I loved the experience of immersing myself in Godless. Netflix’s newest limited series (apparently there won’t be a second season but you never know these days) is a very addictive western with a twist. It comprises seven episodes that tell a complete story. Unfortunately, the show’s premise is also very deceiving.
As evidenced by the show’s stunning poster, Netflix promoted the show as a Western with a twist: a town composed primarily of women fends off an attack by a pack of savages. This is not the show you’re going to get if you sit down to watch Godless, and it’s better that I clarify your expectations from the start. Godless is actually the story of a rogue cowboy trying to escape the clutches of a vicious father figure. It’s a story of father and sons; the women are merely window dressing. That doesn’t mean Godless is a bad show – far from it – it’s gorgeously shot and impeccably acted. But the marketing sells you on a completely different show – one we only see glimmers of in the finale. I can’t remember the last time I felt so deceived by the manner in which a show was packaged. This is an entirely different beast than the promo materials would have you believe.
Now that we’ve discussed the elephant in the room, we can judge Godless on what it does offer. Again, I need to praise the show’s visual palette. These seven episodes offer some of the finest cinematography you’ve ever seen on the screen. The lush landscapes, the sweeping panoramic shots, the majestic horses – it’s all so exceptionally beautiful. The show’s director of photography, Steven Meizler, deserves all the Emmys in the world for bringing the astonishing world of La Belle to life. Whenever I found myself slightly bored by the show’s slow-paced storytelling (every episode is over an hour long), I always knew I would have some ravishing visuals to fall back on. It’s that memorable.
The cast of Godless is also extraordinary. As the villain of the piece, Jeff Daniels is superb. He’s terrifying when the moment calls for it, yet he also displays rare moments of surprising humanity which highlight the show’s commitment to crafting fully dimensional characters. Jack O’Connell also does a good job as the show’s hero, Roy Goode, but I was much more intrigued by Michelle Dockery’s performance as Alice Fletcher. The actress is most widely known for Downton Abbey (a show I’ve never watched) but she’s brilliant here. In fact, I really wish the show had lived up to its marketing and made her the primary protagonist instead of Roy (your stereotypical hero). She and the ladies of the show (we’ve got terrific performances by Merritt Wever, Tantoo Cardinal, and Tess Frazer) are phenomenal. Sadly, the women of Godless are shunned to the sidelines so Frank and Roy can hash out their issues at the center of the narrative. In that regard, the elements that the show chooses to focus on are disappointing.
I really wanted to love Godless, and to be fair, it is great television. However, had the show committed wholeheartedly to the concept of female empowerment, it could have been one of the all time greats. Instead, it’s just really, really good.