|Emmy winner Merritt Weaver in a still from "Godless"|
Let me start by reassuring you that this post isn't about religion, or the lack of it in modern times. I recently watched and deeply enjoyed the limited streaming series "Godless" on Netflix, set in the late 19th century in the American west, written and directed by Scott Frank. And I want to warn you, if this review leads you to watch the program, please make sure you have the stomach for viewing hundreds of extras (humans and horses) posing as blood-covered corpses, in not one, but three major massacres and a number of smaller ones thrown in. Personally, I have an odd capacity to handle seeing violence in a work of fiction, where I know everyone is an actor and there are cameras and lots of film crew members just out of range, much better than I can watch the television news, or even football. Luckily, I can still tell the difference between real and imagined carnage, but I expect to lose this talent any day now, as my exposure to real (filmed) violence in the actual world increases.
Two of the actors in the series, Jeff Daniels and Merritt Wever, rightly won Emmy awards for their portrayals of a ruthless killer/preacher and a fearless trouser-wearing and gun-toting widow, respectively. A second trouser-wearing, gun-toting widow, brilliantly played by Michelle Dockery, best known for her role as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," was nominated but sadly didn't win. Daniels, the comic star of movies like "Dumb and Dumber," with his rubbery face smiling broadly, spouting cock-eyed religious philosophy, and his eyes completely dead, is beautifully cast against type as the worst kind of sociopath. He is the character who speaks the lines about the world being godless, as he indiscriminately slaughters the vast majority of the people he encounters. Wever and Dockery join forces against him, along with a whole crew of colorful characters, many of them women, people of color (former slaves and Indians), and poor white folks. And (spoiler alert) even though the story is terrifyingly dark, the series closes with a number of happy endings, some of them expected to the point of cliché and some surprising.
What kept me watching, besides the quality of the acting and writing, was the beautiful cinematography and the gorgeous music, composed by the Guatemalan composer Carlos Rafael Rivera. The story unfolds slowly, and touches on many themes relevant to modern times: racism, sexism, the lasting effects of trauma, and most of all, the tyranny and magnetism of insane people in power. If you are prepared to watch a dream world filled with terror, love, redemption, and lots of horses, you'll enjoy "Godless."