The two-episode premiere of Lawmen: Bass Reeves left me wanting more. After 1883 and 1923, Paramount+ series found their stride in the American western. Bass Reeves is no exception. But Reeves was also a real-life lawman and a legendary hero who was nearly lost to time. Because the series is a dramatized biopic, Bass Reeves had me hoping for a little more depth than the cowboy genre's usual yeehawery. Entering the third episode, we had a chance to finally get what were asking for. After all, Reeves is now a "goddamn Deputy U.S. Marshal."
In the opening scene, Reeves's (David Oyelowo) first visit the courthouse is a whirlpool of emotions. A young Black man who may have killed his former master is waiting to be tried. He calls out to Reeves for help, but our hero is looking out for himself here. He's made significant progress for a Black man at the time, but it's still progress circa the mid-1800s. He has a meeting with Judge Parker (Donald Sutherland), who says that he hired him to be a Deputy Marshal not because of the color of his skin, but because he "need[s] a man with a good gun and a straight spine." He swears Reeves in, gives him his badge, and it's go time. "You've got miles to ride," Judge Parker tells him. "Godspeed the horses."
As Reeves gets ready for his first day on the job, we round out the cast a bit more. Billy Crow (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American outlaw, is mixed up with the Underwood Gang. They're wanted for a stagecoach robbery—and Crow receives the blame. We also meet Garrett Montgomery (Garrett Hedlund), a cowboy with a cool guy attitude, so I distrust him immediately. Reeves agrees to take Montgomery out as a posse man, which feels like a rookie mistake. "All goes well, you got a job with me," he tells him—emphasis on the if all goes well.
The first place he takes Bass to investigate the stagecoach robbery is a bar, where the bartender is calls Montgomery out for having a significant amount of debt there. 'Man's got a debt everywhere," the barkeep says. Even worse, Sherill Lynn (Dennis Quaid) came by the other day and apparently drank up all the whiskey, then broke three of his chairs. That buffoon! The only downside to a town full of degenerates, drunks and gamblers is that it's now Bass Reeves's job to clean up the damage.
Lucky for him, the Underwood Gang is right there at the bar. He takes all their money in a card game, somehow avoiding flashbacks to how a previous card game was one of the most traumatic days of his entire life. They point him in the direction of Billy Crow for all their cash back. It's a good trade, and Reeves bags up Billy Crow quite easily. But when Montgomery suggests that they kill Crow and take the money for themselves, Reeves says he took an oath to bring him back to Fort Worth. Then... action! At night, random enemies surprise the trio and fire one right through Montgomery's brains. Reeves takes three of them out and escapes with Crow under the cover of darkness. "Keep you current path, and this is your fate Billy Crow," he warns the outlaw.
Billy thanks Reeves for protecting him, even if it's just to turn him in at the courthouse. After handing Crow over to the authorities, Reeves sits in on the young Black man's trial. Judge Parker finds him guilty of murder and sentences him to be hanged. This, right here, is a part of the job that I'm incredibly interested to see Reeves reckon with. Especially for a case that could have so easily been his own fate. If I'm to believe that this man took the job of deputy U.S. marshal by happenstance—and then arrested 3,000 outlaws like a goddamn superhero—I need to see how he handles the fact that most of these guys are probably killed for their crimes after he brings them in alive.
Other than some confusing looks on Oyelowo's face, it's about all the reckoning we get for now. Reeves returns home, embraces his wife, and enjoys the warmth of the fire. All in all, a decent episode. Good action—and a fun first day on the job. I'm just still waiting for that extra oomph.
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