[The following contains spoilers for the Netflix original series Godless. Read at your own risk]
As a Western, Netflix's Godless sets itself apart from others in its genre by setting its story in a town of widows still trying to find their way after a devastating mining accident killed 98 percent of the men in town. However, expanding on the genre is only possible when you nail the basics, and for Godless, that's the age-old story of an outlaw bent on revenge and the unlikely hero rising above his own demons to take him down.
Enter Jeff Daniels as the sociopathic Frank Griffin and British actor Jack O'Connell as Roy Goode, a lonely cowboy with an aptitude for handling horses who's just trying to make a better life. After spending most of his life being raised by Frank, Roy finally breaks away from the outlaw life in search of the brother who left him behind when they were children. A near fatal shootout with Frank and his gang puts a wrinkle in Roy's plan, sidelining him at a horse farm owned by Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery). The two strike up an unexpected partnership over the course of the seven-episode series as Roy heals from his wounds, but soon his mere presence on the farm, situated near the women-run town of La Belle, threatens to put everyone Roy knows in Frank's unmerciful crosshairs.
The quiet but watchful Roy is O'Connell's breakthrough role in American television. The actor cut his teeth on the English coming-of-age series Skins as the lovable-but-heartbreaking troublemaker James Cook before making the jump to the big screen in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken in 2014. He's no stranger to playing characters ready to stand up to authority and bullies, but Roy prefers a quieter approach to handling his squabbles, letting his lightning-quick pistol fingers do most of the talking for him.
"I guess it's a different way of thinking, isn't it?" O'Connell tells TV Guide of the transformation. "A bit more calculated and observant."
Frank and Roy's relationship centers the series though the dueling pair only share a handful of scenes together, mostly in flashbacks to reveal how Frank found Roy as a boy and why Roy eventually ditched the gang to find his biological family.
"Roy kind of feels aggrieved, that if his brother had stuck around that he wouldn't have ended up in any scenario, I don't think, with Frank," the actor explains. "[Frank and Roy] would've just done their own thing so to speak. Roy's brother leaves him when he's young, and I don't know, I think that leaves a massive void in Roy's dynamic. So then fella like Frank then comes in and takes advantage of that."
O'Connell gushes that Daniels was a "proper pro" and "very supportive" in between takes of the scenes they did share together, but Frank's influence over Roy is seen more clearly through Roy's interactions with others. During his tenure on Alice's farm, Roy becomes a paternal figure of sorts to her fatherless son Truckee. As their relationship builds, Roy is able to heal some of the wounds left on him by Frank's rough upbringing.
"[Roy] is really reluctant to talk about anything related to violence with Truckee," O'Connell explains. "I guess he's got his version of [a] paternal figure and wherever Frank might have let him down he was gonna try and make sure that he wasn't gonna make the same errors when it comes to young Truckee."
Truckee is not the only Fletcher that helps Roy on his path to redemption and acceptance though. While he gets his comeuppance from Chuck's judgmental grandma (who steals every scene she's in as the unexpected comic relief), Godless central romance is a slow-burn affair between Roy and Alice as he goes from ominous interloper to Alice's saving grace.
"I think Alice is obviously wary, naturally, and I guess Roy is a bit of a stranger," O'Connell says of their relationship. "I like the way their relationship kind of eventually happens as opposed to hitting the ground running straight away."
The two find their spark in the penultimate episode of the season, but there is no riding off into the sunset for the fated outsiders. Roy leaves the farm to go find his brother in California, returning only for the final showdown with Frank. Once the personification of Roy's demons is put in the ground, the cowboy resumes his journey to find his family, leaving the fortune he stole from Frank in Alice's hands so she has the means to restart her own life.
The open-ended nature of Godless leaves a lot of unanswered questions that O'Connell would love to revisit if Netflix grants it a second season.
"I'm hopeful they make Godless 2," he says. In fact, he already knows he'd love to see Alice, Truckee and maybe even Judgmental Grandma find Roy on the west coast. "It's just a better place to shoot, California."
Godless is now streaming on Netflix.