not to be confused by the overly Feminist marketing angle in promoting the series. Yes one can assign a Feminist Western genre here but the production is so much more than that. In fact, there are plenty of men in absolutely central roles, key among them Jeff Daniels as Frank Griffin, a ruthless villain with a messiah complex whose hunt for ex-surrogate son, Roy Goode sets the entire bloody plot in motion.

In the shocking and somber opening scene of episode one, a frontier marshal (Sam Waterston) arrives on the scene of one of the cruelest massacres ever to have taken place, an entire town murdered in cold blood. Why? The story then begins to unfold, with missing pieces filled in at various points in the narrative by an assortment of characters, either looking back at their own history or (in an amusing conceit) actually reading aloud from the single newspaper circulating in the entire New Mexico region in which Godless takes place. Key among the intriguing characters is a sheriff in the small mining town of La Belle – now run by the womenfolk – as practically all the men were lost in a tragic accident at the mine a few years back. Outside of La Belle lives widow, Alice Fletcher (played by Michelle Dockery, who has lost all traces of her Downton Abbey Lady Mary affect) who’s struggling to raise her half-Indian son and keep her horse farm going. The sheriff’s widowed sister (in a wry scene stealing performance by Merritt Wever) has taken to wearing pants and has assumed the role of town protector while her (also) widowed brother goes off to seek justice by capturing Frank Griffin and/or the fugitive Roy Goode. There are several more colorful characters and a few sub-plots that make Godless a winding, breathtaking odyssey rich in visual and emotional tone, with a bittersweet twist at the end that is so moving it seems to suggest leaving the story alone at that point, sans a second season. But anything could happen.

 

 

Parting Shot

Godless creator, writer, executive producer and director Scott Frank, known for helming movies that include Get Shorty, Minority Report, and Out of Sight, has here delivered what I call a minor masterpiece in reinventing a genre. He has said that he never intended to create a Feminist Western, that he had started out thinking he was writing a story about fathers and sons. But in his research, Frank learned about countless Western mining towns stripped of their men due to explosions, cave-ins, etc. The story took shape from there. He actually intended Godless as a feature film, which got turned down for 12 years. It was only when he pitched it as a series that Netflix took the bait.

Unsurprisingly, the show has been named one of the year’s 10 best by The Washington Post and Vanity Fair. Filmed on location outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the landscape itself tells half the story, suggesting how the rugged and unforgiving physical world commanded a degree of brutality from its men and women in order to survive. And despite all the blood and violence, there exists at the center of this show such heart and emotion to keep you on the edge of your seat, hoping and praying for survival, for justice, and finally for love.

Godless is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrlZCRncCwA

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