Any villain worth elevating into the pantheon needs a trademark; think Captain Ahab’s peg leg or Captain Hook’s hook. On Godless, a Netflix miniseries that tells its story with a brazen willingness to try for the epic, Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) has his own mark of past harm: a missing arm. But rather than cover the absence with a prosthesis, Frank carries around his dead limb. It’s a gruesome reminder of just how much he’s able to survive.
This 1880s-set western, co-created by the director Steven Soderbergh, is filled with vim and rage, some of it from Frank and some from those who fear his wrath. When Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) escapes Frank’s gang, a small mining town populated with women is threatened by the potential cross fire. For all the shock that Godless squeezes out of just how far Frank is willing to go–and how far the amiable star playing him is willing to push himself–the show uses its seven often hour-long-plus episodes carefully, pacing out revelations about the relationship between Frank’s heedless warrior and Roy’s tormented protégé.
More riveting still are the women of La Belle, N.M., played by actors including Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie). That the arrival of new men into their lives is a headache for women who’d been handling the frontier on their own is Godless’s most satisfying twist on a genre nearly as old as America.
Godless is streaming on Netflix now
This appears in the December 11, 2017 issue of TIME.