GODLESS – EPISODE SEVEN – HOMECOMING
It’s here! The final episode of GODLESS, in glorious Technicolour and CinemaScope. It’s time for a proper gunfight, a chance to let our heroes be heroes. We’ve mostly seen them broken down, revealed as the living humans they are underneath, but not today. Today the gods walk the earth.
The score is set from the first moments. Thanks to Griggs’ article, the town is fully aware of Roy Goode’s true identity, but he’s gone to California to be with his brother. His return is inevitable, of course. The hero always makes the choice to come back for the final confrontation, and GODLESS wouldn’t disappoint us now. Roy makes a stop in a cemetery, digging up his father – hopefully for the last time, seriously – where inside are his old clothes, his old hat, his old gun, spinning that into its holster. He’s getting up to old tricks. Out in the woods he runs into Bill McNue, but not before coming upon Logan and his crew, whom were in unlawful possession of La Belle’s horses. Logan is shot in the chest, and the rest politely requested to look after the horses until Frank Griffin is sorted out. Bill shows Roy a copy of the newspaper, and he knows his secret is out.
So is Bill’s, too. After a townswoman again refers to him a coward, Mary Agnes says ‘He’s going blind, you dumb quiff,’ permanently cementing her status as La Belle’s premium bantmaster. She gets in another good one after spitting in Griggs’ eye. She says, ‘Now you’re cryin out of both eyes,’ and it’s tops. Really good stuff.
But with Bill still missing, Roy gone, and a gang of outlaws riding south towards them, Mary Agnes corrals the town. They can’t escape without their horses, and with the outlaws coming in fast their only option is to defend the town, stacking up in the Hotel La Belle with all the guns they can find. While Mary secures the town, Whitey rides out to Blackdom to ask the Buffalo soldiers for help. The former soldiers seem willing to help Whitey. He comes to them as a man, serious, straightforward, and though he’s dating their leaders’ daughter John Randall seems willing to help.
Until Frank Griffin knocks on the door. There’s a tense sequence across the dinner table that ends in an explosion of gunfire. Frank and the Devlin twins murder everyone inside, while outside the rest of Frank’s band mops up the townsfolk. Whitey steals in just in time to save his girlfriend. He heads back to La Belle as fast as he can.
The storm’s almost here. There are notes of transformation at work, underscoring the momentum and giving us bigger stakes, bigger expectations. Roy chooses to rescue Alice’s horses, a reversal of the act which cemented him as one of Frank’s outlaws. All Alice has wanted all season is to fix up her ranch for sale, but on the eve of Frank’s arrival she chooses to stay. Whitey kills a man. Bill, too, is beginning to be redeemed in the eyes of the people.
Now that Roy and Bill are reunited, the Shoshone Indian is only seen once more, disappearing over a rise framed by a swirl of pale pink cloud. He is, or was, known also to Roy. Roy saw him die trying to cross a river after it turned out he couldn’t swim. A foolhardy effort of pride, like a blind man going looking for a gunfight.
The wind gusts. Ilyovi feels it, says it’s coming. It’s morning of the next day, and Frank’s gang rides out early for La Belle. Their passage raises a cloud of dust visible over the horizon. In closer shots the sun diffuses through it, near and hot, and all you can hear is horses neighing in the distance, old windmills creaking, and faint thundering hooves rising in volume until Frank Griffin’s gang finally comes clattering into the town’s main square.
As they come in past the sheriff’s office Whitey, poor ol Whitey, he steps outside into the light of the sun through a thick screen of dust, drawin both his big dumb pistols, and someone throws a fucking knife into his chest. He’s dead. It’s a big sucky moment type thing, and it’s made even worse, because nobody notices. Nobody. He didn’t even get to die like a hero. Whitey just got straight up murked.
It’s here where Scott Frank draws the boundary between the real and the fiction, the men and the gods. Frank’s gang rampages through the town, slaying everyone they come across. Their indiscriminate carnage has them hurling firebombs into buildings and firing into the Hotel La Belle, charging on horseback through its windows and raging up the stairs, cutting down anyone in their path. One of the Devlins almost gets Alice, but Mary shoots him off the top of the saloon. Another on horseback crashes out a second floor window to land in the blazing wreckage of a building below.
Then Roy turns up! In the middle of a lull in the battle he and Bill stride in from opposite directions. They’ve got Frank and his gang in a clinch. No worries on being late, boys. The girls got most of them already. In the silence Bill comes into the middle of the street, eyeing off Frank’s silhouette in the dust storm, his own shadow cutting long behind him. These are the figures of the western made into gods, completely separate from the men beneath them. We are not watching people anymore, we are watching the ideas they stand for, justice, righteousness, humanity, and a distinctly firm desire to protect those who can’t defend themselves. We are watching people transcend. It’s this spirit that made westerns so popular in the first place, and what still makes them so iconic today. The moment is brief. Roy fires. His bullet misses, catching an outlaw passing between he and Frank. More gunfire erupts from both sides. Dust and smoke swirl the choking, blinding haze clear. The battle is over. Wind howls. Riderless horses run hysterical around the square.
Frank flees into the woods. Roy goes after, coming across Frank powerless, alone, the bare fact of his empty humanity laid bare. They walk into a field of daisies in a clearing in the middle of the forest. Roy and Frank get their HIGH NOON moment. Frank smirks as he draws, and if no other moment proved to you his villainry, that one should. Roy is the victor. Frank thought he had seen his death. Roy tells him, ‘You seen wrong.’
Then BAM puts another bullet in his head.
A bee lands on Frank’s forehead and flies away. Chaos serves noone.
It’s the funeral for Whitey Winn. Bill says some things about bravery, and admits he never knew Whitey well enough. Mary does, but can’t manage it. Then, finally, right in the nick of time, the town’s new pastor finally arrives. He makes some points about it being a human thing to love what death has touched. Mary, I suppose, has found that maternal instinct, found what she had lost, reclaimed her humanity through accepting sorrow. And that’s kinda beautiful.
Roy says some nice goodbyes to Alice and rides off into the sunset. He can’t stay. It’s up to men like Bill, who really aren’t good at being the lone hero type, to look after things. Roy might be a good father, a good protector to these people, but he isn’t part of their landscape. He passes through like the storm. Fundamentally, the classic western cowboy’s path is always to find their own way, whether there’s a destination at the end of it or not. GODLESS is the type of show to say they might not wander forever. They’re human, after all, just like the rest of us.
Good well that was GODLESS didya have fun? I did. Fuck this was a lot of words— Mitch, 12:02 pm, July 6, 2018
GODLESS – EPISODES FIVE AND SIX (LEGIT SUPER REVIEW)
I feel like episodes five and six could have been one episode. It’s as though they were written that way, and later broken in half to fit production demands. Episode five, Shot the Head off a Snake, is fifty minutes long, while episode six, Dear Roy, is only forty-odd. Most episodes so far have run well over an hour, and even these short episodes are padded. What they’re padded with, though, is a beautiful collection of shots, showcasing some of the show’s best cinematography set to a musical score that pays homage to some of the genre’s greatest composers. They’re still padded, but if westerns are for anyone, they’re for the patient. Some of my favourite westerns are over three hours long.
So this article’s going to cover both episodes, which could both have easily been dismissed if all we were paying attention to was the story. We’re not far from the end, and GODLESS has taken some fairly circuitous routes winding its way home. Bill, for example, has done nothing but wander around in the middle of nowhere since episode two. Through both of these episodes he’s still wandering around, and still failing to do anything that might help get Frank Griffin. Even the Shoshone Indian is questioning the futility of his quest, suggesting it’s only pride keeping him going.
Any goodwill we might have felt towards Frank Griffin is undone in the show’s opening sequence, where he’s teaching a young Roy how to break a horse, but it’s the same way he goes about being a father, and that’s weird as hell. Over the course of these two episodes we learn the events leading up to Roy’s departure from the gang. It happens when Frank takes on two orphaned twins who almost definitely murdered his whole family. They’re the type to say nice things like “In the absence of god it is up to men like us to make the important decisions” and kill babies. Roy realises Frank’s true purpose is power, and all his talk of family is rhetoric. His downward spiral leads him to rebury his father’s corpse and wear his clothes. It’s apparent he can no longer stay at Alice’s ranch now the work is done, so everyone has feelings.
Along with a series of flashbacks, Roy comes to reveal his full history to Alice once they’re finished putting the ranch back together. Shots of them building the fence and digging the well do little but show off the scenery, letting Carlos Rafael Rivera’s enormous score play out over the plains, filling them with long draws on cello strings and light piano. Westerns have always had a distinct sound. Great directors work with their composers, and in the case of GODLESS Scott Frank would send Rivera copies of the screenplay before filming to produce scores based on that, working together to set the tone of the writing. The cinematography too, provided by Steven Meizler, really came out in these episodes through a series of vignettes. Accompanied by the musical score both episodes are just bam bam bam shot after shot of expressive characters and gorgeous scenery that by the end of the second episode are completely without dialogue, telling story with nothing but these two elements alone.
It’s a lot like how Sergio Leone’s westerns all work. He directed THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY (1966). You’ve probably at some point seen that movie, but if you haven’t, go do it, it’s great, and so are the rest, like A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), the first two in that trilogy. Leone worked with one of the greatest movie composers of all time, Ennio Morricone, on most of his movies. Together they understood that the sound of a western is as inseparable from every other part, from the themes, to the characters and even the landscape, in ways that other genres aren’t. Many of the best western directors understood this too, from John Sturges to John Ford. Leone’s westerns particularly all focus too on the sounds of the landscape, natural diegetic ones like flies buzzing, trains whistling, that sort of thing, to develop their characteristic tone. I’ve mentioned before the thunder rumbling in this series, and it features prominently in these episodes. Anyway, Morricone crafted these epic, sweeping compositions over Leone’s works, going as far as giving each character their own theme, and together they drove it all with music and imagery towards these grand, dramatic climaxes, including some of the most famous scenes from movie history, like this one, which is probably the moment pinpointed where I decided westerns were gonna be my thing from now on. This same approach to storytelling is used in GODLESS, as you can imagine from a series headed by a director hellbent on doing nothing but shamelessly showing off everything the genre has to offer.
I really don’t have much else to say. There’s a bunch of good, sly jokes, which also reminded me of that Leone movie. Some other stuff that happens: Mary Agnes tells all the townspeople ‘fuck y’all’ and gets back together with Callie, Roy reads the letter from his long-lost brother, Frank finds out Roy’s in La Belle, Alice continues stealing every scene she’s in, and the townswomen join together to raise a cross over the church. The preacher’s coming to town, but Frank’s the only person we’ve seen yet with the white collar.
Everything’s about tied up before the final episode, so I’ll seeya next week alright alright— Mitch, 1:14 pm, June 28, 2018
GODLESS – EPISODE FOUR – FATHERS AND SONS
If the last few episodes have torn down what we believed about westerns, this episode right in the middle of the series is where it starts putting it back together. In this episode, Roy’s fatherhood arc reaches its zenith when he takes Truckee hunting, Bill comes face to face with Frank Griffin, and Whitey gets in trouble with the wrong girl’s dad.
But what this episode really does well is talk about a long and rich history of fatherhood in westerns. It’s also where GODLESS starts to move away from taking literally everything from 1953’s SHANE, and starts to properly deal with another central idea of the western genre – what constitutes masculinity. From RED RIVER’s subverted homoeroticism to HONDO’s stress on ‘50s gender roles and HIGH NOON’s oedipal complexes, GODLESS entirely seeks to distance itself from old fashioned critique and show us instead something else.
We’re shown a lot of dudes in this episode. It opens on a flashback to the mine collapse, when all the good strong dudes died. We’re then shown John Cook, dead, with Bill there to identify him. None of the town of Olegrande stood up to Frank, and they even let him take the Marshall’s badge. Bill flies into a rage. He’s not looking too good. His hair’s a mess, his spectacles are broken, and he’s always shown in this episode either scrabbling through the dirt or standing knee-deep in muddy water. His lone, stubborn pursuit of Frank Griffin is getting desperate. Some hero, right?
Much of this episode takes us on a tour of La Belle’s male population. There’s A.T. Griggs, the weepy-eyed journalist who has just arrived. Once he finds out there’s no men in La Belle he puts his best hat on and goes out, but he’s useless. The dude literally can’t get laid in a town full of women. There are the old men, who weren’t able to work the mine when it collapsed, so they’re pretty well disregarded. In the western, a man’s worth directly relates to his physical ability. I’ve mentioned this before with Bill’s spectacles. There’s also Whitey, but he’s too young to be an effective man. Finally, we’ve got Roy Goode. He takes Truckee out hunting with Ilyovi. He plays a softer role when it comes to the act of hunting, seeking instead to coach on technique. Where Ilyovi looks at Truckee with disdain when he chokes on his first shot, Roy pats the boy on the shoulder and provides encouragement. He’s turning out to be the only decent father in the show, but wait. Who raised him?
Frank Griffin did! Frank spends the whole episode doing the right thing by a sickhouse full of people dying of smallpox. He helps the young caretaker bury the dead and take care of the sick. Every moment you’re waiting on him to rape or shoot someone, but he doesn’t. He does what he can without fear of catching the smallpox and performs some genuinely kind acts. The irony of Frank’s character is it’s his complete and solid belief in the world being a terrible, chaotic one that drives him to be a good sort of steward for the people around him. He leads a band of thirty desperadoes from broken homes, after all. They follow him for a reason. It’s just a shame he’s also batshit insane. The scene transitions to Alice’s ranch with a roll of thunder. Roy says the storm’s a northerner. It’s getting closer. The show’s reminding us where it’s headed.
Near the end of the episode, Bill McNue’s trying to wash himself in a river when Frank and his band ride up to him. Bill is perhaps at his most vulnerable here. The shot of Bill squinting up at Frank on his horse while he stands to his knees in the river is every bit as pathetic as it seems. He can’t even run away. Each part of this scene is constructed to make Bill look weak, but Frank sees right through it. He sees the noble sheriff that rescued Alice, the hard man buried beneath his shattered exterior, and asks what took the life out of his face. Damn man, leave him alone. He refuses to kill Bill, instead letting him go, with the hope maybe Bill can get his shit together and actually have a proper go at him, because dude, ya bitch.
My last point is on how the void of masculinity is filled now in the absence of old oedipal values broken apart by GODLESS’s thoroughly human ministrations. I’ll start by saying my only issue with this episode is Alice’s writing. She doesn’t quite get enough credit for saving herself from the Indians, and nor does she play much more than a standard western maternal role in this episode. Ilyovi kills it but. The real winner here is Mary Agnes, whose relationship with Whitey continues to develop. As modern society leans away from traditional family structures, single mothers can and do make excellent fathers for their sons. It’s often women who fill the void building strong dudes nowadays, and GODLESS recognises that. That’s not to say actual fathers are useless. Roy’s there to stop Whitey from shooting John Randall when Whitey sees him beating his daughter, whom Whitey’s keen on. Fundamentally, it’s cooperation. That’s what keeps everything together, and that’s what GODLESS is all about.
That’s why I love westerns. The genre just never gives up. Instead it changes, it evolves. There’s always something new to say. It’s growth we don’t see in other genres, because like I keep saying, westerns are the most human genre. They allow stories with an incredible versatility you can apply to any other genre. There’s a strong argument that westerns don’t even need to take place in the old west. THE MATRIX, for instance, is a western, and so is DIE HARD. One of the greatest westerns is Akira Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI, which was reworked by John Sturges into THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (another sick one). Y’all thought I was joking when I mentioned ALI G INDAHOUSE.
Aight hoiya have a good week— Mitch, 2:14 am, June 19, 2018
‘Where are you, Roy? We’re not…’ Sall swung the hammer up to his shoulder. Pain lanced through his side. ‘Finished!’
All around was the crumbling roar of burning timber and the hiss of steam as the blaze collapsed into the sea. He stumbled back the way he had come, back towards the long gun, trying to find a way out of the smoke.— Mitch, 1:15 am, June 14, 2018
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