Warning: Spoilers ahead for Godless season 1
While watching Netflix’s Godless, it’s easy to accuse the Western of being a bit slow. Certain episodes go for well-over an hour long, coming very close to the length of a film rather than a single instalment of television. The limited series’ finale, “Homecoming,” is one of those episodes, with its 80-minute runtime. Yet, the action-heavy closer never feels bogged down, since it’s always moving onto the next twist, the next showdown, the next shoot-out. That why, considering just how meditative Godless can be, the final resolution between kindly outlaw dreamboat Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), his murderous father-figure Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), his love interest Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), and the rest of the ladies of La Belle feels rushed. That’s why “Homecoming” deserves a deep dive of its very own.
The biggest lingering question mark of the finale arrives when Roy and and Frank finally come face-to-face, now that La Belle has been burned to the ground and Frank’s entire posse taken out. In a jarringly idyllic field, an amputated Frank goes shirtless to have one last shoot-out with his adopted “son,” Roy. The younger gunslinger shoots his mentor right through the chest and Frank reels backward, falling to his knees. “No, I’ve seen my death. This ain’t it,” he says, very clearly dying. Just to make sure Frank knows this actually is it, Roy strides over, holds a pistol to his head, and says, “You seen wrong.” Then, Roy pulls the trigger, killing Frank once and for all after seven episodes of buildup.
If Frank’s entire “This ain’t my death” speech was only pulled out for his final words, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Anyone would want to convince themselves they weren’t about to die at the hands of some they loved (albeit in the most twisted, bloody manner), on their knees, in a field? But, in Godless reality, Frank said that phrase multiple times throughout the series and throughout his life.
The most important times the mantra comes up can seen in “Shot The Head Off A Snake,” when Frank first meets a young Roy (Griffin Kane), who immediately points a gun in the older man’s face. In the most assured of tones, Frank says, “You ain’t gonna shoot me. Not now, or ever. That ain’t how I’m gonna go … Me, I’ve seen [my death]. I know exactly how it’s gonna happen.” Yet, we now know, a gunshot wound from Roy is precisely how Frank is going to go — it would merely be another decade or so before the gunslinger fired that fatal bullet. So, this means Frank isn’t some Western oracle who has foretold his own death.
Rather, Frank created the myth of knowing his own end as a way to crush all doubts within himself and within those around him. After all, if a man can convince the world the most deadly of situations won’t end in fatalities, wouldn’t his posse follow him anywhere? Even into a house filled with people already dying from smallpox, as we see in “Fathers & Sons?” Frank talks everyone into supporting this obviously terrible, though surprisingly kind, scheme by promising pox and leprosy definitely isn’t how he’s going to go out. Now, since we know Frank’s entire alleged prophecy is a lie, it’s evident he 100% could have caught the highly contagious disease and spread it to his followers. I wouldn’t even say Frank’s much-mythologized destiny was a con, since it seems Frank bought into the idea as well.
The idea of destiny plays into the final minutes of Godless as Roy’s story also wraps up. In a move that evokes classic 1953 Western Shane, the young boy sweetly obsessed with Roy, Alice’s son Truckee (Samuel Marty), realises his hero was also shot in the duel once Frank is dead. But, Roy doesn’t die and does as Shane (Alan Ladd) would do. Instead, he rides away from the town he saved as the people he’s grown to love watch. Like America’s own manifest destiny, now that Roy has won the Wild West, he must finally head to the promised land of California, as he planned to do so many years ago. We close the series on Roy taking in the views of the Pacific Ocean, because, that’s what the Western’s idealised version of a man is: the kind of guy who saves a town, grows a beard, and fights his way to the so-called edge of the world.
If you’ve noticed a problem here, that’s because there is one. While La Belle is filled with women, as we’ve pointed out, the driving force here is men and their stories. For the women of the Netflix drama, life is a consistent reaction to the whims of the savages and saints around them. Towards the end of “Homecoming,” we learn Roy left love interest Alice a fortune and a thank-you note under her fence post. That’s the last we see of her, so, who knows if she’ll stay in town, head back home to Boston, or buy up all of La Belle now that she’s a wealthy woman. Godless suggests that doesn’t exactly matter since Alice’s handsome ranch hand rode out of her life for good.
The final shot of a series will usually tell you who the show belongs to, and Godless was always The Story Of Roy Goode.
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