The midpoint episode of this seven-episode series is a chapter about powerful change. “Fathers & Sons” is packed with a mining accident, a smallpox outbreak, and the devastating flood that killed Alice’s husband. At times, it feels a bit too transitional — the hunting trip and the smallpox house don’t really do enough to deepen the show’s hero and villain or bring them closer together, but the performances and writing are still strong enough to keep it moving. With too much of a reliance on flashbacks and subplots, this is the weakest episode of Godless so far, even if it’s still remarkably watchable.
The episode opens on the day of the La Belle mining accident that took seven dozen lives. Whitey and others are digging through the debris, bringing up an elevator filled with bodies. It’s kind of hard to believe Whitey isn’t more shattered given what he must have seen that day, but that’s forgivable creative license for now. Perhaps his trauma will be a plot point in the future.
Back in the present day, Sheriff Bill McNue undeniably looks like a ghost of what he used to be, as he identifies the body of Marshal John Cook from Santa Fe. He’s pissed at the local law for doing nothing, and seems even more driven to get Frank Griffin, especially after he discovers that one of his outlaws took Cook’s badge.
Of course, that means a cut to the Griffin Gang, who come upon a “sick house,” a place where victims of smallpox are quarantined and cared for until they die. It brings out a surprisingly tender side of Frank Griffin, who seems overwhelmed by the horror of it all. Perhaps he has a smallpox story in his background. Whatever the reason, he decides to stay and help the people there. Remember, Frank also claims to know how he will die, and apparently it ain’t smallpox. He cares for the few barely living souls there, and the twins in the gang dig graves, which we will later see are full. Frank Griffin is a very practical man. These people are dying, and Frank is going to help them on their way to their final resting place.
Mr. Logan, the head of security for the Quicksilver Mining Company, comes on the Buffalo Soldiers near La Belle to offer them a deal. If they keep to themselves, Quicksilver will divert a river to their small town and make it healthier. The catch is that the men can’t team up with the women of La Belle. Quicksilver is already trying to stem off a revolution, buying out the strongest men in the area before the ladies of La Belle can do so.
After a few transitional scenes — Roy wants to take Alice’s son hunting, Mary Agnes sees her girlfriend with another woman — we get another major flashback. This one fills in the background of Alice Fletcher, one of the least developed major character through these first four episodes. We see that a group of violent Native Americans found Alice after the flood that killed her husband. As they tried to rape her, Alice fought back, stabbing as many as she could until Bill McNue came upon her, half-naked and covered in blood. He takes her to a local group of Native Americans, who care and nurse her, and we see a few shots of the man who is likely Alice’s second husband. It’s a well-shot flashback sequence with little dialogue, allowing McNairy and Dockery’s expressive faces to do the acting.
Meanwhile, the reporter who is working to make Frank Griffin a legend and Roy Goode a dead man makes it to La Belle. He’s looking for McNue, as he believes the sheriff has found Roy Goode, but no one else in La Belle knows that the mysterious man out at the Fletcher ranch is so infamous. They tell the journalist that someone is trying to fool him.
While that’s happening, Roy, Alice’s son, and the boy’s mother are going on a hunting trip. It’s the draggiest moment in what is practically the dead-center of this series, although it does produce the striking image of a submerged stagecoach in a rushing river. Death is lurking everywhere, even in the nearby river.
Time for another flashback! This one finally introduces us to Lucy Cole, the woman who cared for Roy Goode as a child. We learn that she was a nun and that Roy’s older brother left him with the woman. But what happened to Roy’s brother?
Back in 1884, Mary Agnes is growing suspicious of the increasing presence of the Quicksilver Mining Company — which has taken over the sheriff’s station — as the women of the town wait on them hand and foot. Mary Agnes takes out her frustration on her girlfriend and then runs into the reporter on her way out of the general store. He’s settling in, seemingly aware that the biggest story of his life is about to unfold in La Belle.
Meanwhile, Whitey is flirting with his violin teacher when the day presents him with a life-changing moment. Actually, two moments. The first comes when she kisses him near a river, and Whitey has such a shocked look on his face that it’s almost definitely the first kiss of his young life. Just as she’s suggesting he take his clothes off — for a bath, of course, nothing more — her father comes upon them. Thank God he didn’t come a few minutes later because he’s furious enough that he whips her on the porch, perhaps knowing that Whitey would see it. The young man pulls a rifle, but Roy comes along at just the right moment, stopping him from murdering the father of the woman he loves. Whitey quickly realizes that Roy is a good man, and that he may have even just saved his life.
In the episode’s final scene, Bill finds himself vulnerable in the middle of a river, surrounded by Frank Griffin and his men. He tries to sell the story that he’s not really following Griffin, but Frank is too smart for that noise. Finally, Bill admits the truth: Yes, he’s a lawman, and he’s coming for Frank. Bill even tells Frank that he wants to kill him, but Frank pulls the card of “knowing his death” again, claiming that it ain’t Bill who does him in. (Anybody want to bet it’s Roy?) Frank Griffin doesn’t kill him. Why? Does he admire Bill’s persistence? He knows Bill won’t be the one to kill him, so he’s not afraid of him. Is he just playing with the local sheriff? Or perhaps he knows that Bill will lead Frank to Roy? Whatever the reason, he leaves him with a “Good luck to you, sir.” Bill’s gonna need it.
• The show usually ends with classical compositions but this one has a song: “Shame” by Lukas Frank featuring Phoebe Bridgers.
• If you’re wondering where you’ve seen Tantoo Cardinal, the actress who plays Truckee’s grandmother, she has appeared in a ton of movies including Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall, and this year’s Wind River.
• For this episode’s Western recommendation, I’m going back to John Ford, and probably not for the last time. Ford has a lot of classics, but one of his most underrated films is 1946’s My Darling Clementine. It’s one of my favorite films of all time.
• The best quotes from this episode: “To women, cards, and whiskey — three war causes in the West,” “The world don’t need another gunfighter,” and “While I admire your ginger, sir, sometimes men want me to kill ’em, so they can die attached to some purpose. Is that what you want? Want me to kill you? Turn you into a bedtime story?”
And my favorite exchange: “I’m just wondering.” “What about?” “What it was took the life out of your face.”