Godless Review: A Classic, Modern-Themed Western that Pays Off

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While Netflix is a streaming service known for its binge-worthy original series, Scott Frank's upcoming limited western Godless is meant to be savored.

That doesn't mean you can't snuggle in with someone you love, a fellow western junkie perhaps, a bottle of wine (or two), some popcorn and a soft spot on the couch to watch the series in its entirety when it debuts on November 22. 

But Godless isn't a series with episodic endings that propel you forward with nail-biting cliffhangers. It's a modern look at the American West as it could have been, as it might have been, given a very particular set of circumstances or if we had come to our senses about gender roles a long time ago.

Michele Dockery Godless

Godless is beautiful. Whether you have a love of westerns or not, the blue skies of New Mexico are fully utilized with the dusty, sprawling landscapes that were once the cornerstone of the American West.

And rest assured Godless was filmed in the United States, and in New Mexico, to be exact. You're not witnessing this great country by way of Canada which is so often the case these days.

And since the story features a hunted man, the land will be put to good use. All good westerns consist of good guys and bad guys and the innocents who are caught in the crossfire.

Jeff Daniels - Godless

In this case, notorious outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) will be on the hunt for his former protege, Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell), who has left his team of bandits and made off with their latest score of cash. 

On the run, Goode settles into Alice Fletcher's barn outside of La Belle, a town run by women after a mining disaster took the biggest lot of men in one fell swoop, leaving many women as widows. The remaining men consist of those who had jobs other than mining, and the very young and the old.

The disaster has done a job on those left in town, and the inhabitants are struggling with what it means to be alive in the wake of such a terrible event in their lives. It seems the town of La Belle is home for those walking through life left looking for their grace.

Whether they lost their way before, during, or after the disaster, they are all equally searching for their place in life, and Goode's presence is one of the factors that helps get them on their way.

Scoot NcNairy - Godless

The town's intrepid sheriff, Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy), lost his wife and is inexplicably losing his sight, too. The two events, one a secret from the town, have dramatically changed the way he does his job. But when he finds and captures Goode, it's for Goode's preservation that he puts him behind bars.

McNue's sister, Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever) found a new side of herself after the mining disaster. She ditched skirts and corsets (and men) for pants, hats, guns, and a yen for business.

While an emotionally-charged, blind sheriff and his less than ladylike sister could have been played like cliches, the skills of NcNairy and Wever give both characters a lot of depth. 

There aren't any red flags that the characters have been written to placate modern-day sympathies but instead they've found themselves tossed up and turned around by the lot life has given them.

Merritt Wever - Godless

Their development and eventual payoff are also wisely written. They're human. Other characters, more boastful and perhaps typically found in classic westerns don't fare as well. 

There are plots in the series that feel like they are important and seem to be dropped to give characters their growth, though. One includes the mine, Mary Agnes, and her thoughts on what the town should do. But that's OK.

This is a one and done series so there are some things you just have to live with when the final credits roll.

It's an incredibly long road to the point when the good guy and the bad guy finally meet, and by then, you'll have a very considerable understanding of most of the characters and will have had time to luxuriate in the skills of the actors and the beauty of the New Mexican vistas.

Jack O'Connell

You'll also know a lot about horse training.

In between Goode's stint in jail and the big payoff, Dockery's Alice breaks him out of jail under the guise of having her horses trained. It's never entirely clear (I'm not a true romantic) whether the two would ever be a romantic duo under different circumstances or if she's interested in Sheriff McNue, who fancies her.

But with all her land, her horses, and her smart attitude, Alice is a catch on the frontier, no doubt. Goode shows the people of La Belle what it means for a former bad man to go good while his former mentor, Griffin, searches the West to get his revenge.

One of the things I appreciated most about Godless is the nuanced nature of the characters. For example, despite the trail of dead bodies behind him, Daniels' Griffin never felt like the most heinous outlaw in the West as he was fully fleshed out. There was a lot of gray to the man, as there should be with any man, woman, or child.

The Would-Be Lovers

The writing, directing, and acting took what seemed like a simple western premise and raised it to another level. The beauty of the West was gifted with modern sensibilities, culminating in an inspired finale that put the entire series into perspective.

It wasn't until I saw the finale that it all came into focus. Take that for what you will, but I hope you enjoy the ride a little more knowing the pleasure awaiting you at the end!

Godless premieres on Netflix November 22.


Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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