Binge Watch: Netflix’s Godless (Season One)

I like westerns. Well, usually westerns with a large amount of cowboying and violence. You know, the good ones. Blame my father and his turn with the remote.

As a chronic insomniac, who’s not overly fond of infomercials, streaming services are a lifesaver. November yielded a find that looked to be a perfect series to spend the night with:

Godless at a Glance: Roy Good (Jack O’Connell) is on the run from the band of outlaws he used to call brothers. He ends up in La Belle, New Mexico.

The town’s governed and populated primarily by women. Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), widower and outcast, lets a wounded Roy stay on her homestead.

When Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his gang head toward La Belle on the hunt for revenge, the town bands together to take a stand.

The series’ catchphrase is: “Welcome to no man’s land.”

  • A frontier town mostly populated and run by widows and single women
  • Jeff Daniels playing a notorious ruthless outlaw
  • Michell Dockery playing a rifle-wielding, grudge-holding homesteader

Godless is a limited series Netflix Original so you’re not following the white rabbit on a trip too far down the hole but it is still a good bit of time (seven episodes).

The plot driving Godless is only semi-atypical (gunman on the run from his gang after betraying them horribly) but it’s more than just a good gimmick to capture your interest.

A tragic accident turned this into a town populated by widows, spinsters, the elderly and the extremely young. But these women mustered up the grit of the west and carried on. As to be expected, clashing personalities and the societal hierarchy’s upended.

In between shots of absolutely gorgeous countryside the byplay between the unfolding drama in town and Frank Griffin’s frontier-wide rampage in search of his arch-nemesis Godless presents a decidedly unconventional take at a period in time when women characters were usually paper-thin or merely vehicles for the story of their male counterparts. While the main story heavily features men, the show’s far more interesting and compelling storylines revolve around the woman and how they’ve adjusted and carried on.

These women embrace life as carpenters, homesteaders, business owners and the town’s council. The frontier may not be female but this town is and they have no interest in seeing that change. Even if more than a few are willing to embrace stupidity in order to get laid (every group has that one chick…).

The story arcs are intriguing and ultimately fully interwoven to credibly build a compelling storyline. The main arc contains all the expected elements of a manhunt that brings “danger to the populous” style western. Roy Good stumbles onto Alice’s property and directly into the path of her raised rifle.

She takes pity on him and allows him to stay. This decision sets off a chain of events that changes the lives of everyone in the region.

The story unfolds in an uneven fashion (flashbacks scenes replace voice-over explanation and act as inner-monologue) that leaves room for character development and interesting comparisons between personality types. There’s enough of the unexpected and secondary storylines per episode to keep this story from becoming boring or too predictable.

The writers were careful to include more than one reason for outside interest in this town and how those elements play out opens the door for more intrigue and mayhem.

Visually, there are moments when Godless, brought to mind High Plains Drifter particularly at the height of the movie.

I’m sure the comparison was deliberate – I do feel like it undermined some of the story development but not fatally so – but everything driving the action is still deliciously, subversively female without overplaying.

I mean how am I not supposed to be all ready to click play and settle in to see what’s what?

Verdict: Accidental Binge – if this turns out to be your jam you’ll have it finished before you realize you let all seven episodes roll one directly into the other. But the momentum (or interest) isn’t lost if you break up watching a few episodes a night.

*I hope this series gets a second season that focuses more on the townswomen and how they move forward post-Griffin crisis.

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