This series plays out over 7 episodes and is about 7 hours and 30 minutes long. It is certainly binge-worthy. Yet, I will tell you that watching it the second time around I got so much more out of it. Some argue that this could have been a 2 hour movie, but I disagree. To evoke the strong feelings required for a western one has to endure hardship with the cast of characters. In fact, the second time around I found myself commenting to myself “this show is soooo good,” after each episode ended, often as I was patting my eyes dry. I am certainly looking forward to my third viewing.
Okay on to my thoughts. While I cite some scenes, I will not give away significant
parts. Trust me this series is deep and rich. I would have to write a thesis to spoil it for you.
The series examines the idea of Godlessness. I mean from the opening scene and all of the tragedies that have befallen these people — one on the surface would have to agree with Frank Griffin’s assessment when he forcefully says to a Norwegian settler, “What God, Mister? You clearly don’t know where you are. This here’s the paradise of the locust, the lizard, and the snake…. It’s godless country. And as soon as you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you all are gonna live.”
The irony here is that the outlaw, Frank Griffin, wears a preacher’s collar and can quote the bible… not accurately. A great deal of what he espouses that comes from the good book is twisted or shall I just say it’s pure EVIL.
In one early scene, he rides his horse into a church as the parishioners are singing the hymn, “Nearer to Thee.” He joins in and then issues the congregation a deadly warning saying anyone who harbors Roy Goode would be killed. We learn a great deal about Frank Griffin not only from his actions, but from the backstory that is provided in this narrative via flashback.
At the same time, he portrays himself as a kind and generous person – a savior you might say. He takes in and adopts Roy Goode, a runaway youth of 12, and offers to be his pappy, to protect him and keep him safe. He teaches him everything he knows, good and bad, and calls him son.
In another scene, he comes across a home that is quarantined with a group of people sick with “The Fever.” There is only a young woman who remains tending to the sick and dying, but she too is sick. Frank demonstrates compassion, and dives right in to help her. He helps prepare a meal, washes the sick, burns their clothes, and buries the dead. But it is clear that Frank Griffin is cunning, manipulative, and dangerous … a wolf in sheep’s clothing out on the hunt for blood.
He taught his adopted son, Roy Goode, everything he knew, and expected loyalty in return. When Roy abandoned him, and challenged his leadership that was an unforgivable act that launched him on his current path of destruction.
I’ve talked about God and now I move on to the words “less or loss.” The series deals with a great deal of loss. Alice is twice widowed before the age of 21. Imagine that! She lives on the outskirts of the town of La Belle isolated on a horse ranch with her native american son and mother-in-law. There is a deep sadness to her, and viewers come to learn her story and admire her for her resilience. Like Alice there are many others in La Belle who experienced loss. Almost everyone in the town is a widow.
The Sheriff has lost his wife. Bill McNue is a father of two small children, but cannot relate to his young daughter because he associates her with the death of his wife. As a result, poor Trudy doesn’t speak. The Sheriff once a sharpshooter is losing his sight, and with it, his will to live.
When we first meet him, he is with the Paiute Indians receiving an eye treatment that he soon washes off in regret and despair. The healer tells him that he has lost his shadow. Similarly, while on the hunt for Griffin, he meets another native who tells him the very same thing. In fact, when he comes across Frank Griffin and his gang, Frank wonders
what took the life out of Bill’s face.
Roy Goode, one of the central characters, has also suffered loss. The death of his father followed by his only brother abandoning him to the care of Lucy Cole leads him straight into the hands of Frank Griffin. At first, Roy is mesmerized by this bigger than life personality.
Soon, he is disillusioned, and realizes Frank is not the type of man he wants
to be. Roy Goode shows courage and fortitude of spirit to go against his surrogate father and his ruthless gang of brothers. Loss is certainly captured in one scene where we see what La Belle, which means beautiful, was before the tragedy that befell everyone of the townspeople in one full swoop.
Despite the apparent loss, discord, and hostility in the once prosperous town of La Belle there is also a sense that the people of La Belle want to succeed. They are trying so hard to remake their lives.
Mary Agnes, or Maggie McNue who has shed her women’s clothing for comfortable
menswear has not only taken over the care of her brother’s children, but the care of the town, as well. Another example is the reformation of the town whore, Callie Dunne. When the town’s school is destroyed by fire, and the whorehouse is abandoned by Magdalena, the madam, it is Callie that funds the reopening of the school in the old whore house.
The surviving town folk want to reignite the town, by selling their ownership in LaBelle’s mine to a group of investors from Pittsburgh. And then there is the hopeful Sadie Rose, who like many, are awaiting the arrival of the new preacher.
Throughout, the series you see them devotedly building the town’s church. The spirit of this community shines on their darkest days. You’ll have to watch to understand what I mean.
This is series is visually beautiful. The cinematography and art direction is stellar. It fulfills all the requirements of an American Western. Written and directed by Scott Frank in collaboration with Steven Soderbergh, you’ll recognize it is helmed by two powerhouses in the industry.
It also captures story-lines that would’ve been ignored in the old westerns of our youth. Godless explores not only the themes of Faith, Religion, Coming of Age, and Law and Order, but delves into the themes not often addressed in Westerns such as feminism, race, same sex relationships, abuse, human trafficking and arranged marriages.
You, as the viewer, will have to decide for yourself if you think the American West was God’s country or Godless, after all. I know what I believe. If you have watched this series, please comment whether or not you agree or better yet disagree. After watching, I encourage you to leave me a like and let me know what you think.