Lawmen: Bass Reeves Episode 2 review: Better as a documentary

Jasmine Valentine
David Oyelowo as Bass Reeves in the Yellowstone 1883 Lawmen spinoffParamount+

Where Episode 1 alluded to bigger and better things coming, Lawmen: Bass Reeves Episode 2 largely quashes any intrigue in finding out what that might be.

We left Bass (David Oyelowo) in 1863, learning the ways of the Seminole Nation and trying to get a handle on how far he could go, as well as his sense of self. Leaving his life of slavery behind, Bass is now embarking on his right to be a free man, with his wife Jennie (Lauren E. Banks) having caught up with him after a year spent apart.

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At the beginning of Episode 2, we’ve jumped forward in time to 1875. Bass is now living with Jennie in Arkansas, and little Sally (Demi Singleton) isn’t just all grown up but is now helping to look after her brood of siblings. There’s no explanation for why we’ve missed out 12 years of Bass’ life, or what happened in those lost years. What viewers know is that Bass is now more interested in his land and crops, which is hardly gripping television.

Lo and behold, as Bass’ crops are failing, a bedraggled Dennis Quaid waltzes in and changes the game for good. It’s a moment that should build up to something exciting and show viewers things that they hadn’t already considered, but nothing properly materializes. Is a man’s entire existence – even if he is supposedly a legend – too much to sustain on TV? Warning – minor spoilers ahead!

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Why isn’t fictional Bass working?

Horse riding in Lawmen: Bass ReevesParamount+

The truthful answer is charm. Episode 2 of Lawmen: Bass Reeves continues with its core values in mind – to teach its public about a fantastic life lived that remains incredibly under-appreciated. Yet into this second outing, it almost seems as if a feature-length documentary would have done a much better job. As exciting as his life is, and as important as Bass rightly is to American history, his life doesn’t mesh effortlessly with what fictional drama needs to be.

Bass Reeves has almost shot itself in the foot by being tied to Yellowstone in its earlier days because the two are clearly nothing alike. It’s possible that the reason Yellowstone works so well is because of its relatable element. Owning a cattle ranch isn’t something many people can share in the struggles with, but feuds between modern-day family are an anchoring point for everyone. Lawmen: Bass Reeves is completely at odds with any entry point as an 1800s Black Marshal who is learning to shoot pistols with both hands.

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That, in itself, should be an extraordinary watch. But Bass himself lacks a certain level of charm that makes him a bingeable magnet. Understandably, his persona is incredibly serious and righteous, constantly battling the odds to make each day one that is full of hopeful correctness. This is a part of his character that never wavers or takes its foot off the break in terms of relentlessness. For an eight-part fictional drama, there needs to be peaks and pits in persona, and Bass naturally doesn’t provide that.

Dennis Quaid doesn’t help things either

Dennis Quaid in Lawmen: Bass ReevesParamount+

However, the so-far lack of gel between Bass Reeves and TV isn’t all on one character’s shoulders. Bass is introduced to Deputy U.S. Marshal Sherrill Lynn (Quaid), who seems to be ignorant bigotry personified. Instead of directing any of this towards Bass, his intolerance is taken out on a fearful Native American population, whether that’s through physical or mental anguish. Doddery, bumbling, and downright rude, Sherrill does nothing other than show that the world is cruel – which isn’t a revelation in Lawmen: Bass Reeves.

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In direct contrast to the emotional heartache present in the cruelty from George Reeves (Shea Whigham), Sherrill looks like and stays the fool. Bass’ growth has already outmaneuvered the need for Sherril to appear in the first place, with his only helpful titbit coming in the form of Bass being offered the title of Deputy U.S. Marshal himself. Viewers hear rumblings of a Judge Parker who is responsible for this, meaning acting titan Donald Sutherland is waiting just around the corner.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves Episode 2 review score: 2/5

All TV shows have their filler moments, and Episode 2 of Lawmen: Bass Reeves feels exactly that.

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Merely existing as a way to move Bass’ story forward, it isn’t the best-utilized way of depicting what the legendary Marshal got up to in a random 12-year gap. A killer mustache is introduced, though.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves streams on Paramount Plus from November 5. Check out our other coverage below:

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About The Author

Jasmine Valentine is a TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's written for the likes of Total Film, The Daily Beast, and Radio Times. Jasmine loves anime, dystopian thrillers, and anything starring Tilda Swinton. You can email her here: jasmine.waters@dexerto.com.