TV Rant: Netflix’s ‘Godless’ Fell Short of Expectations

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Spoiler Warning for Godless, Season 1

Netflix’s newest western series, Godless, was advertised as the story about La Belle, a town in where all the men died in a mining explosion, leaving it occupied only by women. The women then band together to defend against outlaws who invade their town. The premise itself is extremely cool, except that the show didn’t actually deliver on it.

While Godless does explore the lives of the La Belle women after they lose their husbands, it didn’t do nearly enough to show their evolution. Instead of focusing on a group of women becoming resilient and finding strength without needing men, the majority of the story focused on its male characters.

Godless. Source: Netflix.
Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever) and Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery). Source: Netflix.

We were shown how many of the women adapted to their new world, like Mary Agnes, (Merritt Wever) who became the tough, gun-toting de facto leader of the town after her mayor husband died. Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) is another badass, who lives on the outskirts of La Belle, trying to raise her son on her own while keeping her ranch running. The majority of the other women, however, fell by the wayside. The mining company that comes to La Belle tries to buy the rights to La Belle’s now empty mines, believing that the women would not be able to manage it. Despite Mary Agnes’ assertions that the women were more than capable of taking care of themselves, the other women basically give away the mine to these outsiders.

I had thought that the other women would gradually discover that they didn’t need these men all along. However, most of them just end up entertaining the waves of crappy men that come through their town; from mining company security to scumbag journalists. One of the La Belle women cozy up to the journalist because he promised to help her launch her mail order business in exchange for implied sexual favors. The others just gossip about how handsome Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) is.

Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell). Source: Netflix.

In fact, most of the La Belle women seem to end up relying on men until the very end, when they’re left behind to fend for themselves. All of this was a wasted opportunity, because the mine explosion on its own should have been the inciting incident that jump-started the women’s new lives. We should not have waited till the last episode to finally see them fend for themselves. Even in the final shootout, when the women fight the band of outlaws led by Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), they are saved by Sheriff McNue (Scott McNairy) and Roy Goode. Even their victory was stolen away by the male characters.

Most of the main conflict revolved around the men. Even the final showdown ended with the men. Griffin and Goode’s father-son relationship drove the plot. In fact, the final shot of the entire show was of Roy Goode riding on his horse, looking out into the Pacific.

This one Twitter user actually mapped out the percentage of lines spoken by men vs women in the first episode, and this is what he came up with.

While this 73% to 27% split only accounts for the first episode, this seems pretty on par for the subsequent episodes as well.

Looking past the blatantly misleading advertisement, this was still a solid show. The acting was top-notch. Jeff Daniels gave a layered performance as the sinister Frank Griffin. And I could watch an entire show centered solely on Merritt Wever’s character. The show’s creators really captured the vastness of the west, and the isolation and senseless violence that often came with trying to make it in the frontier. Frank’s “godless” monologue was bone-chilling, but also captured the essence of the show. The cinematography blew me away; everything looked incredibly gorgeous, even though the show was set in the New Mexican desert.

I think that if this show were written and marketed as a standard western, it would have stood well on its own (even despite the many western tropes). However, pulling the rug out from under the viewers by taking away an exceptional premise hurt the show in the end.

Miscellaneous Thoughts
  • I wish we saw more of Blackdom and its residents. They were praised as brave and fearsome soldiers by multiple different characters on-screen. However, they were all decimated without any second thought. These characters, as well as the actors who portrayed them, were severely underutilized.
  • The show felt incredibly slow. There was beauty in the way the show did things like having characters talk about horses, but it really ate up a lot of the runtime.

 

 

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