Even a man with a good gun and a straight spine gets scared every once in a while.
This week’s Lawmen: Bass Reeves explores moments of fear in the legendary U.S. marshal’s life as he wraps a particularly prolific work trip. We get threats both supernatural (there can’t really be anything to that legend about the murderous Mr. Sundown… can there?) and moral (how bad, as one character asks at a pivotal point, does a good man have to be in order to do Bass’ job?). As you might imagine, the second matter is far scarier than the first.
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Read on for the highlights of “Part IV.”
BASS GOES UNDERCOVER | An unshaven, unkempt-looking Bass approaches a home and puts his hands up when the lady of the house greets him with a gun leveled at his head. She’s not interested in visitors, but he charms her with some chat about whiskey and scripture; eventually, she lowers the weapon and invites him inside.
He tells her his name is Joe Gamble. He helps her with some chores. And by the time her good-for-nothing adult sons return home, she’s invited him to stay for a meal. The sons drink so much that they eventually get into a fistfight right there in the main room. Afterward, Bass helps the mother haul the nearly-unconscious men to bed, then he follows them into the bedroom. The next morning when they wake, they’re shackled, and Bass has his gun trained on them. Gotcha, outlaws!
‘I’M THE ONLY LAW THERE IS’ | With his undercover work done, Bass brings the brothers back to where Billy Crow — who’s working with him now — is waiting with the other wanted men they’ve already collected on this trip. They’ll ride home the next morning; Bass reminds Billy to lock everyone up tight for the evening.
That night, as Bass shaves by the fire, one of the captured men starts to tell a ghost story about a ruthless, violent slavecatcher called Mr. Sundown. Bass doesn’t like how the man’s bloody story has everyone’s rapt attention, so he calls for some Scripture instead. But he’s unsettled, and for good reason: That night, while Bass is asleep, the man slips out of his bonds and tries to kill him with his razor.
Bass manages to hold him off and eventually gets the upper hand; their tussle rouses the rest of the camp. At one point, Bass just keeps hitting the man even though he’s stopped fighting back, and Billy has to call his boss’ name a few times before he stills his fist. They realize that the assailant also used the blade to peel off the face of one of the white captives, and Billy is so angry, he wants to kill him. “Until God say otherwise, I’m the only law there is,” Bass notes, knocking out the protesting man with the butt of his weapon.
ONE LAST JOB | The next day, Bass meets up with some Native American men to talk business. One, named Minco Dodge (played by Yellowstone’s Mo Brings Plenty), gives him a tip about a horse thief named Silas Cobb in a nearby town. But he also lets Bass know that there’s a bounty on his head: “Men are gunning for you.”
Knowing that grabbing Silas is the last thing on his checklist before heading home, Bass and Billy head to a brothel the man is known to frequent. While Billy flirts with a sex worker on her break outside (“I think I’m gonna marry you,” he gushes after realizing she knows her way around a long gun — and no, that’s not a euphemism), Bass gets the madam to show him to the room where Cobb is engaged with one of the house’s employees. And after waiting a polite amount of time for them to finish up their business, Bass busts in through a window.
There’s a lot of scrambling and pants-pulling-up and reaching for weapons, but Bass manages to corner the thief, unarmed. Silas tries to negotiate, but the marshal isn’t having it. Unfortunately, though, the woman in the room pulls a gun, which causes enough of a distraction that Silas is able to jump out a window and awkwardly tumble to the street below. He quickly mounts a horse and takes off at a gallop.
Billy sees Cobb coming from down the street and manages to shoot him off the horse, gravely wounding him. Bass rides for a doctor — and winds up having to help in an in-process, anesthesia-free amputation — but it’s too late: By the time they return to Silas, he’s dead. Billy, in shock that he’s killed someone, mumbles that he helped Cobb write a letter to his wife, Grace, before he passed. “Should’ve aimed higher, Billy,” Bass says.
BASS DELIVERS THE BAD NEWS | Later, when the men are riding back to their camp, Billy points out that Cobb had his fate coming. “Sure he did,” Bass agrees. “Still don’t make it right.” Then he stops the younger man and has him look at a bullet. He asks him to think of each bullet as either saving or taking a man’s life, and to remember that his badge confers upon them the power to decide which it’ll be. He sends Billy back to where the outlaws are chained up. And when the guy who tried to kill Bass realizes that Crow offed Silas, he mocks him. “You ain’t sleepin’ sound no more,” the man says. “How bad a good man gotta be, Billy Crow?” Billy is unnerved.
Meanwhile, Bass rides to give Silas’ letter to his widow, who seems unsurprised both by the fact of her husband’s death and the circumstances of his passing. She also takes the existence of the letter in stride. “That’s right but kinda sad, too, don’t you think?” she says. “Silas, eager to tell me things he’d never say when he was here, not that he was here overly much.” She brings him an apple for his horse and, because she’s blind, asks him to read the letter. He freestyles instead, slipping the letter into his pocket and thinking of Jennie playing the piano at home as he begins to speak. “My heart hurt while we apart,” he says to Grace, on the verge of tears. “Only stars to guide me home, guide me to you.” He touches her arm in farewell and leaves.
As he’s giving the apple to his horse, he hears menacing sounds and galloping behind him in the dark. But there’s nothing there, and Bass looks unsettled. Mr. Sundown rides again?!
BACK AT HOME | While Bass is away, Jennie takes the kids to church. The guest speaker is Edwin Jones, the man she met in town the day she bought her piano. He canvasses the congregation, asking anyone who owns their own land to raise their hand. Jennie does so sheepishly; she’s the only one. He pitches everyone the same thing he pitched to her: “a place where we all prosper, where we no longer borrow or beg from white folk.” He passes out pamphlets, and a collection goes around.
After church, Sally asks if she can hang out with one of her girl friends. But she really spends time with Arthur, who says he wrote her a poem… then proceeds to read Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43,” aka “How Do I Love Thee?” Sal instantly recognizes it and teases him for trying to pass it off as his own; they’re fully flirting. It’s very sweet.
Back at church, Jennie recognizes a woman traveling with Edwin as Esme, an old friend. Edwin encourages her to invite Jennie to lunch, so they all sit down in the hotel’s dining room. The conversation is pleasant enough, but Jennie still isn’t on board with what he’s selling. “Pretty pamphlets and flowery phrases don’t plow fields,” she says. But he promises he’s not selling a lie. “What I am proposing will require work, sweat, blood and treasure,” he says. Esme’s face shows that she definitely has capital-F Feelings about what’s going on, but says nothing.
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