The Unicorn Scale: Godless
Well, hello there! Season’s Greetings and Salutations, as an updated Christian Slater from “Heathers” might greet you. I hope everyone feels fulfilled this festive season – be it goodwill towards men or spiked egg nog. No judgment. And with this merry little season, I have a special gift for you: a spoiler free Unicorn Scale! How can this be? I haven’t finished it yet.
Better than a re-gift, I tell ya. As soon as I saw what was going down on this horse opera, I had to write about it. So saddle up, pardner: this week we are gonna take a stroll through Netflix’s new limited series, the Western, “Godless”.
Oh, reckon you need a refresher on what the Unicorn Scale is all about? You can mosey on over here.
WARNING: There are still some minor spoilers about the first half of the limited series. It’s important to understand the story context for the characters I will focus on, but I swear I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as I can.
Now, I love me a good Western. It stems from my dad watching a whole passel of them while I grew up. Even when I come home to visit, if he’s watching TV, it’s probably what we call in the house “the cowboy channel.” But there’s something very dear to me both as a writer and an American about this genre: out of these tumbleweeds we create our own versions of myths, heroes from (what we consider) a simpler time that often resonate deep within our spirits. But it’s an incomplete picture. These stories often focus on white men as cowboys in the Old West, even though more often than not they were men of color. Not only that, but Native Americans in 20th century tales of the time routinely got painted as aggressors or villains. And finally, women more often than not got portrayed as homesteaders, prostitutes, or teachers – pretty much falling along the Madonna/whore dichotomy.
And that was why I was so tickled pink to see GODLESS come to fruition . This rich, psychological yarn centers on the town of LaBelle, Colorado, which for the past few years has been almost exclusively populated by womenfolk after a mining accident. This leads to whole new individual and group dynamics as this village comes to grips with new ways to tackle the wilderness around them. And part of that includes greater acceptance of themselves and the attractions they feel for each other. This leads to not one, but TWO out-and-out bi characters in late-mayor’s-wife Mary Agnes (Merritt Weaver) and sex-worker-cum-teacher Anna (Whitney Able.)
What I Liked:
This is about as out as two characters could be in the Wild West without actually using the word “bi.” But hey, that makes sense since the word had not even been invented yet when this story is set, so I have no qualms about it. Both talk of their love and attraction to their former husbands as well as their Sapphic love for each other. Mary Agnes in particular does not back down when her brother (the sheriff and one of the few men left in LaBelle) confronts her about her newly-formed love. He quickly dismisses this relationship as situation-specific homoerotic activity. Mary and Anne even seem to have a sweet, familiar dynamic when we see them in their quiet moments, instead of fodder for intimate fantasies. This type of relationship was practically unheard of in this era’s context, but it feels organic to the world created in the show. I am completely rooting for this couple to win out, even though this Western has a gritty outlook that probably won’t bode well for the survival of everyone in LaBelle.
What I Didn’t Like:
Unfortunately, Mary Agnes’ acceptance of Anna only goes so far, and she insults her for continuing her sex work with other women in town. Mary Agnes’ words are tinged with jealousy. This didn’t surprise me; it makes sense for there to be class tension, and characters have to have conflict and tension for growth and plot purposes. But it did sadden me to see that this town, on its way to being a prairie-home Themyscira, still has these sexual hang-ups.
But honestly, their fight over Anna seeing another woman was one of the last scenes I saw before writing this piece, so who knows how it will resolve. I’m jotting it down as a minor quibble in an otherwise ultra-rare show: a Western populated with multidimensional female characters.
Bi characters who are as out as they can be, talking about being bi, accepting their bi-ness, is a sight little seen anywhere on the television landscape these days (even though bis have always existed). But to have all these qualities AND have it occur in a full-on Western? I will belly up to the bar for this type of representation every day – and twice on Sundays.