First Impressions: Netflix’s Godless (USA, 2017) stands out with female gunslingers shining in a man’s world

Netflix always has a new television series lined up for our binge needs and Netflix’s Original Western Drama Godless will entice Western fans and newcomers alike.

Godless’ first episode is a slow burn with a lot to digest but it successfully sets up its dusty Western world, hooking you in with mysterious characters.

The premiere An Incident at Creede is set in 1884 and the ominous opening scene (which is later revealed as the aftermath of ‘the incident’) sets the tone for the series – no one is safe and death is a threat to everyone, even children and newborns.

Injured outlaw Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) stumbles across private property and seeks refuge at Alice Fletcher’s (Michelle Dockery) home, bringing destruction along with him. Alice is unfazed, especially since she shot him upon his arrival.

Female characters in Westerns are often characterised as damsels in distress who waits for the cowboy-hat-wearing hero to save them and the day. Not the women living in La Belle, a town populated by women – they’re not afraid to pick up the slack and the rifle.

In the episode’s funniest and most self-aware moment, Godless immediately subverts previous female expectations. An underused Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever) asserts her authority when she apparently looks “ridiculous” wearing her dead husband’s masculine britches, hat and rigs; “You ever worn a dress, Bill? …Well, you ought to, you oughta right now, put on a dress. Put on a damn corset while you’re at it.” These assertive female characters are stand outs, proving that confident women have a place in male-dominated Westerns.

In true Western fashion, anti-heroes and unsympathetic villains are still intact. La Belle’s new Marshall John Cook (Sam Waterson) is searching for the murderous Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) after the massacre at the town Creede, Colorado. Daniels is brilliant as the menacing Griffin who is determined on tracking down Goode after he stole $50,000 from the Creede train robbery.

Written and directed by Scott Frank, Frank’s attention to detail is exquisite. Close up shots of bell tolls and nooses immediately settles us into a tomblike environment. However, Frank’s directorial excellence shines in the Creede flashback. The much-needed exposition that details ‘the incident’ – a train robbery, Goode’s betrayal and the Creede slaughter – is beautifully shot, illustrating the unrelenting brutality of Griffin’s crimes. The final touches of shades of fire and smears of blood highlighted against the bleak backdrop signifies the series’ ambitiousness.

The performances are outstanding from the ensemble cast, particularly Dockery as Alice, the headstrong widow and single mother. An alleged “dark influence”, Alice’s backstory is as ambiguous and intriguing as the outlaw living in her barn.

With the episode left on a cliff-hanger and Griffin’s impending arrival in La Belle, Marshall Cook solemnly says, “God help you folks.”

For the rest of the series, hopefully Godless will raise the stakes and explore the possible brewing love triangle between Goode, Sheriff Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy) and Alice. With the least amount of screen time this episode, the knockout Mary will surely be more fleshed out in the subsequent episodes. Most importantly, the fractured relationship between Goode and Griffin may end in bloodshed, with La Belle paying the consequences.

With six episodes remaining, lovers of good ole’ Westerns and well-written dramas will be captivated by Godless.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Limited series Godless is now streaming on Netflix.