Godless is a strong show, but this episode will try the patience of even the most hardcore Western fans. If “Shot the Head Off a Snake” could have sprinkled its best moments throughout the rest of the season, “Dear Roy …” could have almost been skipped, and that’s awfully damaging for such a short series. It’s worrying that the two slowest episodes land just as Godless should be building tension to what will still likely be an explosive climax. This is clearly the calm before the storm, but does it have to be so calm?
We open with a crucial turning point in the father-son dynamic between Roy Goode and Frank Griffin: the day that Roy realized his surrogate dad would ignore any sense of morality if it meant he could gain more followers. In this case, it’s the sociopathic twins who were nearly lynched back in Creede. We flashback to the day they joined the Griffin Gang, learning that the twins almost certainly massacred their family, including a baby. Frank takes them into the group, but Roy looks stunned that these monsters could be a part of what he refers to as his family.
Mr. Grigg, the reporter who spotted Roy Goode in the town of La Belle, comes back to craft a special edition of his paper. His assistant asks if Grigg thought to warn them poor folks in La Belle first. It’s a legitimate question that belies Grigg’s genuine lack of decency. He wants a shootout so he can get the story, innocent lives be damned.
In this episode’s most interesting diversion, Mary Agnes McNue meets a man who claims he’s a Pinkerton detective on the hunt for the eccentric, often-naked Mrs. Bischoff. Mary Agnes goes to warn Mrs. Bischoff that her ex-husband is reportedly looking for her, and finds her painting. She notices that one of the paintings depicts her girlfriend, and it now makes sense why she spotted her in apparent infidelity two episodes ago. She wasn’t cheating; she was posing. The Pinkerton man bursts through the door with his gun drawn and finds two women willing to draw on him first. No one lowers. He mentions Mrs. Bischoff’s husband and takes a shot to the leg. We learn that he wasn’t a detective, but someone obsessed with the painter himself. Mary Agnes leaves this odd scene and spots the women building the church in the center of town. She goes to help. Everyone needs to band together in La Belle, even the woman who thinks she’s the toughest one of them all.
While the church is being built, Roy Goode prepares to leave the Fletcher ranch and he finally opens the letter from his brother. We flashback to Roy sitting with Lucy Cole, the woman who raised him. He’s brought her some money, and it’s the day he gets the letter from Jim Goode. Shortly thereafter, he’s with the rest of the gang. This timeline is a little confusing, no? Didn’t it seem like Frank Griffin had never heard of Lucy Cole until they found the note? This flashback implies otherwise, as one of Griffin’s boys takes the letter and tries to open it. Roy pulls a gun on him and then beats another one of the Griffin outlaws nearly unconscious. Most interestingly, he hits him three times after Frank tells him to stop. The look in Frank’s eyes makes it clear he knows that he’s no longer in control of this colt.
Back in 1884, Alice Fletcher and Roy Goode finally get together. First, we learn that Alice’s son Truckee is furious that Roy is leaving the ranch. His outburst makes Roy emotional: He’s finally found something close to a real family, but he can’t stay there. Alice comes in to see him crying, moving to touch and kiss the scar on his neck. He returns the favor by caressing the scar on her chest. It’s a pretty inevitable sex scene, but O’Connell and Dockery are good at selling the intimacy and vulnerability of two characters who often display strength.
The next morning, plaintive music plays as Roy rides off into the horizon. He left his letter there for Alice to read. In it, Jim Goode explains that he left so that his brother could be happy, which is also what Roy is now doing for Alice and her son. And Jim wants Roy to come to Atascadero to be with him. Is that where he’s headed? Or will he go to take care of Frank first? Alice hopes it’s the former.
Roy Goode may be leaving La Belle, but Frank Griffin is just learning about his whereabouts, thanks to the article printed by Grigg. As they ride to the New Mexico town made of mostly women, we get a few beats via montage: The church is going up; Bill is meandering through the plains; Alice is bringing up water from the well; Bischoff is feeding the man who came to find her; Mary Agnes is caring for her kin and reuniting with her girlfriend.
The episode ends with a foreboding flashback to the morning of the mining accident. We see the women of La Belle getting their husbands ready to go to work. Many of the flashbacks of Godless have been sepia-toned or even gray, but this one is sun-drenched and bright. Everyone is unaware of the darkness that is about to fall. As with a lot of beats in this episode and the last, it goes on too long, but the thematic resonance is clear: Everything is about to come crashing down.
• Anyone else feel like Alice Fletcher has been too thin a character? Almost all of her arc these last few episodes have been about watching Roy Goode and seeing his influence on her son and ranch. It’s too bad because Michelle Dockery is doing good work with an underwritten part.
• The score for Godless is really excellent. It’s credited to composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, who previously did the score for another Scott Frank project, the Liam Neeson vehicle A Walk Among the Tombstones.
• The shot of Alice sitting in her doorway to read Roy’s letter reminded me of the iconic final shot of one of my favorite films, so let’s make it this episode’s Western recommendation: The Searchers.
• This episode is light on memorable quotes, but here are a couple of good ones: “Sometimes the folks you love are the folks you hate,” and “Money matters only to the man with a small mind.”