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