GODLESS, a Netflix series, delivers great characters, dialogue, and action in a fantastic Western. Despite a saggy middle, the series starts off great and ends with one hell of a bang.
Frank Griffin (the great Jeff Daniels), leader of a ruthless outlaw gang, searches for Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), his partner who turned against him. Roy is hiding in La Belle, New Mexico, a town made up almost entirely of women after a mining accident claimed the men.
In classic Western fashion, this is a story of good and evil in the beautiful, harsh, and empty Old West. Griffin is evil, a man of God raised in violence and believing violence is God’s way of teaching us something, and he loves Roy as family, making him a complex villain. Roy is good, an outlaw who turned against the man who raised him from the time he was an orphan looking for a family and finding it in the outlaw gang. They’re kin, and their conflict leads them on an inevitable collision course.
In La Belle, we’re given plenty of other characters and stories we can sink our teeth into. Marshal John Cook (the great Sam Waterston), who is going to get the cavalry to help him hunt down Griffin and his gang. Alice Fletcher and her Paiute son and mother in law, a very self-reliant and independent family who live on a ranch and give Roy Goode shelter. The sheriff (Scott McNairy, a great actor), who harbors a deep despair and is slowly going blind. Whitey, the young and brash deputy who loves the wrong girl. A nearby settlement of Black Civil War veterans (Buffalo soldiers) who just want to be left alone. The mayor, who dresses in men’s clothes and has a relationship with the town’s teacher, a former prostitute. Even the minor characters stand out, from the eccentric German artist to the Quicksilver mining executive to the guy who runs the livery stables.
Only seven episodes, the series introduces these characters and allows them to live and breathe naturally, without anything forced. They’re all likeable, the dialogue is excellent, the pacing good though a big bogged in flashbacks. The show ends with one hell of a bang as everything comes to a head, and the denouement is very satisfying.
This is the kind of TV I love–focus on characters and story, characters we can root for and agonize over if they don’t make it, realistic personal battles for redemption, no heavy-handed moralizing (which I thought we’d get with an Old West town run by women, and a nearby settlement run by Blacks), a terrific villain, defied expectations, and a fantastic climax.
Recommended, and a must if you like Old West stories.