A Showdown With Mr. Sundown [Review]

Bass Reeves has a showdown with Mr. Sundown at the end of Lawmen: Bass Reeves, and we’re led to believe it set his mind right.

The Paramount+ show’s finale finds Bass hunting a fable he now knows is Esau Pierce, a Texas Ranger with whom he’s had no fewer than three intense encounters. The first was after a Civil War battle, when Esau (played by Barry Pepper) praises Bass’ fight and tries to convince him they’re cut from the same cloth.

The second comes when Reeves (David Oyelowo) was living in Native American territory. A shackled Pierce kills a young boy Bass had cared for like a son before escaping. At the end of Ep. 5, the two men come face-to-face again for a prisoner transfer, and across the next two hours of television, Reeves is haunted mercilessly by the collective memories.

An abbreviated Ep. 7 ends with Bass promising to kill Esau, and that’s where the finale begins. He’s picked up Deputy Marshall Sherill Lynn (Dennis Quaid) and his sidekick Billy Crow (Forrest Goodluck) to help his hunt, and pretty soon they approach the castle built on dinosaur bones that Pierce had described to begin Ep. 6.

Thanks to a prisoner named Ramsey (did anyone else recognize Rob Morgan here? He played Turk in several Marvel movies), Bass knows Pierce is Mr. Sundown, a ghost who’s thought to be killing Black prisoners instead of bringing them to justice. Quickly the viewer learns that is not what’s happening, and it really changes the show’s tenor.

Lauren Smith/Paramount+

Lauren Smith/Paramount+

If Lawmen: Bass Reeves was to be reviewed in a single word, it would be “rushed.” It seems likely production was fast-tracked with the SAG strike looming — Ep. 7 was just 30 minutes, and at least one dramatic scene promised by the trailer never materializes.

The biggest victim was Mr. Sundown. Within the drama, viewers can’t fully understand the essence of this menace or even his back story. He’s little more than a far-off boogey man that Bass is fixated on for surface reasons.

A quick internet search doesn’t turn up much else. That’s important, because other Taylor Sheridan-produced shows (he didn’t write this one) have left similar voids that could be filled with some solo research. Part of the experience is the homework, but this villain, Esau Pierce, Billy Crow and all but a few main characters are fictionalized.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves was presented as the story of a real-life U.S. Marshal, but the series ends up being a serialized account of things that could have happened. Knowing this takes the thrill out of the final 30 minutes.

Lauren “Lo” Smith/Paramount+

Lauren “Lo” Smith/Paramount+

Reeves spends the day cautiously touring the property. Reeves has dreams of becoming the country’s biggest cattle rancher on the backs of the Black men he kidnapped (not killed) and forced into slavery. He’s remarkably civilized and wines and dines Bass before he frees Jackson Cole (the prisoner from Ep. 5) from his shackles and — at gun point — tells Reeves to put them on.

It’s now clear that despite his badge and respect shown to him earlier, Pierce doesn’t see Bass as anything near an equal.

Billy Crow and Sherrill Lynn arrive just in time to start a gun fight and chase that finds Bass killing several of Pierce’s men. It’s a satisfying chase sequence, but certainly not an epic scene. Pierce is trying to ride away, but Bass catches up to him, and with but a few words, kills him in an open field. The only fatality for the good guys is Lynn, who stepped in a bear trap and — knowing he’d bleed out — takes his own life.

At home, Bass Reeves’ wife Jennie had a few, mild (by comparison) brushes with adversity but committed herself to creating change around her. We never see daughter Sally’s boyfriend Arthur again, which is a big bummer. Nor do we see a scene from the show’s trailer in which she’s staring down men in white hoods who’ve come to her home with rifles.

Lauren Smith/Paramount+

Lauren Smith/Paramount+

Still, as far as character development goes, Jennie’s is most complete. Oyelowo scored the Golden Globe nomination, but Lauren E. Banks’ performance was every bit as compelling. We only got scraps of Reeves’ personality because of her.

Finally, the lawman comes home and falls into his wife’s arms as if to say he’s home for good, but history tells us he’ll continue to fight for justice for another 30 years and arrest hundreds, if not thousands more. This “happily ever after” ending is unfortunate, because everyone involved is about to endure some of the worst racially motivated treatment and torture. Reeves won this battle, but more blood will spill in the war.

PICTURES: Look Inside ‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ Part VIII

Lawmen: Bass Reeves will conclude when Part VIII airs on Paramount+ on Dec. 17, and pictures released in advance give viewers an early look at some of the action and drama to come.

Gallery Credit: Billy Dukes

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