TV review: Godless is the first frontier series to rival Deadwood

Ambitious and sprawling western is one helluva drama

GODLESS (Scott Frank). Some subtitles. Available on Netflix Wednesday (November 22). Rating: NNNN

Scott Frank’s Godless, which premieres this week on Netflix, takes the tropes of every Western and plays them out with proper, epic gravity. 

On paper, it might sound formulaic: a wounded young cowboy, a resourceful widow and a faltering sheriff all find themselves headed toward a violent reckoning with a malevolent outlaw in a struggling mining town in 1880s New Mexico. 

But execution is everything, and Frank – who created and co-wrote the series and directed the whole thing – is anything but a formulaic filmmaker. Godless is ambitious and sprawling, each of its seven episodes running well over an hour in length. And it grabs you right away, establishing a disquieting gravity even before the opening titles.

Frank crafts a hell of a drama, creating complicated characters and setting them in motion against one another. Jeff Daniels is terrific as the monstrous Frank Griffin, who’s already murdered an entire town before the story even begins Jack O’Connell, Scoot McNairy and Michelle Dockery are among a handful of people who stand between Griffin’s gang and the mining town of La Belle, New Mexico, which lost most of its men in a mining disaster two years earlier. 

As the inevitable showdown draws closer and closer, we spend enough time with all parties to understand them as people rather than stereotypes. And the cast gradually expands to give Merritt Wever, Kim Coates, Tantoo Cardinal and Thomas Brodie-Sangster presence and weight. 

It’s the first frontier tale to rival David Milch’s Deadwood in scope and production, if not in longevity. It feels like seven episodes are all we’ll get of this particular story. Which is just fine by me not every Netflix series needs to be extended into infinity, and the eight-plus hours of Godless are plenty satisfying as they are.


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