Tuesday, December 12, 2017

TV Review: Godless

Netflix recently released a seven episode limited series titled Godless. The mini-series is set in the 1880s in the New Mexico Territory. The desert southwest provides a bleak, stark backdrop for the characters and drama that unfolds. The show is an ensemble cast with powerful performances being put in by many.

The show concerns several different characters as their stories dive and intertwine with another. Primarily the story is about Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell) and Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). Griffin is a brutal outlaw, beautifully and complexly portrayed by Daniels as a
disturbing religious figure. He masks his villain in false piety and presents himself as a preacher to gain the trust and acceptance of the people he encounters. Goode was his protégé, companion and a member of his gang until the two had a falling out. Now Griffin hunts for Goode across the Territory leaving bloodshed and terror wherever he goes.

The other major component of the story is the village of La Belle. This tiny community is centred around a silver mine. Two years before the start of the series a massive mining accident killed 83 men leaving the overwhelming majority of the women widows and the community nearly devoid of men. This premise alone presents something interesting. The trailers would make it seem as though the series is going directly for a confrontation between these two forces but there is a great deal that unfolds between that is both gripping and entertaining.

Godless is firmly rooted in the Western genre's traditions. Even my limited exposure to the genre I could feel very clear homage to other films and entries into the genre. The series is both a romanticized and deeply ugly look at the time period. Disease, death, injury, violence and general unpleasantness pervade the show. It oscillates between perhaps going too far and grounded. Given my general ignorance of the West it is difficult to say. Life generally feels quite precarious in the show and that death stalks the land with a greedy hand. The beautiful side of the Western is all present as well from incredible sharpshooting, to incredible vistas and romance.

In this review I do not wish to spoil specific details or elements of the story. What I will say is that Frank Griffin is a truly terrifying villain. He and his gang appear suddenly and without warning and wreck havoc wherever they go. The different characters and communities that we meet are interesting and play at the diversity of the West that has often been overlooked.

I would be remiss if I didn't comment upon the gender aspects of the show. The idea of a town of only women is clearly one of the selling points of the series. Not a great deal comes of that. The story focuses much more on Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), Roy Goode and Frank Griffin. Fletcher lives on a ranch outside of La Belle and her fate is tied to the town's, but in many way the town becomes secondary. That said, the lack of men plays out in interesting ways. The West is notorious for women forging their own paths. So is the same here. The town hardly seems to struggle with the absence of the men, just the fact that the mine has ceased operation. Some women are eager to see a return of men and normalcy while others seem to dread their return. Sexual violence and exploitation of women factor into the story as well, and I cannot claim that the handling of it was particularly satisfying.

I may dedicate more thinking on this at a later date, but it is my opinion that we are primed for a resurgence of the Western genre. Godless, among other programs and films, can demonstrate the way to make relevant commentary on the present with these projects. Godless is a gorgeous piece of television with exceptional performances. While the opening episodes may be slow to develop I urge interested parties to push to the conclusion, for the thing ends in a powerful fashion.  

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