The sixth episode of Paramount+’s Western series ‘Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ begins and ends with Bass Reeves’ meeting with Esau Pierce, a Confederate soldier who fought against his brothers in the Civil War along with him. While the first meeting happens for real, the second happens in his visions, especially after the deputy marshal’s efforts to find who Mr. Sundown, a kidnapper and killer of black people, is. Pierce dominates the lawman’s mind, causing him immense psychological trouble. Bass’ mind has been showing signs of vulnerability, which is made evident by another vision in the fifth episode. The unnatural presence of Pierce in the same highlights the deputy marshal’s troubled state of mind! SPOILERS AHEAD.
Bass Reeves sees Esau Pierce in his visions after discovering that the latter is Mr. Sundown, who kidnaps and kills black people when the night falls. Bass asks Ramsey to reveal the truth or reality about the mysterious killer after learning about the disappearances of black people from Edwin Jones, only for the psychopath to tell him that the murderer he is looking for is a “Cinco peso.” Since Pierce’s badge as a Texas Ranger is made of Cinco peso, Bass doesn’t take long to connect both pieces of information and conclude that the latter is a killer. When Jackson Cole’s disappearance from Pierce’s hands convinces Bass that his belief is true, he starts to feel helpless.
When Bass becomes a deputy marshal, he hopes to execute the law rightfully to honor the same. He sets out to safeguard “black, red, and white people” equally as he should. As a lawman, he thinks that his badge gives him enough authority to ensure justice but the realization that Pierce is a killer makes him question his beliefs concerning the law and his authority. First of all, Bass learns from Sherrill Lynn that he cannot do anything about Pierce irrespective of the latter being a murderer. Since Judge Isaac Parker will not authorize the arrest of a Texas Ranger, Bass’ hands are tied, making him feel helpless and inadequate.
Secondly, Bass finds it difficult to confront the truth that the law, which is supposed to safeguard people, is being used to kill his brothers. Pierce is able to eliminate Jackson and seemingly many more black men because he has a badge that gives him the authority to become a murderer. Bass realizes that the same law he embraced to help people is being used to eliminate hand-picked individuals, invalidating its sanctity. When that happens, his decision to embrace such a law to protect the people around him appears meaningless to him.
Bass sees Pierce in his visions due to the sense of helplessness and inadequacy he experiences. His presence in the deputy marshal’s thoughts is a reminder that the latter’s authority doesn’t allow him to protect his own community and the law he upholds has been writing nothing but death warrants for his brothers. Pierce represents the law that not only relinquishes black people but also hurts them. The Texas Ranger may not evaporate from the deputy marshal’s thoughts until he can find a way to bring the former to justice to honor the memories of the killer’s victims.
Pierce haunts Bass because the former convinces the latter that he is just a pawn moved around by the white men who play the game of law. The understanding that he hasn’t been really free as a black man trying to execute the rules hits Bass when he unravels the truth about Pierce. These understandings and thoughts hold Pierce in Bass’ mind.