While I’ve always been entertained by the concept of the Western genre, I can’t say that I’ve really enjoyed watching the movies that it produces. Even a satire like Blazing Saddles had me struggling to stay invested. Netflix’s new miniseries, Godless, embodies all of the fear and danger of a classic Western, while adapting to a style of storytelling that adds drama through honest character development and striking cinematography.
The cast is filled with a lot of lesser-known actors, but is supplemented with several surprisingly familiar faces such as Jeff Daniels, Michelle Dockery, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Sam Waterson from the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. Out of this large cast of unknowns emerges our very own SCAD alum, Kayli Carter, playing Sadie Rose. Sadie Rose is one of many women living in the small mining town of La Belle, Arizona. The men of La Belle, excluding the sheriff, his deputy, and a few of the older shop tenders, have all died in a mining accident. The town is now governed by the dead mayor’s wife: a pants-wearing, gun-shooting, bisexual who’s in love with the town’s prostitute-turned-school-teacher. With Frank Griffin’s hoard of bandits quickly approaching in search of Roy Goode, an outlaw stowing away in the barn of the town’s own outcast, Alice Fletcher, these women must decide if they are willing to give up their mine to a company that promises to bring in strong men to work it, or be left to fend for themselves.
There has been a lot of debate over whether or not this series has lived up to the responsibility of providing its viewers with original feminist characters. Godless certainly doesn’t do much to break the formula of a single outstanding male outlaw with a heart of gold being hunted by an intimidating number of deadly male bandits, but I think the redeeming factors of this show lay in the new characters that it does introduce. It’s so refreshing to watch a Western and see a strong female character like Michelle Dockery’s Alice Fletcher that isn’t the bar mistress (although Tess Frazer’s character, the former prostitute, does at one point joke that Fletcher would do great as a mistress.) The strong female characters don’t end there. The women of La Belle are powerful, diverse, capable, and hilarious. Even the male characters are, for the most part, three dimensional and dynamic. The sheriff’s ginormous ego is threatened by the fact that he’s losing his vision, which throws his arrogance into overdrive and forces him to face his own limitations. The deadly outlaw Frank Griffin has a lot of likable and relatable qualities, and by the end of this series you get a sense that this sociopath may just be force-fed a dose of reality.
Overall this series was wildly entertaining and beautiful. Several shots took my breath away, the story was captivating, and the character’s paths were skillfully interwoven. However, the show could have definitely done more for the topics of feminism and racism that it so casually addresses. The new female archetypes, Native American secondary characters, and retired African American soldiers inhabiting the neighboring town of Blackville were perhaps a weak start, but at least these topics are becoming part of the conversation.
4/5 ominous tumbleweeds