In the penultimate episode of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” Brenda Wright Lafferty is told by LDS Church leaders to stay in her marriage and try to bring her in-laws back into the faith.
In flashbacks, Brenda comes closer to death. And while investigating the case, the fictional Latter-day Saint police detective comes closer to losing his faith.
DETECTIVES PYRE AND TABA are at the Lafferty house, executing a search warrant. Only the family matriarch, Doreen (Megan Leitch), is there. (In real life, her name was Claudine.) She says her son “Ronnie” took the death of his father the previous year hard, and she’s seldom seen him since then.
Doreen says it is a lie that Ron denied his father’s request for a doctor, which could have saved his life. She says hers was a “loving home,” that her sons are innocent, and that Brenda would tell the detectives that — if she was alive.
Taba finds the bat that Ammon, the late family patriarch, used to beat Ron’s dog to death.
Pyre (Andrew Garfield) takes Brady (Nicholas Carella) — a friend of Ron and Dan’s — to the basement, where the School of the Prophets met. He asks Brady why he didn’t contradict Doreen’s assertion that this was a loving home. “Are you afraid of her, or are you afraid of who she might rat you out to?” he asks.
Brady says he was always met with “a positive spirit” when he came to the home. Pyre asks, “Even after Ron murdered his own father?”
“I didn’t think it was right,” Brady says, “but if the spirit is telling them one thing and me the opposite, how do we know which one’s it? They never covered that in my ward. And there are examples of God’s killing orders all over our scriptures.”
“You’re just using scripture — whatever scripture you want to use, moment to moment, to save your own skin,” Pyre says.
AFTER HIS FATHER DIED, Ron didn’t know where to turn, Brady says. So he went on a “journey of truth … seeking a pure Mormonism, one that his wife might come back to.”
In a flashback, Ron (Sam Worthington) goes to Oregon to meet John Bryant, a convert to the LDS Church who later joined the fundamentalist Mormon sect Apostolic United Brethren. Bryant eventually founded his own polygamist sect, which Ron visited.
Bryant claims to be the one mighty and strong. He rebaptizes Ron. The baptism prayer is the LDS standard, with a few words (in italics) added: “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, and by the authority of the true Melchizedek priesthood, I bless you that you may find peace and purpose as a servant of our order. And I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Ron drinks wine with Bryant and his followers. He kisses (and, presumably, has sex with) members of the group, including Bryant. (That may or may not be true, but Bryant’s sect believed in free sex among both men and women.) And he thinks that Dianna would come back to him if she would come to this place.
But when he returns to Utah, Dianna and the children are gone and his house is empty. So he goes to his parents’ home, where he greets Dan with a big hug. Ron says he didn’t find what he was looking for in Oregon, but it was “a beginning.”
DAN TAKES RON DOWN TO THE BASEMENT where he finds Robin and other members of the School of the Prophets, including Brady and Bob aka the Prophet Onias. In the flashback, they’re preparing to send revelations to the mainstream LDS Church warning its leaders to restore polygamy and denying the priesthood to Black members. “These truths can’t be changed just to satisfy the whims of public opinion,” Onias says, “which is exactly what the church is trying to do.”
Ron isn’t buying into Onias as a prophet. Dan (Wyatt Russell) says Onias “was simply guiding us in your absence.” Onias says he’s had a revelation that the six Lafferty brothers “to help build a city of refuge for his last days.”
Onias leads Ron to what he says is the “dream mine,” which he claims is filled with “extraordinary treasure.” But the mine won’t be opened until the one mighty and strong arrives, and Onias says Ron may be the one.
“I’ve heard that before,” says Ron, “and it’s not true.” Onias says Dianna will run back to Ron after he accepts that he is the one mighty and strong.
BACK IN THE PRESENT (1984), Taba (Gil Birmingham) doesn’t believe that Doreen doesn’t know what her sons did or where they are. “She’s the den mom to this troop of demented Boy Scouts,” he says.
“Are you going to let this dark-skinned Lamanite speak to me in this way?” Doreen asks Pyre.
“There’s a mark on you as well,” Taba says. “Your granddaughter’s blood.”
“Remove this man, Brother Pyre,” Ma orders.
Taba, however, isn’t going anywhere. He tells Doreen that she’s headed for prison on accessory charges, “So when all your sons get put to death, you won’t even be allowed in the gallery to say your farewells.”
(It feels like an empty threat. And, in reality, Claudine was not charged with or convicted of anything.)
“Why’d you blame my boys for this evil?” Doreen asks, insinuating two other men were responsible. “One called himself Chip,” she says. “And the other called himself Ricky. I didn’t care to know anything more.”
Brady says he doesn’t know Ricky and Chip. He says police may find Ron and Dan at the Dream Mine.
IN A FLASHBACK, Allen (Billy Howle) comes home to a very angry Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who wants to know where he’s been. “Were you down on your knees again, praying to your brothers’ make-believe messiah?” Allen says he needs “time to figure out what path we should be on.”
Brenda continues to harangue Allen, who yells at her to shut up and smacks her in the face. He apologizes, and she does not respond.
The flashbacks continue as Brenda’s father, Jim (Darren Goldstein), tells Allen that, as a bishop, he’s observed that “sometimes our most serious members get carried away.” Allen is so carried away that he doesn’t want to eat chocolate, believing it’s against the Word of Wisdom because it contains caffeine.
“Most Mormons I know eat chocolate,” Jim says. Allen super-reluctantly takes and eats it.
In another flashback, Brenda tells her sister, Betty, that “an evil presence” is in the Lafferty family and she fears Allen has “caught it. … They scare me, Betty.”
Betty (Hannah Galway) tells Brenda she “made an eternal vow before Heavenly Father in a temple. You have a responsibility now to make this work. You have to take this to the church first.”
Back in the present, Pyre tells Betty he would’ve done the same thing. Betty said she would have given Brenda different advice “if I’d known how powerful the Lafferty name was in Utah.”
(For the umpteenth time, the Laffertys were not powerful or prominent in Utah before the murders.)
Betty gives Pyre letters Brenda wrote to her. This is fictional — but Brenda’s real-life family gave “Under the Banner of Heaven” creator/executive producer/writer/director Dustin Lance Black letters she wrote to her real-life sister.
PYRE READS A LETTER BRENDA WROTE in which she says she wrote to the church and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy agreed to meet with her. Two unidentified, older seventies lecture Allen, who brings up the Mountain Meadows Massacre and questions which of Brigham Young’s revelations should be followed today.
“We are to follow today’s prophet,” one of the seventies tells Allen. And they want him to fix his marriage.
“Do you think I’m going to take marital advice from people who can’t reconcile their history with what they claim to believe?” Allen asks combatively. One of them points out that two of Allen’s brothers have already been excommunicated.
“Yeah, and now they’re free of this fraud,” Allen says. “C’mon, Brenda. Let’s go.”
BUT BRENDA STAYS. And one of the seventies tells her, “You will be rewarded in heaven for your courage.”
Brenda tells the men she’s grateful, but she feels like nothing can stop Allen and the other Laffertys and she “can’t wait for this to grow worse. I appeal to you to grant a divorce.”
The seventies give her a priesthood blessing — and, in the blessing, one of the men tells her she’s “directed to not abandon thy husband.” And that’s she’s been “chosen to shepherd the Lafferty family back to the fold.” Brenda looks upset and disappointed.
Both the seventy and Pyre refer to it as a “calling” for Brenda, which is somewhat odd because a calling is generally to a formal office — bishop, Sunday School teacher, etc. Pyre said that Brenda’s was a “calling that pitted her against Ron and Dan.”
Responding to a question from The Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack, Black said he based the scene on “Brenda’s own words” from her letters and diaries, which her family also shared with him. “When I asked around about this claim … no one disputed it. I remember Brenda expressing that she felt honored by this. The church meant the world to her, so this seemed to have been a special moment for her.”
In the show, Allen says he didn’t know about the blessing Brenda received, and that he knows “without a doubt that our church is built on lies.” (According to reports, Allen remains a member of the LDS Church today.)
And he says, ‘If I’d been a more attentive husband, I could’ve stopped all this.”
Pyre tells Allen he won’t be charged with a crime and he’s free to go. But Allen doesn’t have anywhere to go, and he asks if he can stay at the police station for one more night. “I’m afraid of being alone out there,” he says.
THERE’S ANOTHER FLASHBACK to Brenda buying her sisters-in-law butter and bread because Ron and Dan told them they have to make their own. She says maybe if Ron and Robin think they’re going to lose their wives, “they’ll start to see things clearly again.”
In the flashback, Brenda sends missionaries to visit her sisters-in-law, and warns the young men her brothers-in-law are leaning toward “multiple wives, marrying children, picking fights with the government.”
She tells the missionaries to speak only to the women, “and if our sisters start saying things that don’t sound LDS, maybe just remind them that they’re facing eternal separation from the families. But don’t be a downer about it.”
However, the elders are quickly turned away by the Lafferty women.
Ron learns of Brenda’s efforts and sends Dan’s wife, Matilda, to threaten her. Matilda (Chloe Pirrie) brings up the concept of blood atonement, adding, “A wife who alienates her husband from her children could be risking her life. Dan says that there are some sins that can only be redeemed through the shedding of blood.”
Brenda teams up with Bishop Lowe and his wife to get Dianna (Denise Gough) and her children away from Ron and out of the state. “Brenda, you’re not safe here,” Dianna tells her.
“I’m going to put an end to this wickedness,” Brenda replies. “It is my calling.”
Dianna drives off in a small moving truck with her kids.
PYRE READS RON’S “REVELATION” that threatens to “remove” Dianna if she doesn’t return to him. In a flashback, members of the School of Prophets vote to affirm it as a true revelation. And Onias tells Ron, “You are our one. The one.”
Later in the episode, Taba locates Bob aka Onias. The self-styled prophet refers to Taba as “the Lamanite” and says he’ll only talk to the detective if Taba leaves his gun behind and comes into his home.
“Terrible what happened to the woman and her child,” Onias said. “But I do understand that murder runs in your people’s blood. Must seem ordinary to you.”
PYRE IS CLEARLY UPSET. He tells Allen, “I don’t know who’s behind this new voice in my head, but it’s a pretty significant distraction.” Allen says it’s the result of being “taught your whole life that you need God to guide you. It’s frightening being alone with your own mind.”
Allen says he read church history and came to the conclusion that “all of that personal revelation … is just men listening to their own selfish desires and calling it God so they can justify anything.”
He points Pyre to a “truer story of our people” in the book “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality,” written by church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner. (It’s filled with early LDS documents and accompanied by the Tanners’ efforts to debunk it all.)
Jeb Pyre goes home. He pulls out the book, goes into the garage, sits in his car and starts reading.
There’s a flashback to Brigham Young arriving in the Salt Lake Valley and declaring, “From this valley we will never run. And if they attempt to throw us over again, in the name of God, we will lift the sword and slay them.”
(I cannot find that exact quote, although it’s similar to things Young said years later.)
Earlier in the episode, Pyre questioned if “Brigham Young just lied to his saints” about the Mormon trek to Utah to “drive them out of American territory, just so he could marry as many wives as he wanted without fear of prosecution.”
Rebecca goes into the garage, sees Jeb crying and sees what he’s reading. “I’m struggling, honey,” he says.
“Can you pray with me?” she asks. He agrees, but he can’t finish the prayer he starts.
Rebecca hugs him and says, “I love you, but I can’t struggle through this with you.” She tells Jeb he must bear his testimony in church. “I need our girls to see and hear that their sweet father, our priesthood holder, that he still believes.”
Jeb agrees, but after she goes back into the house he is wracked with tears.
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