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Episode 4 recap: ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ digs deeper into Latter-day Saint and fundamentalist beliefs

The investigation, and the narrative, is shifting toward Dan and Ron Lafferty.

(Michelle Faye | FX) Andrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

There’s a lot to unpack in Episode 4 of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” as the investigation into the murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter continues — and draws closer to both the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and fundamentalist beliefs.

Remember, the miniseries is a fictionalized account of what happened, although the portrayals of both the people involved and their actions are, for the most part, pretty accurate.

AS THE EPISODE, TITLED “CHURCH AND STATE,” begins, police are still searching for Bishop Lowe, who was reportedly on a kill list. His home has been ransacked, but there’s no evidence anyone was there when it was vandalized.

Detective Pyre (Andrew Garfield) finds a file folder labeled “Lafferty.” Inside is a letter from Dianna Lafferty (Denise Gough), Ron’s wife, asking for help from the president of the LDS Church. “It’s kind of like writing a letter to Heavenly Father himself,” Pyre said. “It’s hard to imagine an LDS wife doing this to her own family. It’s extreme.”

Stake President Stowe, also reportedly on the kill list, contacts police to say he and his family are fine and they haven’t seen the Lowes in a week.

(Michelle Faye | FX) Denise Gough as Dianna Lafferty in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

Pyre takes a call from church headquarters, telling him the letter from Dianna was referred to Bishop Lowe and one of his counselors, Brother Bascom. “The prophet’s praying for your investigation,” the man says. “That’s all we really need,” Pyre responds.

PYRE MEETS WITH BASCOM, who says, “The prophet’s office urged me to help you any way I can.” He says he “had a word with Ron” about Dianna’s letter when Ron came in to the bank where he works about a loan.

In a flashback, we see Bascom tell Ron (Sam Worthington) he won’t be getting the loan. “If it were up to me alone, I’d give you the dang bank loan, brother,” Bascom says. Ron says if he doesn’t get it, he’ll lose his business, home, wife and children.

Bascom then tells Ron, “The church has received a letter asking for intervention in your brother’s anti-tax organizing. The church passed it on to me.”

Ron wants to know what that has to do with him. “Ron, your wife wrote the letter,” Bascom says. “She seems real worried about it.” Ron looks over at Dianna. “Now, don’t you lay the blame at her feet,” says Bascom, who blames “those ERA types” who have been “urging our wives to run wild.” (The church was very public in its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.)

Pyre asks Bascom if Ron was angry with Dianna. “Oh heck, no,” Bascom replies. “It was Dan who was making a mess of the name. Not his sweet wife. Dan was threatening the reputation of the church and, as a result, his own livelihood.” And he describes Dan (Wyatt Russell) as “a wrecking ball.”

Back at the jail, Robin Lafferty (Sam Numrich) blames Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones) for the letter. “If Dianna wrote this letter, then you can be sure Brenda put the pen in her hand,” he says.

(Michelle Faye | FX) Wyatt Russell as Dan Lafferty (astride the horse) in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

IN A FLASHBACK TO A FOURTH OF JULY PARADE, Dan is riding on a horse, shouting an anti-tax diatribe into a bullhorn, urging people to vote for him for sheriff. “I suppose enough people tell you you’re the Kennedys of Utah, you think it’s your destiny to be in charge,” says Detective Taba (Gil Birmingham).

(Feel free to roll your eyes at this latest bit of foolishness.)

Robin says that after former Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs — who issued the “extermination order” against Mormons in 1838 — was shot in the head (he survived), “He pinned the assassination attempt on us” (meaning Mormons). So, in response, according to Robin, Joseph Smith ran for president.

Taba points out that “Joe Smith didn’t become president.” Robin retorts, “He could’ve. He was very popular.” (That is not a widely held view.)

“My brother Dan has always been very popular,” Robin says, adding that the only one who was against Dan’s candidacy was their father, Ammon (Christopher Heyerdahl).

There’s a flashback to just after the parade, in which Dan is smoking a cigarette and kissing a young woman. Ammon walks up and threatens the woman and several other people with his cane, then lectures Dan on how evil he is. Ammon and his wife decide not to return to their senior mission in Louisiana so they can save Dan. “Be my good boy again,” Ammon says, stroking Dan’s hair. Ron walks away in apparent disgust.

ROBIN SAYS DAN “started spending his days in the BYU library researching the early prophets, and he grew frustrated with the fact that so much of our history seemed to have been purposefully removed from every library in Utah, including BYU’s. So Dan started seeking out saints who were living by our original texts.”

This prompts a flashback of Dan and Robin driving to Colorado City, a stronghold of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Robin urges him to turn around and leave, but Dan says, “They study our scriptures, don’t they? Live his commandments better than we do.”

(Michelle Faye | FX) Robin Lafferty (Sam Numrich), left, is questioned by Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

Dan tries to talk to FLDS members as he’s delivering building supplies, but they’re not interested. He loudly states that the LDS Church “changed the rules over time,” starting when it abandoned plural marriage. He says that church president Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto renouncing polygamy because he “just wanted to keep federal troops from marching into Utah, that’s all. Old Woodruff had nine wives himself.”

(That is one interpretation of the reasoning behind the manifesto. And Woodruff did have multiple wives — 10, by some reckonings.)

Dan asks what happens if the cops show up in Colorado City. A man says, “If man’s law conflicts with heaven’s, then the faithful will be ranged under the banner of heaven against them.”

Dan wants to know if polygamy is part of salvation, but an older man — who’s got a gun in his belt — tells Dan to get lost.

Back in the present (1984), Pyre says, “Doing business with the FLDS is kind of like doing it with the Mafia. You don’t just walk away on your own terms. So if our church finds out Robin continued to do business with fundamentalists, continued to visit fundamentalists who marry off 13-year-old girls to 70-year-old men to be raped and enslaved, and to be punished if they seek help — brother, I don’t have to tell you that your excommunication would be right around the corner.”

THE EAST ROCKWELL POLICE receive evidence about Dan from the Salt Lake City police, prompting a flashback to Dan saying he bought something “very, very special” from an antiques dealer — a pro-polygamy, 1842 pamphlet titled “The Peace Maker.” It was written by Udney Hay Jacob and credited Joseph Smith as the publisher. (Smith denounced it after its publication.)

Dan says that Joseph Smith had 33 wives, and the youngest was 14. (There’s some dispute about the number of wives — estimates range up to 40 — but Smith did marry a 14-year-old when he was 37.)

When Dan’s wife, Matilda (Chloe Pirrie), expresses opposition to Dan taking more wives and asks if he wants to have an affair, Dan yells, “No! And you will not speak to me in that manner ever again!”

Dan is speeding, and gets pulled over by a police officer. Dan’s car doesn’t have a registration sticker. Dan suggests he got pulled over because he’s running for sheriff. He refuses to get out of his car and speeds off, throwing the sheriff’s deputy to the ground. “You could’ve killed him!” Matilda says. “They’re trying to sabotage my campaign,” Dan replies.

He’s eventually surrounded by police cars. Dan gets out of the car, screams about the cops being tyrants and is taken into custody.

(By the way, the murders took place in American Fork, which is renamed East Rockwell in the miniseries.)

PYRE TELLS ALLEN LAFFERTY (Billy Howle) — the husband of Brenda and father of Erica — that the police believe Dan remained the leader of the Lafferty family, even after their parents returned from their mission in Louisiana, and that they suspect he was “flirting with fundamentalism.” Taba suggest fundamentalists might be responsible for the murders.

(Michelle Faye | FX) Dan Lafferty (Wyatt Russell, with his back turned) preaches to his brothers Ron (Sam Worthington), Robin (Seth Numrich) and Jacob (Taylor St. Pierre) when they visit him in jail.

In a flashback, Dan — who’s in jail — preaches polygamy to Ron, Allen and Robin. Dan says Ron is “the true leader of us” and that their father is “afraid” of Ron’s strength. And he tells Ron it’s up to him to fight the government.

Dan tells Allen to pray about polygamy and fall in line “because I so badly want to see you and Brenda in heaven.” Allen tells Pyre he prayed but got no confirmation.

When Pyre says that the church has “long forbidden polygamy” (since the 1890 Manifesto), Allen replies, “Today’s prophets believe it’s still practiced in heaven.” (That’s true.)

Allen says he still puts his faith in Joseph Smith, even after learning he practiced polygamy and took some “very young” wives. But, he said, “like Emma, I was sick about it.” There’s a flashback to Emma Smith reacting angrily to a “revelation” her husband received about polygamy. “We made a vow, Joseph,” Emma says, “and I will not stand to watch you say it is holy to marry others because you’ve grown bored of me.”

“You accuse me of falsifying revelations to suit my own desires?” Joseph replies, telling her to “pray on it.”

“Fine,” she says. “Go forth, Joseph. So shall I. Because he must want me to take more husbands. And I will.”

This is another of those fictionalized moments. The historical record is that Emma mostly opposed polygamy, although she apparently at least briefly sanctioned Joseph’s marriages to four other women in May 1843.

Joseph closes his eyes and delivers a revelation that Emma will be “destroyed” if she doesn’t go along with polygamy. (That’s real — it’s Doctrine & Covenants 132:54.)

AN LDS CHURCH STAKE PRESIDENT, who received a call from Robin, shows up at the police station and glad-hands several of the officers. The stake president says Robin needs “spiritual counsel,” and that the Lafferty brothers who are in custody are “good boys.” He tells Pyre, “Trust the priesthood. Release the brothers into my custody.”

Pyre refuses, and points out that he’s investigating murders. “We’ve all made covenants to protect the Lord’s kingdom,” the stake president says. “Even until laying down our lives. Now we wouldn’t want anything to embarrass the church, would we, brother? I trust you recall the repercussions of sharing what is heaven’s alone.”

It’s a not-so-veiled threat.

Pyre goes into his office and vomits.

(Michelle FayAndrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

‘HOLY WOW, ROBIN,” Taba says. “You called your stake president to get you out of jail? May be the most saintly act of entitlement I’ve ever witnessed.”

“Ask your partner here who we regard as the higher authority — the church of the police,” Robin replies. And he tells Pyre that “disrespecting church authority puts your own salvation in the balance.”

Pyre asks Robin if Ron accepted and followed Dan’s view. Robin says Ron “stayed out of it” until their father, in declining health, “practically begged Ron to help bring Dan back in line.” There’s a flashback to a gathering of the Lafferty men, with Ron reading the church’s 12th Article of Faith, which states that church members believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Dan offers his own interpretation of scriptures, claiming they should disobey laws he believes are not holy. “Lafferty men used to run things in this state,” Dan tells Ron. (You can roll your eyes again.) “And I’ve had a vision to set things back in that order. … You’re either a part of this family, or you are not.”

Dan convinces Ron that they’re being persecuted. “Yes, Dan shifted Ron’s mind,” Robin tells the detectives in the present (1984).

(Michelle Faye | FX) Gil Birmingham as Bill Taba in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

PYRE TELEPHONES BASCOM and says he’s worried that Bascom “fudged the truth” about the letter Dianna and Brenda sent the church president. Pyre says he doesn’t believe that Ron was upset with Dan about the letter — but that he was upset with the wives.

“Did you misremember that, or did the prophet’s office set limits on what you could say?” Pyre asks, to protect the church’s reputation, what with Ron being an upstanding church member.

Bascom tells Pyre to speak with Bishop Lowe, who detectives have not been able to locate. Taba tells Bascom that if he won’t say what information he gave to Lowe, he’ll come to his house, take him into custody and bring him in for questioning.

In a revised flashback, Ron is in the bank, having just been told Bascom won’t give him a loan and that Dianna wrote the letter. Ron storms out angrily, puts Dianna into their car and threatens her physically.

“I honestly thought it was just a domestic, Brother Pyre,” Bascom says.

(Michelle Faye | FX) Andrew Garfield, right, as Jeb Pyre in "Under the Banner of Heaven."

THE EAST ROCKWELL POLICE CHIEF comes back into town and demands to know where the investigation stands. When Pyre and Tabo tell him they have reason to suspect fundamentalist were involved, and that they should call a press conference to enlist the public’s help to find Ron, Dan and any other suspects.

“You two know as well as I do — outsiders do not understand the difference between our church and the fundies. The polygamists,” the chief says. “We struggle against that perception every single day.” (He’s right about that.)

At the press conference, Pyre says they aren’t releasing suspect information, but they’re asking for help to locate a suspect vehicle. He doesn’t say it’s Ron’s car.

In response to questions from reporters, Pyre tells people to lock their doors. The chief says they are “aware of constitutional fundamentalists, anti-tax groups in proximity to these events, but we found no direct link.”

In response to more direct questioning, Pyre says, “Personally, I wouldn’t rule out fundamentalist Mormonism.”

In the episode’s final moments, a young police officer locates Bishop Lowe, alive and well, fishing in the wilderness.

Episode 5, titled “One Mighty and Strong,” starts streaming Thursday, May 19, on Hulu.

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