Godless, a Netflix original series, is a Western drama that first aired in 2017. This 7-part series captured my interest right from the start. Not only does it tick off the boxes of the many common characteristics of great westerns: cowboys, Native Americans, a frontier town, whores, a harsh and isolated life, a train robbery, revenge, and a massive gunfight. This series stands apart because of its message. It portrays the American Western life of the late 19th century in the light of opposing views — God’s country or God’s-forsaken country.
Godless was nominated for 27 Emmy awards, winning 3: Best Supporting Actress, Best
Supporting Actor, and Best Theme Music. The series’ opening sequence is absolutely captivating, and sets the tone for the entire series.
It is 1884, and we see Marshal Cook, played by Sam Waterston (of Law and Order fame) and his 5 companions arriving at Creede, Colorado, where there appears to be a huge dust storm obstructing his view. As the cloud of dust clears, Marshal Cook, like the viewer, still struggles to see what is in his path. He removes his bandanna.
Viewers note a church in the background, and a bell tolling, but it is then that viewers see what the Marshal and his men have discovered. Multiple dead bodies strewn about the sides of the road leading into Creede. You realize it is not just dust, but smoke billowing from the remains of the town. Suddenly in the foreground an abandoned wagon appears with a dead body lying in the back.
Next, one hears a singular female voice singing in the distance, “He is the power. He is the power. He is the power in my soul.” The camera pans, and we see the remains of a smoldering town. There are even more dead bodies strewn about, and then we hear the
desperate ticking of a telegraph machine. As the Marshal enters the building to look closer, we see the telegraph operator. He has been shot in the head.
This is followed by the full view of a ghastly train wreck, and more dead bodies riddled with bullet holes. Then, the camera finds the woman who is still singing, “He is a mystery in my soul,” as she leans over a corpse. A loved one, we suppose. That is when you realize that she is singing a hymn. Yet, it is the image of a little boy hanging from a noose high above the town that brings Marshal Cook to his knees. I imagine he is thinking, what kind of Godless individual murders a little boy.
This is truly a gruesome scene, even by Western standards. The introductory music begins, and you are hooked. And no, I will not tell you much more than that you need to see this series for yourself. I saw it twice and look forward
to seeing it again.
I will tell you what I think of the key components of this successful drama. I will start with the main characters, which you will meet in the very first episode. Michelle Dockery plays Alice Fletcher. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Yes, she is the British actress who played Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey. Yes, she is perfect in the role as an independent American widow who is raising a teenage son of mixed breed on a small isolated horse ranch outside of La Belle, New Mexico.
She is thrust into the drama of this series when a stranger trespasses on her land one dark evening. Alice Fletcher is a phenomenal character and played phenomenally by Michelle Dockery. I kid you not.
That trespasser is Roy Goode played by Jack O’Connell. Roy is an injured gunslinger who stumbles onto Alice’s land one dark evening. He is shot right off his horse by Alice. We learn that he is taking refuge there after narrowly escaping the grips of the notorious, Frank Griffin, his adoptive father.
Next, we are introduced to Frank Griffin, adeptly played by Jeff Daniels. He was awarded Best Supporting Actor for this role and rightly deserves it. Frank and his gang of 30 wake Elijah Graham, a physician and surgeon, in the middle of the night to tend to his wounds. The reluctant surgeon petrified of even touching the outlaw’s arm– as it was basically hanging from a small piece of flesh—is put at rest when Frank simply says, “I’ve seen my death and this ain’t it.” The doctor having no other recourse is forced to amputate Frank’s arm as one of the rough riders’ comments, “You can bet ‘ole Ray Goode’s goin’ to pay for that arm.”
The Sheriff of La Belle, Bill McNue is introduced to viewers next. He is played by British actor Scoot McNairy. He is kind of odd, and not much respected in his town, which is composed of mainly women. Yes, women- almost in its entirety. You will have to watch to find out why. What we learn about him in this first episode is that he is a widower,has 2 children, and is in love with Alice Fletcher. He has lost his shadow, and feels as if he has nothing else to lose.
Mary Agnes (Maggie) McNue, widow of Mayor Cummings and sister of Sheriff McNue, is wonderfully portrayed by Merritt Weaver. Mary Agnes is walks around wearing her deceased husband’s clothes, and is a force to be reckoned with, which thankfully keeps everyone in the town of La Belle in line. Mary Agnes is the heart and soul of La Belle. Merritt Weaver was awarded the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress for this role and in my opinion, she definitely deserved it. And then there is Marshal John Cook whom we met at the start of the series. He is a weathered law man with a big mustache on the hunt for the notorious, Frank Griffin and his gang.
Beyond the central core characters there are several others in supporting roles. There is Whitey Winn, the Deputy Sheriff, played by Thomas Brodie Sangster. Avid cinephiles will recognize him as Simon from Nanny McPhee, Newt in the Maze Runner, Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones, and the voice of Ferb in the animated series Phineas and Ferb. He is young and confident.
Callie Dunne, portrayed by Tess Frazer, is an ex town whore, who without viable paying customers. She has become La Belle’s latest school marm. Truckee is Alice’s young teenage son, who is half Paiute but is naive and unsure of himself. He is played by Canadian actor Samuel Marty. Iyovi is a Paiute healer and Truckee’s grandmother. She lives on the ranch with Alice and Truckee. Iyovi is played by actress Tantoo Cardinal. She is a wise and spirited woman.
Additionally, there is Newspaper Man A.T. Grigg played by Jeremy Bobb; Gatz Brown, Frank’s right hand man, played by Adam David Thompson, and the crooked Ed Logan played by KimCoates. These supporting characters as many others, as there are 117 characters in all, help move the story along. They are the backdrop of the piece that will help you decide whether or not the American West was godless or not. In the end, I think you will agree that this series has something to say and is well worth watching.
Stay with us, as next week Lady Geek finishes her review of Godless!