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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 2, 2022



‘UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN’ is a Hulu TV series of 8 episodes starring Andrew Garfield as a Mormon cop who investigates the murder of a young Mormon mother, Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month old baby in 1984. 

As he conducts his sleuthing, his faith is shaken by what he discovers about their religion and the well written series delineates this beautifully and very credibly. 

The series is a based on a non-fiction book of the same title, with “A Story of Violent Faith” as subtitle, written by Jon Krakauer and published in 2003. 

As it investigates the double murder of mom and baby, it also probes into the history of the Mormon Church of Latter-Day Saints or LDS.

The lead character in the series, from whose point of view the story unfolds, is Utah detective Jeb Pyre (Garfield). 

He is assigned to investigate the ruthless killing of Brenda (Daisy Edgar Jones) and her baby girl. Assisting Jeb is a Paiute Indian cop, Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham). 

Brenda is married to Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle, a British actor we first saw in “The Seagull” and he’s very good), and he is the first suspect to be arrested. 

He denies it and says he is no longer Mormon or LDS. He belongs to a family of Mormons, with six brothers, all controlled by their domineering father, Ammon (Christopher Heyerdahl), a chiropractor.

The Lafferty family is highly respected in the Mormon community and considered as “the Kennedys of Utah”. 

When their dad and mom are assigned to do mission work in Louisiana, Ammon chooses his second and third son, Dan (Wyatt Russell) and Robin (Seth Numrich), to supervise their family instead of the eldest son, Ron (Sam Worthington), leading to some unpleasant consequences.

Brenda is the independent-minded daughter of a bishop in Idaho. She and Allen meet while in college at Brigham Young University. 

It’s obvious that Allen’s brothers do not like her and resent her for being so free-spirited. Their own wives are all so submissive to them, as dictated by their religion, but Brenda has a mind of her own and wants to have her own career as a TV news anchor.

The series starts as a whodunit, but eventually, it becomes clear that two of the brothers of Allen are the murderers and the series becomes more a whydunit. 

The explanation included flashbacks offering historical analysis about the founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith (Andrew Burnap), who supposedly had a spiritual revelation with God giving him a new Bible and he became their faith’s first prophet in Missouri and Illinois. 

It was Smith who preached that polygamy or having many wives is legal as it’s a man’s sacred right. 

More flashbacks show how the Mormons were ejected from Kirkland, Ohio by its Protestant residents in 1830 as they don’t agree with Smith’s beliefs. 

Smith was killed in 1844 and was replaced by Brigham Young (Scott Campbell) who took the Mormons to what will eventually become Utah.

There are other splinter groups from Smith’s religion and, in the present day, the brothers of Allen Lafferty, twist it further, making them a radical fundamentalist sect that refuses to pay taxes to the government and wants to practice blood atonement, which is the killing of people who do not believe or agree with their own extremist precepts. 

They become so unhinged that they believe that they have direct communication with God. 

The eldest brother, Ron, later even claims that God has given him a direct revelation to kill Brenda in the name of their faith. 

The series runs for 8 hour long episodes and it could have lapsed into a chaotic mess with its various plotlines and moral issues, but it’s quite well crafted to be a riveting true crime drama and also an enlightening history lesson. 

But towards the end, we can feel they are just stretching it needlessly, specially in the final episode (which is an hour and a half) which they protracted and turned into a thriller as the cops try to apprehend the killers in a casino.

The series if written by Dustin Lance Black (of “Big Love”, which is also about a Mormon family that practices polygamy) and one of the directors is Isabel Sandoval, a Filipina transwoman who as, Vincent Sandoval, directed Jodi Sta. Maria and Mylene Dizon in 2012 in the film “Aparisyon”, an entry in the Cinemalaya. 

She then moved to New York and directed herself in ‘Lingua Franca” which was shown at the 2019 Venice Filmfest.

The meandering series is saved by the uniformly fine acting of the big ensemble cast, led by Garfield as a man who sees the darker side of the religion he believes in and feels like he’s part of a nightmare. 

As Jeb Pyre, he is given his own story. He is married and has two daughters and he is also taking good care of his widowed mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. 

It’s an irony that Jeb is surrounded by women at home and yet, the LDS religion does not subscribe to the equality of the genders and preach that wives should always be subservient to their husbands who are the priestholders of their home. 

But eventually, it’s the wives here who refuse to follow their husband’s blind fanaticism that led to tragedy and murder. 

Garfield is competently supported by all his co-stars. We’ve seen Daisy Edgar Jones in the British drama series, “Normal People”, where she is excellent and also the dark comedy-thriller, “Fresh”. 

It’s no surprise she has conquered Hollywood and now stars in the forthcoming film version of the mammoth best-seller “Where the Crawdads Sing” where she plays the lead role.