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