In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
“God? What God? Mister, you clearly don’t know where you are. Look around. There ain’t no higher-up around here to watch over you and your youngins. This here’s the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake. It’s the land of the blade and the rifle. It’s godless country. And the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you’re all gonna live” —Frank Griffin.
Netflix’s Godless is one big metaphor. It’s the time honoured story of the righteous man as he stands, pistol drawn and ready to face whatever comes from the unflinching darkness of the void. A more than worthy homage to the spaghetti westerns of old, this Soderbergh produced and Frank Scott Directed Netflix mini-series is a universe built on a foundation of well-placed bullets and exquisite filmmaking, unlike some of the genre’s lesser counterparts—see the laughable ‘September Dawn’.
Scott’s Godless tells two compelling stories, somewhat separately at first and then interwoven. On the one hand, you have a town almost completely inhabited by women—their husbands all perished in a tragic mining accident, you see. All but the local lawman with vision impairment (Scoot McNairy) and his hot-shot deputy (Thomas Brodie-Sangster AKA that kid from Love Actually) remain as the town’s male residents. On the other, you have the human embodiment of goodness battling it out with its fleshy, very real and very evil counterpart—god help those who come into their chaotic orbit.
The year of Godless is 1884. It begins with a posse of thickly moustached men walking their horses through a ruined, unknown town, somewhere in the dusty New Mexico Territory . The charred, shot and mutilated corpses of the township—along with the chilling image of a lifeless child hanging by his neck in the town square—will fill you with a deep sense of dread. One lone survivor, a young woman clenches at one of the bodies. In shock, she sings a song, a familiar one I’m sure to those in the Godless universe. All of this before the opening credits had rolled, Scott deftly establishes that their will be zero punches pulled in terms of the shows content.
The man responsible for the carnage is Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels AKA that other guy from Dumb and Dumber) and his not so merry gang of goons. We’re first introduced to the villain of the piece with Frank grimly accepting that his wounded arm is going to have to be amputated — it’s quite the hole too, you can see straight through the man’s bicep. Frank’s screams echo throughout the dark little town.
Griffin offers an insight into his character with one of his opening remarks to the surgeon operating on him; “I’ve seen my death….this ain’t it.” Straightaway writer and director Scott hints that Griffin is no ordinary butcher, but a more complex individual whose horrific deeds are all mere cobblestones on a greater path of destruction. A path that fate has laid out for him.
His moral counterpart, a former protege of Griffins turned runaway traitor, Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell AKA Cook from Skins) is introduced slumped unconscious atop his steed, clearly wounded as he approaches an unknown barn.
A classic western ‘who goes there’ encounter with a heavily armed fair maiden, and a not-so-cautionary gunshot results in Goode staying to help out on the ranch, bonding with both the ranch owner, Alice Fletcher and her half-cherokee, half-caucasian son Truckee.
In conjunction, drawing slowly but ever closer to the inevitable standoff between Griffin/Goode, we have the aptly named town of women, La Belle, staring down the barrel of their unique situation. On the one hand, they’re free from the expectations that tied their gender down—the mayor’s wife prefers to dress in her husbands old clothes much to the embarrassment of some of her more traditional peers—on the other, the quaint town is a ripe target for bandits and thieves, despite the apparent spunkiness of its residents.
Beautifully shot and patiently told, Godless can be a bit bloody slow on the draw at times, with some dialogue heavy scenes blurring into others, all in the name of character development. It’s a small gripe but it could turn some viewers away before the end of the first two episodes, which would mean they would be missing out on some of the best scenes in TV Netflix has ever had their name ascribed to. Luckily, there’s more than enough well-choreographed action to make up for this flaw.
Netflix’ Godless is an exceptional instalment in the annals of Western cinema and television. With each passing episode Frank Griffin is solidified as one of the greater fictional villains of our time. He is a man without humanity; an uncompromising wolf amongst a flock of characters forced to compromise at every turn and this makes him both dangerous and frightening.
Not just evil, but the concept of godlessness is explored within this testament to the small screen. This show proves that when a man no longer answers to some form of higher authority, be it the law or the big guy above, he is truly capable of becoming a monster.
Godless is streaming now on Netflix.