Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

The West at its best on Netflix’s series “Godless”

Claire Wineman
Contributing Writer

As I am from Colorado, my poor friends have sat through hours worth of me longing for the beauty of the West, with its mountains and plains. Imagine their happiness when I discovered Netflix’s new limited series “Godless,” perfect for diverting my attention over this past homesick weekend that was still just far enough from break.

“Godless,” at face value, appears to be a typical modern take on the classic old western, complete with shootouts, saloons and enough dust and horses to keep any equine junkie happy.

The catch here, however, is that the focal point is the town of La Belle, New Mexico — a community populated almost entirely by women after most of the men are killed in a mining accident. The women make up a varied cast of characters each dealing with this tragedy in their own way, all while interacting with the various figures who move in and out of La Belle. We meet them at a particularly desperate time, just as they begin to harbor outlaw Roy Goode, on the run from his ruthless adoptive father (played by Jeff Daniels, who subtly chews the scenery) and his band of violent, sociopathic misfits.

From the beginning, “Godless” has two big problems: a fantastic plotline at its core and only seven episodes to follow it. Such is the trouble with a limited series. The episodes are slow-paced to follow characters methodically, though it’s difficult to pinpoint which storyline is going to get its fair share of screen time — the romance between two of La Belle’s widows? Roy Goode’s backstory? The murky memories of Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), the woman hiding Roy in her barn while simultaneously raising her Paiute son? The young deputy’s complicated relationship with a girl in a neighboring town? The series is far from boring but takes its time where there isn’t any to spare. Every character introduced has the potential for greater development that eventually feels lost in the shuffle, despite excellent performances by the cast members that leave you dissatisfied after each installment, and especially at the end of the series, simply because you want to know more.

“Godless” is strongest in its portrayal of place and time; the costuming, writing, score (produced by the ever-reliable T. Bone Burnett) and especially on-location filming in New Mexico create the perfect snapshot of the Old West, in all its grit and glory. We aren’t spared the depraved details of the death and destruction in such a lawless place, but the combination of the natural beauty and the resilience of the people found within it demonstrate the light to be found within life, and the general bad-assery that can always be found among most of humanity. That’s what makes the short duration of “Godless” so bittersweet — the viewer derives a sense of power from it, even if it’s just enough to stomp around campus in cowboy boots for a few days, power through finals and get back home.

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