The second episode of Godless brings into focus what this show will be: a slow-burning buildup to a showdown between Frank Griffin and his gang, Roy Goode, and the women of La Belle. It isn’t as consistently impressive as the premiere, but this episode works well to deepen the characters and offers some character-building time for the great Merritt Wever. After two episodes, Godless is a show on the verge of being truly great.
“The Ladies of La Belle” opens with the arrival of the Quicksilver Limited Mining Company, led by the smarmy Mr. Valentine, accompanied by a sinister-looking new Head of Security named Ed Logan, played by the excellent Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy fame. Later in the episode, Valentine meets with Mary Agnes over a dinner discussion about what will happen to the La Belle mine. Valentine plays gender politics immediately, using fear (“A town full of ladies — it’s ripe fruit for the wicked”) and bullying to get his way (constantly calling Mary Agnes “Mrs. McNue” even after she tells him she returned to her maiden name). He claims Quicksilver can make the town whole again, but they want 100 percent of the claim for their materials and manpower. Mary Agnes tries to refuse, but the rest of the women in town go along with this shady deal, taking the safety of the Quicksilver money and protection.
Meanwhile, the Griffin Gang is getting even more notorious. A regional newspaper prints a story that Frank doesn’t particularly like, leading him to the home of the reporter who wrote it, A.T. Grigg. He wants the reporter to write a story about Griffin that helps enhance his legend and makes his vengeance clear. As he says, “I want you to write that Roy Goode betrayed me and that I will kill anyone who harbors him.”
Before Griffin can get to La Belle, Sheriff Bill McNue is dreaming about his wife. He hears a gunshot, and finds a couple of dummies in the center of town. It’s here we meet Deputy Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who shoots one of the troublemakers in the arm and tells ’em to get. We also get a solid scene between Roy, now in a jail cell, and Bill. Roy can tell that Bill is losing his sight, and it’s confirmed that Bill’s wife died in childbirth. They discuss turning the table and trying to track Frank before he gets to La Belle.
While Alice Fletcher struggles to manage her horses with Roy gone, Bill comes looking for his sister, finding an undressed woman in her house. It turns out that Mary Agnes McNue is in a lesbian relationship with the town teacher, which leads Bill to question whether or not his sister can watch her niece and nephew because she’s “not maternal no more.” He tells her that Roy and Whitey are going to meet up with Marshal Cook and go after Frank. And then Bill goes and says good-bye to Alice in a way that suggests he doesn’t think he’s coming back.
Meanwhile, the evil depths of the Griffin Gang sink even deeper after they come across a foreign family around a campfire. As Frank malevolently hugs a child, he tells us a little bit about his background, and, by extension, Roy’s. We learn that a man kidnapped Frank after killing his family, raising him by the “stick and gun and knife.” Frank is so damaged that he considers this a greater form of love, which he also bestowed upon Roy: “He’s my son. I chose him. That is a more powerful bond and a more powerful love than being born into it.” Not only did Roy Goode take Frank’s money, not only did he betray his gang, but Frank sees this as a son stabbing his own father in the back. He forces the men to choose which of their wives he will sleep with that night, and wakes the next morning to castigate them for not fighting harder to protect their women and children. He’s a vicious lunatic, the kind of man who will force you into submission and then yell at you for submitting.
As Bill Griffin heads out of town, Alice Fletcher arrives to break Roy Goode out of jail. She holds up Deputy Whitey at gunpoint, making him trade places with his prisoner. Roy is here to stay, Alive says, and he’s going to help her break the horses. She’ll teach him how to read in exchange. And, just guessing here, a romance will likely bloom between them. But don’t forget that Bill has some feelings about Alice too. There could be an Old West love triangle forming if Bill McNue ever makes it back to La Belle.
Bill arrives in a café with coffee strong enough to float an egg. A man offers the sheriff some glasses to help with his vision for the rock-bottom price of twenty-five cents. He then tells Bill a story about a man leading a group of men who spoke of going home to a place called Bald Knob. He sends a telegraph to Cook that they have “RG” in custody and will meet up with him soon. Meanwhile, Frank Griffin finds an unusual sight: the nearly biblical vision of a swarm of bees that seem to have infested his dead arm, which is now pointing to a nearby town. Is Mother Nature or something more insidious guiding the Griffin Gang to Roy Goode?
• The fantastic cinematography on this show is courtesy of Steven Meizler, who worked with producer Steven Soderbergh on The Girlfriend Experience.
• While we’re on tech elements, the costume design is excellent here: Compare the outfits of the well-off men of the Quicksilver Mining Company with the worn duds of the Griffin Gang or the robe of the reporter. Costumes say something about the status of each character.
• My Western recommendation for this episode: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a film that gave us a famous quote that feels like it inspired Scott Frank here: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
• A great exchange between Bill and a waitress: “I’ll have whatever’s good.” “Nothing’s good.”
• Even more great quotes: “Albert’s dead. There’s no reason for me to keep carrying his name around like a bucket of water,” “Eventually all of us gonna find the dirt one way or another,” “You’re gonna give me immortality, and I’m gonna let you live longer than you might have,” and “Same God that made you and me also made the rattlesnake. That don’t make no sense.”