Most of our video watching these days relies on recommendations from family and friends. Godless, a 2017 Netflix mini-series, was an exception. We hadn’t heard anything about it, but flipping through the Netflix offerings it looked interesting, so we gave it a gander. Boy, are we glad we did!
Godless is set in the American West of the 1880s. Frank Griffin leads a notorious outlaw gang of more than 30 men that has been terrorizing the territory, and he is searching for a former member of the gang that has betrayed him. The former member of the gang, Roy Goode, finds shelter with a widow and her family who live on a ranch on the outskirts of the off-the-map town of LaBelle, New Mexico. LaBelle has its own interesting back story: a devastating mine disaster has killed every able-bodied man in the town, leaving the women of LaBelle to fill the void. When Griffin’s search brings his army to LaBelle, fireworks ensue.
Godless is a powerhouse of a drama that grabs you by the throat from the get-go. It reminded me of Lonesome Dove in that its presentation of the old west is unadorned, random, and dangerous, with people coming in and going out and violence, death, and disaster seemingly around every corner. And the show is full of carefully sketched characters–from Mary Agnes, one of the LaBelle widows who finds that she likes wearing the pants in the family, to Bill McNue, the sheriff of LaBelle who is battling self-doubt caused by his declining eyesight, to Truckee, a boy who is trying to overcome his fear of horses, to Callie Dunne, the former LaBelle prostitute who becomes the town schoolteacher because she can read and write. Two of our favorite characters were Iyovi, the Native American grandmother of Truckee who can heal a bullet wound and shoot and dress a deer without blinking an eye, and Whitey Winn, the sweet, skinny deputy sheriff who has developed impressive quick-draw skills but can’t play the violin to save his life.
There’s a lot to this show, and any description can only scratch the surface of a dense plotline. The focus of Godless, though, is strong women on one hand and Frank Griffin on the other. Jeff Daniels, who won an Emmy for the role, is fantastic as Griffin, the sociopathic, quasi-religious leader of a ruthless band of killers who can be sensitive and willing to help strangers dying of a disease in one instant and then slaughtering an entire town the next. Griffin believes he has seen his own death, and therefore faces every deadly scenario that doesn’t match his vision with supreme confidence that he will survive and the statement: “This ain’t my death.”
This is a great show that is well worth a watch. The only bad thing about it is that it is a one-season wonder. When Godless ended, it left us wanting more Godlessness in our lives.