Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Godless: Opportunity Missed

A couple of months ago, The Wife made me and The Magpie watch a trailer for a new Netflix show that was soon to be airing. Pretend for a moment you have neither heard about nor seen trailer or the show itself, and watch the trailer (just under two minutes):


I’m not necessarily a “Western Guy,” but this made me sit up and take notice. Not just because it’s a well-crafted trailer (it is), but also the concept, as presented here. You’d be forgiven if you did what I did and thought, “Whoa, an Old West town full of nothing but women trying to hold back the world of men! Count me in!”

On the surface, that’s exactly what it is. La Belle, New Mexico lost almost all of the town’s men “in five minutes” as the trailer tells us, in a mining accident. Two years later, only a handful of men are left, and we see the women making decisions for the town and doing things like rebuilding the church, which burned down (La Belle had a run of bad luck, it would seem).

There are interesting women doing interesting things. Outside of town, there’s Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery, and it took me a long time to realize she played Lady Mary on Downton Abbey), running her ranch with her Paiute mother-in-law and her teenage son (Alice’s husband was one of the few who did not die in the mine; he was shot in the back on the streets of La Belle, so she is not exactly tight with the ladies of La Belle). There’s Maggie MacNue (Merritt Wever), who now wears her dead husband’s clothes, can outdraw the deputy, and thinks things are running just fine, thank you very much. There’s the town whore turned schoolmarm (Tess Frazer), and the high society lady, Charlotte Temple (Samantha Soule), who hopes to turn the town’s fortunes around. These are capable women who have endured a terrible tragedy, yet they stayed on when there was really nothing left for them to stay for.  They persist, and their stories are interesting and deserve to be told.

Yet, if you actually watched Godless, you’d know that the music that should have been playing during the trailer is James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” because at it’s heart, Godless is a story about men. Most specifically, it’s about the relationship between the awful Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his wayward adopted son and protege, Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), with a sidehelping of disgraced La Belle Sheriff Bill McNue trying to redeem himself. Seriously, at the outset, it looks like Bill’s sister would make a better sheriff.

It’s a good story, and it’s (mostly) well-told, though there is an awful lot missing, and not just about the ladies. There’s a lot of stuff dangled about Bill McNue that is never really resolved. The acting is high quality and the atmosphere is fantastic (though I will say some of the action in the climax looked a little cartoony and reminded me of some bad kung fu film I saw long ago. I also could have done without the obligatory romance between two characters, and the even more obligatory rape back story of one (of the characters). I enjoyed watching Godless overall, and would recommend it, though this is definitely a case where the trailer is misleading.

What about you? Did you watch Godless? What did you think?

3 Responses

  1. We don't have Netflix (although we now have access, via a friend), so never heard of this show before. It looks like something Hubby would enjoy, though. Maybe me, too. I'll have to tell him about this one. I'm guessing it's still available??

  2. We're among the few and far between who don't have Netflix 🙂
    Sounds intriguing though and there are a lot of story lines that could be played up in it!

  3. Stacy, I don't know how long Netflix keeps its original programming on, but it's still there.

    Jemi: I suppose the storytellers are always looking at how the other stories could be different!

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