It feels like Westerns have have been around since the dawn of the film camera. That’s why it feels nearly impossible to shake-up the genre, which I grew up watching thanks to my father, who is absolutely obsessed with throwback-ish style. And, yet, Netflix’s new series Godless manages to do just that by giving us a story where the women outnumber the men in a landslide in the central town of La Belle. While this fact is admirable, even the most feminist viewers are likely to wonder, “...Where did all the men go?” Did Wonder Woman’s Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) show up in 1800s New Mexico to craft each of the ladies of Godless’ dusty burg from the ample amount of sand lying around? Unfortunately, no. Instead, the answer is much more tragic, creepy, and mine-related.
In premiere episode “An Incident In Creede,” we slowly come to realize the town of La Belle isn’t simply filled with women, it’s filled with widows. We meet three of them throughout the opening: the reclusive Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), the newly more masculine Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), and perpetually worried single mom Sadie Rose (Kayli Carter). The latter two residents, along with the rest of La Belle’s women, all lost their husbands in a single massive mining accident. While that fact is obviously a major driving factor of Godless, viewers don’t actually learn this details of what occurred until about 58-minute mark of the series opener — and it’s during a conversation fans might not even be paying very close attention to.
We get this essential information when U.S. Marshall John Cook (Sam Waterston), who’s not from around these parts, strides into the La Belle watering hole. Bar keep Barney Mutz (Michael Earl Reid) explains the bad luck the town has been having, and in the process, revealing exactly what happened to nearly everyone’s husband.
“There was too much coal in the shaft,” he recalls, walking towards an old black-and-white photo of all the now-dead men, still alive and proudly standing in front of the mine. “It ignited and the fire junked up all the air. It was 83 good men gone in less than five minutes. It’s plain old bad luck.” So, essentially, the men were completely deprived of oxygen before they even knew what happened. This is vital information anyone could easily miss if they had gotten up to get more snacks during a scene that, at first-glance, simply appears to be three old men and a giant mustache sitting in an empty, old-timey saloon.
While hearing about the shaft explosion is bad enough, we actually get a good, hard look at the aftermath it in episode 4, “Fathers & Sons.” During the installment’s cold open, we see a throng of silent women standing in front of the La Belle mine as smoke and soot pour out of it. Deputy sheriff Whitey Winn (Games Of Thrones' Thomas Brodie-Sangster at his absolute best) crawls through the rubble while holding a lamp. Mary Agnes, still wearing a conservative skirt at this point, is right behind him.
Once the pair makes it over the felled boulders, the camera takes us on a macabre tour of the death-addled mine. Dead men are frozen in their spots, as though they still have no idea what horror has befallen them. While a rare individual can be spotted with a hand covering his mouth, most are now forever stuck in casual poses, as though they might get up and go back to work at any moment. One man is even stuck standing up, with his eyes wide open and pointed toward the ceiling. It’s a horror show.
Now, the only men left in La Belle are Whitey, sheriff Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy), who’s slowly losing his eyesight, barman Barney, general store owner Asa Leopold (Randy Oglesby), and John Doe, the sole miner to survive the accident. The reason for John’s name comes from the fact he had just started on the mine at the time of the accident, meaning he was a stranger to all, and now suffers from permanent memory loss due to the trauma.
While all of this explains where most of the men in La Belle went before the events of the Netflix limited series, it doesn’t tell us how Alice’s husband died, which has nothing to do with mining catastrophes. That tragedy, as we learn in episode 2, “The Ladies Of La Belle,” was no natural disaster, and was instead an actual murder. As Whitey explains to gunslinger heartthrob Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), Alice’s first husband died in a flash flood years ago and she disappeared at the same time. When Alice returned about six years later, she claimed the land was still rightfully hers, despite the fact Asa and his sons were squatting on the property and claimed they paid a $200 fee for the land. When the sheriff tried to force the Leopolds off the land, they attacked Bill and he shot the sons dead. So, Alice’s family moved into their rightful home. Then, sometime after, Alice’s husband wound up dead in the street, shot in the back. And that’s how Alice Fletcher became two-times-a-widow before the age of 21.
So, no, Hippolyta definitely wasn't involved in the nearly all-woman town of La Belle. In fact, if we had to blame anyone on all of this death, it would be Ares.
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