Bass Reeves’ Premiere Offers Mix of Violence + Faith

Paramount’s long-awaited new Western drama, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, premiered on Paramount+ on Sunday (Nov. 5), offering up an unexpected mix of violence, history and family values.

Bass Reeves was a real-life lawman in the 1800s during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, and he was reportedly the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. Reeves was a former slave who became one of the first Black U.S. Deputy Marshalls, renowned for capturing 3,000 criminals and never getting wounded in the process.

Starring David Oyelowo as Reeves, Lawmen: Bass Reeves Part 1 tells the backstory of how his master. George Reeves, forced him to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War, then offered him freedom if he could win a card game against him. When Reeves cheats, Bass assaults him and has to run for his life, leaving behind Jennie (Lauren E. Banks), the woman he loves.

He ends up in Indian Territory, where he spends several years with a woman named Sarah and her son. The son is killed in an altercation at a trading post when Reeves stumbles into the middle of a group of Confederate soldiers who are staging a violent break from their Union captors. Now a free man after the Emancipation Proclamation, he then returns to Texas to look for Jennie, who has gone to Arkansas.

When Reeves catches up to Jennie, he finds that she now has a daughter — and as it turns out, so does he, since she was pregnant when he was forced to run. Their joyous reunion ends Part 1.

Part 2 resumes ten years later, in 1875, with Bass and Jennie settled into life as farmers with their children. When locusts destroy their entire harvest, Reeves is presented with a surprising opportunity from U.S. Deputy Marshall Sherrill Lynn (Dennis Quaid), an embittered lawman who needs someone with Reeves’ skills with guns and ability to communicate with the natives. He offers him a job as part of his posse.

He accepts the job, but finds himself very much at odds with Lynn due to the latter’s overly harsh and unnecessarily violent methods in catching (or killing) criminals. Reeves is capable of handling the violence that goes along with the job, but with a twist; he sincerely believes in trying to deliver justice, and his faith directs him to do it as fairly and cleanly as possible. In one scene, we see him praying for a man who’s been killed, and in another, Reeves personally buries the body of a man Lynn killed in a way that he feels was unwarranted. A complex picture emerges of a man who believes in the work he’s doing, but wants to do it in a way that does not reflect poorly on his honor.

We get a glimpse into Lynn’s reasoning when he reveals that he has been scalped, but the two men quarrel over Lynn’s harsh view of the world and their job, and Reeves ends up striking him, then leaves. Part 2 ends with Lynn showing up at Reeves’ house once again — this time to offer him a job not as a posse man, but as a fellow U.S. Deputy Marshall.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves will continue to air for eight total episodes on the Paramount+ streaming service, with new episodes arriving every Sunday.

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