GODLESS – EPISODE TWO – THE LADIES OF LA BELLE

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Hello again! Let’s get into it. This piece’ll be about the conflict between wilderness and civilisation. Once we start to pick apart the storylines you’ll see that’s really all this episode is about. It’s focused around the town of La Belle, the women who run it, and the mining company who seeks to purchase it. Alice makes a strong move to help her family, and Bill goes off after the villain, Frank Griffin, who delivers a lengthy monologue on some of his own overarching personal themes and at the same time a commentary on modern day America. It’s a two-for-one deal!

The Quicksilver Mining Company has arrived to make an offer on the town. It’s run by the smarmy and condescending J.J. Valentine. He presents himself as different from your standard cigar-chomping mining tycoon, as a more refined character, possessing interest in poetry, high fashion and smarmy condescension. The townswomen titter at word of his arrival, as they are at news of basically any man coming to the town, but Mary Agnes is less than impressed. She doesn’t even put on a dress! It’s also where we meet Logan, Valentine’s head of security, a burly moustachioed man who’s basically Wolverine from Scott Frank’s other thing. Mary sticks to her guns while Valentine gets all sexist about bringing men into the town, because she’s not going to be any good at business. It’s cheesy when he promises “money and men” in exchange for the silver mine. Despite Mary’s stern protest they take the deal. Mary’s speech, where she’s determined to hold onto the town her, her husband, and all the other women in the town built drives home the very human need to have something stable of your own beneath your feet. Westerns are among the best genres for expressing this idea. So is 2002’s ALI G INDAHOUSE.

There’s also a good bit where the town whore explains to Valentine how she became the schoolteacher. It’s a quick example of the jag between Valentine and La Belle’s respective worlds.

Bill is shown up in a shootout by his young deputy Whitey Wynn. I like Whitey. He reminds me of the character I wrote in ROLLING SIXES. He’s all about making a name for himself and doing the thing where you twirl guns around your fingers. He’s a big dumb kid and that’s great. His whole story throughout GODLESS is pretty sick, without spoiling anything yet. Anyway, so Bill decides he needs to do something to prove himself before he goes completely blind. Roy Goode handed himself in to Bill at the end of the last episode, so you can imagine what he comes up with. Later in the episode a man sells him some spectacles, and his quest for redemption takes a small step forward.

Alice, after failing to break any of the thirty wild horses she owns, loses them all. Truckee is no help, he’s afraid of them. Bill eventually rounds them up before heading off after Frank, but it’s not enough. Alice rides into town and holds Whitey at gunpoint until he releases Roy Goode. It’s another example of the way GODLESS comments on traditional western masculinity. Women holding guns in westerns are traditionally reacting with hysteria, not reason. In this instance Alice seems perfectly reasonable, but simply not in the mood to take no for an answer. She takes Roy back to her ranch and they work out a deal. He’ll break the horses, and she’ll teach him how to read. With the horses, her ranch’s future is a little brighter. She can stick out in her piece of the wilderness with her native Indian son and his native Indian grandmother for a bit longer.

Alright, so, finally, Frank Griffin comes across a Dutch immigrant wagon train travelling west to find a new home. He sits down with them and recounts the story of how he came to the west as a child, also by wagon train, when there was an attack by bandits claiming to be Christians. Everyone was murdered, raped, or both, and Frank was taken by the outlaw leader. The key factor here is that they all claimed to be religious men – remember the name of the show? So we understand where Frank comes from. He was raised by the bandit leader, an even stronger cultlike figure than himself, and a whore who claimed to be a nun. There are different ways westerns play religious themes. Traditionally it was an aspect of civilisation men brought to the west. Later, in movies like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER discussion of religious themes were more revisionist, bloody, and rooted in discussions of duality, the nature of man, etc. Does it make sense that GODLESS might also seek to tear down, to subvert, the mythos of the old west? There’s an excellent Atlantic article that goes into GODLESS’ approach to myth in greater detail.

The episode ends on Frank Griffin unloading the final oeuvre of his monologue. He’s all about the wilderness. He trusts no god but the chaos of the land. “This here’s the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake,” he says. “It’s the land of the bleeding and the wrathful. It’s godless country. And the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you all are gonna live.” In its last moments he finds a swarm of bumblebees has claimed his severed arm, and as he unrolls its wrappings finds a finger on the hand pointed towards La Belle. That’s the sort of thing he trusts.

The next episode gets mystical. It’s a lot of fun. Seeya there next week.

-Mitch

Mitch

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