The Netflix original series, Godless, is set during the 1880's in a small Western town called La Belle. It is binge-worthy and strikingly satisfying due to the unique dynamics at play. While maintaining Western film styles—the good guy, the bad guy, a train wreck, a shoot out, a town saloon and a prostitute, etc.—nothing about it felt cliché or overdone.
In a recent interview with NPR, director Scott Frank reveals his conflicting desire to write a Western but dreading that nobody would want to watch it. He works with researcher Mimi Munson who recommends 20 western novels for him to read. Frank previously adapted Elmore Leonard stories into films and captures the snappy dialogue of Leonard's style.
The town of La Belle has a New Mexico landscape resembling the name of the show where a skeleton of the beginnings of a chapel are seen of which the preacher is still absent. Oh, and the it is ran entirely by women. Why? Nearly all the men were killed in a mining accident.
Widow Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) lives with her son Truckee and her Paiute mother-in-law, Iyovi (Tantoo Cardinal). Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell) shows up on her ranch wounded and on the run from former boss, Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). After shooting him in the neck, an effort to scare him more than kill him, Fletcher and Goode form a deal—she will let him stay if he'll break her herd of horses.
Frank Griffin wears a preacher collar and mercilessly murders people on his mission to find Roy, who betrayed him. His arm is amputated—the goriness is left off-screen with only his sharp cries to be heard—and he carries the arm with him, an unsettling yet humorous detail. Why is he so attached to this arm?
The aging sheriff, Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy), is hiding the onset of blindness and tries to hunt down Frank Griffin to prove his worth.
The editor of the Santa Fe Review, A.T. Grigg (Jeremy Bobb) is obsessed with covering Griffin's gang and gets himself in trouble when Griffin and the gang enter his home one night.
There are several characters that escape the usual types in Western films. Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is a deputy and in love with a colored girl from the neighboring town. Interracial couples are rarely present in Westerns. Mary Agnes McNue (Merritt Wever) is the widow of the late mayor and dresses in men's clothing. Her lover is Callie Dunne (Tess Frazer), a former prostitute now teaching school.
The preacher finally shows up in the last scene, and I will give nothing more away other than saying he reads a poem by Yehuda HaLevi (1075 – 1141).
‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.
You can find the full interview here on NPR.