You know that part in Wonder Woman where Steve Trevor mansplains to Diana that she can’t just prance out onto the front in her Amazon Warrior suit because it’s No Man’s Land as in “no man can cross it!” And she just looks at him and you’re wondering why he doesn’t get that the whole magic of that line is that She Is No Man?
Godless, Netflix’s amazeballs seven-part Western, takes place in the No Man’s Land of La Belle, New Mexico. Most of the town’s men have died in a catastrophic accident, and that’s pretty much OK with the ladies. Now, I need to digress for a moment and say that in times when gun violence is an especially freighted issue, there’s probably at least a master’s thesis to be had from a revival of the Western genre. There, I’ve got that on the record. Now: This show is the dictionary definition of “bingeable.”
We open on a rider approaching a deserted town. Alice (Michelle Dockery, in an ass-kicking and name-taking performance) warns the man to stop. He doesn’t. She shoots.
There’s a dun landscape littered with bodies—the work of a thief and murderer named Frank Griffin (an almost gleefully evil Jeff Daniels). Griffin’s minus an arm and some serious loot, courtesy of his former, uh, partner in crime, Roy Goode, who is the man Alice shot and is now nursing back to health. You can probably see where this is going, because it is after all a Western. You might also find it goes some places where Westerns usually don’t hang their shingle.
But I’ll spare you the plot and just say this seven-hour movie (which is what it essentially is) has a great cast (Wow, Merritt Wever! Just wow is all), including Sam Waterston, Kim Coates and Scott McNairy, and, as in many of the best Westerns, one of the principle characters is the landscape itself. This is one lavishly and beautifully shot vision of 1880s Santa Fe. I mean gorgeous. I mean like Howard Hawks would watch it and go “Yup.” If you love Westerns, this is definitely one to try. If you don’t, check it out anyway; it’s very likely to seduce you.
So, if there’s a drawback, it’s that the seven-hour format takes something in exchange for what it gives. When you make a feature film (which this was originally meant to be), you are generally constrained by a time limit. That generally forces directors to make tough decisions in the service of economy, conciseness, and getting to the marrow of something instead of meandering all over the place. This format doesn’t make that demand and the story does suffer from a mild case of Self-Indulgent Because I Can Be disease. It’s sort of like a Harry Potter novel that way: You could easily edit 100 pages out of it without losing a thing, but because you know it’s going to sell a kabillion copies regardless, why bother? This script has a bit of that. It rambles needlessly in places. But you’ll buy it regardless.
Godless premieres Wednesday, Nov. 22 on Netflix.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.