The latest episode of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” titled “One Mighty and Strong,” offers up more information about the Lafferty murders — and a conspiracy theory about the death of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
One of the characters in the FX/Hulu miniseries suggests that Brigham Young set Smith up to be killed so that he could take over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and preserve polygamy.
EPISODE 5 OPENS with Ron Lafferty driving west in his station wagon, a look at the This Is the Place monument, and Sam Lafferty ranting to detectives about a prophecy by church president John Taylor that “one mighty and strong” would emerge to save the church. It echoed an earlier prophecy by Joseph Smith, which echoed prophecies in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:11 and 28:2) and the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 3: 21-25).
Detective Pyre (Andrew Garfield) asks Sam if he’s the one mighty and strong, and Sam admits to killing Brenda and Erica. But he gets the facts wrong, and it’s clear he’s lying. He says the School of the Prophets “has restored the one true church.”
It’s the first time detectives Pyre and Taba have heard about this “school.” Robin Lafferty tells them it was “more like scripture study” with his brothers and a few others. Pyre asks if their study “would square away with our one true prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, or if you were all trying to unseat President Kimball.” Robin says he loves the church and has returned to it with his family.
Robin explains that the school involved reports of “a dream mine” near Salem in Utah County that had “hidden Mormon gold that would come forth from it and save the saints at the end times.” Robin confirms he drove a man named Bernard Brady (a fictionalized, composite character) to one of the meetings, along with another man known as Prophet Onias.
THE DETECTIVES LEARN THAT BISHOP LOWE and his family have been found unharmed. Pyre asks the Lowes if they know any reason they might be on a list “to be blood atoned.” Bishop Lowe speculates that it goes back to the excommunications of Ron and Dan Lafferty.
Pyre asks if Ron’s excommunication had anything to do with him beating his wife, and the bishop angrily says he can’t reveal that. Pyre says he knows Ron and Dan were involved with fundamentalist Mormons, “so, please, tell me — which kind of Mormons are you protecting with your silence?”
The bishop says Ron was not excommunicated because he abused his wife. “This began with Daniel,” he says.
AND THEN THERE’S A FLASHBACK to Dan’s wife, Matilda (Chloe Pirrie), making butter the old-fashioned way. She hears noise from a bedroom and goes in to find Dan giving her 14-year-old daughter (from her first marriage) “an adjustment.”
Matilda asks Dan what he’s doing, and Dan says, “God has given me a vigorous sexual spirit,” and he wants to take her daughter as his second wife. And, eventually, he wants to take her 12-year-old second daughter as a wife, too.
Matilda resists, and Dan gets angry. “To deny your priesthood holder is fornication. … And fornication is punishable by what, my love? Death.”
(It’s a weird, inaccurate definition of “fornication,” which the Laffertys have used in previous episodes.)
Matilda helps her daughters run away. Bishop Lowe says Dan’s attempts to have sex with/marry his stepdaughters led to his excommunication. The bishop goes on to say hat he helped put the girls “in a very good home,” but did not contact child protective services. He says “a decision was made” that it was not in the “church’s interest, our heavenly father’s interest” — to make what was happening public. The girls ran away again, and haven’t been heard from since.
The bishop says Ron threatened him over Dan’s excommunication, and there’s a flashback to that. The bishop’s wife says she counseled Brenda and Dianna that it is their “calling” to work harder to build a good home.
“So you told a wife living under the threat of violence to work harder,” Taba says. Bishop Lowe gets angry again. “You will not come into my home and attack my wife, is that clear?” he says. “This falls under my stewardship.”
“OK,” Taba says, glancing over at Pyre. “Does a good steward encourage a wife to blame herself instead of holding her abuser accountable?”
“I did as the church instructs us to do,” Lowe says, refusing to look at Taba. (For that time — the early 1980s — that is accurate.)
Sister Lowe says Dianna came to them again “with more bruises on her face,” and Bishop Lowe says he “encouraged her to get to safety. I even gave her some money to do so.” They don’t know where Dianna went.
(In reality, Diana — one n — divorced Ron in 1984 and moved to Florida with their six children.)
DETECTIVES PYRE AND TABA go to Brady’s home. He tries to put them off, but they have a warrant. Mrs. Brady says they let Ron sleep on the couch, and that she threatened to call the police “if he ever got physical” with Dianna again.
Bernard tries to justify Ron’s behavior. There’s a flashback in which Ron gets a letter calling him to church court — and he punches Dianna in the face. It’s brutal and shocking. “You will submit willingly!” Ron yells at his wife. She grabs a big knife and orders him out of the house. “I will not have you drag my children into your madness,” she says.
Brady says he’s never heard of the School of Prophets, and that he hasn’t heard from Onias “in ages.”
When Mrs. Brady leaves the room, Pyre asks Brady why he mailed himself a letter, certified mail. In the letter, Brady wrote that the School of Prophets was working on a list of names of people to suffer “eternal consequences.” Pyre points out that if Brady believed there was danger, he should have gone to the police instead of writing a “self-serving, useless letter.”
Brady suggests that Dianna was on the list. “She wouldn’t be the first woman to dash off something she had no right to and have it lead to bloodshed. … Our greatest loss can be traced back to words written by a wife who thought she knew better than her husband.”
He says Emma Smith “publicly aligned herself with the publisher who defied the prophet’s holy principle of polygamy.” There’s a flashback to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor newspaper, which led to the arrests and eventual deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith; and John Taylor blaming Emma for what ensued.
“So if a wife objects to her husband’s demand for more wives, then it’s A-OK to blood atone her,” Taba says.
Brady says he doesn’t know where Ron and Dan are, but suggests they might be at “the farm” — an old, rundown house.
Pyre tells Brady he’s going with them to this farm. Brady requests a bulletproof vest.
TABA SUGGEST THAT PYRE has time to make it home in time for Family Home Evening. When Pyre gets home, there’s nobody there, the house is dark and he’s worried. He draws his gun and starts searching the house. He finds a note from his wife telling him she’s at the bishop’s house.
Later, Taba wonders if the bishop inviting Pyre’s family over is an effort to keep the detective, a member of the Latter-day Saints church, “in line.” Pyre says his best guess is that his bishop and stake president “feel more comfortable when they are writing the official story.”
IN ANOTHER INTERVIEW WITH PYRE, Allen Lafferty — the husband of Brenda and father of Erica — suggests that, while Joseph Smith was in hiding, Brigham Young was leading the church. (In actuality, Young was either in Boston or on his way there.)
In a flashback, Emma sends a note to Joseph, telling him that “once he returns to the true path of the Lord, heavenly father’s protection will be restored.” In other words, once he abandons polygamy.
Allen says that what Mormons have been taught about Joseph Smith willingly surrendering himself to the authorities “makes no sense. … So someone must have convinced him to risk his life.” Allen — and the flashback — suggest that Brigham Young had a sentence added to Emma’s letter convincing Joseph to return. “Was this Brigham’s chance to become the one? The sole leader?” Allen asks.
This is wild speculation. Young was not in Nauvoo at the time Smith was killed. He left Nauvoo on May 21; he was in Boston when Smith was assassinated on June 27; and he returned to Nauvoo on Aug. 6, according to the historical record.
Within the “Under the Banner of Heaven” narrative, the conspiracy theory comes from the fictionalized Allen Lafferty character. But it definitely leaves the impression that Brigham Young plotted to take over the church by having Joseph Smith killed.
BRADY SAYS HE BELIEVES Dan was excommunicated because of his anti-tax campaign and his run for sheriff. “He was just too public for the church,” he says. Pyre tells Brady Dan was trying to marry his 12- and 14-year-old stepdaughters.
In another flashback, Ron is at his own church court defending Dan. He’s told by a member of the stake high council (maybe the stake president?) that his case has nothing to do with Dan’s. That he has to show “contrition” for his “own offenses.”
Ron tells the stake high council they “stink of hypocrisy” and leaves the room. He’s excommunicated, “but know that with repentance comes the healing waters of rebaptism.” (That is standard phrasing after an excommunication.)
Brady says that Ron then went home “to reclaim his rightful place.” In a flashback, we see his kids running from him in fear. His teenage daughter cuts the “sacred marks” out of his temple garments. He puts the cut temple garments on, looks at himself in a mirror, scares his kids some more, gives his young son his watch and leaves the house.
“He lost everything — his business, his family, his church,” Brady says, adding that he thinks Ron “came to believe he could hear a truer voice of God.”
EARLY THE NEXT MORNING, Pyre, Taba and the police raid the house where they believe Ron and Dan may be hiding. They’re not there. Instead, they find young girls from an FLDS compound in Bountiful, British Columbia.
(That was indeed an FLDS stronghold.)
The girls were brought to the house by Onias a month earlier, Taba learns. One of the girls says Ron and Dan were there, but she doesn’t know where they are now.
Pyre finds a “revelation” that Dianna can still repent, but if she doesn’t she’ll be “removed.” Police still don’t know where Dianna and her children are.
Allen says Ron “couldn’t have written this.” Later, Brady says Allen is wrong because Ron “is capable of a lot more than just domestic violence.”
There’s a flashback to Ron going to his parents’ house right after his excommunication. His mother tells him he’s “the one mighty and strong.” And the narrative alternates between glimpses of Joseph Smith’s assassination at the Carthage Jail in Illinois and Ron sitting at his ailing father’s bedside.
When Ammon asks Ron for a doctor, Ron asks him if he remembers beating him and beating his dog to death. Ammon tells him his “mind has been taken by evil.”
Ron recalls Ammon saying “there was no need for a doctor if we were close to heavenly father.” And he recalls one of his brothers dying in “incredible pain” as a result of Ammon’s refusal to call a doctor. Ron says he won’t allow his father to go against his own principles and so he won’t call a doctor.
In the flashback, members of a mob break into the jail and shoot and kill Hyrum Smith. Others are also shot. Joseph Smith is shot and killed as he tries to climb out a window. It’s the standard story members of the church have been taught.
A couple of weeks after the assassination, Brigham Young rallies the members of the church in Nauvoo and lays claim to church leadership. Emma doesn’t look happy, and walks away with her eldest son, Joseph Smith III, who was just 11. (Emma Smith broke with Brigham Young and did not travel to Utah, and Joseph Smith III eventually became president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renamed the Community of Christ in 2001.)
According to Brady, Ron considered himself “the proud new lion of the Lord,” the successor to Brigham Young, who was known by that nickname.
Episode 6 of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” titled “Revelation,” will start streaming on Thursday, May 26, on Hulu.
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