Think back to when Roy kills the man who tried to hang him and his “pappy.” Frank tells him to finish off the old timer because he “doesn’t strike me as the type of fella who forgives and forgets, and I don’t like looking over my shoulder. The man was going to kill the only kin you have, without so much as a nod. Family is everything, son. Without family, we’re lost.”
He’s instilling loyalty in Roy, loyalty he’ll use to his advantage, of course, but there’s a rationale behind this death that allows Roy to follow through. The same mindset can be seen throughout, as their father/son relationship develops, which makes it easy to see how Roy went along with Frank as long as he did. While his preacher’s sensibilities don’t go so far as to keep him from robbing coal mines and seeking vigilante justice, he’s not one who savors death for death’s sake.
That, in and of itself, makes him a different breed from most western villains. He’s the best man in his posse, and never is that more evident than when Frank pops into the Hobbs’ residence under the pretense of watering their horses. Though Frank likely suspects the men have been recruited to help the townsfolk, he doesn’t show up with an aim to kill anyone. He needs water for his horses, food for his family, and knowledge of who’s waiting for him the next day.
But the Hobbs family knows who Frank is and treat him accordingly. When Frank leads the table in grace, one of his “sons” reaches for Elias’ (Erik LaRay Harvey) hand. Elias pulls his hand off the table. Frank pays the hostile gesture no heed, if he even sees it, and presses on…
…until another man asks if the rest of Frank’s men are outside. Realizing he’s not fooling anyone — or, if it’s presumed he’s acting innocently, Frank knows they know who he is — Frank presses his pistol into the man’s knee under the table. “I ain’t got no quarrel with you folks,” Frank says. But a quarrel is had nonetheless. When guns are drawn, in burst Frank’s overeager and overly protective men, and the bullets start flying. Frank fires just one shot — his head still lowered in frustrated disappointment, not looking at his target.
“Enough!” he bellows, and then, as the man across from him bleeds out, he asks, “Have you no gun, sir?” “God damn it, sir. I had no quarrel with you.”
Frank believes this, too. He sees himself as a man without a choice, but the truth is he already made the choice by setting foot in that house. There was only one way it could’ve ended, and that’s because of Frank’s former sins. His reputation precedes him, and a man who truly didn’t want to kill any of the innocent would take additional measures to protect them. He wouldn’t go inside. He wouldn’t ask about La Belle. He wouldn’t put them in a position to protect themselves. But primarily, Frank has his own self-interest in mind.
These contradictions — the disinterest in killing and the constant invitation of death — are what makes Frank such a compelling villain: He believes he’s doing the right thing, or, at least, the only thing he can do. Daniels plays him as such; he captures each part of Frank with a well-guarded glee. Every so often, Frank’s true self peeks out. There’s the grin he has before realizing the man across the table is unarmed, or the obvious pride he takes in being the center of attention, riding his horse into a church and speaking to its terrified parishioners.
Frank doesn’t just believe in God, but in every decision he makes. He believes his decisions aren’t decisions but actions forced upon him. Did he want to kill the Hobbs familly? No, they made him do it. Did he want to burn down the town of Creede and lynch its citizens? No, they made him do it. Does he want to shoot his adopted son, Roy? No, Roy made that choice for him.
So when Frank loses the duel, spins around, and says, “No, no, I did see my death. This ain’t it,” it’s the first time he’s doubted anything. Even then, he’s in denial, but for a split second, right before Roy puts a final bullet in his head, Frank can be seen thinking, “Maybe I was wrong.” Before that moment, he never considered it.
Spare Bits of Glory
“Godless” has so much to savor, it’s impossible to include them all, but here are a few last highlights (pulled directly from my notes) before closing out. If you have any additional favorites, dear readers, please list them in the comments.
- First and foremost, props to my sister, Kate Travers, for correctly predicting where and when Roy Goode hid the stolen money. Before Roy even turned to see Alice walking up behind him in the premiere episode, the far smarter Travers sibling said, “Oh, gee, I wonder if he buried the money under that fence post.” Touche, dear sister.
- The campaign starts here: Sam Waterston’s mustache should be nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, 2018.
- Merritt Wever should win for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
- Michelle Dockery should attend in support of her supporting actors.
- “I’m done with the bliss of my sisters being found in childbearing and caregiving,” should be carved above sorority room doors across the country.
- “Hey, it’s Gladys!” is likely something said by more than one viewer when “The Leftovers” star Marceline Hugot showed up.
- The long-awaited “Newsroom” reunion of Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) was short-lived, but hard to forget. If anything, it was the opposite of Will and Charlie’s many conversations over drinks, as it was over in a hurry, little was said, and these two men absolutely hated each other.
- Even as a journalist (OK, a writer who works with journalists), I took great satisfaction in seeing A.T. Grigg get immediately plugged after running out into the open and shouting, “I’m press! I’m press! I surrender!”
- Two separate men ride two separate horses into a house, up the stairs, and then out the side of the building. That means three horses were ridden indoors throughout “Godless,” and that bit of trivia should not be ignored. (The third being Frank’s in the opening, which he rode into church.)
- Merritt Wever shooting men in the street for days. Days. Hell yes, Merritt. Fuck ’em up.
- While I’m all for more moments with Scoot McNairy yelling things like, “I ain’t blind yet,” and I’m also very pro “Jack O’Connell sliding off his horse while it’s still running,” the two of them standing side-by-side in the middle of the street is hardly the best position for a shootout. Get some cover, boys!
“Godless” is streaming now on Netflix.